AK Steel Ashland Works is a mostly closed integrated steel mill near Ashland, Kentucky. It contains a mothballed pig-iron blast furnace, basic oxygen furnace, continuous caster, coating line and other production facilities. At its height, the 700-acre plant also featured a coke facility, another pig-iron blast furnace and a hot strip.
American Rolling Mill Company
American Rolling Mill Company’s President, George Verity, proposed an integrated steel mill west of Ashland, Kentucky along the Ohio River in 1920. 1 The company also sought to acquire nearby mills and furnaces to consolidate operations and improve efficiency.
American Rolling Mill acquired Ashland Iron & Mining, which included the Ashland furnace, on December 30, 1921, 3 followed by the Ashland Steel Company’s Norton Iron Works near 20th Street in 1928 along with the Ironton furnaces. Norton Iron Works featured a circa 1864 pig-iron blast furnace. 3
American Rolling Mill’s Ashland Works opened on October 19, 1923 with a roster of 3,600 employees. 1 It featured the first continuous rolling method to produce steel sheets in the nation. The process, invented by employee John Butler Tytus, involved rolling sheet metal into large coils. 12 The former process produced approximately 520 tons of sheet per month but the new process by Tytus increased this to 40,000 tons of sheet per month.
The Ashland Culvert Works company was founded in 1925. 1 It was later acquired by American Rolling Mill and renamed to the American Rolling Mill Drainage and Metal Products Company. The Ashland Works employed 7,500 by 1938. 1
Ground was broken for the Bellefonte furnace, the 96th blast furnace to be constructed in the Hanging Rock region, on March 12, 1941. 1 Dedicated on August 24, 1942 3 at a cost of $5 million, Bellefonte, with its 25-foot hearth, produced 1,000 tons of steel per day. 2 Its capacity was later increased to 2,600 tons of steel per day when the hearth was enlarged to 28¾ feet. 3
The American Rolling Mill Company was renamed to ARMCO Steel Corporation in 1948 3 and simply Armco Inc. in 1978. 12
In 1949, the Ashland Works was expanded 3 when a $1 million trial taconite pellet plant was completed to see if a waste by-product of the steelmaking process would be reusable and economically viable for the steel industry. 4 A $40 million expansion and modernization of the Ashland Works was completed in 1951, followed by the addition of a hot-strip mill that was dedicated on May 20, 1953. 1 The new hot-strip mill employed 3,000.
A cold reduction mill, strip pickler, light gauge zincgrip and a heavy gauge zincgrip was completed at a cost of $12 million in 1954. 1 At the close of the 1950’s, Armco announced another $95 million modernization project, which ultimately cost nearly $145 million when it was completed.
The Ashland blast furnace at the former Ashland Iron & Mining site, then the world’s oldest operating furnace, was dismantled in 1962. 3 It’s replacement, the Amanda, with a 30.6-foot hearth, was completed adjacent to the Bellefonte in 1963. 2 In 1964, the 100-year-old Norton furnace was demolished. 3
Pulverized coal injection was added to the Bellefonte furnace in 1966. 3 The Amanda’s furnace’s hearth was enlarged to 33.6-feet in 1968 with a pulverized coal injection system installed in 1973.
In August 1984, Tom Gorder became president of ARMCO’s Ashland Works which at that time was bleeding jobs due to modernization of the facilities and the closure of several on-site facilities. Trying to stem the loss of 2,000 jobs in just over a decade, Gorder desired to consolidate the Ashland and Middletown, Ohio’s steel mills together in an effort to improve efficiency. 2
The end result was the closure of the hot-strip mill and the elimination of its 930 jobs in 1992. It was replaced by a new slab caster that provided steel slabs for Middletown. 2 The Sinter plant, cold strip mill, temper mills, pickling lines, annealing lines, and machine shop all closed by 1995. All ingot production ceased at the Ashland and Middletown works on July 1, 1992. 5 The ingots were outdated, too costly to produce and were dragging the remainder of the facilities down in profits. As part of a cost-saving effort, the Bellefonte was idled in 1996. 3
In May 1989, ARMCO sold 40% of the company to Kawasaki Steel of Japan. 2 ARMCO had become one of the worst performers for steel by 1992, losing $40 to $50 per ton when the remainder of the industry leaders were losing only $20 per ton. 5 AK Steel’s Ashland Works needed 6½ man-hours to produce one ton of steel, compared with three to four hours at a similar integrated mill and less than one hour at a mini-mill. ARMCO was also facing $700 million in bank loans that was due in 1995. Facing default, the remainder of ARMCO was sold to Kawasaki in 1994 and the company was renamed AK Steel.
By 1997, the Amanda furnace, caster and one finishing line were all that was left of the Ashland Works. 5
By 2004, Ashland Works saw increasing profits and an increasing workforce that had grown to 900. 2 On April 2, 2004, Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher announced a $40 million tax break that would help fund a vacuum degassing unit and modifications to the slab caster, crucial to coke making and steel production. The improvements also made high-quality steel production for automobiles easier and more cost efficient.
In December 2015, the Amanda furnace and related steelmaking operations were idled at the Ashland Works over the imports of carbon steel that had flooded the domestic market. 10 The hot-dip galvanizing line that primarily served automotive customers remained open. Nearly 600 employees were impacted. 11
Allied Chemical & Dye Company Semet-Solvay Division
In 1912, the Wilputte Coke Oven Corporation constructed 54 horizontal flue coke ovens east of Ashland. 1 It was then acquired by the Allied Chemical & Dye Company’s Semet-Solvay Division. An additional battery of 54 ovens was added in 1916. 1 The two original batteries were expanded to 60 ovens each in 1937 followed by the erection of a laboratory and the installation of a 76 vertical flue ovens in 1953.
The facility was later acquired by ARMCO, later becoming part of AK Steel. The coke plant was closed in June 2011, 6 7 8 with a net loss of 25 jobs as the remaining 170 employees were transferred to the Ashland Works steel mill. 9 The coke plant was no longer cost-effective due to deferred maintenance and environmental regulations. 7 The plant had been non-compliant with the federal Clean Air Act since 2008 because of outdated environmental control systems.
In August 2013, AK Steel agreed to pay a $1.65 million civil penalty to resolve violations of air pollution laws that occurred at the coke plant. The settlement, reached between the company, the Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Commonwealth of Kentucky, also required that AK Steel spend $2 million on two projects to further reduce particulate matter emissions at its Ashland Works steel mill. 8
Work to demolish the coke plant commenced in November 2012, 7 ending when five structures, a conveyor belt, two tall concrete coal bunkers and two smoke stacks were imploded at 9:15 a.m. on August 18, 2013.9