AK Steel Ashland Works, located west of Ashland, Kentucky, features one pig-iron blast furnace, a basic oxygen furnace, continuous caster, coating line and other production facilities. At its height, the 700-acre facility also contained a coke plant, two pig iron blast furnaces, and hot strip.
American Rolling Mill Company
In 1920, American Rolling Mill’s President, George M. Verity, proposed to construct an integrated steel mill along the Ohio River west of Ashland.1 The company also sought to acquire nearby mills and furnaces to consolidate operations and improve efficiency.
The American Rolling Mill acquired Ashland Iron & Mining, which included the Ashland furnace, on December 30, 1921,3 followed by the old Ashland Steel Company’s Norton Iron Works near 20th Street in 1928 and the Ironton Furnaces. Norton Iron Works featured an antiquated pig-iron blast furnace that was constructed in 1864.3
American Rolling Mill’s Ashland Works opened on October 19, 1923, employing 3,600.1 It featured a continuous rolling method to produce steel sheets, the first of its kind in the nation. The process, invented by American Rolling Mill 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.
In 1925, the Ashland Culvert Works company was founded, which was later purchased by American Rolling Mill and later named the Armco Drainage and Metal Products Company.1 By 1938, the Ashland Works employed 7,500.1
On March 12, 1941, ground was broken for the Bellefonte Furnace, the 96th blast furnace to be constructed in the Hanging Rock region.1 Dedicated on August 24, 19423 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 steel-making 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. 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 unit, was dismantled in 1962.3 It’s replacement, the Amanda blast furnace, with its 30.6-foot hearth, was completed adjacent to the Bellefonte in 1963.2 In 1964, the 100-year-old Norton blast furnace was demolished.3
Pulverized coal injection was begun in the Bellefonte furnace in 1966. The Amanda’s furnace’s hearth was enlarged to 33.6-feet in 1968 and a pulverized coal injection system was installed in the furnace in 1973.3
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 stated he would help consolidate 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. The Sinter plant, cold strip mill, temper mills, pickling lines, annealing lines, and machine shop all closed by 1995.2 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 plants down in financial trouble. 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 Ashland Works needed 6.5 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.5 ARMCO was also facing $700 million in bank loans that was due in 1995.5 Facing default, the remainder of ARMCO was sold to Kawasaki in 1994 and the company was renamed AK Steel.
By 1997, the Amanda blast furnace, caster, and one finishing line were all that was left of the Ashland Works.5
By becoming more efficient, Ashland Works saw increasing profits by 2004.2 The workforce had also increased to nearly 900. 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 blast furnace and related steelmaking operations were idled at the Ashland Works due to imports of carbon steel that flooded the domestic market.10 The hot-dip galvanizing line that primarily serves automotive customers remains 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 The completed facility was then acquired by the Allied Chemical & Dye Company Semet-Solvay Division. An additional battery of 54 ovens was constructed in 1916.1 The two original batteries were expanded to 60 ovens each in 1937 followed by the construction 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 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