The story of a forgotten America.

Armco Steel Ashland Works

Armco Steel/AK Steel Ashland Works was an integrated steel mill near Ashland, Kentucky. It contained two pig-iron blast furnaces, a basic oxygen furnace, a continuous caster, coating line, and other production facilities. At its height, the 700-acre plant also featured a coke facility and a hot strip.


Skip to: Predecessors, American Rolling Mill Company, ARMCO, AK Steel, Coke Plant


The first development of an iron industry around Ashland came between 1845 and 1855 when several charcoal furnaces were constructed. 22 The furnaces drew their raw materials from the surrounding hills, burning the wood for charcoal and using the charcoal as a heat basis for melting iron ore and limestone. The early furnaces had a capacity of four tons of iron per day, which was later increased to 15 tons of iron per day with the introduction of a warm blast.

Ashland Iron & Mining Company

In 1869, the Ashland Furnace, at Winchester Avenue and 6th Street, 26 was constructed by the Ashland Coal & Iron Railway Company. 23 Ashland Furnace No. 2 was added in 1887. 26 In January 1902, non-railroad interests were spun off as the Ashland Iron & Mining Company (AI&M) because of an act of Congress that required all interstate railroad companies to dispose of all controlling interests in other businesses. 18 23 AI&M took over all of the stock from the Ashland Coal & Iron Railroad, as well as local coal mines and furnaces. 23

In 1905, Ashland Furnace was rebuilt with a 12’9″ hearth. 26

The Open Hearth Steel Plant of the AI&M was built in 1916-17. 17 22 It consisted of two blast furnaces, six open-hearth furnaces for further refining of pig iron and steel ingots, four soaking pits, and 36 blooming mills for rolling the ingots into blooms, slags, and billets. 1 17 The advent of World War I halted plans that were already in progress for finishing units necessary for the production of high-grade, high-finish automotive steel sheets 19 22

By 1921, AI&M featured two blast furnaces with 300,000 tons capacity, a steel plant with an annual capacity of 260,000 tons of ingots, 270 tons of blooms, billets, and slabs, and a hand sheet mill at 23rd Street with a production capacity of 25,000 tons of black and galvanized sheets annually. 25 27

Norton Iron Works Company

In 1872, the Norton Iron Works Company was established by the Norton brothers of Wheeling, West Virginia near the Ohio River between 21st and 23rd Street with a capital of $800,000. 17 23 Using Coalton coal and Bath County iron ores, a soft iron was produced that sold for years in the market in open competition with Scotch iron. Facilities included the Norton Furnace, a wire mill, cut nail factory, keg factory, foundry, screen wire mill, and a rolling mill. 22 23

The rolling mill and nail mill burned on November 14, 1883, with losses estimated at $200,000. 24 In 1927, the Norton Furnace was rebuilt with a14’6″ hearth. It was relined in 1928-29.

Ashland Steel Company

In 1890, the Norton Iron Works, the Belfonte Iron Works, and the Kelley Nail & Iron Company of Ironton came together to build a Bessemer steel plant along the Ohio River between 18th and 21st Streets. 17 23 While each company owned blast furnaces and finishing mills for the making of nails and wire, they had no steel plant to convert their pig iron into steel suitable for the manufacture of their finished products. It was agreed to build the furnace in Ashland because of its superior transportation facilities and for its location near major iron, coal, and limestone deposits. The newly christened Ashland Steel Company produced steel with two Bessemer converters, a blooming mill, and a rod mill. 22 23

American Rolling Mill Company

In 1920, the American Rolling Mill Company (Armco) proposed the construction of an integrated steel mill along the Ohio River west of Ashland, Kentucky in 1920. 1 It also sought to acquire nearby mills and furnaces to consolidate operations and improve efficiency.

On December 11, 1921, Armco proposed the acquisition of AI&M, which included the Ashland Coal & Iron Railway. 25 For the AI&M, the proposed sale was welcomed as production during World War I had worn out the company’s equipment and exaggerated expenses. The company quickly sealed the deal and sold its assets to Armco on December 30, 3 which included not just the steel making components of AI&M, but the Ashland Coal & Iron Railway which operated 48 miles of track, 21 miles of which were the mainline of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway Lexington Subdivision, the Inter-Terminal Transit Company which owned two steamboats and a landing barge that ferried railroad cars between Ashland and Coal Grove and Ironton, and 22,000 acres of coal, timber, and natural gas lands. 28

Armco then acquired Ashland Steel in 1927 and Norton Iron Works in 1928. 23

Armco’s Ashland Works opened on October 19, 1923, 1 and initially comprised of AI&M’s Open Hearth Steel Plant and Ashland Furnace No. 2, and Norton Iron Work’s Norton Furnace. 1 26

In January 1924, after years of experimentation and refinement, the company introduced the world’s first continuous sheet rolling mill within unused space at the former AI&M plant. 19 20 23 Research into a method to roll thin and wide iron and steel sheets by a continuous, mechanical process to replace slow and costly hand mills began in 1907, 12 19 and a process invented by engineers John Butler Tytus and Charles R. Hook, along with many other co-inventors, involved rolling sheet metal into large coils. The continuous rolling mill process could roll as much steel as 200 old hand mills 20 and reduced the cost of sheet steel from $150 per ton to $60 per ton. 23

In 1925, Ashland Culvert Works was founded, 1 which was acquired by Armco in 1941 and renamed Armco Drainage & Metal Products. 21 The former Ashland Sheet Mill was razed in 1929. 23

By 1935, Ashland Works boasted two blast furnaces (Ashland No. 2 and Norton), eight 118-ton open-hearth furnaces, a 600-ton mixer, blooming, plate, and sheet mills, a single strand pig caster, and a circa 1913 sintering plant. 18 The plant employed 7,500 by 1938.

On March 12, 1941, the ground was broken for Bellefonte Furnace, which marked the 96th blast furnace to be constructed in the Hanging Rock region since 1818. 1 Completed at the cost of $6 million, 1 and dedicated on August 24, 1942, 3 the Bellefonte boasted a 25′ hearth and was capable of producing up to 1,000 tons of iron daily. 2 Its capacity was later increased to 2,600 tons of iron daily when the hearth was enlarged to 28¾’. 3

Not long before the advent of World War II, Armco razed the Ashland Steel plant for scrap. 23


The American Rolling Mill Company was formally renamed ARMCO Steel Corporation on April 17, 1948. 3 20

In 1949, a taconite pellet plant was added at the cost of $1 million. 3 The company had constructed the facility to see if a waste byproduct of the steelmaking process could be reused in an economically viable manner. 4 18

Armco embarked on a $40 million expansion and modernization of its Ashland Works in 1951. 26 New McKee stoves were installed for the Norton furnace in that year, and on May 20, 1953, the continuous sheet rolling mill was replaced with a new hot-strip mill at the cost of $35 million. 1 19 A cold reduction mill, strip pickler, light gauge Zincgrip line, and a heavy gauge Zincgrip line was completed at the cost of $12 million in 1954, 1 followed by a sinter plant in 1958. 26 Armco had developed the Zincgrip process in 1936 by offering the first zinc-coated coils that were far superior to older processes. 28 It later offered a similar process to coat steel with aluminum.

By the close of the decade, Armco announced its Project 600 initiative, a $95 million project to further modernize its Ashland Works and to consolidate facilities at the Boyd and Greenup county line west of Ashland. 1 Project 600 ultimately cost $145 million.

Ashland Furnace No. 2, then the world’s oldest operating furnace, was dismantled in 1962. 3 23 Its replacement, the Amanda Furnace, with a 30.6′ hearth, was completed adjacent to Bellefonte in 1963. 2 The Norton Furnace was idled in May 1964 26 with the foundry continuing to operate with iron from the Amanda, and torn down in 1967. 3

In 1966, the tandem cold mill was started up and pulverized coal injection was added to the Bellefonte furnace. 3 26 The No. 3 Zincgrip coating line was added in 1967, 26 and in 1968, Amanda’s hearth was enlarged to 33.6′. 3 26

The open-hearth furnaces were shut down on September 30, 1969, which coincided with the start-up of the basic oxygen furnace complex. 26 A pulverized coal injection system was installed at Amanda in 1973. 3 26

In 1978, the ARMCO Steel Corporation was renamed Armco Inc. 12

By 1984, Ashland Works workforce was substantially reduced due to ongoing modernization projects. 2 In an attempt to stem the loss of 2,000 jobs in just over a decade, Tom Gorder, president of Armco’s Ashland Works, desired to consolidate Ashland Works with Middletown, Ohio’s facilities in an effort to reduce steelmaking costs.

Armco sold 40% of the company to Kawasaki Steel of Japan in May 1989. 2 Armco had become one of the worst performers for steel production by 1992, losing $40-$50 per ton while most other integrated steel mills were losing only $20 per ton. 5 Ashland Works required 6½ man-hours to produce one ton of steel, compared with three to four hours at a similarly integrated mill and less than one hour at a mini-mill.

In 1992, the hot strip mill was shut down, eliminating 930 jobs. 2 26 It was replaced by a new slab caster that provided steel slabs for refinement in Middletown. 2 All ingot production ceased at the Ashland and Middletown works on July 1. 5 The ingots were outdated and too costly to produce.

AK Steel

By 1995, Armco was facing down $700 million in bank loans. 2 Facing default, the remainder of Armco was sold to Kawasaki in 1994 and the company was renamed AK Steel. 2 Immediate cost reductions were undertaken, leading to the elimination of the sinter plant, cold strip mill, temper mills, pickling lines, annealing lines, and machine shop in 1995. 2 Bellefonte Furnace was idled in 1996. 3 By 1997, the Amanda Furnace, two basic oxygen furnace vessels, desulfurization facilities, a six-strand bloom caster, a single strand continuous caster, and a hot-dip galvanized coating line were all that was left of Ashland Works. 5 18

In April 2004, the state of Kentucky announced that AK Steel would be eligible for $40 million in tax breaks that would help fund a vacuum degassing unit and modifications to the slab caster to improve the quality of steel for automobiles and to become more cost-efficient. 2

Amanda Furnace was idled because of excess imported steel that had flooded the domestic market 10 on December 15, 2015. 13 Nearly 600 employees were laid off. 11 13 The hot-dip galvanazing line that primarily served automotive customers remained open with 230 employees.

On January 28, 2019, AK Steel announced that it would permanently close the Ashland Works by the end of the year, affecting 170 employees. 13 It was expected that the closure would save AK Steel $40 million annually but cost the company $20 million for the termination of supply agreements, $30 million for supplemental unemployment and other benefit costs, $25 million over a multi-employer plan withdraw liability and $5 million in other costs. The coating line conducted its final run in November. 15

Cleveland-Cliffs acquired AK Steel at the cost of more than $1 billion on December 3. 14 The newly merged company explored the potential to restart Amanda Furnace to produce pig iron pellets and for other uses, but it ultimately decided in June 2021 to demolish the steel-producing components of Ashland Works. 15

Compilation of aerial videos from 2020-2021, showing demolition progressing on the BOF and preliminary demolition work starting at Amanda Furnace.

On February 8, at 8:30 AM, the Amanda Furnace and the BOF were simultaneously imploded.

The Amanda Furnace and BOF were simultaneously imploded on February 8.

Coke Plant

Thousands of beehive coke ovens flourished in the coalfields of Appalachia, transforming coal into coke for use in blast furnaces and iron boundaries. 1 18 The only product was coke and no regard was given for the reclamation of valuable chemicals that were being released into the atmosphere. A new coking process was developed in 1892 in which valuable byproducts were recovered. The Solvay Process Company facility at Syracuse, New York needed a source of ammonia and a uniform grade of coke, and construction was started there for the first by-product coke oven plant in the nation. Coal was baked by external heat, which made it possible to recover all of the byproducts.

From there, the Semet-Solvay Company was founded in 1895, and by 1916, the firm had built 1,800 coke ovens. 1 18 It operated many of the facilities it constructed and became the largest merchant producer of coke in the nation. 18

In 1912, the Wilputte Coke Oven Corporation, an affiliate of Semet-Solvay and a division of Allied Chemical & Dye Corporation, constructed 54 horizontal flue coke ovens east of Ashland. 1 18 A plant to manufacture yellow prossiate of soda, used in the production of paint pigments and dry colors, was added in 1915, 18 and an additional battery of 54 ovens was added in 1916. 1 18 The two original batteries were expanded to 60 ovens each in 1937.

In 1940, Semet-Solvay acquired Wilputte Coke Oven Corporation, after which point all of Semet-Solvay’s coke oven construction activities were handled through Wilputte. 18 Semet-Solvay was then acquired by Allied Chemical & Dye Company in 1940 and folded under the Semet-Solvay Division. A laboratory and 76 additional vertical flue ovens were added in 1953. 1

The facility was acquired by ARMCO in 1982 after a court order to prevent a shutdown. 18 It became AK Coke in 1994 and by 1998, the plant operated two batteries with 70 and 76 ovens each.

AK Coke 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 facility was no longer cost-effective due to deferred maintenance and environmental regulations and had been non-compliant with the federal Clean Air Act since 2008 because of outdated environmental control systems. 7

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 concluding when five structures, a conveyor belt, two tall concrete coal bunkers, and two smokestacks were imploded at 9:15 a.m. on August 18, 2013. 9

Amanda Blast Furnace

Bellefonte Blast Furnace

Administration Buildings (Buildings 47-49)

Basic Oxygen Furnace, Continuous Bloom Caster (Buildings 701, 782, 783, 784, 790, 792, 793, 794, 795)