Armco Steel Ashland Works

Amanda Blast Furnace

Armco Steel Ashland Works, now a part of AK Steel, 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.






History

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. 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

The 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

Armco

The American Rolling Mill Company was renamed to ARMCO Steel Corporation in 1948 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. 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 the 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 similarly integrated mill and less than one hour at a mini-mill. ARMCO was also facing $700 million in bank loans that were 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. 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.

The Amanda furnace and related steelmaking operations were idled at the Ashland Works on December 15, 2015, 13 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 with 230 employees, however, nearly 600 employees were laid off. 11 13

On January 28, 2019, AK Steel announced that it would permanently close the Ashland Works by the end of 2019, affecting 170 employees. 13 It is expected that the closure will 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.

Cleveland-Cliffs acquired AK Steel at the cost of more than $1 billion on December 3. 14 The newly merged company is exploring the potential to restart the Amanda Blast Furnace to produce pig iron pellets and for other uses.

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 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 smokestacks were imploded at 9:15 a.m. on August 18, 2013. 9


Gallery

Amanda Blast Furnace

Bellefonte Blast Furnace

Other






Sources

  1. “A history of Ashland, Kentucky, 1786-1954.” Ashland Centennial Committee. 1954. 2 Jan., 2007.
  2. “A history of Ashland, Kentucky, 1854-2004.” Ashland Bicentennial Committee. 2004. 2 Jan., 2007.
  3. Ayers, Dave. “Steel Making in Ashland Kentucky.” 6 Jan. 2007 Article.
  4. “Taconite.” Wikipedia. 6 Jan. 2007 Article.
  5. Holusha, John. “Learning From the Turnaround at AK Steel.” strategy+business (Fall 1997). 6 Jan. 2007.
  6. “AK Steel to Demolish Ashland Coke Plant.” WSAZ. N.p., 29 Oct. 2012. Web. 29 July 2014.
  7. James, Mike. “Coke plant to come down.” Independent [Ashland] 28 Oct. 2012: n. pag. Print.
  8. Stambaugh, Carrie. “AK Steel to pay $1.65M civil penalty to settle air pollution allegations.” Independent [Ashland] 22 Aug. 2013: n. pag. Print.
  9. Hart, Kenneth. “Coke plant demolished.” Independent [Ashland] 19 Aug. 2013: n. pag. Print.
  10. Levingston, Chelsey. “AK Steel to Idle Kentucky Steel Mill.” Journal News 16 Oct. 2015. Print.
  11. “UPDATE: AK Steel Starts Layoffs; Hundreds Impacted.” WSAZ Newchannel 3. 17 Dec. 2017. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
  12. “American Rolling Mill Company.” Ohio History Central. Web. 20 Jan. 2016.
  13. Snyder, Aaron. “AK Steel to close Ashland Works.” Daily Independent [Ashland], 28 Jan. 2019.
  14. Hedrick, Chad. “Cleveland-Cliffs, AK Steel merger could mean new life for idle Ashland plant.” WSAZ [Huntington], 3 Dec. 2019.

20 Comments

  1. This is exactly why we need to bring back heavy Industry to the USA and especially the midwest. We need those jobs and we need to make are selves less reliant on foreign materials and minerals

  2. Oh you asland whiners suck it up and deal with it.you all ain’t the only ones in USA that lost there jobssll you all are I’ bunch of spoiled whiners.you not such big shots now are you?

  3. Just to set the record straight…
    I worked at the AK Steel coke plant from 1988 until it closed in 2011. AK Steel transfered thier salary employees but would not tranfer the union workers from USW local 523. The company allow those hourly employees sign a list for REHIRE. I was stripped of 5 weeks vacation and my seniority.

  4. I can’t help but think of the other big towns along the Ohio in this region. Portsmouth especially was once a thriving industrial center. Now it is a college town and nothing more. One factory remains there (OSCO). Where once there were several steel mills, coke plants, shoe factories, shoe lace factories and more now there is practically nothing. The houses are crumbling into dust and are unfit for habitation now. And with the by-pass being built Portsmouth will be just another place that once was.

    My home is the Ashland area though. So many jobs are gone now. I remember people leaving one job and having another before the day was over. Much of this was a result of World War II when the industrial base of every major country except the US was bombed out. The US had a golden period after the war because we had the only factories and mills left to make steel and build cars and many more things. But those bombed out countries rebuilt and new factories out produce old factories pretty much every time. The writing was on the wall. The industrial heart of America was doomed.

    We have a service economy now. Cheap labor means we will be living like a third world country soon. And robots are on the horizon where no human will be needed to do most jobs. Where will the money come from then? The rich will own everything and the rest of us will be scraping the ground for food. Our future looks bleak unless things change. But this is America and the one thing we have always been good at it change. When the economy was completely stagnant coming out of the early 80’s a new industry was born. The information industry. We designed and built computers for every need for many years. And again Americans thrived fr a while. We will need a new economy soon because the current situation is bleak. We nearly collapsed in 2008. And we’re heading for another showdown with obsolescence soon.

  5. My grandfather Jack Greene give 40 years of his life to Armco. That’s what it will always be to me. I remember the buyout in 94 but refused to refer to it as AK. I was 20 & grew up with Armco as a staple in the community. It saddens me that it couldn’t be stopped. My grandfather had a little song he sang about owing his soul to Arm~a~co. I can still hear him singing it & he hasn’t been with us for several years.

  6. My dad Donald E. Allen worked for Armco for over 40 yrs. he raised our family while working there we were brought up well by his working at Armco we enjoyed family vacations, nice clothes, all we could eat and so on it is sad to see such a well established company shut down my dad is no longer with us but he would be saddened by this occurrence he was proud to say he worked here and I’m proud to say I am his daughter he loved working there and loved the people he worked with. Hopefully it will be up and running again soon

  7. Jack Withrow that is as true and accurate of a statement that could be made after watching the slow aftermath of the upper managements decisions to “spread the wealth ” on the planet. My dad and all of his sons labored at ARMCO along with my sisters husbands and to this day the sad fact remains that men in their 50’s and 60’s that have full retirements at ARMCO still have to work a job to make ends meet instead of enjoying what’s left of their lives with their families. GEORGE VERITY and his makers of commerce did my family well and put food on our table for as long as I remember and I am greatful. But the downhill slide that they couldn’t stop was , indeed, the downfall of an entire nation of unionized steelworkers and the onset of the generations of “steel kids” that would never see a paycheck like their fathers, benefits even half as nice as they lived under as children, the respect of a community and retailers that our parents had when a steel worker walked into a department store or grocery to spend that paycheck on every Thursday of the week and a handshake of a banker when a steel worker signed the note on a new house in the community. Bring back the steel, bring back the wealth, bring back the American family.

  8. “Global Economy” , the worst phrase that was ever heard by a working man’s ears. It was the beginning of the end for the “Middle Class” . The Union’s had gained so much power that the Huge Industries of the USA had to come up with some way to stop this tidal wave of the working class people gaining so much power and wealth. Thus they began to work and plot against the “American Dream”. Now through their stringent efforts, the help of greedy politicians and the short sightedness of our Union Leaders, they have succeeded in sending our jobs to other Country’s, dwindled Union membership and power with the “Right to Work Laws” and raised the cost of the essential’s we need everyday to the point we can’t afford them. In the early 70’s ( 1972 to be exact ) when I went into the work force at the age of 19 there was no less then 25 industrial plant’s, garment factories, the Railroad, Truck driving company’s, and Company’s that supplied all of these place’s with the material’s they needed to make their product’s. There were ample places a man or woman could easily find a job and feel secure in the fact that they would have a job for life and retire from it. Those days are gone, almost all of the factories have shut down or moved operations to another country. Union membership in the USA is below 10% of the work force and immigrants are flooding into our country faster then they can be counted. I’m not sure if Merle Haggard really knew how right his words were when he sang ” We’re Rolling Down Hill, Like a Snowball Headed For Hell “. I feel so scared for the young people today and the children they bring into this world. What they will have to face in their lifetime is beyond comprehension. Unless a miracle comes into place and our leaders see the error of their ways and try to right all the wrongs that have been committed in the name of ” Global Economy” !!! GOD Help Us!!!

  9. Seeing these pictures bring back a lot of fond memories and good friends. But it is sad to see many of my old friends and past co-workers now out of work and beginning the struggle to try and get one their feet in a bad economy.
    Brings tears to my eyes thinking about how many families of good hard working honest people are going to see struggle and poverty. My prayers and thoughts go out to them and hope that God blesses them and helps them move on to bigger and better things in life.

    –Tim Stamper
    Former B.O. Electronics

    1. With the middle class now below 50% (as of late 2015) and the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer – yeah, it’s hard to photograph these places sometimes. Travel down to southwest West Virginia and see what greed did to the coal fields.

  10. Sad to see Ashland Slowly turn into a Ghost town, I grew up in Ashland and My Mom worked at the Coke Plant for 25 years plus.. There’s not much left as far as good paying Jobs go.. And with the recent shut down of the last blast furnace, my heart goes out to the entire community that depended on these jobs for many years to support their families.. God Bless these hard working Men and Women in the Ashland Area.

    1. Like many areas, the schools (Ashland Public, ACC, Russell, etc.) and hospitals (Bellefonte, King’s Daughters) provide the highest paying jobs today – and the most jobs by far. I wish industry was still dominant, but like with all industries, sometimes change just happens. Ashland looks and feels better than the past 20 years for me (I grew up in the area) and I see prosperity.

      I do hope that some industrial complex can be built on the old coke plant.

  11. I just wanted to let you know that the coke plant in ashland,ky actually had a fourth battery built in the early 1970's. In June of this year the coke plant ceased production and is in the process of being dismatled. There are some pictures floating around of the plant if you would be interested. I have more info on the coke plant if you would like it for the site.

    1. I Jeff, I would like to know more about the operation to see if their could be a great return to great production sometime, and it would be a nice thing if they could. Maybe me and my wife could check it out someday to see if I could find a better place to live and work. If you could please send me some imformation and pictures threw the postal mail at my address:>>Donald Ray Wilcox P.O. Box 932 Mancelona, Michigan 49659-0932 THANK YOU MY FREIND

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