A formerly integrated steel mill, once owned by U.S. Steel’s subsidiary National Tube and later Republic Steel, among others, is located in Lorain, Ohio.
In 1888, Tom Johnson founded the Johnson Steel Street Rail Company to manufacture street railway rails, switch equipment, and accessories in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. 43 After the switch works were destroyed in a flood on May 31, 1889, the plant was rebuilt nearby at Moxham, but it became apparent that it could not produce profitably at that site. Agents for the company began scouting for sites elsewhere, visiting Lorain in 1894. 2 4 43 While there, they discovered a prime site along the Black River that contained a thick shale formation suitable for industrial foundations. It was between the coalfields of southern Ohio, the Great Lake’s iron deposits, and the major markets of Chicago and New York.
After the village of Lorain agreed to widen, straighten, and deepen four miles of the Black River so that ships could reach the potential site, Johnson decided to relocate his plant to Lorain. The company acquired 4,000 acres, 43 2,300 acres of which were set aside for residential and commercial developments by the Sheffield Land Company to support the mill. 4 44 The ground was broken for the new plant in June 1894. 46
On the evening of April 1, 1895, the rechristened Johnson Steel Company produced its first steel in the Bessemer converter in front of a crowd of 200 persons. 46 The fire in the No. 4 Cupola where pig iron was melted for use in the converter was started at 2 PM by Superintendent D.D. Lewis’ four-year-old son, with the blast turned on at 9:15 PM. At 10:24 PM, the cupola was tapped, and molten metal started down the channel to the conveyor. The converter turned into position at 11 PM for the blowing, and at 12:47 AM, the first six ingots of steel were cooling in the molds.
By June, Johnson Steel grew to encompass six million square miles of land, twenty buildings, a 38″ reversible blooming mill, a 27″ girder rail mill, and four gas heating furnaces. 1 2 36 By August 1897, work was underway on Blast Furnaces A and B. 1 2 32 Both featured four Cowper fire-brick stoves, stacks 100 feet in height, and hearths 22 feet wide. 33 36 Furnace A was blown in July 5, 1899, with Furnace B blown in on August 23. Its main products included blooms, billets, slabs, girder and T-rails, and street railroad specialties. 36 The Bessemer steel department contained two 10-ton acid converters and 28 soaking pits, with its main product being Bessemer steel ingots.
In 1898, Johnson and cofounder Moxham refinanced their company into the Lorain Steel Company after Johnson became a U.S. Senator. 2 43 45 A second 38″ reversible blooming mill was added in 1899. 36 The company was then acquired by the Illinois Steel Company and merged with the Johnson Company of Pennsylvania, the Minnesota Iron Company, and the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway to form the Federal Steel Company headed by Elbert Henry Gary. 2 43 In February 1901, Gary worked with J.P. Morgan to have him acquire Carnegie Steel to form the U.S. Steel Corporation (USS), which began operations on April 1. 3
Lorain Works became a part of the National Tube Company, a division of USS, in 1903. 43 An expansion project with an estimated cost of $8.65 million soon commenced in March 1943 to increase the annual production of pig iron by 347,000 tons, the rolling mills by 330,000 tons, and the tube and pipe mills by 300,000 tons. 47
Work commenced in June 1904 on a 34″×90″ plate mill, a 30″×48″ universal mill, a 28″ reversing mill, and a 14″ continuous mill for making pipe skelp. 36 Four lap-weld and five butt-weld furnaces were completed in 1905, 36 with the first pipe produced on February 10. 1 2 43 Blast Furnace C was built in 1903-04 and blown in on September 10, 1904, and Blast Furnace D was added in 1903-05 and blown in on February 22, 1905. 33 Both also featured four Cowper fire-brick stoves, stacks 85 feet in height, and hearths 22 feet wide. Blast Furnace E was blown in on September 26, 1907, 35 and featured a stack 90 feet height with a hearth 22 feet wide. 32 33 Later, Blast Furnace B was shortened from 100 feet in height to 90 feet in height. 33
Fueled by Connelsville coke and Lake Superior iron ore, the plant’s five blast furnaces had an annual capacity of 800,000 tons. 33
Six 60-ton open-hearth furnaces were started on January 26, 1909, allowing Lorain Works the capability to produce both open-hearth and Bessemer rails. 35 The furnaces were given numerical designations by 1910, with Blast Furnaces A through E becoming No. 1 through No. 5. Coking ovens were added around 1910, 42 followed by the No. 3 Blooming Mill and four additional batteries of coke ovens in 1918. 43
Technological advances allowed for the construction of new seamless pipe mills to replace the original lap weld mills, with the Nos. 1, 2, and 3 seamless mills completed in 1926, 1928, and 1929, respectively. 43 The seamless process is a method by which steel rounds are pierced, expanded, and rolled, eliminating welding. The No. 3 and No. 4 Blast Furnaces were rebuilt with hearths 26 feet wide in 1941 and 1942, respectively. 32 By the dawn of World War II, National Tube was the biggest pipe producer in the nation. 1
In 1948, Tube Mill No. 4 was added to produce 1.9″ to 4.5″ steel pipe. 18 A year later, the company installed the nation’s last high-capacity Bessemer steel shop, a blooming mill, and a billet and heavy bar mill (1.2 million ton capacity). 1
By 1950, Lorain Works featured a coke plant with 208 Koppers ovens and 177 Wilputte ovens, a coal and chemical plant, and a Carl Still benzol plant. 38 There were five blast furnaces, 22 stoves, nine blowing engines, two Heyl and Patterson double-strand pig casting machines, and a Dwight-Lloyd sintering plant. The steel department included 12 basic open hearth furnaces and three Bessemer converters, while the rolling mills included 12 soaking pits, 19 heating furnaces, and blooming, bar, and skelp mills. The pipe mills featured 17 continuous furnaces, four seamless mills, six continuous buttweld furnaces, and three galvanizing pots. Its main products included pipes and tubes and various chemicals derived from its coking operations, including benzol, toluol, xylol, crude solvent naphtha, benzol still residue, ammonium sulfate, tar, and crude naphthalene.
Six years later, the coke plant had 118 Koppers ovens and 236 Wilputte ovens (1.6 million tons capacity). 37 There were still five blast furnaces (1.98 million tons capacity) but 17 stoves, five blowing engines, four turbo blowers, two double-strand pig casting machines, and a sintering plant (353,100-ton capacity). The steel department now included an additional soaking put, four continuous non-recuperative heating furnaces, and blooming, bar, continuous vertical and horizontal, and skelp mills. The pipe mills now contained five more continuous furnaces and five non-continuous furnaces, four seamless mills, six buttweld mills, and three galvanizing kettles for a capacity of 1.494 million tons of basic open hearth ingots and 870,000 tons of Bessemer ingots. Its main products included iron molds and castings, brass and bronze castings, skelp, rounds for seamless tubes, seamless and buttweld pipe and tubes, and galvanized pipe.
For 1960, Lorain Works still boasted five blast furnaces with expanded capacities (2.2 million tons capacity), 12 open hearths (1.8 million tons capacity), three Bessemer mills (900,000 tons capacity), a 40″ and 46″ two-stand bloom mill, a 21″ and 30″ continuous billet mill, two heavy mills for rounds for seamless tube feed, and two skelp mills for welded tube feed. 1 In 1961, a new 2,500-ton ore bridge was erected to complement two others. 19
In 1969, a 9″/10″ Special Bar Quality (SBQ) bar mill (420,000 tons capacity) to manufacture steel used in axles, suspensions, drivetrains, and other parts of cars and off-road vehicles was installed. 1 It was followed by a 12″ SBQ bar mill (500,000 tons capacity) in 1970. In 1971, the company invested $120 million to install a Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF). 1 2 The BOF took the place of twelve open hearths and the last of the Bessemer furnaces, which were the source of much pollution in the area.
A $20 million new pellet plant to aggregate iron ore fines using a furnace was opened on May 2, 1980, 8 and a six-strand bloom caster (1 million ton capacity) was added in 1983. 1 Ladle refining capability was added within the decade.
The late 1970s and early 1980s saw a sharp drop in demand for products made at Lorain Works because of lighter-weight, more malleable, and corrosion-resistant products such as aluminum, fiberglass, and plastics being used in the automotive industry, a surge in steel imports, inadequate investments in new technologies and research and development, among other reasons. 9 The No. 5 Blast Furnace was idled in 1980, followed by coke batteries K and L, the No. 3 Seamless Rotary Expander, and the continuous weld pipe hot mill and galvanizing facilities in 1982, and the burnt lime plant, electrolytic galvanizing line and coupling, foundry, slag crusher, and Hulett unloaders were in 1983. 39 Because of excess capacity, the coke plant was idled indefinitely on October 20, impacting 400 employees. 41
By 1984, Lorain Works had around 2,800 employees, with 4,200 on indefinite layoff, a steep drop from 8,600 workers in 1981. 41
In July 1989, 20 USS and Kobe Steel Company of Japan formed the USS-Kobe Steel Company, a 50/50 joint venture, to acquire and operate National Tube, excluding the pipe mill, which would continue to be owned and operated by USS. 1 14 The plant at the time had an overall capacity of 28 million tons of raw steel a year, operated at 50% of capacity, and employed 2,850 people, 14 17 a steep decline from 1980 when the mill employed 11,000. 18 The sale of a partial interest in Lorain Works provided USS with a long-term cash infusion of more than $250 million to fund a continuous bloom caster, among other upgrades. 40 The partnership also extended to a new facility built in Leipsic to produce galvanized sheet steel, with semi-processed sheets supplied from USS’s Fairfield, Fairless, and Gary Works.
In April 1990, No. 4 Seamless Tube Mill was closed for a $40 million upgrade, which included the installation of a new reheat furnace with equipment to move tubes through at a uniform 1,750° F to yield more uniform dimensions, the addition of a 150-foot-wide walking beam bed where the pipe is cooled to 200° F, and the addition of two carbide saws that can cut up to 12 pipes at a time. 18 Work on the No. 4 Seamless Tube Mill was completed on May 22.
USS-Kobe announced in May 1991 that it would invest $200 million to upgrade its steel bar and tubular production by 1993 and another $200 million by 1996 so that the facility could remain competitive and provide steel for Japanese automakers producing engines in America. 14 17 At that time, no Japanese automaker had a major engine-making operation in the United States. 17 In October, USS-Kobe announced a $75 million expansion so that the plant could produce smaller, lighter steel bars, or rods. 15
The 9″ and 10″ SBQ bar mill was upgraded in 1991. 1 Late in the year, work began on a $100 million renovation to No. 3 Blast Furnace, which had a capacity of 3,750 tons per day. 16 21 Although Ohio Environmental Protection Agency approved the project, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revoked the work permit, claiming it violated the Clean Air Act. An agreement brokered by Governor Voinovich was reached by January 1992 that allowed the company to proceed with work on the blast furnace only if they installed new emissions control equipment.
In 1994, the last ore bridge, built in 1961, was imploded. 19 A conveyor system had functionally replaced the ore bridges. A new five-strand bloom caster (1.2 million ton capacity) was added in 1995 to provide 100% continuous casting, and a tank vacuum degasser was added around this time. 1 The No. 3 Blast Furnace was idled in June 1998. 31
In August 1999, 22 27 USS-Kobe was split into two companies: Lorain Tubular Steel Operations for the production of seamless pipe, owned and controlled by USS, 30 and Republic Technologies International (RTI) for all other operations, itself owned in a 70%/30% split with USS-Kobe. 2 22 RTI was the result of a 1998 merger of Republic Engineered Steels and Bar Technologies. 1
RTI restarted the idled No. 3 Blast Furnace in April 2000. 31 The company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 2001. 24
In September, USS announced a $100 million modernization of its No. 3 Seamless Tubular Mill, which produces large diameter pipes for oil wells and gas transmission lines and employed 550 people. but the plan depended on receiving a ten-year tax break from the city and reaching labor agreements. 23
In August 2002, RTI was acquired by Republic Engineered Product Holdings, comprised of KPS Special Situations Fund and Hunt Investment Group, for $410 million. 26 27 As part of the deal, the 12″ bar mill was shut down. 1 28
An August 14, 2003, blackout resulted in a fire and explosion that heavily damaged the No. 3 Blast Furnace. 25 An emergency generator failed to operate because of a lack of maintenance. After Republic could not restart the furnace after repairs were completed on the week of September 21, it began restarting its No. 4 Blast Furnace on September 29. The furnace, with a 3,200-ton-per-day capacity, 1 had not been used for some time because of its smaller size. 25
By October, Republic was in dire financial straits as it defaulted on a major bank loan, unable to make interest payments on its bonds, and was nearing default on a $5 million loan from the Ohio Department of Development. 26 It idled much of its production except for the blast furnace and BOF, affecting approximately 800 employees. Republic idled the No. 4 Blast Furnace, its last, in 2008. 1
Republic Engineered Product Holdings was acquired by Mexican steelmaker Grupo Simec Gradalajara in 2005, with the company name changing to Republic Steel in 2011. 1
Led by a drilling boom in the gas and oil industry, USS opened a new $100 million finishing mill to manufacture steel pipe for the drilling industry in April 2012 29 and Republic commissioned a 150-ton electric arc furnace (1.2 million ton capacity) in 2013. 1 The projects were aided with a 15-year tax credit worth $4.6 million by the Ohio Tax Credit Authority in 2012, a $500,000 grant awarded by the Ohio Controlling Board, and $5.9 million in tax and water rate breaks by the city. 30
Decline and Closure
Following World War II, the domestic steel industry boasted technological superiority over its international competitors, which made it the world’s dominant producer. 9 For 1955, the United States supplied 40% of the world’s needs and imported only 1% of its domestic consumption. Following two decades of strong growth, steel production declined steadily in the 1970s before falling 14% between 1979-82. 9 The drop in demand was attributed to the rise of lighter-weight, more malleable, and corrosion-resistant products such as aluminum, fiberglass, and plastics being used in the automotive industry, a surge in steel imports from Germany, Japan, and later China, excessive wage settlements, inadequate investments in new technologies, low expenditures on research and development, environmental regulations, and unfavorable exchange rates. By 1985, the domestic steel industry accounted for only 11% of the world’s steel production, with more than 25% of domestic consumption imported.
USS announced that it would idle its Lorain Tubular Steel Operations and lay off 614 employees in January 2015 because of waning demand in the oil and gas industries and because of excess imported steel from China. 7 9 Republic Steel laid off 200 workers from its operations in March as it depended highly on Lorain Tubular Steel Operations for steel. 5 Another 200 employees were furloughed in January 2016, 6 followed by the layoff of another 30 workers at Lorain Tubular Steel in March. 13 Its No. 6 Quench and Temper Mill, which produced smaller pipes, was permanently shut down in June 2017, impacting 33 workers, after having been closed since January 2013. 13 48
Following President Trump’s newly imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, Republic Steel announced in February 2018 that it was exploring a partnership with a Minnesota iron ore company to restart the No. 4 Blast Furnace and possibly a second one to produce pig iron. 12 It also announced in March that it planned to bring back more than 1,000 jobs and restart its idled electric arc furnace, casters, and 9″ and 10″ rolling mills at the cost of $50 million. 10 11 It also reiterated restarting operations of the rolling mills in 2020, but the company noted that tariff fluctuations allowed purchasers to game the system. 11
In May 2020, USS indefinitely idled all operations at Lorain Tubular Steel, impacting 250 workers. 13 The company blamed weak tubular market conditions and high levels of imported tubular products as the reason for the plant’s closure. There have been reported attempts at restarting the 10″ bar mill, rod mill, and the EAF, but technical problems beset the projects. 34
The formation of the steel mill transformed Lorain from a sleepy community of 5,000 residents along Lake Erie in 1894 to a bustling town of 16,000 by the dawn of the 20th century. 2 4 By the 1920s, the company employed 17,000 new workers, with so many being added that average working hours were cut from 12 hours per day to eight hours per day. This led to labor unrest and accusations by the American Federation of Labor accusing USS of importing European immigrants who were more obedient and “docile slaves.”
Prior to 1894, much of Lorain was comprised of domestic people from New England, but after a labor scarcity around 1900, Federal Steel and USS turned to foreign labor. 2 Up until World War I, Germans, Irish, Italians, Scottish, and Spanish were the leading immigrants, followed by Mexicans after World War I. The mill brought over 1,300 workers from Mexico and Texas in 1923 and then from Puerto Rico after 1947.
- Groves, John. “Republic Steel Inc.” Steel Mill Pictorial, 26 Aug. 2022.
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- “Republic Steel announces 200 layoffs in northeastern Ohio.” Marion Star, 9 Jan. 2016, p. 4A.
- “U.S. Steel to idle Ohio, Texas pipe plants.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 7 Jan. 2015, p. A9.
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- “Republic Steel plans restart of plant, bringing back 1K jobs.” Tribune, 11 Mar. 2018, p. B3.
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- “Modernizing.” News-Herald, 22 May 1991, p. A1.
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- “Tenative accord reached on emissions from project.” Newark Advocate, 16 Jan. 1992, p. 2D.
- “Japanese signal start of U.S. engine-making.” Akron Beacon Journal, 2 Jun. 1989, p. B12.
- Geiger, Peter. “Lorain steel mill hails, ‘Look at me’.” Akron Beacon Journal, 23 May 1990, pp. B4-B8.
- “Bridge comes tumbling down.” News-Journal, 20 Dec. 1994, p. 12A.
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- “Agreement on mill project will save steel and jobs.” Newark Advocate, 17 Jan. 1992, p. 5B.
- “Steel mill to finalize merger.” Akron Beacon Journal, 14 Aug. 1999, p. D1.
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- “Republic Technologies International Announces Plans to Reorganize Under Chapter 11.” Blackstone, 2 Apr. 2001.
- Irwin, Gloria. “Republic resumes work in Canton.” Akron Beacon Journal, 30 Sept. 2003, pp. D1-D6.
- “Ohio steel company cuts back operations.” Sidney Daily News, 3 Oct. 2003, p. 4A.
- “Steel maker to sell assets.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 25 Apr. 2002, p. B6.
- Mackinnon, Jim. “Judge OKs sale of Republic.” Akron Beacon Journal, 12 Jul. 2002, pp. D1-D2.
- Schneider, Keith. “Ohio’s steel mills shake off the rust.” Journal News, 29 Apr. 2012, p. C7.
- Martinez, Kevin. “US Steel to close plant in Lorain, Ohio and lay off 756 workers.” World Socialist Web Site, 7 Jan. 2015.
- “Republic Technologies set to restart furnace in Lorain.” Akron Beacon Journal, 18 Mar. 2000, p. C8.
- Groves, John. “Lorain Ohio.” Steel Mill Pictorial, 22 Dec. 2021.
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- Thiery, Erik. “Republic Steel Inc.” Steel Mill Pictorial, 26 Aug. 2022.
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- “The National Tube Company (of Ohio).” Directory of Iron and Steel Plants, American Iron and Steel Association, 1904, pp. 31-32.
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- “Steel company/plant shutdowns, 1974-83 and January-March 1984.” Carbon and Certain Alloy Steel Products, United States International Trade Commission, Vol. 2, Jul. 1984, p. D12.
- “Efforts Related to Facilities.” Steel Industry Annual Report, United States International Trade Commission, Sept. 1990, pp. 31, G37, G39.
- “Another 400 U.S. Steel workers losing jobs at Lorain coke plant.” Akron Beacon-Journal, 21 Oct. 1983, p. C9.
- “To Erect Coke Ovens.” Chronicle-Telegram, 29 Jul. 1909, p. 1.
- Urquhart, Robert. “Urquhart Credits Workers at NTC Keystone.” Lorain Journal and Lorain Times-Herald, 21 Jun. 1955, p. 39.
- “Housing Shortage In 1894.” Lorain Journal and Lorain Times-Herald, 21 Jun. 1955, p. 39.
- “Lorain Owes Start In Steel Industry To Tom L. Johnson.” Lorain Journal and Lorain Times-Herald, 21 Jun. 1955, p. 40.
- “Crowd of 200 Saw First Bessemer Blast.” Lorain Journal and Lorain Times-Herald, 21 Jun. 1955, p. 42.
- “Its Plans Made Public.” Akron Beacon Journal, 4 Mar. 1903, p. 6.
- “US Steel permanently shutters tubular operations at Lorain mill.” SMM, 15 Mar. 2017.