Weirton Steel is a formerly integrated steel mill in Weirton, West Virginia.
Ernest T. Weir, who started as an office assistant at U.S. Steel Corporation, had risen through the ranks to become the general manager of a tin plate mill in Monessen, Pennsylvania. 1 In 1905, Weir and his partner, James Phillips, purchased the Phillips Sheet and Tin Plate Company in Clarksburg, West Virginia. 3
The partners relocated and expanded the operation in what was then Hollidays Cove at the northern tip of the state in 1909 because of the abundant availability of water, coal, river and rail transportation, and ready access to significant steel markets.
By the end of the year, Weir had ten steel mills operating 3 and ten more mills were added in 1910. In 1911, Weir acquired the 12-mill Pope In Plate Company in Steubenville, Ohio. In 1915 and 1916, two more hot mills were constructed at Weir’s central facility. By 1915, Weir was operating 50 hot mills in three locations and the second largest tin plate production facility in the world. 1
The first pig-iron blast furnace was built at Weirton in 1919 followed by an open-hearth shop 8 and blooming mill 9 in 1920. 8
To better coordinate production between the location, Weir formed the Weirton Steel Company in 1918, 1 formally incorporating in 1925. 3
By 1920, more than 15,000 people lived in the area. 3 Hollidays Grove expanded rapidly, and communities like Weirton, Weirton Heights and Marland Heights developed. All of the villages incorporated into the city of Weirton in 1947.
Weirton continued to expand throughout the following decades, allowing the plant to integrate vertically. A coke plant was added in 1923 on Brown’s Island in the Ohio River, followed by the construction of new blast furnaces, hearths and river docks. 3
In 1929, Weir merged Weirton Steel with Detroit’s Great Lakes Steel Corporation and Cleveland’s Hanna Iron Ore Company to form the National Steel Corporation, becoming one of the world’s largest steel companies. 1
A second blast furnace was constructed in 1926 followed by a Bessemer converter in 1936. 8
Weirton idled its Clarksburg plant in 1938, turning over the facility to the local chamber of commerce. 3 The tin-plate plant had become obsolete because of increased freight charges, old machinery and the expansion of the Weirton and Steubenville plants. A quality control laboratory, built opposite of the company’s central office, was built in the same year. A third blast furnace was added in 1941. 8
During World War II, the War Production Board ordered a reduction in tin-plate operations. 3 Weirton Steel shut down the Steubenville facility in October 1942. To assist in the war, Weirton’s central plant made new records, twice establishing world records for steel ingot production. It produced an average of 5,080 net tons of ingot steel per day.
A fourth battery for the coke plant was built in 1942, followed by a fifth and sixth battery in 1947 and a seventh battery in 1951. 16 A fourth blast furnace was added in 1952. 8 An eighth battery for the coke plant was erected in 1954 followed by a ninth battery in 1956. 16
Weirton Steel acquired Browns Island on the Ohio River in 1957 for future plant expansion. 15 In 1960, it added a steel research center and implemented open-hearth smoke controls in 1963. 3 A Basic Oxygen Plant was added in 1967 followed by a four-strand continuous slab caster in 1968 which resulted in the closure of the open-hearth shop and blooming mill. 9
Construction of the new coke plant atop 57,000 tons of slag on Browns Island began on August 7, 1970, and was completed in September 1972. 15 16 It required the construction of a bridge over the main channel of the Ohio River between Weirton Steel’s main facility in Weirton to the island and a temporary crossing over the back channel of the river between the island and Ohio. The new coking facility, to replace the c. 1944 facility, featured 87 20-foot-high ovens, self-scaling doors, a completely closed pushing system, a continuous quenching system, and state-of-the-art environmental controls. It also included first-in-class ammonia destruction facilities, a system that removed hydrogen sulfide from coke oven gas, and a mechanism to obtain high purity liquid sulfur as a byproduct.
Steel Imports and Domestic Troubles
Throughout the 1950’s, total U.S. steel exports remained static, and the nation’s share of the world steel trade dropped from 53.6% in 1947 to 6.9% in 1960. 3 Most of the decline was the result of the decrease in post-war reconstruction in Japan and Europe. Instead of relying on domestic steel producers, local industrial firms imported increasing quantities of steel from abroad. Between 1950 and 1965, total U.S. imports of steel grew from 1,077 tons to 10,383 tons.
Countering the imports, the federal government imposed import quotas for foreign steel in 1969. 3 Weirton also began to lose market share as aluminum supplanted tin in the beverage industry.
National Steel considered shutting down the Weirton facility for three weeks in 1977. 3 Instead, 781 workers were laid off. 12 Between 1978 and 1982, net sales decreased from $1.09 billion to $904 million while operating expenses rose from $79 million to $103 million. Pretax earnings plunged from $16 million in 1978 to a loss of $104 million in 1982.
At the same time, the shipment of products declined from 2.94 million tons in 1978 to 1.68 million tons in 1982. 3 Tin-plate accounted for about half of Weirton’s shipments, with galvanized steel accounting for about one-fifth. Cold-roll steel and hot-rolled bands represented about one-tenth of shipments each.
In 1981, Weirton Steel experienced the first significant layoffs in its history. 3 By the end of the year, more than 3,500 workers had lost their jobs. 12 The Steubenville Works closed, followed by the coke plant on Browns Island a year later, claiming another 275 workers. 3 17 The coke plant required rebuilding as it was at the end of its expected lifespan and needed upgrades to its emission control equipment. 17
Weirton’s parent company, National Steel, began to use its earnings to diversify, buying interests in savings and loans and investing in the production of aluminum. 3 In 1982, National Steel announced that it would not spend any further significant capital in the Weirton division. 1 17 A shutdown was inevitable.
A Joint Study Committee, headed by Weirton’s then-president Jack Redline and representatives from labour, considered radical options, including an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). 1 An agreement was reached in April 1983. 3 Under the terms, employee-owned Weirton Steel Corporation would purchase the Weirton Steel division of National Steel for $194.2 million in cash and debt. The workers accepted a 20% pay cut and a six-year wage freeze in exchange for a stake in the factories.
Under this employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) the company would henceforth be owned by the employees and directed by seven outside directors. 3 At the time, it was the world’s most significant Employee Stock Ownership Plan.
Weirton posted earnings of $48.3 million on sales of $845.5 million in the first nine months of 1984. 3 Sales increased 9.1%, and income rose 1.5% in 1985. A blast furnace that had been idled was restarted, recalling 60 workers. The same year, Weirton Steel exercised its option to buy the Steubenville mill plant from National Steel.
Weirton Steel enjoyed 16 consecutive profitable quarters after the transition. 3 The company posted profits of $80 million in 1987, an increase of $50 million from the year prior. Production rose from 2.8 million tons to 3.3 million tons in the same period. To celebrate, some 8,400 Weirton Steel workers received average profit-sharing checks of $4,500, the highest of any steel company.
Weirton Steel had become the seventh largest integrated steel producer in the nation. 1 3
To finance major capital improvements at Weirton, the employees voted to relinquish 23% of its stock 3 in an initial public offering in 1989. 1 The offering funded a five-year, $500 million capital improvement program. The second offering in 1994, reducing the employee stake to 49%, shored up debt. 3 A state-of-the-art continuous caster was added, and the hot mill was rebuilt as part of the modernisation project.
With its debt reduced and the plant modernised, the company was on solid financial footing by 1996. 1 The adverse effects of a nationwide steel import crisis that began in 1998 reduced the company’s output significantly, harming Weirton’s ability to control pricing.
Delays in the modernisation program led Weirton Steel to post its first losses as an employee-owned company. 3 Weirton lost $75 million in 1991 12 and $32 million on sales of $1.07 billion in 1992. Management announced in July a plan to cut the workforce by 25% over a three- to five-year period.
The modernisation program had increased the company’s long-term debt to $495 million by 1993. 3 This led the board to propose a public offering of an additional 60 million shares. Workers eventually agreed to a 20 million share offering with five million shares reserved for employee purchases in October 1994.
Weirton Steel reduced its workforce by 500 in 1996, including the elimination of 200 of its 1,000 management workers. 3 The company restructured $100 million in debt during the year. With the changes, Weirton Steel cut its losses from $49.9 million in 1995 to $17.7 million in 1997. The workforce was down to 3,000 by 1999. 13 By 2001, those losses had ballooned to $533 million, and the company laid off 520 in response. 12
The fresh capital, constant layoffs and concessions from workers, suppliers and lenders were not enough. Weirton Steel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on May 19, 2003, just short of its 100th birthday. 12 By court order, the assets were auctioned with most being acquired by the International Steel Group (ISG) for $237 million. 11 ISG formed a new division called ISG Weirton Steel in May 2004.
Shortly after the acquisition, ISG Weirton Steel announced a $30 million clean up and modernisation plan of its Weirton operations, involving the abatement and demolition of obsolete and idled structures. 11 Scrap steel from the teardowns was used to fuel the blast furnaces.
In early 2005, Mittal offered $4.5 billion in cash and stock for ISG. 11 The merger was completed on April 5 with Weirton Steel becoming Mittal Steel Weirton.
In June, Mittal idled the blast furnaces, ore yards and the double strands caster by the end of the year, idling 750 workers. 12 On November 29, the company opted to permanently close the blast furnaces and related furnaces, citing high costs. 14 Mittal had to import coke for the furnaces at a high price on the open market and had to have iron ore shipped by rail, significantly more expensive and Mittal’s Cleveland mill where it was sent in cheaper via freighters on Lake Erie.
Mittal employed just 1,300 workers by the close of the year. 13
The company completed a merger with Arcelor in 2006, becoming ArcelorMittal.
In August 2008, ArcelorMittal announced that the hot mill would close. 10 The open-hearth shop and blooming mill, idled since the Basic Oxygen Plant opened in 1968, 9 reheating furnaces and the coke plant on Brown’s Island were demolished later in the year. 11
Demolition and Reuse
ArcelorMittal sold approximately 1,100 acres of idled property to the Frontier Group on February 1, 2017. 4 Frontier, a Buffalo, New York corporation which focused on the cleanup and redevelopment of large industrial and commercial sites, planned to raze the Basic Oxygen Plant, the blast furnace and ore yard, rail sidings, rail docks and miscellaneous structures and clean the land for reuse.
On March 10, Bidell Gas Compression closed on a deal to occupy 100,000 square-feet of the former machine shop by 2018, employing up to 130. 6 7 Bidell plans to use the building to fabricate, sell, lease and service natural gas compression equipment. 7
On April 14, the three ore bridges that fed iron ore into the blast furnaces were imploded. 5
Today, ArcelorMittal Weirton operates a tin plate and cold-rolled sheet facility, employing 876 over 640 acres. 2 Workers reheat steel produced in Ohio and coat it with tin, zinc and chrome. 12 ArcelorMittal Weirton features only a tandem mill, batch anneal, continuous annealing lines, temper mills, electro-tin plating lines and side trimmers. 2
[su_spoiler title=”Sources” icon=”caret”]
- “History.” Weirton Steel Corporation. Archive.
- “Weirton.” ArcelorMittal. Article.
- International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 26. St. James Press, 1999.
- Howell, Craig and Casey Junkins. “ArcelorMittal Steel Sells Weirton Property.” Intelligencer [Wheeling], 7 Sept. 2017.
- Eiler, Sean. “Former Arcelor Mittal bridges demolished.” WTOV9, 14 Apr. 2017.
- “Revitalizing Old Mill Site in Weirton.”Intelligencer [Wheeling], 15 Mar. 2017.
- “Bidell Gas Compression Bringing New Jobs to Weirton.” Intelligencer [Wheeling], 10 Mar. 2017.
- Mácha, Viktor. “Weirton Steel Corporation, West Virginia.” Viktor Mácha, 2017. Article.
- Brown, Keri. “For nearly 40 years, the open hearth mill at Weirton steel has been idle.” West Virginia Public Broadcasting. 31 Aug. 2007.
- Brown, Keri. “Historic Weirton Steel building coming down.” West Virginia Public Broadcasting. 31 Aug. 2007.
- “Steel manufacturer planning to do more work in state.” Charleston Daily Mail. 12 Jan. 2005.
- “What happens when industry moves on?” News-Journal [Mansfield], 23 Jul. 2006. p. 4A.
- Boselovic, Len. “Weirton vote ends noble but outdated experiment.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1 Apr. 2007. pp. D1, D7.
- Smith, Vicki. “Furnace will stay idle at Weirton steel mill.” Courier-Journal [Louisville], 2 Dec. 2005. p. D3.
- “Browns Island Coke Plant To Be Completed In Sept.” Weirton Daily Times, 6 Apr. 1972, pp. 1-2.
- “Coke Plant On Island 40 Percent Complete.” Weirton Daily Times, 7 Oct. 1971, pp. 1-2.
- Brennan, James J. “Weirton Steel Plans To Close Coke Plant.” Pittsburgh Press, 20 Aug. 1982, p. B6.