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Know Ohio: Ohio's Steel Legacy

Ohio has a long history of making steel. Gabriel takes us from the state's first blast furnace to the factories left today.

Class Discussion Questions:

1) How does Ohio's geography support the steel industry?

2) Why was the steel industry so strong during World War II?

Read the Script:

Ohio is one strong state. No, I'm not just talking about my muscles, I'm talking about the cities here that melt and form some of the toughest materials used in buildings: iron and steel. 

Steel is an alloy. An  alloy is a mixture of metals. In this case, steel is made mostly of iron and is used to make everything from cars to cords. Before we knew how to mix steel though, iron was the strongest material. We made it here way back in 1802, before the Civil War. That's when the state's first blast furnace opened near Youngstown. It doesn't look like much now, but by burning coal and blasting it with air, the furnace was able to get so hot, that it would melt the iron into a liquid, which was then formed into machines and tools. The first furnace created on average two tons per day. 

After the Civil War, iron manufacturers came up with a new way to process iron, which resulted in the creation of steel. Ohio cities grew with smokestacks and factories. By the late 1800's, Ohio was the second largest producer of steel in the country. It became an identity for the people living in steel towns.

[Narrator] "This is my hometown. It's called Youngstown and it's in the state of Ohio near the Pennsylvania boundary. In Youngstown we make steel. We make steel and talk steel. Look down any street in town and you'll see the mills at the end of it. There are 25 miles of them along the Mahoning River."

Workers at the steel mills begin with iron ore, which looks like dirt, and melt it in the blast furnace. When the iron is hot enough, they mix it with scrap metals and other alloys to make it into the strong steel. The furnaces reach around 3,000 degrees, so you can imagine it was a dangerous and sweaty job. After they check the steel to be sure it was mixed right, they press it into sheets, and from there the steel is used by other factories to make everything from bridges to small spoons, giant skyscrapers, and automobiles. 

The steel industry's peak years were during World War II, from 1941 through 1945. The American steel industry produced 427 million tons of steel. Much of this was used to make military items. Steel mills were such a large employer in Ohio that you might know someone who worked for one, like U. S. Steel. You might have a grandpa or another family member who used to work there. But the industry could not stay strong forever. As other countries figured out how to make steel cheaper, factories here began to close. 

In 1977, one of the largest employers, Youngstown Sheet and Tube, closed a large part of their operations. Five thousand lost their jobs on the day they called Black Monday, and from there the rest of the factories began to close. A few steel factories do continue to operate in Ohio. Steel lasts an awful long time though, so the next bridge you drive over might just be made out of Ohio metal by Ohio's strongest workers.

Find Out More

Website Article: Ohio History Connection, Ohio History Central, Steel Mills | History of steelmaking

Website Article: Teaching Cleveland Digital, Steel Industry | Many historical photos & articles

Website Article: Discovery Kids, How Steel is Made