Bethlehem Steel: Builder and Arsenal of America

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In the late 19th century, rails from Bethlehem Steel helped build the United States into the world's foremost economy. During the 1890s, Bethlehem became America's leading supplier of heavy armaments, and by 1914, it had pioneered new methods of structural steel manufacture that transformed urban skylines. Demand for its war materials during World War I provided the finance for Bethlehem to become the world's second-largest steel maker. As late as 1974, the company achieved record earnings of $342 million. But in the 1980s and 1990s, through wildly fluctuating times, losses outweighed gains, and Bethlehem struggled to downsize and reinvest in newer technologies. By 2001, in financial collapse, it reluctantly filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Two years later, International Steel Group acquired the company for $1.5 billion.

In Bethlehem Steel, Kenneth Warren presents an original and compelling history of a leading American company, examining the numerous factors contributing to the growth of this titan and those that eventually felled it—along with many of its competitors in the U.S. steel industry.
Warren considers the investment failures, indecision and slowness to abandon or restructure outdated “integrated” plants plaguing what had become an insular, inward-looking management group. Meanwhile competition increased from more economical “mini mills” at home and from new, technologically superior plants overseas, which drove world prices down, causing huge flows of imported steel into the United States.

Bethlehem Steel provides a fascinating case study in the transformation of a major industry from one of American dominance to one where America struggled to survive.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[Warren’s] research is impressive … students of industrial history will find Bethlehem Steel a revealing and timely work, defining challenges that all sorts of companies face today, across the U.S. and around the world.”
—The Wall Street Journal

Bethlehem Steel is the definitive historical analysis of the late Bethlehem Steel Corporation. . . .  this volume traces the origins, rise, decline, and eventual fall of one of this nation’s iconic business organizations. . . . well written and superbly researched.”
—Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

“The corporate biography of this icon of US industrial history is worthy of examination by history and business students and scholars. Highly recommended.” 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822960676
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 322
  • Sales rank: 337,707
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth Warren is Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, University of Oxford. He is the author of numerous books, including: Industrial Genius: The Working Life of Charles Michael Schwab; Big Steel: The First Century of the United States Steel Corporation 1901-2001; and Wealth, Waste, and Alienation: Growth and Decline in the Connellsville Coke Industry.
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Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables

Pt. I The Bethlehem Iron Company, 1857-1899

1 The Early Years and the Decline of the Anthracite Iron Industry 3

2 The Establishment and Growth of Iron and Steel Making in Bethlehem 15

3 Failure in Commercial Steels, 1880-1899 32

4 Armaments and Ores 43

Pt. II From a Struggling Plant to the Second Rank in Steel

5 Reorganizing and Redirecting Bethlehem Steel 67

6 War Materiel, Ships, and Commercial Products, 1904-1914 84

7 Wartime Activity, Expansion, and Mergers, 1914-1923 102

8 Bethlehem Steel in the 1920s Boom 116

9 Retrenchment, Reconstruction, and War, 1930-1945 132

10 Material Supplies, Growth, and Competition in the East, 1945-1957 150

11 Steel Making in the Far West and Midwest 165

Pt. III Triumph, Crisis, and Collapse

12 Shipbuilding, Steel, and Labor in Bethlehem's Peak Years 181

13 Responding to Crises in the 1980s 210

14 Paring Away the Unviable 229

15 Hope and Hope Dashed: Trade and Rationalization during the 1990s 245

16 Into the Abyss 259

Epilogue: The Roots of Decline 271

App. A Statistical Tables 275

App. B Chairmen and Presidents of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, 1904-2003 286

Notes 287

Bibliography 311

Index 317

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  • Posted May 6, 2010


    To change careers, I returned to college. I am an avid reader who doesn't even own a tv. To be eligible to teach middle school, 10 through 14 year-olds, the curriculum requires 3 UNDERGRADUATE credits in PA history. Sounds reasonable, right? NOT!!! Bethlehem Steel was the fifth and final required reading for this course, 3 of which were assigned in the last two weeks of the semester. MINUTIA is the only word that can describe this book. The words "in depth study" seem shallow in reference to this book. Staying awake to finish this was a burdensome challenge....and my former career was in banking! This book makes mortgages read like erotica. Only a searing, special interest would find this book readable. It would NEVER be enjoyable. It was our tenured instructor's intention to punish youth. He delivered quite a wallop with this text! Sadly, that makes college-shootings woefully understandable and the complacency of this northwestern PA school outrageous. I do not want to be one of the complacent...

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