Bethlehem Logo

Bethlehem Steel Company


This article first appeared in the Souvenir History Book of The Borough of South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania issued in connection with the semi-centennial celebration Oct. 3-9, 1915.

     At the beginning of the year 1857, the project of building an iron works at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was inaugurated by residents of that vicinity, and a charter was taken out for "The Saucona Iron Company" on April 8th, 1857, the name being changed by Act of Legislature, March 31st, 1859, to "The Bethlehem Rolling Mills and Iron Company", and again, May 1st, 1861, to "The Bethlehem Iron Company".

     On July 16th, 1860, ground was broken, but the early construction was much delayed by the disturbance of the Civil War then in progress. The first blast furnace was blown-in January 4th, 1863, the puddle furnaces were completed and began operations July 27th, 1863, and the first rails of puddled iron were rolled on the rolling mill September 26th, 1863.

     The infant industry prospered from the first, partly due to its favorable location in the Lehigh Valley in close proximity to supplies of ore and fuel, but mainly to the mechanical genius of its then General Superintendent, the now world-famous Mr. John Fritz, and the plant, from an early period of its existence, has commanded the attention and interest of steel men both at home and abroad, both for the ingenuity and engineering skill shown in its design, and for the uniformly high quality of its output. Many of the methods and devices now in general use in the manufacture of iron and steel had their birthplace at Bethlehem. It was of these works that the late Alexander Holly, an Engineer of international reputation, said, "I never come but that I go away with something good".

     In the early 70's the then recent invention of the Bessemer Process of making steel was taken up, and the first steel was made by this method October 4th, 1873, the first steel rail being rolled on the 18th of the same month. Up to 1885, the output of this Company was pig iron, billets, rails and similar products, but during that year plans were made for a plant for the manufacture of heavy forgings and castings from Open Hearth Steel, including forgings for guns of large calibre. In 1886 it was decided to establish an Armor Plate works, and during the following year contracts were taken from the United States Government for Armor Plate and Gun Forgings. During the next twenty years the attention of the Company was directed more and more to the development of the Armor Plate plant and the plant for the manufacture of guns and other high grade forgings and castings, the Bessemer Works and Rail Mill being abandoned. Recently (1906) an entirely new plant was built, adjacent to the then existing works, with furnaces and rolling mills for the manufacture of rails and structural shapes of Open Hearth Steel exclusively, the Company thus re-entering its original line of business.

     In its ordnance work the Bethlehem Company has not only produced material of the highest quality, but has always been a leader in the design and development of ordnance equipment now in use not only by the United States, but also by the other great countries of the world.

     The plant at Bethlehem is not equipped for the manufacture of the complete armor, armament, ammunition, shafting, etc., for the largest battleships, and, in conjunction with the affiliated shipbuilding plants (mentioned below) to build battleships complete. On April 17th, 1899, the Bethlehem Steel Company was incorporated with a larger capital stock, which was taken pro rata by the shareholders of the Bethlehem Iron Company, and the business was thereafter carried on in the name of the Bethlehem Steel Company.

     As an example of the many contributions by this Company to the improvements in methods of manufacture, there may be mentioned the development, about this time, of the now universally-used "High Speed Tool Steel" which was invented and perfected at the works of the Bethlehem Steel Company by its Engineers, Messrs. Fred W. Taylor and Maunsel White. This tool steel was first exhibited at the Paris Exposition in 1900, and astonishing results in speeds of cutting steel were publicly demonstrated. With tools treated by the Taylor-White Process it was possible to double or triple the best previous speeds of machining, and its not too much to say that this invention has revolutionized machine shop practice the world over.   Another example of its enterprise in development along ordnance lines, may be cited in the two-hand drive for elevating and training gears for rapid-fire guns, patents covering which are in force in all large countries, and which is employed on guns of this type used by both the United States and Great Britain.

     Since the formation of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, about nine years ago, Mr. Charles M. Schwab has devoted practically his entire time to the development of its properties. Not only have all of the plants of the Corporation been extended and enlarged, but in every department they have been brought to the highest possible physical condition for attaining the maximum output with minimum costs. Conjointly with the upbuilding of the plants Mr. Schwab has paid particular attention to the development of an organization modeled largely along the lines that proved so successful during his administration of the affairs of the Carnegie Steel Company.

     The Bethlehem Steel Corporation now embraces the following plants, and their full operation employs about 30,000 men:


     Plant at South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, manufacturing pig iron, iron castings, puddled bar, staybolt iron, steel castings, steel forgings (including forgings from hydraulically fluid compressed ingots), gun forgings, gun mounts, disappearing gun carriages, finished guns of all calibres complete with sights, shields, firing mechanisms, etc., projectiles, both plain steel and armor-piercing, field carriages, limbers, caissons, range finders, and other ordnance material, armor plate for battleships and land fortifications, armor plate vaults, special machinery (designed and built), gas and pumping engines, brass and bronze castings, tool steel, drop forgings, rail, billets, and structural material of both standard and "Special Bethlehem" sections.

     The plant covers an area of about 1,500 acres, comprises seven large modern Blast Furnaces, three Open Hearth Furnace departments with thirty-three furnaces, two steel forging departments, three treatment departments, seven machine shops, a crucible steel department with furnaces, hammer shop and rolling mills, an electric furnace for melting and refining, puddle furnaces and rolling mills for alloy steel bars and shapes, a drop forge department, with treatment department and machine shop, foundries for iron, steel and brass castings, and separate complete departments for the forging, treating and machining projectiles. The recent addition (in 1906) of rolling mills, referred to above, contains, besides its Open Hearth and Bessemer Converter Departments, two blooming mills, a rail mill, rolling mill for "standard" structural shapes, and a rolling mill of special patented design for the rolling of the "Bethlehem" structural shapes. These last are of scientifically planned section, and are much lighter for a given strength than the section rolled by other mills.

     Among the contracts of interest that have been executed by the Bethlehem Steel Company, are the following:

     Cast iron segments forming railroad and other tunnels under the Hudson River at New York
     Large turbines for the Niagara Falls Power Co.
     A Sewage Disposal Plant for the City of Baltimore, the three engines included in this plant being the largest in the world.
     Forged Nickel Steel Bridge Pins for the bridge now being erected across the St. Lawrence River at Quebec-the largest of which are 40 inches in diameter, hollow bored and finish machined.
     Air Flask forgings for submarine torpedoes.
     A high-duty pumping station (90,000,000 gallons per 24 hours) for the City of Detroit, the largest high-duty pumps ever built.
     For the City of Pittsburgh, two triple-expansion pumping engines which have developed the highest duty yet obtained, namely, 200,490.000 ft. lbs. Per 1,000 lbs. of steam.
     For the Minnesota Steel Company, Duluth, Minn., five gas-driven blowing engines with gas cylinders 45 x 60 inches, and air cylinders 81 x 60 inches, being the largest diameter gas cylinder built in the United States. Also five gas-driven blowing engines for the Maryland Steel Company, Sparrows Point, Md.
     Gas Engine installations for Bethlehem Steel Co.
     Special steel for the yachts defending the famous "America's Cup".
     A complete Armor Plate Forging Plant for the Carnegie Steel Company, including 14,000-Ton Press, 200-Ton Cranes, 10,000-H. P. Pumping Engines, and all auxiliary machinery for same.
     Several complete Car Wheel Plants for the manufacture of forged steel Car Wheels, including 10,000-Ton Press, making one car wheel per minute.
     An Armor Plate Planer, 22 feet wide, 6 feet high, and 30 feet long, run by 125-H. P. Reversing motor. The building of this Planer required 300 tons of the heaviest Bethlehem "H" Column Sections for bedplate.
     The world's largest Boring, Drilling and Milling Machine, covering a surface 14 x 30 feet.
     Car 110 feet long, of 300-tons capacity, for transporting heavy machinery and ordnance material.
     Steel castings of 400,000 lbs. each.
     Armor Plate Vault for the National Park Bank, New York City, weighing 338 tons, with main door 108 inches outside diam., 30 inches thick, and weighing with its vestibule 80 tons; also emergency door 53 inches outside diameter, 30 inches thick, weighing with vestibule 26 tons. This is the largest and heaviest vault door ever made. 12,000 tons of structural steel for the Gimbel Brothers' Department Store, which set the record for time of erection of large buildings in New York City. Also 7,000 tons of structural steel for the Baer-Kaufmann Department Store, Pittsburgh, Penna.

     The annual capacity of this Company, which is the largest individual steel plant in the United States is about:

     Blast Furnaces-1,000,000 tons of pig iron
     Open Hearth Furnaces-1,400,000 tons of ingots
     Forges-50,000 tons of treated forgings
     Puddle Furnaces-15,000 tons of puddled iron
     Machine Shops-Machined forgings and castings, guns and mounts, special machinery, gas engines, pumps, etc.
     Drop Forge-1,500 tons.
     Armor Plate (Krupp and Harvey Processes).
     Projectile Shops.
     Rail Mill-480,000 tons of Open Hearth Rails
     Structural Mill-480,000 tons of "I" beams, girder beams, columns, channels, angles, etc.
     Smaller Rolling Mills-300,000 tons of iron and steel bars, staybolt iron, alloy steel bars, etc.
     Fabricating Shop-50,000 tons of fabricated structural material for buildings, bridges, etc.
     The Bethlehem Steel Company owns all the Capital Stock of: The Philadelphia, Bethlehem & New England Railroad Company, Bethlehem Steel Products Company, Juragua Iron Company, Titusville Forge Company, Bethlehem-Chile Iron Mines Company, and Fore River Shipbuilding Corporation.


This is a railroad operating between the several departments of the Bethlehem Steel Company, the Lehigh Coke Company's plant, and several independent industries along its line.


A selling Company, organized and operated, to facilitate the selling of Bethlehem products in foreign States and Countries.


The plant of this Company is located at Titusville, in Western Pennsylvania, and manufactures iron and steel forgings.


This Company controls about 10,000 acres of iron ore lands in the South Coast of Cuba, which for twenty-five years have furnished the base supply of high-grade ore to the Bethlehem Company. The shipping port if Santiago.


This Company controls large iron ore deposits in the Province of Coquimbo, Chile. The ore is of the highest quality ever used for the manufacture of pig iron, running about sixty-eight per cent. Of iron, and free from deleterious impurities. A fleet of specially designed ships, for carrying the ore from Chile to the United States, is being built by European concerns, under long-term transportation contracts.


This is one of the largest shipbuilding plants on the Atlantic Coast, located at Quincy, Mass., and gives the Bethlehem Steel Company facilities for building on the Atlantic seaboard, complete battleships, fully armored. This Company has recently completed one of the largest and most modern battleships in the world, for the Argentine Government.


This shipbuilding Company, at San Francisco, California, build and repairs battleships and merchant vessels, and manufactures a line of mining machinery. Of the numerous vessels it has built for the U. S. Navy, this Company points with particular pride to the "Oregon", whose splendid performance during the Spanish War is a matter of history. This Company controls, by ownership of all its capital stock, the Union Iron Works Dry Dock Company, with floating docks and the largest graving docks on the Pacific Coast.


This Company, located at Wilmington, Delaware, builds principally merchant vessels, ferry boats, etc., though it has built torpedo boats and destroyers for the United States Navy. It has also a large car shop, and its passenger cars are well and favorably known in South American, China, and other foreign countries.


Located at Elizabethport, New Jersey, this plant is engaged in a general foundry and machine shop business.


This Company controls valuable iron ore deposits of great magnitude on the North Coast of Cuba, and in the Province of Camaguey in that Island. It also controls deposits in the Adirondack region of New York State.

The officers of the Bethlehem Steel Company are as follows:

     C. M. SCHWAB, Chairman of the Board
     E. G. GRACE,  President
     A. JOHNSTON,  Vice-President
     H. S. SNYDER, Vice-President
     C. A. BUCK, Vice-President
     A. D. MIXSELL, Vice-President
     B. H. JONES, Secretary and Treasurer
     F. A. SCHICK, Auditor
     J. E. MATHEWS, Manager of Ordnance
     W. M. TOBIAS, Purchasing Agent
     G. H. BLAKELEY, Manager, Structural Steel Sales
     E. S. KNISELY, General Sales Agent
     W. F. ROBERTS, General Superintendent, Lehigh Plant
     R. F. RANDOLPH, General Superintendent, Saucon Plant
     T. O COLE, Traffic Manager


     Among the industries of South Bethlehem that have grown from small concerns into world-wide enterprises is one that stands among the first in this town. Started when South Bethlehem was a village, and continuing in growth, under careful management to the present day when it occupies a large space of ground in the town that has now reached nearly the 25,000 mark in population.

     The Bethlehem Foundry & Machine Company was started as the Bethlehem Foundry in 1856 by Abbott & Cortright, and was used as a foundry and car shop. Upon the death of Mr. Cortright, the business was taken over by Mr. Abbott. Upon Mr. Abbott's retirement, his sons R. A. And M. E. Abbott conducted the business for a number of years, and when R. A. Abbott retired, the other brother continued the business. Later, it was purchased by the Lloyd Valve Co. and was operated as a foundry and as a valve specialty shop.

     In April, 1888, the present Bethlehem Foundry & Machine Company was incorporated, and its steady growth followed from then on.

     Upon careful direction, the business, the business has expanded and grown until now the firm's name is rated among the first industries of this section. Departments were added and improvements made whenever it was found necessary. The finished products of the Company have always stood as their best advertisement, and satisfied customers in all parts of the world will testify to the merits of the firm.

     The Company is now engaged in general foundry work and the manufacturing of cement machinery, repair parts for the same, and chemical castings of all kinds.


     Recognizing the importance of South Bethlehem as a center peculiarly and advantageously adapted for the distribution of coke and its by-products, owing to the numerous furnaces and foundries located within a short distance from it, the Lehigh Coke Company was formed as a Pennsylvania Corporation in 1910, to erect and operate a by-product coke-oven plant at this place.

     The Company has an authorized Capital Stock of $15,000,000, divided into $7,000,000 Preferred Shares and $8,000,000 of Common Shares.

     The Company has not as yet finished its program of construction, and it will be some time in the year 1916 before the present contemplated plans are completed. When the building program is carried out,

To Be Continued