Bethlehem Steel was a dominant force in steel production for over 100 years, but by the early 1980s, the company was beginning to falter. Factors beyond the control of Bethlehem Steel were affecting the American steel industry, and management struggled to keep production profitable in the face of a changing market. In 1985, the company was reorganized into three independent business units: Bethlehem Structural Products and CENTEC (which manufactured centrifugally cast rolls) joined BethForge as separate entities, each responsible for its own marketing, operations, and financial performance.
As part of the changes in the 1980s, Bethlehem Steel began to concentrate their investments in other plants. The home plant in Bethlehem was becoming increasingly inadequate for the changing industry. Bethlehem Steel's newer plants had been designed with more modern manufacturing standards in mind, making them more efficient and more profitable to run.
One of the biggest issues was the layout of the plant itself, and the means of bringing in raw materials was inefficient and expensive. The Philadelphia, Bethlehem & New England Railroad moved raw materials, hot metals, and products from shop to shop inside the Bethlehem plant complex, and transported finished products out of the plant.
Right: An ore trolley car on the Hoover-Mason trestle with a PB&NE "cow and calf" locomotive on the ground-level tracks. The Minsi Trail Bridge and a Bethlehem Steel Ore Bridge are in the background.
Bethlehem Steel began reducing plant operations over a period of several years as they attempted to adjust to the changes in the American Steel industry. In the photographs below, the toll of this gradual shut-down is seen on the infrastructure of the Bethlehem plant.
Left: The Bethlehem Plant originally ran several blast furnaces: Above are the "C," "D," and "E" Furnaces as seen from the general offices in 1995.
The Grey Mill began producing wide-flange "H" beams in 1905, giving Bethlehem Steel an advantage over competitor U.S. Steel. These beams were used in iconic buildings across America, including the Woolworth Building in New York City. The mill shut down in October, 1995.
Left: The interior of the Bethlehem Steel Combination Mill.
The Electric Furnace Melting Department was the last steelmaking shop of the Bethlehem Plant to close, ending operations on November 22, 1995. The Brass Foundry also closed in November along with the hot end of the plant, but ran until the last minute to make items like bearings for the combination mill.
Bethlehem Steel Corporation did not last much longer than its home plant. In October of 2001, the corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the move failed to keep the once-mighty steel giant in business. In February of 2003, Bethlehem's board of directors approved the sale of assets to the International Steel Group, marking the end of Bethlehem Steel.
25 years after the last cast, the blast furnaces still stand, along with a few other buildings. Most of the Bethlehem plant has been demolished, but tourism and industry still occupy the site, including Wind Creek Casino, and the National Museum of Industrial History, located in the historic Electrical Repair Shop.