Thursday, March 22, 2012

National Tube Division – 1955

I'm sure most of you remember when the steel mill in Lorain was called "National Tube." I think the first time I heard that name was when I was a kid, in answer to my question, "Where's that red dust cloud coming from?" I can still see that smoke high in the sky over Lorain.

You don't hear the term "National Tube" very much any more, which is sad, because its use coincided with Lorain's best years. I read online somewhere that the name changed in 1969.

Anyway, here's another article about the history of steel making in Lorain. Last week's was from a 1939 perspective; this one is from the June 21, 1955 Lorain Journal.  It's written by Robert Urquhart, the General Superintendent at that time of the Lorain Works, National Tube Division of the United States Steel Corporation, and it provides a nice history of how the steel mill evolved.

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Urquhart Credits Workers As NTC Keystone
By ROBERT URQUHART
General Superintendent
Lorain Works

Publication of this edition summarizing The Lorain Story comes almost on the 60th anniversary of Lorain's steel industry.

Vintage postcard from Ebay
Two generations of steel, rail and pipe makers have made a full contribution to the progress and development of Lorain Works, and, in recent years, there have been an increasing number of third generation employes – grandsons of some of the original Johnson Company pioneers – among them three generation names like Thomas, Bremer, Cameron, Bevan, to name a few.

Story of Human Effort
The story of what is now Lorain Works, a plant of the National Tube Division and one of the larger units in the United States Steel Corporation, is more than a matter of dollars and cents and tonnages and new installments. It is the story of human effort and of what the industry means and has meant to thousands of individual families, as well as to the community as a whole.

Lorain Works today is, of course, a far cry from the plant that Tom L. Johnson built in 1894 and 1895 for the manufacturer of street railway rails, but it is doubtful if he would be surprised if he could see it today.

He recognized certain fundamental economic advantages in Lorain's location – factors which apply as well today as they did in 1895.

Among these were its location on Black River, where it empties into Lake Erie; economical water transportation for ore shipment from the upper lakes; a high level ground easily prepared for a manufacturing site; a thick shale formation at a depth of 6 to 8 feet suitable for industrial foundations; the possibility of a plentiful supply of water, and good railroad facilities.

Steel Making Can Be Profitable
"We are convinced," A. J. Moxham, the president of the Johnson Company told Lorain Village Council on April 2, 1894, "that steel can be manufactured and distributed more cheaply from this locality than from any other in the country." The principal disadvantage was that the river was not navigable; and this deficiency was promptly remedied.

The history of the plant begins logically in Johnstown, Pa., where in 1888, Johnson and his associates established what was known as the Johnson Steel Street Rail Company, for the manufacture of steel street railway rails, switch equipment, etc.

On May 31, 1889, the switch works was destroyed by the famous Johnstown flood. The switch works were rebuilt at Moxham, near Johnstown, but it became apparent as time went on that the plant could not produce profitably in that location.

After considerable study, the decision was made to locate in Lorain. That the choice was a good one has been demonstrated by the fact that Lorain has consistently maintained its position as one of the plants where steel can be produced most economically.

Recent large-scale expenditures on equipment and facilities – a 10-year plant-wide modernization and construction program – is a significant indication of the basic soundness of Lorain's position in the industry. Additional expenditures for the same purpose are contemplated.

Purchased 4,000 Acres of Land
Upon deciding to build in Lorain, the Johnson Company, in 1894, purchased about 4,000 acres of land on both sides of Black River, providing a navigable waterfront of four miles, and proceeded to build the industry and what amounted to an adjoining "town" to go with it.

Johnstown and other Pennsylvania mill towns furnished skilled steel and rolling mill men who comprised much of the original Johnson Company work force in Lorain.

Steel rails were the only finished product of the original plant. There were no blast furnaces, and pig iron from which the steel for the rails was made, was imported from outside furnaces.

The buildings comprised the rail mill, bessemer, one blooming mill and a few shops. Officers were Moxham, president; Tom L. Johnson, vice-president; and Max Suppes, general manager. About 1,200 men were employed.

Some idea of the growth during the 60 years' existence of the plant can be realized from a comparison with the present works, which has five big blast furnaces which receive ore from modern docks more than a half a mile in length; three Bessemer converters of 28-net ton capacity; 399 by-product coke ovens; two rolling mills, one of them of the most modern type, and two skelp mills; buttweld mills and four seamless mills; and one of the world's largest pipe warehouses, plus a large electric power plant and numerous auxiliary shops.

Most Modern Facilities Installed
In the years since 1945, some of the most modern steel mill facilities have been installed at Lorain Works; entirely modernized facilities for producing bessemer steel; up-to-date rolling mill facilities for the processing of semi-finished steel; new type continuous seamless mill for the production of small-size seamless pipe; amplified and improved facilities for shipping and transportation; and improved and modernized facilities for producing coke and coal chemical products.

For its first three years, the Lorain plant was operated as the Johnson Company. In 1898, Johnson disappeared from the Lorain Works picture and the plant was re-incorporated as the Lorain Steel Company.

In 1899, the Lorain Steel Company became a subsidiary of the Federal Steel Company, which had been organized by Judge Elbert H. Gary and two blast furnaces, the docks and No. 2 blooming mill were put in operation. For the first time, the plant here began to make its own blast furnace iron.

U. S. Steel Organized 1901
The U. S. Steel Corporation was organized in 1901, including the Federal Steel Company, and with it, the Lorain Steel Company. No change was made in the local organization until late in 1903, when it was  announced that Lorain Works was to become part of the National Tube Company branch of U. S. Steel and that pipe mills and other additional facilities would be built.

Vintage postcard from Ebay
With the taking over of the Lorain plant in 1903, construction work commenced in June, 1904 on the pipe mills, skelp mills and their auxiliaries, in addition to blast furnaces Nos. 3 and 4. These installations were completed in 1905. In 1907, a fifth blast furnace was added. The new tube plant by rapid strides soon overshadowed the original plant.

First pipe was made in the new plant on February 10, 1905. First six of the 12 open hearth furnaces were built in 1909, making possible a wider range of steel grades. No. 3 blooming mill and four batteries of coke plant batteries, together with the by-product plant, were added in 1918.

By-Products Important Factor
Important factors in Lorain Works' operations are the production of coke plant by-products, and the utilization of gas in the production of coke from coal. This gas is now "bottled up" and used in the manufacture of commercial products, such as ammonium sulphate, tar, crude naphtha, naphthalene, phenol, benzol, xylol, and toluol. Tar and gas are used in the heating and melting of steel.

Vintage postcard from Ebay
Another by-product of the plant is crushed slag – the waste from the blast furnaces. Once considered useless, nearly a million tons of this crushed slag were produced last year, to be sold on the market chiefly as road construction material.

In the latter 1920's came a technological change, with seamless mills being built to replace the lapwell mills. Nos. 1, 2 and 3 seamless mills were completed and put in operation in 1926, 1928 and 1929 respectively. The seamless process,the outstanding development in Lorain pipe production, is a method by which steel rounds are pierced, expanded and then rolled. Welding is eliminated by this process which results in the name "seamless." Many important technological improvements in seamless pipe manufacture have been developed at Lorain Works.

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Below is a Bing™ aerial photo of the blast furnaces today, which are now part of the Republic Steel portion of the steel mill site. I've studied the above postcard, and can't quite find the equivalent buildings and the furnaces in the photo. Can you?



5 comments:

Anonymous said...

My friend on the eastside used to get there house washed once a year do to the orange dust

ge13031 said...

The blast furnaces in the picture are gone. They were in the empty area to the upper right. What is left are the tall tubular structures, the blast furnace stoves, that stood behind them.

Anonymous said...

Dan, The photo you said you could.nt see the furnaces in are because the furnaces's were torn down, all the is left standing are the stoves. thoes are the structures in the upper left hand corner of the picture.
The building you can't find I believe were closer to the main road the runs along the 28th st. fencewhich would be further south then the other picture. I worked in the Mill for 38 years and have seen alot of major changes

Dan Brady said...

Thanks very much for clarifying that for me! I was hoping someone who worked at the Mill would weigh in with an explanation--thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Dan, I went back and examined the picture of #2 and #5 blast furnaces and I do remember the location of the building in the Picture. That was an oil house. In the photo with out the furnaces, that building is the structure in the middle right hand side of the picture next to the tank with the white sides. Thats about as clear as I can explain it. By the way that building was still there the last I knew. I think the white tank is an oil tank.