Bethlehem Steel Company: Then

Chances are, those of you that were born and raised in Buffalo have a grandfather, father, uncle, or brother that worked for the Bethlehem Steel Company. In this region, the company operated independently as the Lackawanna Steel Company from 1840 until 1922, when it was then acquired by Bethlehem Steel.

The Lackawanna Steel Company was the second largest steel company in the world, founded by the Scranton family in Scranton, PA. The choice to move to the Buffalo region was made in 1899, in order to avoid poor economic conditions and increasing operational costs, which would be solved by the large network of railroad transportation along Lake Erie. Purchasing land and building along Buffalo’s outer harbor, the new location was opened in 1902 and led to the formation of a new town, Lackawanna, NY, bringing in 2,000 workers from Pennsylvania, with a total work force of nearly 6,000 employees. It was the largest independent steel company in the world at the time. Stock worth $60 million was issued, with $20 million of the newly-raised capital paying off the construction of the new mill. The mill received its first shipment of iron ore on December 23, 1902. The plant’s 6,000 workers blew the first steel in early 1903. Over the next several years, the Lackawanna plant continued to expand physically, its works now rambling over more than two miles (3 km) of shoreline and spilling over into the nearby town of Hamburg. Lackawanna Steel paid about 75 percent of the taxes in the city of Lackawanna, effectively controlling city government.

The Lackawanna Steel Company began to steadily lose profits, and was thus acquired by Bethlehem Steel in 1922, ending the company’s 62-year independence. The merged company now controlled about 10% of the steel output in the US. Over the next decade, Bethlehem Steel spent $40 million to improve the Lackawanna mills, which were described as “obsolete” due to a lack of investment. Lackawanna continued to be a center for the manufacture of steel throughout most of the 20th century.

By 1941 and at the start of World War II, Bethlehem focused its operations on production of steel plates for ships and tanks, as well as structural steel for the military. During World War II, Bethlehem’s Lackawanna plant became the world’s largest steel-making operation employing over 20,000 workers on its 1,300 acre site. While this was the peak of Bethlehem Steel in Buffalo, they continued to operate profitably until the 1970’s.

Find out what became of the Bethlehem Steel Company in Lackawanna by visiting here.


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