One of the most fascinating buildings of the Industrial Revolution is the Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. At their peak, it was the world’s second largest steel producer and THE largest shipbuilder. Its decline is often viewed as one of the most visible examples of the U.S. economy shifting away from domestic manufacturing. That decline in the American steel industry, among other problems, eventually led to its bankruptcy in 2001.

Photo by Matthew Christopher, Abandoned America
Photo by Matthew Christopher, Abandoned America

Bethlehem Steel’s history dates to the 1850s. During these years,  it produced rails for railroads and armor plating for the U.S. Navy. It had other military ties and during  World Wars I and II as it was the major supplier for armor plate and ordnance to the U.S. Armed Forces. After World War II the plant produced structural elements for construction and products related to defense and power generation, and provided materials needed by other steel producers. The company suffered its first major blow in 1967 when it lost its bid to supply the steel for the World Trade Center. Within a decade it was clear that importing steel was considerably cheaper than producing domestically, and in 1982, Bethlehem Steel reported a loss of $1.5 billion. By the end of 1995, after nearly 140 years of continuous operation, the factory fell silent as steel-making at the Bethlehem plant ceased.

Today, the site of the original plant is part of SteelStacks, an arts and entertainment district.

Photo by Matthew Christopher Abandoned America
Photo by Matthew Christopher Abandoned America
Photo by Matthew Christopher Abandoned America
Photo by Matthew Christopher Abandoned America

For more photos of this amazing building please visit: Abandoned America’s Website

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27 Comments

27 thoughts on “Abandoned Buildings: Bethlehem Steel”

  1. Wendy Wilkins Valdez

    There are several abandoned industries in Gloucester City, NJ. I believe the city now owns the properties. Maybe you could contact Bill James, the mayor, too see if anything is salvageable while you’re here this Fall.

    1. Beets

      Half those buildings are still filled with asbestos and other dangerous metals/chemicals and cost to much to have them decontaminated,so they wait til no one cares and then demolish them with low cost labor that doesn’t look/care about their employees to remove it.Good luck!

  2. James Diffenderfer

    My Dad worked for Bethlehem Steel for 30yrs, my grandfather for 30+ before him. If only we could bring steel production to the US. It would be a giant step towards reclamation of our great nation.

  3. Paul Kisslinger

    Mike,
    I lived in Bethlehem my entire life, away for 7 yrs in the Army. The Bethlehem Steel was the city’s biggest employer. While you mentioned many reasons for its demise, you failed to bring up greed. Greed is the major force in relocating businesses to other countries, where people work for lots less, don’t care about healthcare, retirement, job safety and I’m sure I missed a ton of other reasons. The greed in the leadership, led to no reinvestment in updated ways of making steel. The builders looking to save a dime, bought foreign steel, which may or may not have been as good as American steel. They weren’t worried about the lost jobs for American workers, and the thing that bothers me most is we continue to make the same mistakes, outsourcing and buying foreign junk. Thanks for the nice blog.
    By the way what is replacing the lost steel making facility, is an awesome year round music and art venue. When in the area it definitely is a must see.

    1. J.R.

      Mike, Thanks for sharing and I have no doubt you’re 100% right. The name “Bethlehem” is synomous with miracles. Wouldn’t it be miraculous to see Bethlehem Steel come back to life?

    2. KJ

      They lost the bid for quality steel for the World Trade Center in 1964. Look where that got us….inferior steel that melted causing the buildings to collapse.

      1. DG

        The iconic steel plate “forks” that made up the lower levels of the world trade buildings were all supplied by Coatesville, PA based Lukens Steel. Lukens Steel was later aquired by Bethlehem Steel. 100% melted and manufactured in the USA steel. Buildings are not engineered nor expected to withstand such extremes as that specific tragedy.

        While the Bethlehem, PA mill closed years ago, multiple Bethlehem Steel mills continue to operate in the USA today as part of one of the US’s largest steel producers. The US is still one of the largest steel producers in the world and the vast majority of steel consumed in the US is produced domestically. Unfairly traded foreign steel is definitely an issue but it’s important to understand the facts.

  4. Chet Levey

    As kid watching a black and white TV I vividly remember a steel worker being interviewed on the news about an ongoing steel strike. He said ” They need us. We don’t need them.” Well I guess they
    did not need them afterall!

  5. Robert Johnston

    The company also had a site in Lackawanna New York, next to Buffalo. A very large site also. My father and Grandfather worked there for many years. Both died 1963 and 1964.

  6. J.R.

    It’s difficult to see the pictures and not get choked up. I think of all the great men who worked there, building our nation and military. Now gone. Too depressing.

    1. Randy Fetzer

      The ships were built in Sparrows Point Md. Next to Baltimore Md. The ship yard is still there but under new owners . And as last I was there in 2011 they do NOT make any ships .

  7. gege

    Great photos. Was one of the old steel buildings converted to a casino? if so is it still operating? I was there briefly years ago.

    1. Kim Stuckey

      The casino is still in operation. Other parts of the steel land have been revitalized into an awesome music & arts center by Artsquest. Their goal is to revitalize communities through the arts. A recent collaboration between the City of Bethlehem, The Sands Casino and Artsquest is the Hoover-Mason Trestle project.
      http://www.artsquest.org

  8. Jay Gavitt

    One of the most beautiful sights I have seen in my lifetime was the opening of a furnace at Bethlehem. It was during a field trip with Joseph Moore’s History class in 1963. It was events like this and people like Mr. Moore that opened a fascinating career in teaching for me. The pictures of Bethlehem Steel are great and bring back these life changing memories.

  9. Debra baldwin

    The readers of this site should be sad and alarmed about the state of industry in this country because it has been caused by the trade policies of our own government whose politicions care more about foreign countries than our own! Letting foreign goods into our country virtually tariff free, while those same countires put large tarriffs on our products has ruined our industry. Not only that, many foreign industries are subsidised by their governments for our market. Then there is China where the government controls the wages of its workers. We as American workers can never compete in a Global economy such as that,but I guess that is the price we must pay when our government borrows money that it can never pay back.

  10. Chuck Thompson

    Having worked for over 30 years in the metals industry (both as a union laborer and corporate manager) I am here to say that corporate greed is the primary cause of the decline of the steel (and other metals) industry in our country. When I was chosen for “promotion” into s management position, I was told, point blank, by our corporate president that “we don’t owe these people (employees) one single thing except a paycheck at yhe end of the week.” Gone are yhe days of mutual loyalty between employer and employee.
    I am sad to say, after looking at Google Earth that the last three facilities I worked at, (Mancelona, MI; Greeneville, TN; and Tiffin OH) are now slabs of concrete left to rot in open fields. Sad, sad, sad to see our primary manufacturing base so thoroughly decimated. :-(

    1. Wendy

      Greed is the cause of MOST jobs leaving this country. When you can pay slave wages instead of living wages but still sell for the same or more, why do it? Screw your fellow citizens. It’s the wallet that counts (and what you can count in it.) Then also make sure you get as many tax credits as you can to add to your profit margin by convincing Congress that sending jobs overseas is a good thing worthy of a credit.

  11. Rick Becker

    I can just picture my grandpa walking those concrete floors everyday for 35 years and fueling the building boom of the 40’s, 50’s. 60’s. Thanks pappy for all your hard work!

  12. Erin Kovac

    My grandfather worked for Bethlehem Steel in Johnstown PA for years. It is so sad to see our history gone…thriving towns 50-100 years ago just being abandoned, condemned, demolished. SAVE OUR HISTORY!

  13. mike

    Mike Wolfe for president. We need someone like him in the white house, someone who truly cares about america, our people, our history, our future.

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