STEELTON, PA. three miles south of Harrisburg. along the Susquehanna River. view looks South
Located along the Main Line of Public Works, it’s difficult to realize that in 1866 there were but six families living in the territory now included in the borough. The land upon which the steelworks was afterwards erected, was originally granted by warrant to Thomas Renick, March 27, 1738, and by patent to Richard Peters, the famous Secretary of the Penns, March 19, 1747, as a “tract of land in Paxtang Township, Lancaster county. ” Frederick Kelker purchased the first tract if land April 1, 1830, and another tract in 1843, the price being $37.00 per acre.
1865. months after the end of the Civil War, the Pennsylvania Steel Company was being organized; the board of directors were seeking a site upon which to erect their plant, the site of Steelton was visited. The Kelker lands were bought at a price of $300 per acre, for which a deed was given January 8, 1866. The total amount paid for these lands was $27,577.50. The company afterwards bought fifteen additional acres of Rudolph F. Kelker, at the same price per acre, making the total for all of the land bought at this time about 91 acres, at a total price of $29,175. After having sold this land to the Company, Rudolph Kelker bought 45 acres of land from Abraham Wolf, and 22 acres from Jacob Bender, and 50 acres from Henry Kelker, and then commenced to lay out a town and sell lots. The price of the lots varied from 100 to 250 dollars. The two town sites which were laid out were called Lower Baldwin and Central Baldwin. When the name of the town was discussed, the directors of the Steel Company requested Mr. Kelker for his assistance in naming the place.
When the post office was established in 1871, it was given the name Steel Works. In October 1880, this name was changed to Steelton, and when the town was incorporated it took the name of the Post Office.
The Pennsylvania Steel Company was organized in June 1865, with a capital stock of $200,000. Its first President was Samuel M. Felton. The chief inducement for this company making the site the one for its plants was the deposit of nearby Cornwall, Pa iron ore -delivered over P&R rails. The works commenced operations in May, 1867. It was the first plant in the United States for the making of steel. Other plants, which later turned to steel making, had been erected for iron making. It was also the first plant which made steel rails for filling commercial orders. The first rails made at the plant were sent to Johnstown for rolling, but after 1868 all of the rails made at the plant were rolled at Steelton. The gross tonnage of steel produced in 1868 was 4,116, which amount increased to 178,180 tones in 1882; a whopping 460,000 tons in 1902!
In a not so curious way Pennsylvania Steel Company was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad and our P&R. Nothing was strange about the usual Philadelphia suspects, ‘Ned’ Stotesbury (Drexel), Effingham Morris (Girard Bank), George Baer (P&R) playing big roles in the syndicate. By April Fool’s Day, 1901 the House of Morgan’s U.S. Steel Corp and Drexel’s (also Morgan’s) Pa. Steel effected a “friendly understanding” paralleling the north-south division of hemispheric supplies: US Steel-67.2%, Pa Steel-10.40%. It took a while for US Justice to catch up with the collusive market pact.
By October 16, 1915 word was out that PRR and P&R were selling to Charles M. Schwab‘s Bethlehem Steel Company. Ore rolled into Steelton from Cuba. Vertical integration became ever straighter. In 1922 Beth acquired Lackawanna Steel Company, last of the independent rail producers.
Steelton was home to over 16,000 residents, representing 33 different ethnic groups. The Steelton plant was the first mill in the United States dedicated exclusively to the process of making steel. Its construction in 1866 and the growth of the industry drew a diverse, immigrant workforce from England, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Eastern Europe, and Mexico in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A large black population migrated from the southern United States during this period as well. The diversity of denominations stemmed largely from the different religious beliefs and language differences of the many ethnic groups who settled in Steelton. The various ethnic groups settled in different sections of town, in part feeling more comfortable with neighbors whose lifestyle, language and cultures mirrored their own. They established their own places of worship and social organizations to strengthen kinship ties and maintain a sense of connection to their homeland.
Steelton plants jobs were patterned by race and ethnicity, a system supported by kin connections and tradition. Croats and Slovenes worked the open-hearth furnaces, Serbs and blacks, the blast furnaces. The unskilled general labor department was nearly all Slavic; the skilled workers in the frog and switch department were virtually all Americans, Germans, English, or Irish. Nearly all supervisors had northern European heritage. One could explain these patterns as a function of prejudice. It wasn’t; it was just a first come, first served sort of thing. Steelton was, and is, America.
Bethlehem declared bankruptcy in 2001, the Steelton mill taken over by ISG, later Mittal Steel, and now ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaking firm, based in Luxembourg. The plant operates an electric arc furnace, a three-strand continuous bloom caster and an ingot teeming facility. It also operates a ladle furnace, a vacuum degassing facility and several finishing mills. It produces railroad rails, specialty blooms and flat bars for use in railroad and forging markets. It is one of only two rail producers in the United States. The Steelton facility is capable of producing 1 million tons of raw steel annually.
The beat goes on.