Location: Monessen, PA near Pittsburgh
Category: Steel Mill
Related Job Sites
Sharon Steel Monessen Works
After the establishment of U.S. Steel, the manager of American Steel & Wire Company, which U.S. Steel acquired, departed from the company. Wallace H. Rowe entered the steel industry in 1883 as a clerk at a wire mill in St. Louis. Within three years, he moved to Pittsburgh, assuming the roles of treasurer and general manager at the Braddock Wire Company. Rowe, along with seven others, sought a charter to establish the Pittsburgh Steel Company. He became its president and active manager. The company acquired a sixty-acre plot in Monessen, Pennsylvania, approximately 30 miles south of Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River, by purchasing the Pittsburgh Hoop Company. This company specialized in manufacturing metal hoops for beer barrels. Pittsburgh Steel strategically decided to set up a rod mill, wire drawing mill, and wire nail machines in Monessen due to the high profitability of wire nails at that time. The location was ideal due to its proximity to freight lines. After selecting Monessen, contracts were issued for the construction of 18 buildings for the facility. Pennsylvania later approved the merger of Pittsburgh Steel Company with the Pittsburgh Steel Hoop Company, and the plant’s buildings were completed by 1902.
As settlers arrived and established themselves in the region, the town rapidly expanded. It was christened Monessen, drawing “Mon” from the Monongahela River and “essen” from Essen, Germany, an industrial hub nestled along the Rhine River. Officially incorporated as a borough in 1898, Monessen experienced a substantial influx of residents between 1898 and 1920, morphing from a rural, agricultural area into a bustling industrial center. It outpaced other cities in Westmoreland County in terms of product value, the workforce employed, and industrial investments, ranking 14th in Pennsylvania for capital invested. The promise of job opportunities attracted numerous individuals, sparking explosive population growth over two decades. In the late 1890s, Monessen housed around 200 residents. By the early 1920s, this number had surged nearly twentyfold, reaching over 20,000 inhabitants, resulting in Monessen’s shift from a borough to a second-class city due to this remarkable population surge.
People from various corners of the world flocked to settle in Monessen, including native Pennsylvanians of English, Irish, Scotch-Irish, and German descent, comprising about 30 percent of the working population. A larger contingent hailed from Eastern and Southern European countries, constituting 46 percent of the city’s populace, primarily Italians and Eastern Europeans. Over time, immigrants came to represent roughly 72 percent of the town’s residents, hailing from Italy, Slovakia (part of Hungary then), Hungary, Greece, Ukraine, and Finland. Black individuals accounted for only three percent of the population during that period. Given this diverse ethnic tapestry, interpreters were essential in workplaces and neighborhoods, while some workers resorted to hand signals to bridge language barriers. The substantial population density facilitated the thriving of housing, stores, theaters, and entertainment venues. However, as an emerging city, crime was prevalent, and establishing a law-and-order system took time. Explosions, neighborhood altercations, robberies, burglaries, and even homicides occurred more frequently in Monessen compared to neighboring communities. Despite these challenges, most residents had a positive experience living there, albeit amid the prevalent crime.
Prior to the completion of the mill, expansion plans were underway to incorporate blast furnaces. Pittsburgh Steel subsequently acquired The Coal and Coke Company, ensuring control over its coal supply. Financial setbacks plagued Pittsburgh Steel as it lacked its own iron and steel production facilities, relying on purchasing steel from Carnegie’s U.S. Steel at costly rates and facing constraints in material procurement. To remedy this, measures were taken in 1907 to transform the facility into an integrated mill. A new open-hearth shop, alongside a proposed rod mill and blooming mill, formed part of a $4 million project, resulting in the company owning the largest mill of its kind at that time. By January 1, 1909, all open-hearth furnaces were operational. Concurrently, in 1909, Pittsburgh Steel acquired the Seamless Tubing Company of America to manufacture locomotive and boiler tubing. Opting for open-hearth furnaces was strategic due to the superior quality of steel produced for specific applications. The site underwent a full transition to fully integrated steelmaking with the installation of two blast furnaces. Each of these furnaces, One and Two, was equipped with four regenerative hot blast stoves and a turbo blower, enhancing hot blast production for improved efficiency. Upon achieving full integration at the Monessen Works, the company experienced expanded production, increased profits, and generated more employment opportunities.
The dynamics of World War I’s war economy drove a surge in steel demand, marking a notably prosperous period for Pittsburgh Steel. The company primarily sold steel in ingot form, yielding lower profits but capitalizing on the heightened demand. These ingots, essentially metal blocks, were supplied to other companies to produce finished goods. To manage excess steel, a seamless pipe mill was constructed in February 1917.
In 1930, Pittsburgh Steel faced a decline triggered by the Great Depression. Until 1935, the company faced consecutive annual losses and witnessed a decline in its credit rating. To address these challenges, Pittsburgh Steel took steps such as liquidating the Monessen Coal and Coke Company and halting the production of small-diameter pipes at the site. Competing against more integrated mills like Carnegie Steel, Jones & Laughlin, and Bethlehem Steel became increasingly challenging.
Rescue came when company founder J.H. Hillman Jr. and Sharon Steel Company acquired a significant interest in Pittsburgh Steel. Sharon’s stock acquisition amounted to a quasi-corporate takeover, prompting the companies to collaborate closely without formally merging due to apprehensions about potential antitrust investigations.
In 1936, a financial recovery program raised $1.03 million to aid in various expenditures, notably modernization projects. These initiatives encompassed the installation of continuous, variable-speed wire blocks in the wire mill and refurbishment of the No. 1 rod mill to facilitate the production of larger steel rods.
Pittsburgh Steel experienced a resurgence during World War II, capitalizing on high demand. The company adapted its finishing departments to manufacture essential wartime supplies such as shells, armor-piercing shots, bullets, rockets, wire mesh for infrastructure, and barbed wire. Despite the diversification, the primary product remained steel ingots, renowned for their superior quality recognized by other companies in the industry.
In 1968, Pittsburgh Steel merged with Wheeling Steel Corporation. Wheeling Steel originated in 1920 through the amalgamation of the Wheeling Steel and Iron Company, Whitaker-Glessner Company, and La Belle Iron Works. A pioneer in producing sheet steel for tinplate, Wheeling Steel expanded its offerings to include tinplate, galvanized plate, corrugated sheets, hot and cold rolled sheets and plate, and various types of pipe by the 1960s. Although both Pittsburgh Steel and Wheeling Steel faced challenges in the 1960s, Pittsburgh Steel was displaying signs of improvement.
Pittsburgh Steel initiated the acquisition of 77,350 Wheeling Steel shares from Hunt Foods, following which the executive Vice President of Pittsburgh Steel assumed the presidency at Wheeling Steel. Subsequently, in December 1967, Pittsburgh Steel acquired an additional 100,000 shares. On September 25, 1968, both companies reached an agreement to merge, culminating in an official merger on December 5, 1968. As Wheeling Steel was the larger entity, the newly formed company adopted the name Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corporation. This merger elevated the combined entity to become the ninth-largest steel producer in the nation. The Steubenville and Monessen sites enabled a steel production capacity of 4.3 million tons. Pittsburgh specialized in hot- and cold-rolled strip, country seamless oil casing, drill pipe, and tubing, while Wheeling Steel excelled in producing galvanized sheet, tin plate, and standard black and galvanized pipe. These product lines seamlessly complemented each other.
The 1980s witnessed a catastrophic crash in the steel industry, regarded as the most devastating blow since the Great Depression. Steel production in the United States plummeted by 21 million tons between 1981 and 1984. Employment within the industry almost halved, dropping from 509,000 in 1973 to 243,000 by 1983. Following this downturn, Wheeling-Pittsburgh filed for bankruptcy, and a prolonged 98-day strike/lockout ensued, resulting in the shutdown of the Monessen plant. In January 1986, the closure of the 46-inch, 30-inch, and 18-inch rolling mills and sintering plants took place. Operations continued at a limited capacity before being temporarily halted. By August of the same year, Wheeling-Pittsburgh relocated its headquarters from Pittsburgh to Wheeling. Subsequently, after negotiations, Bethlehem Steel acquired the rail mill and fifty acres of the facility, encompassing shops and finishing facilities, for $20 million.
In April of 1988, Sharon Steel acquired the continuous caster and coke ovens for $18.1 million, along with a 68-acre section of the site. A new entity, Monessen Inc., was established to oversee the operation of the coke ovens. However, due to excessive emissions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibited their operation. To rectify this, a scrubbing system was installed, allowing the ovens to recommence operations in February 1989. Unfortunately, gas leaks led to another shutdown, prompting Sharon to sell the ovens to Koppers Industries Inc. in 1995. Through grant assistance, the ovens underwent repairs and resumed production in 1995.
ArcelorMittal acquired the plant from Koppers in 2008. Following the acquisition, the plant remained inactive for over four years. The Luxembourg-based company, the world’s largest steel producer, invested $2 million into the facility to maintain its operational status. Since ArcelorMittal already sourced all its coke from the facility, acquiring Monessen enabled greater control over the steel-making process.
ArcelorMittal stands as a significant force in the steel industry, boasting a workforce of over 320,000 spread across 60 countries. Its production spans a wide array of steel products catering to automotive, construction, household appliances, and packaging sectors. Covering the entire steel-making spectrum, from coke production to the creation of finished steel goods, ArcelorMittal is involved in every stage of the process.
Presently, most of Monessen Works lies dormant. The once-active sections like the blooming mill, billet mill, bar mill, rod mill, and wire mills have ceased operations. The sole functional segment of Monessen Works is the coke plant, which is operated by ArcelorMittal.
Equipment and Departments
Annealing Facility (Cleaning)
Electric Light and Power Plant
Galvanizing Shop No. 1
Galvanizing Shop No. 2
Field Fence Department
Warehouse No. 1
Barbed Wire Shop
Warehouse No. 2
Wire Mill No. 1
Wire Mill No. 2
Rod Mill No. 1
Rod Mill No. 2
Machine and Pattern Shop
Blooming and Billet Mill
Billet Yard Runway
Pump House and Settling basin
Blooming and Billet Mill Building
Pit Furnace Building
Open Hearth Plant
Electric Repair Shop
Stripper Crane Runway
Office and Clock House
Blast Furnace Plant
Millet Moving Car Dumper
Ore Bridge No. 1
Ore Bridge No. 2
Blast Furnace No. 1
Blast Furnace No. 2
Settling Tank No. 1
Hoist house No. 1
Settling Tank No. 2
Central Steam Plant
Coal and Coke Handling Plant
Blowing Engine Room
Pipe fitter: Workers that lay out, install, maintain, and repair pipelines, fittings, and fixtures for plant maintenance and construction.
Machinist: workers that operate machinery. They do this by setting up all machines and do all the layout, fitting, and assembly work.
Boilermaker: Assemble, install, maintain, and repair boilers or large vats that hold liquids and gases.
Welder: Assemble metal (brazing), cut metal, or repair damage to metal by using high heat.
Blacksmith: Forge, hammer weld, and heat treat iron and steel products for construction, maintenance of plant equipment.
Millwright: Maintains mechanical equipment by inspecting, repairing, replacing, installing, and adjusting equipment in a certain area.
Bricklayer: Performs masonry work, lays brick in maintenance and construction of plant.
Motor Inspector: Performs inspections, repairs, replacement, installation, adjustment, and maintenance of electrical equipment of plant and plant itself.
Stove Tender: Operates the stoves of blast furnaces.
Keeper: Helps prepare blast furnace casting and flushing operations.
Pig Machine Operator: Operates the crane that pours molten metal (jib crane)
Topman: Cleans the tops of blast furnaces, water scale, and platforms of furnace tops.
Skull Cracker Craneman: Operates the skull cracking crane, which is a crane used to break up solidified metal (skulls) from the ladles and runners of the steel works.
Open Hearth Furnace:
Charging Machine Operator: Operates the charging machine (machine that moves scrap metal, known as charge) into the hearth furnace.
First Helper: Operator of the open-hearth furnace.
Stripper Craneman: Operates the overhead electric traveling crane.
Cold Strip and Sheet Mill:
Batch Pickler: Carries out pickling metal, which is the process of removing impurities like stains, inorganic contaminants, rust, and scale from the metals.
Flying Shearman: Operates the flying shear, which is a machine that cuts the continuous steel sheet at the same speed as the production line. Performs the slitting and end shearing of the continuous metal into steel sheets.
Shot Blaster: Operates the shot blaster, which removes scale and prepares the metal for coating.
Babbittman: Melts and pours babbitt, which is an alloy of copper, tin, antimony, and sometimes lead. It is used on axles, bearings, and crankshafts as a lubricant and to prevent corrosion.
Salt Thrower: Throws salt onto slabs of metal to remove the scale off the hot metal right before it enters the plate mill rolls.
Bloor, Slab, and Billet Mills
Cinderman: Removes cinder (byproduct of coal burning) from under boiling pits (hold steel to equalize temperature before being rolled.)
Blooming Mill Roller: Controls the blooming mill, which processes ingots into slabs and blooms.
Hooker: Operates the hook used to carry and move metal products.
Scarfer: removes any defects on billets, slabs, and blooms by burning them with a torch (called scarfing), also checks for and marks any surface defects on metals.
Multiple professions at steel mills worked with asbestos. The occupations most at risk of working with asbestos were machinists, pipefitters, and boiler workers. Other workers who regularly were exposed to asbestos were welders, blacksmiths, bricklayers, millwrights, and motor inspectors. Anyone who was exposed to machinery, equipment, and materials in a steel mill were also at risk of asbestos exposure. To protect workers from heat, asbestos was present within ovens, hot blast stoves, furnaces, rolling mills, tanks, boilers, cranes, molding boards, and steam pipes. Workers could also have worn asbestos- based protective clothing including coats, leggings, aprons, coveralls, and face masks. Other protective materials like asbestos blankets to cover ladles, refractory bricks, floor and ceiling tiles, and liner boards were a source of asbestos exposure.
Specific products containing asbestos include floor tiles, ceiling tiles, liner boards, refractory bricks, and asbestos cement. Asbestos based insulation was also heavily used to protect workers from heat and fire. Insulation could be found on ovens, hot blast stoves, furnaces, rolling mills, tanks, boilers, cranes, molding boards, and steam pipes. The most common asbestos insulation was asbestos packing, pipe wrap insulation, and asbestos cement. Machine parts including brake pads, clutches, gaskets, valves, and pumps had asbestos fibers to reduce heat and prevent damage to parts that withstand high temperatures. Steel molds were also made of asbestos because they could withstand high heat. Gloves, aprons, coveralls, and face masks were also worn to protect employees from burning and high temperatures. Workers that dealt with molten metal wore asbestos coats and leggings when metal was cast.
Blueprint Monessen, Works Historic Pictoric [Link]
“Complete History Part 1 Pittsburgh Steel Company Monessen Works, Monessen Pennsylvania” Historic Structures [Link]
“Complete History Part 2 Pittsburgh Steel Company Monessen Works, Monessen Pennsylvania” Historic Structures [Link]
“Complete History Part 3 Pittsburgh Steel Company Monessen Works, Monessen Pennsylvania” Historic Structures [Link]
“Complete History Part 4 Pittsburgh Steel Company Monessen Works, Monessen Pennsylvania” Historic Structures [Link]
Ellen Brafford McCroskey, “Wheeling Steel’s Roots Still Run Deep in the Ohio Valley” Wheeling Heritage (June 1, 2020). [Link]
Matthew Magda, ,” Life in an Industrial Boom Town: Monessen, 1898-1923” Pennsylvania Heritage (Winter 1984). [Link]
Megan Guza, “In Mon Valley Steel Towns, Shrunken Communities And An Increase Of Crime” WESA (July 8, 2023). [Link]
“Pittsburgh Steel Company Monessen Works, Monessen Pennsylvania” (June 22, 2016). [Link]
Reid Frazier, “BACK ONLINE, MONESSEN COKE PLANT AGAIN DRAWS AIR POLLUTION COMPLAINTS” The Allegheny Front (October 8, 2023). [Link]
Stephen Foster, “Pittsburgh Becomes the City of Steel” PBS [Link]
“WHEELING STEEL CORP. IS MAJOR PRODUCER” Ohio County Public Library [Link]