For over 150 years, the steel industry was Pittsburgh’s primary source of industry. The mills along the river would keep producing steel all day, every day, without ever taking a break. In many ways, the steel that was produced in Pittsburgh would become the building blocks that would become modern America.
The first steel mill in the region was founded in Braddock by Andrew Carnegie in 1875.
The Golden Gate Bridge, the Empire State Building, and many other iconic structures were all built, at least in part, with Pittsburgh steel. This earned the city the nickname of being the “Steel City.”
That was then. This is now. Within the city limits, there are no currently operational steel mills. If you expand the grid to the metroplex region of Pittsburgh, there are still several working mills operated by iconic names like Allegheny Technologies, Ampco Pittsburgh, and U.S. Steel.
At the peak of the Pittsburgh steel industry, there were more than 90,000 workers employed. By 1980, there were just 44,000. In the mid-1980s, the entire industry collapsed.
Important Pittsburgh Steel Industry Statistics
#1. There are currently 32 AISI member facilities operating within the State of Pennsylvania. Out of these facilities, there are only 4 that are currently engaged in the process of making raw steel. (American Iron and Steel Institute)
#2. There are also 3 steel mill product centers located in Pennsylvania, with just one located in the Pittsburgh area. (American Iron and Steel Institute)
#3. There are more than 18,000 jobs created by the Pittsburgh steel industry and surrounding areas of the state. When indirect employment and supported jobs are also counted, the industry supports over 128,000 people each year. (American Iron and Steel Institute)
#4. China is one of the primary reasons why steel is struggling to return to Pittsburgh. Today, China has the capacity to produce 1 billion tons of steel per year. In 2006, they could produce just 100 million tons of steel per year. (Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association)
#5. Total steel production in the United States reached 82 million metric tons in 2017. (Statista)
#6. The steel industry in Pennsylvania generates more than $9.3 billion per year for the state in total value added. More than half of the value added comes from labor income, which totaled $4.94 billion in 2011. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#7. In 2010, the average wage in the Pittsburgh steel and iron mills was about $70,000 per year. When compared to the private sector, that figure was about $25,000 higher. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#8. Every job in the Pittsburgh steel industry supports 5.55 jobs within Pennsylvania’s overall economy. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#9. 7 counties in Pennsylvania had more than 1,500 people employed by the steel industry in 2009. All except two of them are counted within the general region of Pittsburgh. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#10. Integrated mills are responsible for about 40% of the steel that is produced in the United States, with just 20 of them currently in operation across the country. One of those mills is located in Braddock, PA and is operated by U.S. Steel. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#11. About 80 million tons of coal is mined in Pennsylvania each year. 7% of that coal is used to create coke that is used for steel production. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#12. The amount of energy required for steel production since the peak times of influence for the Pittsburgh steel industry has been reduced by 30%. Emissions have been reduced by 35% over the same period. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#13. Workers that are responsible for transporting steel by either truck, crane, or by hand account for 13% of the employment opportunities which are available in the industry. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#14. About 50% of the steel that is manufactured in the United States is used to create machinery or for construction purposes. Wires, rods, sheets, and bars that are used for infrastructure projects are all counted into this figure. 20% of the steel is used for automobile manufacturing. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#15. More than 7,500 products can be created thanks to modern steel production methods, of which 75% of the products have been developed within the past generation. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#16. The Homestead Works in Pennsylvania was once the largest steel producer in the United States. In the years after World War II, an estimated 150,000 people worked for the company. (Medill News Service)
#17. Between 1980-1986, the region lost 115,000 manufacturing jobs, with almost 50% of the losses happening within the steel industry. Through 2005, the United States lost more than 4.5 million manufacturing jobs. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
#18. Clairton Plant is the largest coke manufacturing facility in the United States. More than 4 million tons of coke are produced annually there, helping to preserve the steel industry in Pittsburgh and the rest of the Commonwealth. (Medill News Service)
#19. To punish Chinese steel manufacturers who were selling products below cost, the United States put tariffs that were as high as 522% on some steel products. That is in addition to a 266% fee that was imposed on Chinese steel manufacturers just a few months before in 2018. (Medill News Service)
#20. In 1900, the United States became the largest producer of steel in the world. With many of the mills centered in and around Pittsburgh, the city grew 7 times its size in just 50 years, taking advantage of the economic boom. (Ranker)
#21. During the years of World War II, the steel mills in Pittsburgh produced 95 million tons of product that could be used for the war. The air pollution was so bad in those days that the street lights would often come on around noon. (Story of an American City)
#22. In the 1880s, the fatal accidents which occurred in the steel mills in Pittsburgh accounted for up to 20% of the male deaths in the city during the decade. The lists of fatalities were often as long as those printed for casualties suffered during the Civil War. (The Economist)
#23. Before 1938, children were often found to be working in the steel mills. The social class of the family often dictated when the children would start working. If the family was poor, then children in elementary school would sometimes be asked to work. (Shadow of the Mills)
#24. In 1934, the average wage for a steel worker in Pittsburgh was $423 for the year. Using a standard inflation calculator, that translates to about $10,000 in today’s money. To earn that salary, many steel workers would put in an 80+ hour week. Even waiters earned more at the time, at $520 per year. (Ranker)
#25. Allegheny Technologies earns total revenues of $4.8 billion with their headquarters in Pittsburgh. Their total employment in Pennsylvania is 3,000 people. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#26. U.S. Steel generated $17.3 billion in revenues per year, with a total employment in Pennsylvania of 4,700 people. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#27. About $800 million is paid by today’s Pennsylvania steel corporations in the form of business taxes. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
#28. Steel ranked as the Commonwealth’s fourth-best or higher export industry from 2001 to 2010. Since 2001, the total value of exports has doubled, going from $1.4 billion to $3.7 billion. (Pennsylvania Steel Alliance)
Pittsburgh Steel Industry Trends and Analysis
In front of 9,000 people, then candidate Donald Trump promised Pittsburgh that steel would return. “There are few places that have been more devastated by our trade policies than Pittsburgh,” he said. “Don’t worry. We’re bringing it all back.”
Between then and December 2017, over 2,000 jobs were lost in the primary metals sector in Pennsylvania. Job losses in iron mills and steel mills totaled 800 over the same period. Although coal production has seen a 1.4% increase since President Trump took office, the story is a little different for steel. A Chinese company agreed to import slabs from Indonesia to restart the Midland cold rolling mill. That might create 100 jobs.
The fact is that Pittsburgh is not in a position to support the steel industry at this time. It has transformed itself after the collapse in the mid-1980s, becoming a technology hub instead. Companies like Apple, Alphabet, Facebook, and Uber have all created company campuses within the city. Several others have setup their global headquarters in the city.
There is always a chance that steel could return to Pittsburgh. It is the Steel City. Will production levels ever return to where they once were? That is highly doubtful.
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