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Furnace destruction symbolizes the lost steel industry

Posted on Wednesday, February 4, 2015 at 8:41 am

General Manager/Editor Ron Schott

General Manager/Editor Ron Schott

Last Wednesday marked the end of an era for my family who still lives in the Baltimore, Maryland area.
A 32-story L Blast Furnace, which was the tallest such furnace in the western hemisphere, was detonated with 94 explosive charges in Sparrows Point.
The furnace was two separate structures. It included a 320’ tall main furnace weighing 8 million pounds and a 200’ tall exoskeleton weighing 3 million pounds.
It was once the featured skyscraper in what is now a 3,100-acre area that reminds Marylanders of what was once a bustling steel industry in the state.
The furnace was once owned and operated by Bethlehem Steel, which was America’s second-largest steel producing company and largest shipbuilder.
Steel manufactured by the company with locations throughout the U.S. was used on the Golden Gate Bridge, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Madison Square Garden, and the list goes on.
The Maryland location once had more than 33,000 employees.
My grandfather, my great-grandfather, and other relatives worked for Bethlehem Steel.
My dad worked for nearby Thompson Steel, which is also now a folded company.
“It is emotional because this is where we lived,” said my Uncle Don Warner, Jr., a former coal sheet mill worker and supervisor, in a television interview with WBAL-TV in Baltimore, Maryland. “For 26 years, I lived down here. My dad worked down here, my uncle worked down here, my grandpop worked down here, everybody worked down here.
“It’s very sad, very sad.”
Ironically, another relative from my step-mother’s family is playing a role to bring back life to the area.
Don Mohler is the spokesperson for Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and is my step-mom’s nephew. Kamenetz said back in September 2014 that new ownership of the property could mean the return of at least 2,000 jobs to the peninsula. That estimate has been increased to 10,000 in some reports.
“Today marks an ending and also an important beginning for bringing new 21st century jobs and new development back to the point,” Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said in a statement. “We are excited that Sparrows Point Terminal shares the county’s vision of a vibrant Sparrows Point peninsula, offering tremendous business opportunities for companies looking for a prime location near the Port of Baltimore with interstate, rail and deep water access.”
Believe it or not, Pittsburgh, home of the NFL’s “Steelers,” doesn’t have fully operable steel mills anymore after the last major one closed in 1997.
Today, one-third of the world’s share of steel is made in China. Japan and Russia are second and third with the U.S. now in a distant fourth.
It’s sad to think how the U.S. was once the biggest player on the field in the industrial age for producing steel.
My prayer is that at some point our nation’s leaders make a charge to bring back to life our once booming manufacturing industries.
Unfortunately, I don’t see it happening.