Eliot Ness in Cleveland From the Cleveland Police Museum

The link is here

In December of 1935, Cleveland’s Mayor Harold Burton recruited Eliot Ness to serve as the city’s new Safety Director. That very year, Cleveland was the fifth largest metro area in the nation, and was considered to be the most dangerous city in the United States. Ness went on to spearhead a campaign that nearly eliminated corruption in the police department, brought the fire department up to modern standards, and instituted the latest traffic technologies, bringing national safety awards to Cleveland by 1939. He was also faced with one of the strangest serial murder cases in all of U.S. history.

Ness’ Youth and his Chicago Years
Eliot Ness was born in the year 1902 to a Norwegian immigrant couple, Peter (1850-1931) and Emma (King) Ness (1863-1937). His parents came from an area near Stavanger, Norway. Peter grew up in very poor conditions, losing both his parents at the age of 14. Peter and Emma married in Chicago April 2, 1886. They had five children:  Clara, Effie, Nina and Charles before Eliot was born as the youngest.(1) There was a 10 year gap in age between the fourth child and Eliot, so it was said he was given lots of family attention. His parents owned a bakery.

As Eliot grew up, he played with his little nieces and nephews and enjoyed going to school. It was said that he took school so seriously that he dressed nicer than most children. This earned him a nickname of “elegant mess” on the playground. He was an avid reader and was fond of the stories of Sherlock Holmes. When he was graduated from Fenger High School, on the south side of Chicago, he spent a year working in the Pullman plant before going to college at the University of Chicago.(2) In 1925 he earned a diploma with a major in political science, commerce and business administration, earning a place in the top 10% of his graduating class.

From the years 1925 to 1927 Ness served as an investigator for the Retail Credit Company in Chicago. He longed for a job that was a bit more exciting, and returned to the university for postgraduate course work with August Vollmer. His oldest brother-in-law, Alexander Jamie, worked for the Prohibition Bureau and brought Ness in as an agent with the U.S. Treasury Department. In 1928 he was transferred to the Justice Department to work for Prohibition. Alexander Jamie eventually became head of Chicago’s Department of the F.B.I.

Ness and his task force were then assigned to close down the bootlegging operations of Al Capone. The ten men he handpicked from around the country were nicknamed the “Untouchables” because they wouldn’t take a bribe. Albert Wolff was said to be the last surviving member of the Untouchables. He passed away in Mason, OH at the age of 95 in 1998. In an article in People Magazine, July 1987, Mr. Wolff said he was nicknamed “Wallpaper” because he “took everything but.” He also said that “We were all tough guys, I guess. Eliot Ness was young like me when I first met him. He became a tough guy with class. He was naïve when he started, but he learned. He got a little tougher because it got a little more dangerous.” Wolff was asked to serve as an adviser on the set of the “Untouchables” movie that starred Kevin Costner:

I was asked to show Costner how to act like Ness. I told him Ness was passive. I told him how to walk. Ness walked slowly. I said, “When you take the gun out, be ready to use it, because it’s your life or their life.”(3)

Ness was known to rarely carry a weapon.

In addition to Kevin Costner, Robert Stack was another actor who portrayed Ness during his Chicago days. He played Eliot Ness on the TV series “The Untouchables for many years. It is said to be the longest running TV series ever. In a note Mr. Stack sent in response to being invited to attend the recognition of Ness’ 100th birthday in April 2002, he wrote “While I met Mrs. Ness (Elisabeth) and the boy (their adopted son Robert) on “This I Your Life” I’ve never involved myself in events dealing with the gentleman I portrayed on TV. I think at this point in time some might think an actor was trying to garner publicity on a dead hero’s reputation – why don’t we let the famous centenarian rest in peace.”(4)

Ness comes to Cleveland 
In 1933, when Prohibition was repealed, Ness was assigned to the Cincinnati enforcement division of the Treasury Department’s Alcohol Tax Unit. In 1934 he was transferred to Cleveland where he led the Cleveland Regional Office (located in the Standard Building) of that same department, leading 30 men under his command. The Plain Dealer, September 21, 1934, featured a long story about Ness written by Charles Lawrence. It was headlined “Gangs Here Face Capone Waterloo.”

It was December 11, 1935 that a 33 year old Ness was sworn in to serve as Cleveland’s youngest-ever Safety Director. O ess’ first day the Plain Dealerheadlined “Facts First, Then Talk, Says Ness.” The article reported that Ness “considers his first duty to be one of fact finding” and that he intended to be “as conservative as possible until (he) is fully informed of certain trends and conditions in the police and fire departments – especially the police.” The paper also predicted that when Mayor Burton hired Ness there would be “a tremendous explosion with after-effects to last for years.” (5)

Within a week of being appointed Safety Director, he was known to the underworld as the “boy scout” or “college cop.” “He has a dimpled chin, a round face, parts his hair down the middle and blushes easily. His voice is mild and his manner hesitant. He keeps a cat, hates to be out late at night, likes to walk around the house in his stocking feet, and sits on the floor for complete relaxation.” The article further states:

No one had any doubts about the size of the job that he had undertaken. For 20 years the underworld had operated in alliance with officials of the police department. Organized labor was victimized by gangster leaders.” Ness would have none of this. He swiftly investigated the protection scams and bribery and found eight officers who were immediately indicted for bribery. Ness was met with a wave of police resignations which he gladly accepted. “He filled the vacancies with men of his own choosing – more than half of them college graduates.(6)

Eliot Ness marries
Ness was married in 1929 to Edna Staley of Chicago. She had formerly worked in the office of Alexander Jamie as a stenographer. While she and Eliot were married, and as he settled into the job of Safety Director, they moved into a cottage on Lake Erie in Bay Village, a suburb west of Cleveland. The cottage was owned by Robert Chamberlain, a Cleveland lawyer who eventually became an assistant Safety Director for Ness. Although Edna and Eliot weren’t able to have children, friends had said that Eliot would often knock on the Chamberlain’s door to play with their small children. Eliot would sit on the floor and contentedly play for hours. Eliot was dedicated to his job and would rarely come home before 10:00 or 11:00 p.m. This didn’t help their relationship, which eventually dissolved. Eliot and Edna were divorced in January 1939,and Edna returned to Chicago where she moved in with family. She never remarried, and kept the name Ness.

Ness Combats Crime and Modernizes the Police Force
Eliot Ness’ name became synonymous with one of the strangest serial murder cases in U.S. history, but that is not all he is known for in Cleveland, not by a long shot.

In his first year as Safety Director, Ness didn’t take any time at all to become fully immersed in the job:

With an innocent smile, this scientific sleuth recently rounded up 100 witnesses, convicted two police captains of taking bribes and indicted seven other guardians of the law. (He has) personally led raids on gangsters, gamblers, and vice barons, and brings back industries driven from Cleveland by racketeers. He has ousted incompetents and political hangers-on from the police, fire and building departments and taught the ‘boys’ that it’s dynamite to mess with Ness-men.” said an article in American Magazine. “(Ness) runs a police training school modeled after J. Edgar Hoover’s and demands unqualified efficiency and honesty. (7)

When influential reformers had pressed Mayor Harold Burton into appointing the mild-mannered federal agent, Burton at first demurred. One look at the special agent’s record convinced him that Cleveland could expect fireworks,” said an article in Newsweek magazine.

As chief of the Federal alcohol-tax unit for northern Ohio, Ness had closed an average of one still a day. In Cleveland, Ness started his cleanup with characteristic verve. He first slapped five high police department officials in the penitentiary for bribery and graft, then instituted a scientific “rookie” training school for policemen. Revising the traffic control system, he cut auto accident deaths in half. During Ness’ first eighteen months on the job, Cleveland’s total crimes dropped 25%; its juvenile crime dropped 80% (credited with his starting numerous Boy Scout troops all over the city) and at the same time arrests and convictions increased by approximately 20%. When Ness took on the mob and sent two high-ranking mob figures to the pen, the papers said that “Director Ness . . . lifted fear from the hearts of honest men . . Cleveland is a better, cleaner, more wholesome place . . . a safer place in which to do business.” (8)

Ness knew there were troubles in the police department, so he instituted procedures to make certain that the officers he hired would do their job well. Once he started his police training academy, all potential officers had to take a revised civil service test that was made a little more difficult to pass. He insisted on character investigations and finger printing for all prospective police. He gave every cadet mandatory two year probation and tested their temperament as well as physical prowess. He didn’t ask anything of his officers that he didn’t demand of his own self. He knew the law well and kept himself in good physical shape.

In the fall of 1938, with the police department rejuvenated, big-time racketeers ensconced in the state penitentiary and crime dropping, Ness was “offered several times his annual employment ($9000) to go into private practice. “Some day,” he said “I may take one of those jobs. Right now, I want to prove what an honest police force with intelligence and civic pride can do.’” (6)

Motorcycles were ordered for traffic control. This was organized as a separate department in order to free those police officers from other duties and focus on the traffic problems rampant across the city. The mounted force was enhanced and modernized as well. With these measures, along with establishing Cleveland’s EMS unit and adding accident prevention patrol cars, Cleveland was recognized with winning the American Legion’s National Safety Award in 1939.

Not only was Ness concerned with the efficiency of the police officers on the street and traffic concerns, he also knew that more modern equipment was need for the police force. In an article that Ness wrote for American City Magazine he wrote that “the centralization and intensive utilization of two-way radio, radio-telegraph, teletype and the teletypewriter increased the speed and efficiency of police communication beyond anything believed possible.”

Ness Ready to Marry Again
In the fall of that year, Ness had fallen in love and was ready to marry again. After being single for only 10 months, in October 1939 he married Evaline McAndrews. A well liked and a very popular socialite around Cleveland, Evaline had a career as a fashion artist. After their marriage they moved into a boathouse in the Clifton Lagoons that was owned by the Stouffer brothers. The third floor had windows on all sides and afforded Evaline a comfortable place to work on her sketches for the major department stores in Cleveland. She eventually began illustrating and authoring children’s books. “Yeck, Eck” was one of the popular storybooks she wrote for youths. Ironically, it is the story of a little girl, “Tana Jones (who) had everything in the world except the thing she wanted most – a real live baby to take care of.” Evaline and Ness also wanted children, but weren’t able to have them. Much later, in 1967, she earned the Randolph Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book with “Sam, Bangs and Moonshine.” Evaline had developed her own career, and friends have related that her husband’s long work hours didn’t bother her all that much. She was proud that Ness was so devoted to his job as Safety Director.

Mr. and Mrs. Ness enjoyed dining and dancing at the popular hotel ballrooms of Cleveland. Here he met many of the artistic personalities of Cleveland, including artist and designer Viktor Schreckengost. In an interview, Schreckengost said that he enjoyed the Ness’ parties, but invariably “Eliot would receive a phone call pulling him away from the party and back to the line of duty as Safety Director. Those were exciting times.” Mr. Schreckengost added that he noticed Ness never wore a gun, although he did wear the shoulder holster empty – perhaps to give the criminals the impression that he might be armed.

Ness Earns Acclaim
The first four years of Ness’ career in Cleveland were referred to as the “Burton – Ness Regime.” It seemed that along with Mayor Burton, nothing was impossible to achieve. In 1939 Burton overwhelmingly was returned to the office of Mayor. By this time, Ness had either ousted or jailed the big-time racketeers, the city hadn’t had a gang murder in two years, traffic accidents were cut by 50% and juvenile crime was curbed with the formation of Boy Scout troops with Ness and his officers serving as troop leaders. Ness also founded Cleveland Boys Town and established a Welfare Department within the police department for families of officers in need. It’s no wonder that Eliot Ness was recognized with the Veterans of Foreign Wars medal for Outstanding Citizen of Cuyahoga county for 1940. Ness remained incorruptible at a time in the nation’s history when virtually anyone could be bought. He demanded honesty above everything else and expected it in others. Alvin Silverman of the Plain Dealer said that even though Eliot wouldn’t sit in a restaurant without his back to a wall, he “was as devoid of fear as anyone who ever lived.”

In another Plain Dealer report, Clarence Douglas wrote that “changes in the police department since Eliot Ness became Safety Director – both in personnel and methods – have been the most drastic in the department’s history.” Zone cars that were equipped with two-way radios took the place of the beat patrolman. With regard to traffic, “13 yellow accident prevention cars – lent by the Studebaker Corp., since the city could not afford to buy its own – are constant reminders that the long-heralded reform is at hand.” (9)

Ness Gives up the Badge
In 1940, Ness lost an important ally when Mayor Burton was elected to the U.S. Senate; Burton later became a United States Supreme Court justice. Although Ness remained Cleveland’s Safety Director, with the initiation of a peace-time draft in 1940 and large-scale military mobilization, the government sought a high-profile spokesperson to warn recruits about the dangers of venereal disease. Ness agreed to accept the part-time position as a consultant to the Federal Social Protection Program. Critics chided Ness for his long absences as he traveled to government offices in New York and Washington, as well as military bases around the country, preaching abstinence and safe sex.” April 30, 1942 Ness stepped down as Safety Director to become the National Director for the Federal Social Protection Program.(10)

After the war ended in 1945, he became chairman of the Board for the Diebold Safe and Lock Company in Canton. He also formed an import-export business with his friend Dan Tyler Moore, Jr., former director of the Securities and Exchange Commission.  His travels almost paralleled those of his wife because Evaline was equally busy traveling to Washington and New York to meet with her publishers. The distance between them grew to be too much and they were quietly divorced November 17, 1945.

Ness wasn’t alone for long. Another woman, and a friend of Evaline’s from their days at the Cleveland Institute of Art, captured his heart. On January 31, 1946, Ness married the former Elisabeth Anderson Seaver. Elisabeth had once been a very popular artist at the Cowan Pottery Studios which had gone under during the Depression. Even today, many of her pieces are displayed in significant art museums around the country as well as the Cowan Pottery Museum in the Rocky River Public Library. Like Eliot, Elisabeth was also of Norwegian ancestry which is why her name was spelled with an “s” instead of the more popular “z.” Ness, now 44 years old, still hoped for a family. He and Elisabeth decided to adopt. They welcomed a 3 year old toddler, Robert, from an orphanage near Ashtabula, OH.

Ness Still In the Public Eye 
In 1947 Ness was talked into running an unsuccessful campaign for mayor against the incumbent, Thomas Burke. Apparently, his days of crime-fighting glory had fade, and. Ness boosters underestimated the power of organized labor. Ness depleted his savings on the campaign.

In 1955 Ness joined the Cleveland-based North Ridge Industrial Corporation, a new company “marketing a promising method of watermarking commercial and personal checks to prevent forgery.” The company wanted an identifiable figure to show potential investors that the North Ridge businesses would be profitable,’ said William Ayers, one of the original partners.” Ness moved his wife and son to Coudersport, PA, about 6 hours east of Cleveland, to manage the Guarantee Paper and Fidelity Company of the North Ridge Corporation. Ness worked hard and invested all he had into the company because he believed in the concept of watermarking to prevent forgery. The watermarked checks never caught on, and the free-spending habits of the company’s founder led to the company’s quick demise.(11)

In this same year of 1955, when traveling to New York City, Ness became acquainted with Oscar Fraley, a sportswriter who took an interest in the stories of Ness’ days in Chicago. Fraley persuaded Ness to work with him on an account of his experiences battling Chicago’s bootleggers. The Western Reserve Historical Society library in Cleveland has the 21 page, double spaced, memoirs that Eliot Ness typed and sent to Oscar Fraley. When Ness saw the galley edition of the book, his pride wouldn’t agree to the text Fraley submitted. Ness signed off on all rights to the book, thinking that it wouldn’t be the success that Fraley thought it would. In a telephone conversation with the author in 1998, an aging Fraley said that he knew the book would be a best seller. When asked why he went ahead with the book knowing Eliot Ness didn’t approve, he said “Tough! I knew it would be a success and if he didn’t like it he could sign off on it – and he did.”

On May 16, 1957 at 5:15 p.m. Eliot Ness died in his home in Coudersport from a heart attack. His estate showed over $8000 in debt. Ness never knew how popular his story would become and that Desilu Productions would buy the rights to air the TV series that starred Robert Stack in the lead role. His widow, Elisabeth, could only afford to have Eliot cremated and brought back to Cleveland where she lived in Cleveland Heights. A memorial service was held for him at the Church of the Covenant on Euclid Avenue. His ashes were kept by his son, Robert who was only ten years old when Eliot died.

Elisabeth died in 1977 after suffering from cancer of the throat for several years. She had lived in San Juan Capistrano, CA with a cousin when she passed away. Robert Ness passed away a year sooner, August 31, 1976, of leukemia. He was only 29 years old and left a widow. Both Elisabeth and Robert’s ashes, as well as those of Eliot Ness, were kept by Robert’s widow until 1998 when they were united in a formal funeral ceremony. The ashes of all three Ness family members were dispersed on Wade Lake in Lake View Cemetery on the east side of Cleveland. The funeral was held September 10, 1998 with many hundreds of people and international media in attendance. Eliot Ness can be remembered for the impact he had on Cleveland. Ness restored a sense of hope and pride to a city that had been beaten down for a long time. It can easily be said that Eliot Ness’ integrity was sincere and his sense if justice was inflexible. His life was never easy, but he didn’t allow fear to guide him.

by Rebecca McFarland, Museum Trustee, January 2012
(editing by Mark Wade Stone)

Footnotes –

  1. Information about Eliot Ness’ Norwegian ancestry provided from a retired police officer in Norway, Bjarne Jormeland. June 2011
  1. Information about his career shared by author, Max Allen Collins in a letter, August 10, 1988 to Rebecca McFarland
  1. People Magazine, July 1987, p. 56, 57
  1. Personal letter sent to Rebecca McFarland on a holiday card dated December 2001
  1. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, December 12, 1935
  1. Current History, October 1938
  1. American Magazine, May 1937
  1. Newsweek, March 21, 1938
  1. The Cleveland Plain Dealer, August 21, 1939
  1. Timeline, March/April 1998, p. 23
  1. Timeline, March/April, p. 30

 

History of Ohio Steelmaking

History of Ohio Steelmaking

From the Ohio Steel Council

The link is here

THE HISTORY OF STEEL IN OHIO

Ohio has a proud tradition of steelmaking. Its access to the Great Lakes, network of navigable rivers, and rich deposits of coal and iron literally helped to build a nation.

THE 1800s

Ohio‘s iron and steelmaking roots go back to 1802, the same year the state was admitted to the Union. In this year, the first blast furnace west of the Alleghenies was erected in Poland Township, near Youngstown. It averaged only two tons of iron a day.

During the first decades of the 19th century, ironmaking was a decentralized activity throughout the state. The abundance of low-grade iron ore in many regions of Ohio made the establishment of iron furnaces a relatively common occurrence, and there was a ready demand for the product by local blacksmiths, who turned the pig iron into farm and home utensils. Early furnaces used charcoal as fuel.


By mid-century, however, the picture had changed. The location of ironmaking furnaces became concentrated in southern Ohio, in Vinton, Jackson, Sciota and Lawrence counties. Of the 48 blast furnaces operating in the state at the time, 35 were located in this region. A secondary concentration of nine furnaces was found in the Mahoning Valley.

The iron industry had slowly switched its fuel source from charcoal to coke, a purified form of bituminous coal. The burning coke, when exposed to blasts of air (hence the name “blast furnace”), creates the high temperatures needed to melt iron ore for processing into ingots. These ingots originally were named “pigs” because of the molds’ resemblance to nursing piglets, and the name has stuck ever since.

Deposits of block coal, discovered near Youngstown in 1845, could be used in iron furnaces without being converted to coke. These coal deposits were a major catalyst for the growth of the iron industry in northeastern Ohio.

In 1850, Ohio was essentially rural, even though its major metropolis, Cincinnati, had become the nation’s third most important manufacturing city. But in these changing years, the roar of machinery and the smoke of the factory announced the coming of the Industrial Revolution. Cities grew, and railroads reached to the most isolated counties. Cincinnati, not well located with respect to iron ore and coke, watched as places like Akron and Cleveland became the industrial cities of the future. By 1853, Cleveland had rail connections with most eastern cities as well as with Cincinnati and Chicago. This technological advancement, combined with its coal and iron ore resources, transformed Cleveland into the third-largest iron and steel city in the country.

Yet, by 1880, more significant for the state’s industrial future was the rapid growth of little cities in the Cuyahoga and Mahoning valleys, like Akron, Canton and Youngstown. The Mahoning Valley was becoming one of the great iron and steel areas of the nation. Youngstown was a convenient meeting place for individuals looking for ore and coke. The first of the modern iron-clad blast furnaces was erected in Struthers in 1871, greatly expanding production.

 

STEEL: AN EMERGING INDUSTRY

The nation’s westward expansion increased demand for iron and guaranteed that Ohio’s iron furnaces would stay busy. Within the next decade, however, processes became widely available to produce large quantities of a new, superior product – steel. Steel is stronger and more flexible, making it better suited than iron for rails, beams and other products. The building of a vast national rail system after the Civil War made steel much more valuable than iron.

Ohio continued to be a pioneer in this emerging steel industry. The first Bessemer converter – the new device for steel manufacturers – was purchased by the Cleveland Rolling Mill Company, which eventually was absorbed by U.S. Steel Corporation. In 1875, the first open-hearth furnace built exclusively for the production of steel was constructed by the Otis Steel Company in Cleveland, which became Jones & Laughlin Steel Company in 1942. During the 1870s and continuing into the 1880s, steel replaced iron as the primary metal produced in Ohio. By 1892, Ohio ranked as the second-largest steel-producing state behind Pennsylvania.

 

THE EARLY 20TH CENTURY

In 1901, open-hearth furnaces began to overtake Bessemer converters as the primary method of making steel. The molten steel was poured into ingots, which were fabricated into rails, bars, wire, pipes, plates and sheets. Also, steel was structurally shaped in specialized rolling mills, often in separate establishments or forge shops.

Most steel companies in 1901 were not completely integrated, a term used to describe a steel producer that has ironmaking and steelmaking capabilities and can process finished and semi-finished steel products. Many companies operated only blast furnaces and sold their pig iron on the open market. Others combined ironmaking and steelmaking capabilities, but supplied fabricators that produced a single range of finished products.

 

TURNING POINT: U.S. STEEL

The formation of the United States Steel Corporation in February 1901 capped a merger wave in the 1890s. In Ohio, mergers included the creation of Republic Iron and Steel Company, a “rolling mill trust” formed by combining 34 small companies in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Alabama.

U.S. Steel, created by combining J.P. Morgan’s Federal Steel with Andrew Carnegie’s Carnegie Steel, was the first billion-dollar company in American corporate history. It consisted of eight major and many smaller firms and some 200 plants. The situation forced competitors to build or acquire mills and mines in order to become integrated steelmakers.


Armco also began integrating in this period, incorporating in 1899 as the American Rolling Mill Company of Middletown, Ohio. Youngstown Sheet & Tube was created in late 1900, with the vision of a large, integrated steel producer.

In 1910, Elbert Gary, who ran U.S. Steel, redefined the goals, behavior and attitudes of the steel industry. Fears of antitrust action by the government in response to U.S. Steel’s stranglehold on the market led to a search for stability. One of these elements was a pricing formula that eliminated the advantages of geography. This and other initiatives of Gary – and the American Iron and Steel Institute, which he formed – helped Ohio steel to remain competitive.

Within Ohio, the Mahoning Valley was the leading pig iron production region, with 39 percent of the Ohio total and 9 percent of the national total in 1920.

THE GREAT DEPRESSION

Like other American industries, Ohio steel was devastated by the Great Depression. Markets shrunk precipitously, except for light-rolled sheet products used in automobiles and home appliances. This shift hit producers of primarily heavy structural shapes, like pipe and rails, especially hard.

Youngstown Sheet & Tube was poorly situated in the light flat-rolled market because it had delayed improvements during the 1920s. The company did not build hot-strip mills until 1935 and 1939, and it struggled through the decade. Armco struggled against geography, paying higher transportation costs for ore and coal because its Marion mill was not located on the lakes or the Ohio River. However, Armco at least was strong in light-rolled steel. Another asset was its research laboratory, which introduced a new galvanizing technique in 1937 that permitted shaping the steel after the tin coating had been applied.

Republic Steel shared Armco’s disadvantages, but managed to do better because of the company’s light-steel capacity. After 1935, Republic’s management turned aggressive and acquired several new firms.

Ohio remained one of the major focal points of the steel industry. Most of the national steel corporations operated facilities in Ohio during the 1930-1970 period. These included Armco, Cyclops, Jones & Laughlin, National, Pittsburgh, Republic, Sharon, U.S. Steel, Wheeling and Youngstown Sheet & Tube. Three of these firms – Armco, Republic and Youngstown Sheet & Tube – had their national corporate headquarters in Ohio.

THE STEEL INDUSTRY AT WAR (1940-45)

One of the more amazing chapters in American industrial history was the performance of the steel industry during World War II. Firms that had struggled through the Depression operated at full capacity by 1942. Several major steel producers actually exceeded average annual capacities as the industry set new production records. Republic Steel hit 100.4 percent of its capacity in 1942. As a whole, the American steel industry produced almost 90 million tons of finished steel during the peak year of 1944, and 427 million tons from 1941 through 1945. 

THE POSTWAR ERA

Equally significant, however, was the opportunity that the steel industry faced in the immediate postwar period. U.S. producers had no real rivals and enjoyed unprecedented superiority. Almost two-thirds of the world’s steel production in 1945 came from the United States. Because steelmakers confronted so few competitors in world markets, quantity became the driving concern. The industry’s self-assurance also manifested itself in a reluctance to invest in innovation and new technology.

But many of the roots of steel’s later problems were not created by the industry itself. American mills located in the Ohio and Mahoning river valleys paid the penalty of higher transportation costs compared to mills on the Great Lakes. Government policies were also partly responsible for the industry’s later problems. When the country did not sink back into depression after the war, steel executives hoped to discard wartime controls quickly. The government did not agree.

Nevertheless, a massive steel expansion program in the 1950s pushed capacity from 100 million ingot-tons in 1950 to 148.5 million in 1960. The revenue from this increase mostly bought existing technology for established plants. Blast furnaces grew taller and output was increased. Ohio companies followed this trend.

NEW TECHNOLOGIES, NEW COMPETITORS

Two new technologies pioneered in the 1950s were the basic oxygen process and the continuous caster. Both innovations offered major economic benefits over existing processes. The basic oxygen furnace (BOF) uses a process that injects oxygen from the top into a vessel filled with molten iron and scrap, producing steel much more quickly than an open-hearth furnace. Continuous casting developed more slowly. Traditionally, steel ingots were transformed into shapes in several steps – first rolled into slabs or blooms, which were then rolled into beams, bars, pipe, wire, plates or sheets. A continuous caster produces slabs, blooms or billets directly from molten steel, saving time and energy. Republic Steel explored this process as early as the mid-1940s. But the industry as a whole was cautious and slow to integrate new technology, uncertain about the viability of the new procedures.

Smaller companies moved first to install both of these key innovations. “Big Steel,” for the most part, waited until the technologies were better developed. For oxygen furnaces, this had happened by 1963; continuous casting was proved by the end of the decade. In 1968, the first vertical caster in Ohio was constructed at Republic Steel in Canton.

The combination of limited profits, intense pressure for new technology and less-than-optimal installations was dangerous enough. But two other developments further complicated the Ohio steel picture. Foreign competitors began shipping significant quantities of steel to the United States. Imports rose from 5.4 million tons in 1963 to 18 million tons in 1968. This flood of imported steel prevented the industry from earning the capital necessary for investments in modernization.

In addition, another competitor had appeared on the domestic scene: the mini-mill. Initially, mini-mills were facilities with electric furnaces that melted scrap and produced up to 250,000 tons of steel a year. But the technological developments of the 1960s opened other avenues for enterprising small firms. By adding continuous casters and small bar mills to the electric furnaces, the mini-mills could produce reinforcing rods, small diameter bars and angles far less expensively than large firms could, using traditional technology.

THE 1970s AND 1980s

The mid-1970s and early 1980s represented a period of substantial change. Through the 1970s, the industry struggled. It has been argued that excessive wage hikes were a central factor in the loss of competitiveness by American steel. Certainly, foreign competitors had the advantage of cheaper labor. They also, in many cases, had more modern, efficient facilities than their U.S. counterparts. But foreign companies were often subsidized by their governments. In addition, foreign-produced finished consumer products made from steel were being imported at a substantial increase, which shut out a market that had been open to U.S. producers. Finally, the period saw the introduction of new materials that served as substitutes for steel – namely aluminum, plastic and composites.

Voluntary import restrictions worked for a few years; but, after 1973, a surge in demand permitted foreign industry to ignore the system. And in 1977, imported steel totaled 21 million tons.

U.S. steel found its production capacity well beyond the demand for domestic steel. Consequently, the most inefficient mills were closed. Mergers of existing firms took place, and new investors entered the industry to purchase selected operations. In 1977, Youngstown Sheet & Tube was merged with Jones & Laughlin Steel Company, a harbinger of things to come.

Double-digit inflation hit the industry hard. However, the problems of the 1970s paled against the difficulties caused by a recession in 1982. In 1975, 20 fully integrated steel companies operated 47 full-scale mills. By 1985, only 14 companies remained, with 23 mills.

During the 1980s, both employment and raw steel production in Ohio fell to roughly one-half their respective highest years of the 1970s. However, new investment continued, a trend that continued in the 1990s and paid off handsomely in increases in Ohio employment and production.

THE REVITALIZATION OF STEEL

Today’s Ohio steel industry has undergone more than 30 years of restructuring. During this period, many companies have closed or merged with other companies; union contracts and work rules have been revamped; and new technologies have been introduced as a result of millions of dollars that steel companies have invested in their facilities.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Ohio mills invested in quality and cost improvement. During this period, the industry began reaping the benefits of increased continuous casting capabilities, high-tech galvanizing lines, revamped hot-strip mills and continuous processing lines.

By the late 1980s, the news media was reporting exciting rejuvenation in the industry. In the 1990s, the steel market was stronger than it had been in decades.

However, at the dawn of the 21st century, the steel industry again faced significant challenges. The most recent period of upheaval occurred between 1998 and 2003 when, in the wake of a flood of unfairly traded steel imports from Asia, Russia and Brazil, many companies were forced into bankruptcy and many steelworkers were laid off.

In response to this crisis, the steel industry consolidated and union contracts were renegotiated to allow greater flexibility in response to trends in the market place.

Today, steelworkers are trained to work in a number of positions, and they have greater latitude and authority in responding to the needs of the steelmaking facility. In addition, there are fewer steel companies in the U.S., which enables the industry to respond swiftly to market changes. Larger companies are able to shift resources from one operation to the next quickly and efficiently in response to demand. At the same time, smaller steel companies still do very well by focusing on niche markets and specialties.

As a result of these changes, Ohio’s revitalized steel industry has returned to profitability. In fact, Ohio steel companies today produce as much steel as they did before the imports crisis of 1998, even though they employ fewer people. Technology and a more versatile and highly skilled workforce have made up the difference.

 

“Iron and Steel Industry” from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

“Iron and Steel Industry” from the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

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IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY. Location has been Cleveland’s potent metallurgical advantage since the mid-19th century, when its situation on Lake Erie at the convergence of numerous railroad lines made it an ideal meeting place for iron ore and coal. In 1858 an article in the CLEVELAND LEADER claimed that Cleveland enjoyed advantages even greater than Pittsburgh for the manufacture of iron: “With [the cost of] transportation added, iron can be made $7 a ton cheaper in Cleveland than made at Pittsburgh and brought here. . . . Would it not be wise to start blast furnaces in Cleveland?”

In 1860 just 374 men were working in 3 bar and sheet iron establishments in Cuyahoga County. Twenty years later, the primary iron and steel industry in Cleveland employed almost 3,000 (about 200 of these “children and youths”) in 10 establishments. By 1900 that number had more than doubled; Cuyahoga County, which produced 968,801 tons of iron and steel in 1900, ranked fifth nationally (behind Allegheny County, PA, Cook County, IL, Mahoning County, OH, and Jefferson County, AL) in iron and steel production. The industry’s foothold in Cleveland was assured with the discovery in 1844 of iron ore in the Lake Superior region of Michigan. Because the Lake Superior ore districts were geographically isolated, without coal or major markets nearby, iron ore could not be smelted to pig or bar iron and sold at a profit. The only profitable way to exploit the ore was to transport it in bulk to distant blast furnaces on the lower Great Lakes–to places like Cleveland, Chicago, and Ashtabula, OH. The opening of the Sault Ste. Marie Canal in 1855 marked the beginning of ore shipment in quantity, and the movement of this raw material is the same today as it was then: ore mined in the Lake Superior region is carried by rail to the shipping ports, then by ship to lower lake ports, where it is rehandled into railroad cars for the trip to the blast furnace.

Clevelander SAMUEL LIVINGSTON MATHER† (1817-90) is usually credited with opening the rich iron ore resources of the Lake Superior region, which brought Cleveland to its position of supremacy in the iron industry. Mather was the driving force behind the Cleveland Iron Mining Co., one of the most important early mining companies on the Marquette Range and one of two “parents” (the other was the Iron Cliffs Co.) of the CLEVELAND-CLIFFS INC. Cleveland-Cliffs was the leading iron mining company on the Marquette Range when it was incorporated in 1891, a position it still held a century later. Mather, together with other Cleveland industrialists at the helm of such companies as M. A. HANNA CO. and PICKANDS MATHER & CO., dominated the ore trade on the Great Lakes, controlling 80% of the ore vessels plying the lakes and massive tracts of ore-rich land.

The manufacture of iron products preceded the basic industry, with railroads providing the impetus for Cleveland’s early forges and foundries. The CUYAHOGA STEAM FURNACE CO., incorporated in 1834 by JOSIAH BARBER†, RICHARD LORD†, and others, was among the earliest of such enterprises; by 1853 its Ohio City works was turning out two locomotives each month. In 1852 WILLIAM A. OTIS† and John N. Ford established the Lake Erie Iron Works in Ohio City to forge axles for railroad cars and locomotives, and heavy shafts for steamboats. In 1853-54 the Forest City Iron Works erected a rolling mill on the lakeshore at Wason (East 38th) St., producing the first “saleable manufactured iron” (boiler plate) in May 1855. That year, the Railroad Iron Mill Co., established by Albert J. Smith in partnership with others, erected a plant in the same location to reroll worn rails.

HENRY CHISHOLM† (1822-81), an immigrant Scottish construction contractor, was Cleveland’s pioneer ironmaster. Chisholm, with , built a rolling mill in 1857 at NEWBURGH, 6 miles southeast of PUBLIC SQUARE, to reroll worn rails. Two years later, taking advantage of new transportation routes, including the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and the Cleveland & Pittsburgh Railroad, the firm invested in a blast furnace, feeding it with Lake Superior iron ore and coal from the Mahoning Valley (later Connellsville coke). Following an infusion of capital from Andros B. Stone, the enterprise expanded rapidly, reorganizing as the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. in 1864. In 1868 the company installed a pair of Bessemer converters, the first such installation west of the Alleghenies and only the third successful one in the nation. Cleveland Rolling Mill became a major integrated producer of pig iron, Bessemer steel, and steel products, employing a work force of more than 8,000 at the height of its independent existence in the late 1890s.

Another important 19th-century Cleveland steelmaker was CHARLES AUGUSTUS OTIS† (1827-1905), whose father had established the Lake Erie Iron Works. Otis, who studied steelmaking in Europe, organized the Otis Iron & Steel Co. in 1873 and hired Samuel T. Wellman to oversee construction and serve as chief engineer and superintendent of its Lakeside Works on the lakefront at Lawrence (East 33rd) St. Wellman installed the first commercially successful basic open-hearth furnace in the U.S. (which soon eclipsed the Bessemer process) in 1886 and introduced mechanized charging, contributing to Otis’s rise as one of the nation’s most dynamic small producers.

By 1884, according to the annual report of the Cleveland Board of Trade, there were 147 establishments in Cleveland devoted to the manufacture of iron and steel and their products. Representing a combined capital investment of $21.5 million and an average work force of 14,000, these businesses produced products having a total value of $25.2 million. In addition to 11 manufacturers of iron and steel products (the primary industry) employing 5,665 workers, these figures included 30 establishments producing hardware and tools (employing 2,292), 4 producing sewing machines (1,110), 48 producing boilers and machinery (1,333), 13 foundries (1,217), and 9 producing nuts, bolts, and other fasteners (960).

By 1880 the annual output of the Superior mines had risen to almost 2 million gross tons. Cleveland’s strategic position as both a final destination and a transshipment point for iron ore underscored a vexing problem–how to unload it efficiently–that was solved by two Cleveland inventors. Until 1867 ore was unloaded entirely by hand labor. Between 1867 and 1880, portable steam engines were used to hoist tubs of ore out of the hold, but laborers still had the back-breaking job of filling the tubs by hand and wheeling the ore to the dock. In 1880 ALEXANDER E. BROWN† (1852-1911) developed a mechanical hoist consisting of 2 towers supporting a cableway; a steam-powered rope trolley suspended from the cableway traveled out over the vessel’s hold and carried hand-filled tubs of ore back to the dock. In 1899 GEORGE H. HULETT† (1846-1923) eclipsed Brown’s invention with his own. The Hulett unloader (see HULETT ORE UNLOADERS), consisting of a large-capacity grab bucket suspended from a stiff vertical leg mounted on a walking beam, did away with hand shoveling entirely. It drastically reduced labor costs and unloading times, and led to larger boats especially designed to accommodate the Huletts. By 1913 Hulett unloaders dotted Cleveland’s river and lakefront and could be found at almost every port on the lower Great Lakes.

Signaling the growing dominance of large firms, in 1899 the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. was absorbed into the American Steel and Wire Co. of New Jersey, which was itself absorbed into J. P. Morgan’s giant U.S. STEEL CORP. combine when it was organized 2 years later. U.S. Steel substantially augmented its Cleveland facilities in 1907-08 with the construction of wire and strip mills on the OHIO AND ERIE CANAL south of Harvard Ave. Galvanizing and barbed fence departments were added later, and by 1932 the Cuyahoga Works was one of the largest wire mills in the country and boasted the world’s largest cold-rolling plant.

Two new plants established in the early 20th century would provide the foundation for the modern steel industry. In 1909 ore merchant Dalliba, Corrigan & Co. began construction of 2 blast furnaces on the east bank of the Cuyahoga River that became the nucleus of one of the nation’s important independent producers, the CORRIGAN-MCKINNEY STEEL CO. Between 1913 and 1916, Corrigan, McKinney built 2 additional furnaces and a steel works for the production of blooms, sheet bars, and billets. The problem of industrywide integration led the company to add merchant mills for the production of finished steel products in 1927. In 1935, under the aggressive leadership of chairman TOM M. GIRDLER† (1877-1965), the REPUBLIC STEEL CORP.acquired Corrigan, McKinney and moved its headquarters from Youngstown to Cleveland. Republic continuously enlarged the plant, making it the largest of the company’s 6 basic steelmaking plants and one of the 10 largest in the country.

Otis, meanwhile, greatly expanded its capacity with the construction in 1912 of a new Riverside Works on the west bank of the Cuyahoga River. (The plant was immortalized in 1929 when Otis hired a young photographer, MARGARET BOURKE-WHITE†, to document the drama of steelmaking for a company promotional book.) With the acquisition of the adjacent Cleveland Furnace Co. shortly after World War I, Otis became a completely integrated steel company, and on the eve of the Great Depression the company boasted a capacity of one million tons. In 1942 the Jones & Laughlin Steel Co. of Pittsburgh (seeJONES AND LAUGHLIN STEEL CORP. (CLEVELAND WORKS)), eager to enter the Midwest market, acquired Otis. J&L invested heavily during the next 2 decades, adding a new blast furnace (“Susan,” largest in the Cleveland district), 4 new steel furnaces, and other facilities.

The American steel industry historically has had a volatile relationship with labor, adopting from the beginning a staunch antiunion stance. In the 1880s the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. endured a series of violent strikes in response to wage cuts and recruited Polish and Czech immigrants to replace striking workers (see CLEVELAND ROLLING MILL STRIKES). In 1937 Republic’s irascible Tom Girdler proclaimed that he would shut down the company’s mills and “raise apples and potatoes” before he would recognize a union. The bloody LITTLE STEEL STRIKE that year left 12 dead at Republic plants in Chicago and Youngstown. Not until 1942, at the order of the War Labor Board, was the CIO successful in organizing Republic workers.

Thanks to pent-up consumer demand, the industry enjoyed a long period of postwar prosperity. But by the early 1970s Cleveland’s steelmakers, like those nationwide, grappled with the problems of inflation, record imports of foreign steel, increasingly stringent environmental regulations, lagging productivity, and rising labor costs. In 1979 U.S. Steel abandoned its historic Central Furnaces plant, established by the Cleveland Rolling Mill Co. in 1881 for the production of pig iron. Five years later, the steel giant closed 6 plants, including its Cuyahoga Works in Cuyahoga Heights, after the United Steelworkers of America rejected concessions demanded by the company. The city’s two remaining integrated producers, Republic and Jones & Laughlin (the latter a subsidiary of LTV following a 1968 takeover), faced difficult conditions in the early 1980s as economic recession and the decline of the domestic automobile industry caused steel demand to plummet. In June 1984 Jones & Laughlin merged with Republic to form the LTV STEEL, with headquarters in Cleveland. Two years later, LTV had run up losses totaling nearly $1 billion, forcing it to file for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code.

With increased demand for its products, especially flat-rolled steel supplied to the automotive, appliance, and electrical equipment industries, LTV rebounded. Since 1984 the company has made more than $1.1 billion in new capital investments at its Cleveland Works. The centerpiece of its modernization efforts is a direct hot-charge complex, completed in 1993, which enables LTV to convert molten steel to a coil of hot-rolled steel in a continuous process. In 1994, with 2 integrated steel mills (at Cleveland and Indiana Harbor, IN), Cleveland’s only remaining integrated producer ranked as the nation’s 3rd-largest steelmaker and 2nd-largest producer of flat-rolled steel. Working at 99% capacity, the Cleveland Works in 1994 produced 4.8 million tons of raw steel. With 7,100 full-time employees, LTV was Cuyahoga County’s 2nd-largest nongovernmental employer.

Exemplifying the massive changes that have swept the industry in recent years, M. A. Hanna, an old-line mineral resources company whose history is rooted in iron mining, has transformed itself into a company focused on rubber and plastics. In 1986, meanwhile, a new steel fabricating company bought the former Cuyahoga Works of U.S. Steel, along with rights to the historic “American Steel & Wire” name, and resumed production as a non-union shop. A unit of Birmingham Steel Corporation of Birmingham, Alabama, since 1992, American Steel & Wire makes rod and wire for sale to the fastener industry.

The iron and steel industry continues to be an economic mainstay of Greater Cleveland. In 1992, the primary metal industries in Cuyahoga County employed 14,690 while almost twice that number (27,978) were employed in the manufacture of fabricated metal products.

Carol Poh Miller

Paskoff, Paul F., ed., Iron and Steel in the Nineteenth Century, Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography. New York: Facts on File, 1989.

Pendry, William R. “A History of the Cleveland District of the American Steel and Wire Co.” Cleveland: American Steel & Wire Co., 1937. Mimeographed.

Seely, Bruce E., ed., Iron and Steel in the Twentieth Century, Encyclopedia of American Business History and Biography. New York: Facts on File, 1994.

Wellman, S. T. “The Early History of Open-Hearth Steel Manufacture in the U.S.” Transactions of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers 23 (1902): 78-98.

“Little Steel Wars: The Union Strikes Back” by Vincent Prochoroff, Gus Hatch, George Schmidt (Video)

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“Little Steel Wars: The Union Strikes Back”

Vincent Prochoroff, Gus Hatch, George Schmidt

Shaker Heights High School (Terry Pollack and Timothy Mitchell advisors)

Winner of the 2014 Teaching Cleveland Documentary Award

Documentary produced for the 2014 National History Day Competition