U.S. Steel Industry

steel industry

steel industry, the business of processing iron ore into steel, which in its simplest form is an iron-carbon alloy, and in some cases, turning that metal into partially finished products or recycling scrap metal into steel. The steel industry grew out of the need for stronger and more easily produced metals. Technological advances in steelmaking during the last half of the 19th cent. played a key role in creating modern economies dependent on rails, automobiles, girders, bridges, and a variety of other steel products.

Iron working can be traced as far back as 3,500 BC in Armenia. The Bessemer process, created independently by Henry Bessemer in England and William Kelly in the United States during the 1850s, allowed the mass production of low-cost steel; the open-hearth process, first introduced in the United States in 1888, made it easier to use domestic iron ores. By the 1880s, the growing demand for steel rails made the United States the world's largest producer. The open-hearth process dominated the steel industry between 1910 and 1960, when it converted to the basic-oxygen process, which produces steel faster, and the electric-arc furnace process, which makes it easier to produce alloys such as stainless steel and to recycle scrap steel.

After World War II, the U.S. steel industry faced increased competition from Japanese and European producers, who rebuilt and modernized their industries. Later, many Third World countries, such as Brazil, built their own steel industries, and large U.S. steelmakers faced increased competition from smaller, nonunion mills ( "mini-mills" ) that recycle scrap steel. The U.S. produced about half of the world's steel in 1945; in 1999 it was the second largest producer, with 12% of the world market, behind China and ahead of Japan and Russia.

Since the 1970s, growing competition and the increasing availability of alternative materials, such as plastic, slowed steel industry growth; employment in the U.S. steel industry dropped from 2.5 million in 1974 to to less than a million in 1998. Global production stood at 773 million tons in 1997, down from 786 million tons in 1988. U.S. steel production has remained constant since the 1970s at about 100 million tons, but 50% of that total is now produced by mini-mill companies. An increase in U.S. demand during the 1990s was largely met by imports, which now account for from about a fifth to a quarter of all steel used annually in the United States. The old-line U.S. steelmakers, losing market share and with higher wage, health, and retirement costs, experienced a string of bankruptcies beginning in the late 1990s, leading to industry and union pressure for protective tariffs, which were imposed by President George W. Bush in 2002 on most steel from non-NAFTA industrialized nations. Later reduced, the tariffs were found in 2003 to be illegal under World Trade Organization rules, and President Bush reversed the tariffs.

See W. Hogan, The Economic History of Iron and Steel in the United States (4 vol., 1971); R. Hudson, The International Steel Industry (1989); C. Moore, Steelmaking (1991); R. S. Ahlbrandt, R. J. Fruehan, and F. Gairratani, The Renaissance of American Steel (1996).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

U.S. Steel Industry: Selected full-text books and articles

The U.S. Steel Industry in Recurrent Crisis: Policy Options in a Competitive World
Robert W. Crandall.
The Brookings Institution, 1981
Is New Technology Enough? Making and Remaking U.S. Basic Industries
Donald A. Hicks.
American Enterprise Institute, 1988
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The U.S. Steel Industry: Strategic Choices in a Basic Industry"
The Steel Crisis: The Economics and Politics of a Declining Industry
William Scheuerman.
Praeger Publishers, 1986
Up from the Ashes: The Rise of the Steel Minimill in the United States
Donald F. Barnett; Robert W. Crandall.
The Brookings Institution, 1986
The Promise of American Industry: An Alternative Assessment of Problems and Prospects
Donald L. Losman; Shu-Jan Liang.
Quorum Books, 1990
Beyond Mass Production: The Japanese System and Its Transfer to the U.S.
Martin Kenney; Richard Florida.
Oxford University Press, 1993
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "The 'New Iron Age' Comes to America: Japanese Investment in Steel"
U.S. Trade Policy and Global Growth: New Directions in the International Economy
Robert A. Blecker.
M. E. Sharpe, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. Four "The Costs of Trade Protection Reconsidered: U.S. Steel, Textiles, and Apparel"
When Giants Converge: The Role of U.S.-Japan Direct Investment
Dorothy B. Christelow.
M.E. Sharpe, 1995
Librarian’s tip: "Steel: The Dual Industry" begins on p. 135
Cooperative Corporate-Level Strategies and Divergent Labor Relations Outcomes: An Institutional Analysis
Smith, Suzanne Konzelmann.
Journal of Economic Issues, Vol. 30, No. 3, September 1996
Wypijewski, JoANN.
The Nation, Vol. 275, No. 3, July 15, 2002
Is the United States the World's Dumping Ground for Steel? Recent Influxes in Steel Imports in the United States, the Effects, and the Possible Remedies
Henry, Kelly.
Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 25, No. 2, Winter 2003
Forgoing a New Era for Steel
Ahlberg, Johan; Pitkanen, Antti; Schorsch, Louis L.
The McKinsey Quarterly, Autumn 1999
U.S. in Steel Trap
Waller, J. Michael.
Insight on the News, Vol. 17, No. 35, September 17, 2001
Big Steel and the Wilson Administration: A Study in Business-Government Relations
Melvin I. Urofsky.
Ohio State University Press, 1969
Self-Managed Teams in the Steel Industry: An Interview with John Selky (Part I)
Konzelmann, Suzanne J.; Sutton, Cynthia L.
Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 7, No. 1, Winter 2000
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Self-Managed Teams in the Steel Industry: An Interview with John Selky (Part II)
Sutton, Cynthia L.; Konzelmann, Suzanne J.
Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 7, No. 2, Spring 2000
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
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