The U.S. Steel Corporation in Portland, 1901-1941

By McArthur, Lewis L. | Oregon Historical Quarterly, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

The U.S. Steel Corporation in Portland, 1901-1941


McArthur, Lewis L., Oregon Historical Quarterly


IN MAY 1938, I GRADUATED from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in economics, the dismal science. The final effects of the Depression were still manifest, and I do not recall any flurry of major corporations eager to interview prospective employees. (1) While seeking permanent employment, I took a temporary job with Pacific Power & Light Co. There I scoured local newspapers and clipped news articles about various Public Utility District (PUD) proposals for the forthcoming November election. Finally, in October, I went to work for Columbia Steel Company, the wholly owned subsidiary of United States Steel Corporation. It occupied the brick office building and steel warehouse structure at 2345 N.W. Nicolai Street. I was hired by Clarence C. Johns, manager of sales, as an inside salesman at $90 per month with the promise, soon fulfilled, of a raise to the then princely salary of $100.

The United States Steel Corporation was formed in 1901 by Wall Street financier J.P. Morgan through the merging of a number of important steel manufacturers including the Carnegie Steel Company, Illinois Steel Company, American Sheet & Tin Plate Company, American Steel & Wire Company, and a number of smaller producers and fabricators.

Demand for steel in the Pacific Northwest was increasing with the expanding manufacturing and extensive railroad development. Portland was then the primary steel sales and distribution point for the area, a position it has held, arguably, to the present day. The new corporation, not yet ready to combine sales efforts, established separate subsidiary offices. In 1902, the American Steel & Wire Company located at N.W. 9r' and Irving streets, with E.R. Eldredge as manager. The fine 1895 yellow-brick McCraken Building with the drive-through facilities for horse-drawn drays is still standing, although modified to show little of its original distinctive appearance. In 1903, the Carnegie Steel Company opened an office in the Ainsworth Building, with R.R. Hoge manager. Two years later, Hoge took on additional responsibility as manager for the American Sheet & Tin Plate Company in the same office. In 1912, a new subsidiary, the United States Steel Products Company combined sales efforts when their Pacific Coast Department opened a local office with Hoge in charge at S.W. 6" and Alder in the new Selling Building. In 1913, he hired Arthur Roberts, fresh out of Behnke-Walker Business School, as a stenographer. (2)

In the beginning, United States Steel was almost the only supplier to the Pacific Northwest. Bethlehem and the other large steel companies had not yet been organized. Colorado Fuel & Iron Company of Pueblo, Colorado, was in existence and probably had supplied steel for the Burnside Bridge built in 1894. A small amount of steel, principally tin plate from Wales, was imported, but most local supply came by water from the corporation's eastern mills. Prices were low, often $1 per hundred pounds or less compared to the 40 to 60 times that amount at present. Most steel was brought in to order, although a few jobbers did carry modest stocks. Pacific Metal Company stocked steel sheets at West Park and Everett streets. Pacific Hardware and Steel Company carried nails and various wire products. Haseltine Company run by Amby Haseltine was a major customer, as was Honeyman Hardware. Just prior to World War I, Marshall Wells Company built a four-story warehouse at N.W. 14th and Lovejoy.

In the early 1900s, steel-framed buildings such as the 1907 Corbett Building, the 1910 Olds & King, and the 1912 Lipman Wolfe were appearing. U.S. Steel's American Bridge Company supplied the structural members for many of them, including the University Club, built in 1912, as well as material for many railroad bridges. Fabricators such as Northwest Steel Company ordered their material by the job and expanded into the shipbuilding business during World War I. Beebe and Bowles was another major ship fabricator. …

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