Historic Structures

History of Steel in Ohio (Valleys District) Republic Iron and Steel Company Youngstown Works, Ohio

In the geographic terminology of the American steel industry, the Valleys District is comprised of the Mahoning, Shenango, and Neshannock river valleys of eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. These rivers converge to form the Beaver river that flows to the Ohio. The industrial towns of Warren, Niles, Girard, Youngstown, Struthers, Campbell and Lowellville in the Mahoning Valley; Sharon, Sharpsville and, Farrell in the Shenango Valley; and Newcastle along the Neshannock, comprised a distinct production district integral to the American iron and steel industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. The development of the Valleys District, moreover, is part of the general westward shift of the industry toward the Great Lakes region.

Charcoal fired iron furnaces were first constructed in the Mahoning Valley near Youngstown, Ohio in 1804 and 1806. Other forges and mills were established in both Newcastle and Niles at the same time. The district as a whole somewhat isolated from national markets and produced relatively low quality iron for local consumption. The Valleys District had many disadvantages, including the lack of important local markets, site problems, and a reliance on local raw materials. Investment in new technology to increased productivity was minimal due to the lack of available markets.

ore was being used in furnaces, replacing charcoal and bog ores. At this time, two important regional transportation networks greatly influenced the industrial viability of the Valleys. In 1839 the Pennsylvania and Ohio Canal was cut through the Mahoning Valley, and in 1856 the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad was established. These developments opened the Valleys District to new markets and provided access to richer mineral deposits. Local manufacturers began to increase production through plant expansion and modernization. In 1863, the Youngstown Telegraph noted that Youngstown would soon have seven blast furnaces, three rolling mills, a steelworks, two machine shops, and some foundries. Other areas, such as the Pittsburgh District, became increasingly reliant on Valley iron for its own rolling mills. Since many mills in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys produced iron for export, the region was highly susceptible to cycles in the iron and steel industry.

During the late 19th century, there was a developing pattern of western mineral supply which had a tremendous impact on operations in the Mahoning and Shenango valleys. The market demanded the high-quality iron being produced through the use of iron ores from the Great Lakes region, and coke primarily from the Connellsville region of southwestern Pennsylvania. By 1880, over eighty percent of the furnaces in the region utilized Lake Superior ores. As early as 1869, furnaces in the area were using Connellsville coke (which became the standard fuel in the industry), and a mixture of coke and coal. Once reliant on local materials, Valley manufactures became dependent on long distant material transport for resource allocation and market access.

This development put regional producers at a definite cost disadvantage compared to other production districts. Because of their location, Valley manufactures received iron ore at a lower cost, but Connellsville coke at a substantially higher cost than other districts like Pittsburgh. Added costs, aging facilities (the majority of furnaces were relatively small, and built to use coal), and intense competition between local manufacturers that kept prices low, hampered the production of pig iron in the Valleys District at the end of the 19th century. In 1891, efforts by the Mahoning and Shenango Valley Iron Manufacturing Association to get reduced shipping rates from railroads failed. Sensitive to the prevailing industrial evolution, many local manufacturers moved the district toward integrated steel production.

In 1890, there were only three specialty steel plants in the entire district, and one idle open hearth plant in Youngstown. Together, these facilities had a combined annual capacity of 10,000 tons. In 1894, an association of rolling mill companies in the Mahoning valley formed the Ohio Steel Company and built the region's first Bessemer steel plant in Youngstown. Beginning operations in February of 1895, the company focused on semifinished products such as billets, slabs, and sheet. The establishment of the Ohio Steel Company marked the movement toward industrial integration and steel production in the Valleys District. The Republic Iron and Steel Company was one of the primary companies in the development of the region, eventually becoming the third largest producer of steel in the United States.