Bethlehem Steel Mill

Shafts of light shine into the interior of a dark industrial building. The light reveals large metal pipes and railings densely packed into the building. The silhouette of a large valve wheel is in the foreground.
  • Year Built: 1900
  • Year Closed: 1983

This was once the 4th largest steel mill in the world.

The Bethlehem Steel plant in Lackawanna (Buffalo) sits on a sprawling 1,300 acre site and was home to over 100 buildings and employed 20,000 workers. In the 1960s, it was producing record amounts of steel at a time of great profitability.

This period was short-lived.

During the late 1970s, production was reduced and over 10,000 employees were laid off. Steelmaking operations were stopped abruptly in 1983 after a record loss of $1.5 billion. Coke oven operations continued but by 2001, they too were halted.

Plans for the Tonawanda Coke Corporation to acquire and continue the coke operations were never finalized, leaving the entire site unused.

Large industrial sites like this (especially abandoned ones) have a sort of ‘scorched-earth’ quality to them. The context was turn-of-the-century buildings — many in significant disrepair — combined with a barren landscape populated by industrial equipment.

The Lackawanna site in particular is the source of controversy regarding a contract with the United States federal government. Between 1949 and 1952, the rolling mills were used to produce uranium fuel rods. However, workers were not made aware of the dangers nor were they given protective equipment. Many workers developed cancer. Difficulty in acquiring compensation was covered in an article by the New York Times and legislation by Senator Chuck Schumer in the Ed Walker Memorial Act.

Most recently (2007), a group of 8 wind turbines were built on the site as part of the Steel Winds project.