Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bethlehem Steel Plant Photo History Now Out

Bethlehem Steel In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, by Ann Bartholomew and Donald Stuart Young.
Canal History And Technology Press. Easton. 2010.

Perhaps because the work is so recently published, googling has not got me any information on where you can buy it, and at what price. My own experience as a CHTP author suggests it will not be on amazon; but you can go to, the National Canal Museum, and they no doubt will be able to help you-- maybe even process your order through their site.
If you are interested in American industrial history, and specifically in the history of steel making, you will want this book. If you care about Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, rich in heritage and yet seemingly without a sense of direction since steelmaking ended in the city in 1995, this book is for you. Even if you just enjoy looking at good photographs, here are 600 plus excellent examples, most of them having to do with large machinery or large structures, but with a certain number with greater human interest thrown in.
The work is not a corporate history, but a pictorial history of Bethlehem Steel's plant in its home city--this explains the slightly awkward title. The plant is still there, in a way, although large sections of it have been torn down, and it is undergoing modification into something strange, if not rich. However, if the economy rights itself anytime soon, the site will contain a Smithsonian-affiliated National Museum of Industrial History among its other tenants. This has been a long-awaited institution.
In the years since the end of Bethlehem Steel, the corporation has been "dissed" --too much. And it's too bad. For years, "Bessie" had been the center of Bethlehem's life, its secular soul. To date, nothing has come to replace it; and nothing seems even to be waiting in the wings.
Were its managers flawed? Yes. Who isn't? Did it deal harshly with its workers? Was it a polluter? Yes, and yes. Of what corporation of its era could this NOT be said?
And yet...there were times, especially toward the end, when it dealt with its workers with a generosity it could not really afford. When it pursued pollution with a zeal it might better have dedicated to planning a way out of its ever-increasing financial problems. (These flaws, by the way, seem to have been characteristic of the entire American steel industry at the time.)
What did Bethlehem Steel mean, in the end? I see its story as an epic adventure, pursued by imperfect human beings. In itself, it was not perfect; but there was a lot of good in it.
And what did this organization do with its existence? Let authors Ann Bartholomew and Donald Stuart Young sum it up: "...It produced armaments that saved the world from tyranny, beams that took commerce skyward, bridges that spanned some of the great waterways of North America. Its mills provided jobs to thousands."
If you want to know more of the story, consider this book. I highly recommend it.

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