Bethlehem Press

Monday, December 9, 2019
Michael Piersa, the historian of the National Museum of Industrial History, dons overalls to pitch in and help with demonstrations for Steel Weekend. Behind him is Bill Gullion, a retired investment banker from Phillipsburg, N.J., who volunteers at the museum. “I spend as much time on this nonsense as I did with the banking nonsense,” Gullion says. Michael Piersa, the historian of the National Museum of Industrial History, dons overalls to pitch in and help with demonstrations for Steel Weekend. Behind him is Bill Gullion, a retired investment banker from Phillipsburg, N.J., who volunteers at the museum. “I spend as much time on this nonsense as I did with the banking nonsense,” Gullion says.
An old drill press stands outside the museum waiting to be refurbished and moved into the museum. Volunteers meet every Tuesday to work on equipment that eventually will become exhibits inside. An old drill press stands outside the museum waiting to be refurbished and moved into the museum. Volunteers meet every Tuesday to work on equipment that eventually will become exhibits inside.
Todd Bessemer, a member of the NMIH board of directors for the past year, is the great-great-great-grandson of Sir Henry Bessemer, who in 1856 invented the first process for manufacturing large quantities of steel inexpensively. Todd Bessemer, a member of the NMIH board of directors for the past year, is the great-great-great-grandson of Sir Henry Bessemer, who in 1856 invented the first process for manufacturing large quantities of steel inexpensively.
The long awaited industrial museum opened in 2016 with some 100 machines borrowed from the Smithsonian’s 1876 collection. Since then the NMIH has acquired textile machinery, iron and steel equipment and historical artifacts related to the propane industry. The long awaited industrial museum opened in 2016 with some 100 machines borrowed from the Smithsonian’s 1876 collection. Since then the NMIH has acquired textile machinery, iron and steel equipment and historical artifacts related to the propane industry.
Chemical engineer and NMIH volunteer Chuck Higdon gives an in-depth presentation on the complexity of steel making during Steel Weekend. He began by explaining that steel had been made for millennia, but only in very small batches. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that steelmaking became commercially feasible thanks to blast furnaces and the Bessemer process. Chemical engineer and NMIH volunteer Chuck Higdon gives an in-depth presentation on the complexity of steel making during Steel Weekend. He began by explaining that steel had been made for millennia, but only in very small batches. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that steelmaking became commercially feasible thanks to blast furnaces and the Bessemer process.
The beautifully restored city of York water pump was started up for the first time in 70 years during Steel Weekend. Thousands of volunteer hours went into making the steam pump, which was invented by and named after the American engineer George Henry Corliss, operational again. The beautifully restored city of York water pump was started up for the first time in 70 years during Steel Weekend. Thousands of volunteer hours went into making the steam pump, which was invented by and named after the American engineer George Henry Corliss, operational again.
Using heated charcoal for forging metal is demonstrated by Douglas Brian Learn, a museum volunteer who initially helped save items from the Bethlehem Steel buildings after the plant closed. The charcoal forge is an old process used by blacksmiths to soften iron for shaping into tools and other objects. Using heated charcoal for forging metal is demonstrated by Douglas Brian Learn, a museum volunteer who initially helped save items from the Bethlehem Steel buildings after the plant closed. The charcoal forge is an old process used by blacksmiths to soften iron for shaping into tools and other objects.
press photos by carole gorneyDuring the industrial age, power hammers, like the one being used here by NMIH volunteer Douglas Brian Learn, replaced the need for forging metal by hand. press photos by carole gorneyDuring the industrial age, power hammers, like the one being used here by NMIH volunteer Douglas Brian Learn, replaced the need for forging metal by hand.
In 2011, famous American artist David Brewster painted this power drop hammer from the Bethlehem Iron Works in 1891. At the time, it was the largest forging device in the world. The mixed medium painting now hangs on a wall of the National Museum of Industrial History. In 2011, famous American artist David Brewster painted this power drop hammer from the Bethlehem Iron Works in 1891. At the time, it was the largest forging device in the world. The mixed medium painting now hangs on a wall of the National Museum of Industrial History.

Gone but not forgotten NMIH celebrates city’s iron and steel roots

Tuesday, October 22, 2019 by Carole Gorney Special to the Bethlehem Press in Local News

From its roots as the Bethlehem Iron Co. in 1857, to its final closing in 2003, Bethlehem Steel was an integral part of the Lehigh Valley and the nation. For a good part of its life, the company was the country’s second-largest producer of steel, and the area’s major employer.

During World War II, employment at the Bethlehem plant surged to more than 30,000.

Today, the legacy of Bethlehem’s steelmaking is preserved and celebrated at the National Museum of Industrial History (NMIH), a Smithsonian Institution affiliate located appropriately in a renovated 100-year-old building on the grounds of the original steel plant in South Bethlehem. Dedicated to showcasing America’s industrial heritage, the 18,000-square-foot facility has special exhibits, plus four galleries dedicated to the stories of heavy machinery, silk, propane and of course, iron and steel.

For the past 11 years, the museum has hosted an annual Steel Weekend, sponsored by the American Institute of Steel Construction. This past September, the two-day event featured smelting and forging demonstrations, a riveting workshop and presentations on steelmaking and the bridges built with Bethlehem steel.

A highlight on both days was the startup of the museum’s massive 115-ton steam engine, that laydormant for decades after faithfully pumping millions of gallons of water every day to customers in York. After thousands of hours of labor, it has now been meticulously restored to working order by NMIH.

In his slide presentation on Steelmaking 101, guest speaker Chuck Higdon explained in some detail how steel is made in blast furnaces, and the role of iron ore, carbon, coal and limestone in the steelmaking process. A chemical engineer, Higdon worked for 26 years with Air Products and Chemicals Inc., helping the steel industry improve its energy efficiency and blast furnace performance.

Higdon said three types of carbon are needed to heat blast furnaces: charcoal, anthracite coal and coke. In 1840, huge deposits of anthracite coal were discovered in northeast Pennsylvania, and canal boats and later the railroads were able to transport the coal south.

Early on, only small amounts of steel could be made at the time. Steelmaking in large quantities became possible in the 1850s with the development in England of the Bessemer process, which blew huge amounts of air into the blast furnaces to remove impurities in the iron ore. “This changed the world,” Higdon said.

In 1863, Bethlehem Steel switched from making wrought iron to steel by adopting the Bessemer blast furnaces, but two years later the company switched to open hearth furnaces that produced more and better-quality steel, but took a lot of time and manpower. When the doors opened, workers were walking into up to 2,500 degrees of heat, Higdon noted. “You can imagine how dangerous that was.”

After 70 years, Bethlehem Steel switched back to using the 100-foot blast furnaces that still dominate the skyline on the SteelStacks campus. Higdon said, “they were the heart of steelmaking.”

Despite the demise of Bethlehem Steel, he said, “We are still making a lot of steel in the U.S. Seven million tons last year.” Today, Higdon said, most steel is made from scrap in mini mills using electric arc furnaces.