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U.S. Steel casts long shadow

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By Thomas Olson
Monday, March 3, 2008

The sidewalk beneath Pittsburgh's tallest skyscraper is rust-stained from the steel-clad U.S. Steel Tower, as if a 62-story steel spike had been driven into Downtown.

In much the same way, the storied steel titan drove Pittsburgh's economy for decades, until the 1980s.

"How do you define Pittsburgh without thinking about U.S. Steel• It's inseparable," said August Carlino, president and CEO of Rivers of Steel, a group in Homestead that preserves and promotes the region's steel-making heritage.

"The company and the steel industry it built put a name on this region and contributed to its economic development for over 100 years," said Carlino.

At its peak in 1943 amid World War II, U.S. Steel employed about 340,000 people in this country, say corporation records. That included about 50,000 U.S. Steel workers locally, at plants from Homestead to Clairton.

U.S. Steel was founded a century ago by combining companies that included Carnegie Steel Co. The Wall Street colossus J.P. Morgan formed U.S. Steel on Feb. 25, 1901, with $1.4 billion in invested capital -- making it the first billion-dollar company in U.S. history.

In 1902, its first full year of operation, U.S. Steel produced nearly 11 million tons of raw steel, or roughly two in every three tons of steel produced in America. Its output went into everything from railroad rails to automobiles to appliances -- even New York's famed Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

But by the 1980s, a combination of "global economics, price issues and power struggles behind labor and management" crushed U.S. Steel's influence and employment levels, said Carlino.

Today, U.S. Steel employs about 4,650 people in this region. Its local works include the Edgar Thomson plant in Braddock, the Clairton plant and the Irvin plant in Dravosburg, The imposing headquarters building was completed in 1971.

"It's now a shadow of itself," said Carlino. "But U.S. Steel laid a foundation of steel-related businesses in this region," such as Pittsburgh's many engineering firms.

Additional Information:

Pitt fact

Who was the first chairman of U.S. Steel Corp.?

A. Andrew Carnegie

B. J.P. Morgan

C. Elbert Gary

D. James Laughlin

Answer: C.

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