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The Pilgrimage to Bethlehem Steel’s Abandoned Mills

Once the second-biggest steel manufacturer in the United States, Bethlehem Steel was one of the world’s largest shipbuilders, provider of the steel that fueled the skyscraper boom, and a proud icon of American industrial might. This was their flagship plant in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with furnaces dating as far back as 1861. Bethlehem Steel was driven to bankruptcy in 2001 when shifts in construction methods made their high grade steel obsolete. The property is now owned by a casino, and while some of the structures have been destroyed, the National Museum of Industrial History will be housed in several of the buildings.

My first trip to Bethlehem Steel’s massive flagship plant inspired the sort of awe and reverence one typically associates with a religious experience. I hiked a long way up a railway bed and across an old trestle, past a railway car nestled beneath some brambles, and in no time I was in the old employee locker rooms. At the time I had no idea what the odd chains and hanging baskets were for (they looked strangely like incense burners used in some sort of holy rite) although I later learned that the baskets were where workers put their clothes, and they were then hoisted via the chains to the ceiling, an ingenious system that lifted articles out of would-be thieves’ reach… read more >

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