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Steel Production Booms in Great Lakes Region

Steel production in the Great Lakes region has risen sharply. Last week’s steel production reached 657,000 tons up from the previous week’s 657,000 tons, a 1.97 percent increase.

Domestic steel mills produced 1.779 million tons of steel, a 1.42 percent rise, while the capacity utilization rate in US steel mills is at 75.6 percent so far for the year; last year at this time it was at 73.7 percent. While these numbers are encouraging, a 90 percent steelmaking capacity utilization rate is considered financially healthy according to some analysts, especially for large mills.

Meanwhile, US national steel output rose 25,000 tons last week, up 1.7 percent for the year. The Southern district saw a rise in production from 652,000 tons to 667,000 tons. However, steel production in the greater Midwest declined from 163,000 to 148,000 tons.

History of Steel Production in the Great Lakes Region

Iron and steel mills have long ranked among the largest economic enterprises in the Great Lakes region. After the Civil War, the steel industry grew rapidly, contributing to America’s ascendancy as a world economic power.

Steel, iron that has had its impurities removed to make it more durable and stronger, is more useful than iron, but until 1856, it was difficult and expensive to manufacture. Meanwhile, the growth of railroads in the 1800s created a huge market for steel.

Beginning in 1863, the Bessemer process, named after its inventor Sir Henry Bessemer (1813-1898), changed all that by introducing an inexpensive way to produce steel. Prior to its invention, steel was made by a cementation process which took days.

Brought to the United States by Alexander Lyman Holley, the Bessemer process blew air through molten iron to remove carbon. Now it was possible to convert molten pig iron into steel in just minutes. This led to the rise of large integrated steel mills, where all steps of the steel making process could be carried out in one location.

From 1880-1900, steel production in the US increased from 1.25 million tons to more than 10 million tons. By 1910, production had risen to over 24 million tons, making the US the largest steel producing country in the world. Large integrated coalmines were built throughout the Midwest, in Chicago, Gary, Cleveland, and Buffalo.

By the 1920s, the US produced 40 percent of the world’s iron and steel. Steel production fell during the Great Depression, but rose again during and after World War II, peaking in the 1940s and 1950s.

More recently, there has been a shift from large integrated steel mills to small mini-mills and specialty mills where new steel products are made by melting steel scraps.

Natural Resources in the Great Lakes Region

The Great Lakes region accounts for 60 percent of steel production in North America, due to the area’s rich natural resources. Iron ore deposits around Lake Superior, composed of banded iron formations (BIFs), are found in rocks in the shallow waters around the lake. These Lake Superior-type BIFs, formed between 2.7 and 1.8 billion years ago, have enormous continuity.

Other resources needed for steel production, such as coal and limestone, could be found in the region as well. The Great Lakes provided access to waterways essential for transporting raw materials to the iron and steel works and for delivering finished products.

The presence of all of these resources contributed to the growth of steel manufacturing in the Great Lakes region, making it into an ideal location for steel production.

Statue-of-Liberty Green & Steel Bridges: A History

Did you ever wonder why so many steel bridges in the United States are painted green? Does aesthetics, practicality, economics, habit, coincidence, or all of the above dictate the choice?

The history of green-colored bridges can be traced to two renowned bridge engineers, David B. Steinman (1886-1960) and Conde McCullough (1887-1947). These two shared a commitment to designing beautiful and artistic structures that blended in with their natural surroundings.

A child of Jewish immigrants, Steinman grew up in New York City where he developed his love of bridges. Also a writer and a poet, Steinman designed and constructed over 400 bridges in his lifetime, including the Henry Hudson Bridge in New York, the Deer Isle Bridge in Maine, and the Mount Hope Bridge in Rhode Island.

Over time, he earned a national reputation for his bridges. Many consider his Mackinac Bridge, connecting the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, to be his most significant work, but for him the St. Johns Bridge, one of his first, would remain his favorite.

The Introduction of ODOT Green

In 1929, Steinman first used green paint for the Mount Hope Bridge and soon after for the St. Johns Bridge in Portland, Oregon. Selected over McCullough to design the St Johns Bridge, Steinman chose green to match the area’s lush greenery, trees, and hilly landscape, even though representatives of a nearby airfield wanted it painted with black and yellow stripes to increase its visibility. Steinman painted all of his later bridges shades of green and claimed credit for the concept of painting bridges with colors.

A quiet intellectual, Conde McCullough designed Oregon’s coastal bridges. Combining beauty with efficiency and economy, he helped build over 600 bridges, including the John McLoughlin Bridge, the Astoria Megler Bridge, the Yaquina Bay Bridge, and the Crooked River High Bridge. His bridges blend with the environment by incorporating designs and materials suited for specifically for each project.

While Steinman used varieties of green, McCullough stuck with one particular shade. This shade, now known as ODOT green (named after the Oregon Department of Transportation), has become the standard, and St. Johns Bridge is now repainted in ODOT green. It was renowned for its resemblance not only to the surrounding vegetation, but to the Statue of Liberty’s distinct green shade.

Green Bridges Gain Traction

McCullough first used it by chance on the John McLoughlin Bridge in 1933. When the bridge won an award as the most beautiful bridge of its class, its color on the submission illustration was green but actually it had been painted black. In order to receive the award, the bridge had to be repainted.

Under the influence of these two creative geniuses, the popularity of green-colored bridges spread throughout Oregon and the United States. Light green is the most common color for bridges in northern New England and has become the national standard among bridge engineers. In 1953, the New Hampshire State Highway Department adopted green for use in all structural applications and the originally specified color for Samuel Morey Bridge between New Hampshire and Vermont was sage green.

Maine and Vermont’s regional bridges are painted light green as well. In 1999, New Hampshire began using a darker shade of green, Dartmouth green, for all of its bridges due to the fading of the color over time.

Using this type of paint on steel structures also has practical benefits in certain regions and weather conditions. ODOT green paint cures best in damp weather, making it particularly suited for the climate of the Northwest.

Beyond practicality, the color green’s association with nature, life, renewal, and healing fits in perfectly with bridges, which foster unity and connection.