About two dozen progressive bloggers got a rare inside look at a modern steel mill in Braddock, PA, yesterday. The bloggers are in town for the Netroots Nation convention in nearby Pittsburgh.
The J. Edgar Thomson Plant is a mixture of the old and the new. it was built by Andrew Carnegie in 1872 to take advantage of the the revolutionary new Bessemer manufacturing process. The name of the plant was a grandiose gesture of customer appreciation. The chief engineer of the Pennsylvania Railroad, J. Edgar Thomson, bought so much steel that the company named the plant after him.
Bloggers, including Jane Hamsher of firedoglake and Pat Garafalo of the Wonk Room, donned head-to-toe protective gear including bright orange pants and jackets, goggles, hardhats, gloves, boots, earplugs and portable radios.
Our group was led up five flights of stairs to the “pulpit” — the control tower — to watch the flow of molten metal on TV and computer monitors. Virtually all of the process is automated.
We watched as molten metal flowed out of a giant cauldron to form massive bars, about the width of a city sidewalk and a third of a block long. The newly formed slabs glowed orange as they moved along the conveyor belt on their way for further processing.
Fewer than 170 employees run th entire Thomson plant today, compared to the thousands that worked there in previous decades. The American steel industry is the most productive in the world in terms of tons of steel produced per worker, per hour. The Thomson plant runs 24⁄7 and puts out about 700 tons of steel each day.
If you own a General Electric refrigerator or an American automobile, chances are that some of the steel in that item was produced at Edgar Thomson.