Netroots Nation: Bloggers Tour Modern Steel Mill

Lindsay Beyerstein

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 247 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.

Lind­say Bey­er­stein is an award-win­ning inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Not­ed. Her sto­ries have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Mag­a­zine, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Her pho­tographs have been pub­lished in the Wall Street Jour­nal and the New York Times’ City Room. She also blogs at The Hill­man Blog (http://​www​.hill​man​foun​da​tion​.org/​h​i​l​l​m​a​nblog), a pub­li­ca­tion of the Sid­ney Hill­man Foun­da­tion, a non-prof­it that hon­ors jour­nal­ism in the pub­lic interest.
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