Birmingham Steel Corp. (Birmingham)

Birmingham Steel Corporation was a producer of specialty steel products for merchants as well as a manufacturer of steel rebar for construction firms. It was founded in 1983 by the AEA Investors group, who purchased the Birmingham Bolt Company as well as a number of mini-mills operating in Kankakee, Illinois. By 1985 the company had acquired Magna Corporation’s Mississippi Steel Division and went public on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2002 Birmingham Steel Corporation filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and its mini mills and all assets were purchased by Nucor.

By 1985 Birmingham Steel Corporation was operating a total of 13 mini-mills in the United States, and was the second largest company utilizing mini-mills in the entire country. At the height of its prosperity, the company employed approximately 1,550 workers at its various facilities, which included mass production of steel components, a number of smaller plants that specialized in steel rods, rebar used in concrete foundations, and heavy wiring. Mini-mills were the result of industrial marketing strategy in the 1980s, where a number of smaller facilities could turn out specialty steel products more efficiently than a larger, all-in-one production plant. By the end of the decade, Birmingham Steel was distributing over 650,000 tons of finished steel products annually.

In the 1990s, the investors looked to expand their number of mills by purchasing facilities on both the east and west coasts, but the expenditures of reorganizing the company proved to be a huge burden that the increased production could not offset. By 2000, Birmingham Steel was feeling the pressure of competition from foreign steel manufacturers whose products were now more easily imported into the U.S. Nucor, who was at the time the second largest steel producer in the nation, agreed to purchase all of Birmingham Steel Corporation’s assets for an estimated $615 million.

As a company operating steel mills, Birmingham Steel often used asbestos at its manufacturing plants. Asbestos had for over a century been utilized as an insulator from heat; it has remarkable heat protection properties, and was popular as a general fire retardant. Because of the very nature of the operations at a steel plant, at that time asbestos was an acceptable solution for shielding workers from extreme temperatures. However asbestos fibers become airborne and can be inhaled or stick to worker’s clothing. Long-term exposure to asbestos fibers is a cause of benign growths and the more dangerous malignancy called mesothelioma. Once the public learned of the link between mesothelioma and asbestos exposure, which had long been known by the medical field, firms such as Birmingham Steel were forced to remove this material from their facilities.