National Steel (Detroit)

The National Steel Corporation existed from 1929 to 2003, operating as one of the nation’s largest producers of steel products for many of those years. Located in Detroit, the corporation enjoyed immense demand for its products from the automotive and shipbuilding industries. Eventually filing for bankruptcy, the company’s assets were bought by U.S. Steel.

National Steel was founded as a merger deal involving Weirton Steel, M.A. Hannah Company, and Great Lakes Steel Corporation. As the United States entered the Great Depression later in 1929, National Steel was able to stay afloat primarily through its contracts with automakers in the Detroit area. By the beginning of World War II, the company was annually making $140 million in sales, spurred on by the increased need for steel products. However, increased competition and a reduction in steel need hurt the company in the 1950s.

Relaxed laws and regulations concerning imported steel began to have an effect on Nation Steel Corporation, and profits began to sag further. In addition, competition from companies that could sell their products for less because of lower worker cost continued to take its toll on National Steel. Furthermore, alternatives to steel, like aluminum and tin plating, continued to hurt the company.

The company responded by modernizing their equipment and intelligently expanding its plant locations. The company also joined with Southwire, purchased Pittsburgh Aluminum Alloys, Inc. and acquired Granite City Steel Company in the following years, eventually becoming the third largest steel producer in the U.S. at that time in the 1970s. Eventually, though, the company began selling parts of their operations, with half going to the Japanese company, Nippon Kokan K.K.

As a steel mill operation, National Steel Corporation employed thousands of workers over the years, many of them working directly in the forging areas of the facilities. Constantly exposed to high heat produced by coal burning and the resulting molten metal, workers were often fitted with protective clothing that sometimes included asbestos fibers. Asbestos is an excellent insulator form high heat and the material was also widely used in walls and ceilings as a fire retardant compound.

Pipesboilers and electrical panels were usually protected by asbestos coverings, and after years this material would break down and the individual fibers released into the surrounding atmosphere. The fibers were often inhaled by employees, and when it became known that asbestos fibers were connected to a number of illnesses, government regulations prompted a complete refurbishing of steel mills and other manufacturing plants. Mesothelioma and asbestosis are just two of the health conditions suffered by long-term exposure to asbestos fibers.