Lessons Learned From The Rise And Fall Of Bethlehem Steel

Image source: Wikimedia.org

Image source: Wikimedia.org

The Golden Gate Bridge, George Washington Bridge, and the United States Supreme Court, the main supplier of the first railroads and most of the Manhattan Skyscrapers – these were just a few of the distinctions of Bethlehem Steel. Incidentally Bethlehem Steel was also the top military contractor of World War II.

Founded in the late 19th century, opportunistic entrepreneurs and engineers took advantage of new and increasingly efficient technologies in iron production and an abundance of raw materials in Pennsylvania. They established Bethlehem Iron, which was acquired by the nation’s then largest steel maker, US Steel Corporation, during the turn of the century. The marriage begot Bethlehem Steel.

It arose to the pinnacle of the industry by utilizing new innovations in technology, which improved the efficiency of steel production. The laborers worked diligently as well, but they were managed ruthlessly for the most part.

The company also took advantage of the market environment, supplying the construction materials of infrastructure. These materials experienced a boom back then, as did the raw materials for weapons that involved almost the entire world.

Image source: scenariojournal.com

Image source: scenariojournal.com

Unfortunately, over time they strayed away from what had made them successful. As the environment changed, they resisted adapting to it. The company, particularly its management team, failed to meet the challenge of the advancement of technology, shift in market, and emergence of foreign and local competitors.

Decades of descent culminated in bankruptcy, dissolution, and sale in early 2000. What was once the king of steel is now just a lesson for aspiring businesses: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Hi, Christopher J. Keehner here. I used to work for Bethlehem Steel until its closure in 2003. Currently, I run a machines shop in Philadelphia. Read my blog here for discussion about business among other things.


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