Complete History Part 1 Pittsburgh Steel Company Monessen Works, Monessen Pennsylvania
Perhaps no year was more pivotal in the development of the American steel industry than 1901. The clash of the titans of steel, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan, culminated in the founding of the United States Steel Corporation, the largest industrial combination in American history. Capitalized at over $1.4 billion and controlling about fifty percent of the finished steel output in the nation, U.S. Steel soon dominated the industry. Another event of the first year of the twentieth century, with long-lasting significance, was the defeat of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers of America. Bloodied in the great Homestead lockout of 1892, the Amalgamated suffered severe losses of lodges and membership as the result of the failed strike of 1901. Although the union continued to play a limited role in labor/management relations among the small, independent mills in the Pittsburgh district until about 1910, its defeat in 1901 marked the onset of the nonunion era in the steel industry.
As important as these events were, they were not the full story of steel in 1901. As John N. Ingham argues in Making Iron and Steel, the continuing development and establishment of small, independent mills that served specialized niche markets was nearly as important as the creation of "big steel," especially in the Pittsburgh area, where independents controlled nearly sixty percent of productive capacity in 1901. Moreover, as Ingham demonstrates, these Pittsburgh-area independents were controlled by upper-crust Pittsburgh families rather than the distant financial interests that owned U.S. Steel. These independent, locally-owned firms such as Jones & Laughlin, Crucible Steel, Allegheny Steel, A.M. Byers & Company, Sharon Steel Hoop, and McKeesport Tin Plate remained the most typical unit on the Pittsburgh scene until the Depression of the 1930s. While the creation of U.S. Steel captured headlines in 1901, hidden in the back pages of leading steel journals was the announcement of the organization of one of these independent, locally-owned firms: the Pittsburgh Steel Company.
Ironically, the organization of Pittsburgh Steel was a consequence of the creation of U.S. Steel. In early June (three months after the merger) Wallace H. Rowe, manager of the American Steel & Wire Company's plants in Pennsylvania, announced his intention to leave the company, which had been taken over by U.S. Steel. Rowe, who was later described by a company historian as the "driving force behind Pittsburgh Steel Company," was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and entered the steel business in 1883 as a clerk in a wire mill at St. Louis. He rose quickly in the organization, and in 1886 came to Pittsburgh to serve as treasurer and general manager of the Braddock Wire Company, which had been organized by his St. Louis associates. In 1898, after Braddock Wire merged, first with the Consolidated Steel & Wire Company and then the American Steel & Wire Company, Rowe was elevated to the position of manager. His decision to leave the company after the U.S. Steel consolidation was based on his desire to establish his own steel company. Rowe joined with seven other Pittsburgh men and applied for a charter for the Pittsburgh Steel Company on June 24: he was named President and "active manager" of the company; Edwin Bindley of Bindley Hardware Company of Pittsburgh became Vice-President; W.C. Reitz, treasurer of the Pittsburgh Steel Hoop Company, was made Treasurer; and C.E. Beeson, Secretary. Also involved as investors were Emil Winter and John Bindley, also of Bindley Hardware. In addition to being an investor, Willis F. McCook was the company's legal counsel. The company was capitalized at $3 million and authorized to borrow up to $1.5 million.
The Pittsburgh Steel Company immediately purchased a sixty-acre tract at Monessen, Pennsylvania, a newly-established town in Westmoreland County located thirty miles south of Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River. The company announced plans to take over the Pittsburgh Steel Hoop Company at Monessen, in which W.C. Reitz was the major stockholder. Established in 1899, Pittsburgh Steel Hoop produced steel hoops for beer barrels. The company also announced that it planned to build a rod mill, a wire drawing mill, and install wire nail machines in order to manufacture wire nails at Monessen.
The manufacture of wire nails was a booming business in 1901. High prices led to the establishment of several new mills that year: in addition to the Monessen Works, the Union Steel Company established a wire-nail mill at nearby Donora. First manufactured in the United States in 1875 by a German pastor, Father Goebel, at Covington, Kentucky, steel wire nails were rapidly driving the traditional cut nail out of the market. The great nail strike of 1885-86 in the Wheeling district had disrupted cut nail production and provided an opening for wire nail manufacturers. Wire nails offered advantages to both producers and consumers. They were cheaper to produce, more amenable to automated production technology, and because they did less damage to the wood and could be straightened if bent, they were also easier to use. By 1901 there were fifty-eight manufacturers of wire nails in the nation and production far surpassed that of cut nails.
Why did the Pittsburgh Steel Company choose the Monessen site for the location of its mill? Neither the founders of the company nor the trade journals of the period offer an answer to this question, but it is clear that the town had much to offer any industrial enterprise. Like other towns surrounding Pittsburgh, such as McKeesport, Clairton, Glassport, and Donora, Monessen was an industrial boomtown. It was, however, a latecomer to the world of industry. According to historian Matthew Magda, whose Monessen: Industrial Boomtown and Steel Community, 1898-1980 tells the story of the town and its people, there were only eight farmhouses, two barns, one schoolhouse, and a narrow country road in the general area now called Monessen in 1893. The rapid transition of the area began in 1894 when a consortium of Pittsburgh industrialists and capitalists headed by Colonel James Schoonmaker, vice president and general manager of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad Company, and Philander C. Knox, future Attorney General and Secretary of State of the United States, purchased 211 acres of land along the Monongahela River about twenty-five miles south of Pittsburgh from farmers in Rostraver Township in Westmoreland County. Later incorporated as the East Side Land Company, the firm purchased additional acreage along the river over the next two years. The two-and-one-half miles long, narrow, flat area along the Monongahela was a prime site for future industrial development: it was near plentiful and relatively inexpensive natural resources; coal, coke and gas; as well as iron and steel supplies, with ample water supply and slack-water transportation. Another advantage as Schoonmaker recognized, were excellent rail connections. The Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad (P & L E) had just completed its line from Brownsville to Pittsburgh, skirting the river and passing beside the company's holdings. As one of the promoters and major stockholders of the P & L E, Schoonmaker was interested in increasing tonnage on the railroad.
Yet another advantage of the Monessen site, that it shared with other Pittsburgh area locations, was that it was situated within the Pittsburgh freight zone. This had important ramifications for the marketing of steel products. Since about 1898, and particularly after the formation of U.S. Steel in 1901, steel producers across the country had adopted a pricing system known as Pittsburgh Plus. Originating as a pooling arrangement to stabilize the industry and end the cut-throat competition that plagued the industry during the early 1890s, Pittsburgh Plus pricing meant that the delivered price of any steel product, regardless of its point of origin, was identical to that set by Pittsburgh District producers (usually U.S. Steel). For example, when Chicago steel mills sold to Chicago consumers, they were obligated to charge the same price as Pittsburgh Mills: a charge which included a standardized freight charge from Pittsburgh to Chicago. The Chicago steel maker realized an added profit in so-called phantom freight, but was unable to undercut Pittsburgh producers. This system protected Pittsburgh from competition and spurred the growth of the region. It remained an asset until the World War I period, when the growth of the western market, the rising cost of transport and increased phantom freight, along with cheaper production costs, allowed western producers to increase their share of the market.
The industrial development of the property of the East Side Land Company began in 1897, four years before the founding of Pittsburgh Steel. William H. Donner, the head of a tin plate company in Indiana, came to Pennsylvania seeking a better location for his operation. The gas fields in Indiana were near exhaustion and Donner sought a site near a permanent fuel supply. Donner met with Colonel Schoonmaker in Pittsburgh and visited the holdings of the East Side Land Company. Expecting the mill to induce settlers and other industrial firms to locate on the company's property, Schoonmaker offered Donner twenty acres of free land and a cash bonus of ten thousand dollars. It was an offer Donner could not refuse. In May ground was broken for the erection of the tin mill. Two months later, the East Side Land Company marked off part of its land for lots and settlers began to move into the area. As the town took shape, it received its name. Inspired by the possibility that it would become a great industrial metropolis like Essen, Germany, M.J. Alexander, the general manager of the land sale, conceived the name Monessen-Essen on the Monongahela. In September 1898 Monessen was incorporated as a borough.
Dormer's tin plate company was incorporated as the National Tin Plate Company in 1898 and began shipments in May of that year. The company developed an innovative production method known as the Monessen system, based on nonunion labor. An invention of Donner, who patented it in 1898, the Monessen system substantially reduced the amount of handling necessary to produce plate. Rather than men called "rollers" passing the plate through the rolls manually, each stand of rolls was connected in tandem so that a sheet going through the first roll was fed automatically into the others. As the Iron Trade Review described it, this "system of working" was different from the "regular style" since it allowed each stand of rolls, as well as each set of workman, to be dedicated to a certain product. The Monessen system resulted in a larger production and less breakage of the plate. It also reduced the number of workmen necessary in production. Such a system could have emerged only under nonunion conditions, since the Amalgamated with its rigid work rules refused to permit such innovations. When the American Tin Plate Company, a national combine that took over most of the tin plate mills in the nation, acquired the Monessen plant in 1899, it tried to introduce the Monessen system into its other mills. Those with Amalgamated lodges resisted, and the Monessen system was not introduced in the bulk of the mills of the American Tin Plate Company until late 1901, after the Amalgamated had been defeated. Shortly after the failed strike, the company announced an enlargement of the Monessen tin plate plant from twelve to twenty hot mills. The Iron Trade Review explained that the enlargement was the "direct result of the refusal of the workmen there to go on strike." This nonunion tradition may have been yet another reason that the Pittsburgh Steel Company decided to locate in Monessen. Absorbed into U.S. Steel in 1901, Monessen's tin plate mill expanded so that by 1923 it had a capacity of one hundred seventy thousand boxes of tin plate a month and employed sixteen hundred employees.
As Schoonmaker had hoped, the erection of the tin mill spurred further industrial development at Monessen. In September 1898, construction of a hoop mill was initiated by the Monessen Steel Company. In April 1899, the hoop mill was sold to the American Steel Hoop Company, a consolidation of nine concerns producing hoops, cotton ties, and steel billets and bars. In 1901 the Monessen mill had two continuous-charging, gas heating furnaces and two chains of rolls, with an annual capacity of forty thousand gross tons. In that year, the American Steel Hoop Company was absorbed into U.S. Steel and placed under the Carnegie group. The hoop mill continued production of steel hoops for beer barrels until national prohibition in 1919 reduced the demand. The plant, known as the Monessen Works, was closed in 1925.
While the hoop mill was being built, a second steel firm moved into Monessen. Beginning construction in 1898, the Monessen Foundry and Machine Company, which produced iron and brass casting, sold its property to Pittsburgh Steel in 1901, and purchased four acres along the river at the east end of the borough. Here the company built a new iron and brass foundry, including a machine shop, pattern shop, and warehouses. The company produced by-product coke-oven equipment, rolling-mill machinery, and valves.
Next to Pittsburgh Steel, the largest Monessen mill was the Page Woven Wire Fence Company. J. Walter Page of Rollin, Michigan, who invented the woven fence in 1883, started the company in the late 1880s. Until 1899, the company purchased wire for its fence-making operations at Adrian, Michigan on the open market. Page sought a production site closer to sources of supply of raw materials. In 1899 the company purchased twenty-two acres of land at Monessen, and began construction of a rod and wire mill, and soon added open-hearth furnaces, a blooming mill, and additional rod and wire mills. The plant produced bright and annealed wire, galvanized wire, rope wire, welding wire, fencing, special-analysis wire, and wire nails. In 1920 the American Chain Company purchased the company and its Monessen plant. Known as Page Steel and Wire, the plant became a division of American Chain and Cable, Inc., a reorganization of American Chain, in 1936. The company discontinued production of farm fence and nails in 1941, and concentrated on precision wire and industrial equipment. The plant closed in the 1950s.
Monessen was already a burgeoning industrial center when Pittsburgh Steel Company announced its plans to locate there. By September 1901 the company had awarded contracts for the erection of eighteen buildings for its plant. Two months later on November 11th, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania approved the plan of the Pittsburgh Steel Company to merge with the Pittsburgh Steel Hoop Company. Since this date marked the onset of production at Monessen under the Pittsburgh Steel Company banner, company historians celebrate this as its birth date. The buildings for the new mill were completed in 1902. The galvanizing and wire-fencing departments were completed in July and August. These two departments held zinc-coating and annealing lines and fifteen electric welding machines for producing a capacity of forty-five thousand tons of wire fence annually. In the same building were sixty barb-wire machines for making barb-wire fencing. In September 1902 the No. 1 wire and nail mill came on line. The largest at the site, the mill was a steel-frame and brick-walled building with a slate roof. Here were 160 wire drawing blocks with a capacity of 112,000 gross tons of wire per year and 175 wire nail machines with an annual capacity of 1.3 million kegs. The rod mill was started on December 4th, 1902, by President W.E. Rowe, who opened the throttle that set the machinery in motion. Housed in a steel-frame, brick-walled building 184' x 300' with a slate roof, the rod mill was powered by two 220 horsepower Corliss engines and one 225 horsepower Buckey engine. Considered by the Monessen Daily Independent the "most complete of its kind in the world," the rod mill had one 16-inch, one 14-inch, and three 10-inch mills, and an annual capacity of 130,000 gross tons. The plant also included a steam-making plant equipped with twenty-four 250 horsepower, coal-fired Cahall boilers; a gas-making plant for creating producer gas for the heating and annealing furnaces; and an electric plant to furnish current for the welding machines used in making wire fencing. By December 1902 the plant employed about three thousand men and boys.
Even before all of these facilities were in full production, the company announced plans for further expansion. On December 4th, 1902 at the opening of the rod mill, President Rowe announced future plans to erect blast furnaces. Due mainly to the efforts of financier John Bindley, the company had paid for its 1902 construction in a little over a year. In order to secure its coal supplies, in 1903 the company acquired the Monessen Coal & Coke Company, with mines in Westmoreland County.
The expansion of the plant into an integrated mill took a number of years, however. The first step was taken in 1907 during a financial panic. At a Board of Directors meeting on February 18, Rowe told the directors that the company had been handicapped by the lack of its own iron and steel-making facilities. The company had purchased most of its steel from the Carnegie mills of U.S. Steel and though prices remained fairly stable, it was sometimes difficult to obtain supplies when needed. Rowe had done his homework, and at the meeting, he presented full engineering drawings of a $2.5 million open hearth shop. Rowe also proposed the construction of a new rod mill and blooming mill. Believing like Carnegie that the best time to make capital improvements was during a recession when labor and materials were cheap, the board approved the expenditure.
On March 18, 1907 ground was broken for the new facilities. A total of four hundred immigrants, mostly Italians, were imported by Gerry Brothers employment company to work on the construction project. The blooming mill, according to the Monessen Daily Independent the "largest mill of its kind," was completed in August at cost of four million dollars. General engineers were Garrett and Cromwell, while MacKintosh, Hemphill & Company built the mill stands (three-high, 48"), tables, and manipulators. The rod mill, which doubled the production of the nail mill and the fencing departments, was completed and fully operational by January 1, 1909. The Monessen Daily Independent, reporting the comments of "experts," described the new mill as "one of the most perfectly constructed and best-equipped mills in the world from end to end."
The first four of eight 95-ton, basic open-hearth furnaces were completed in July 1908; the remainder were operational by January 1st, 1909. The furnaces were housed in a 1,055 feet by 280 feet steel frame, metal-clad building situated just north of the new rod mill. Gas for firing the open hearths was provided by thirty-six Hughes gas producers, which burned high volatile coal from mines of the company's subsidiary, the Monessen Coal & Coke Company.
In essence, open-hearth steel making is a variation of the iron puddling process. In puddling, pig iron is converted to wrought iron in a refractory furnace. The excess carbon and other impurities in the pig iron "bath" are removed by the heat and the stirring of the puddler. In the open-hearth process, there is no need for a puddler. The high temperatures developed by the open-hearth furnace itself are sufficient to remove the carbon and other impurities from the charge and convert it to steel.
Open-hearth furnaces are so-named because the charge is transformed to steel in a shallow dish-shaped "hearth" and is exposed or "open" to a sweep of flames emanating from opposite ends of the furnace alternatively. The high temperatures developed in the furnace are achieved through regeneration, a technology in which the heat of spent exhaust gases is captured and recycled. Each open-hearth furnace is equipped with two parallel inlet-and-exhaust passages consisting of brick checker-work, one of which is always being heated by hot exhaust gases. When the operator of the furnace reverses the direction of air and gas flowing through the checker chambers, making the exhaust passage the inlet passage and vice verse, the resulting hot checker-work pre-heats the incoming fuel and air (in separate chambers) to a temperature of about 1,200 C. Pre-heated air and gas mix in the furnace and ignite, reaching a temperature of approximately 2,000 C. The flames then sweep across the open hearth, transforming the charge to steel.
The principle of regeneration was discovered and patented in 1816 by Rev. Dr. Stirling of England. Stirling observed that a heated current of air passed through a compartment fitted with a sieve of wire gauze heated the metal, which in turn heated a current of cold air sent through the compartment in the reverse direction. Stirling touted the discovery as a means of saving fuel. Nothing came of it, however, until the 1840s, when Sir William (Carl Wilhelm) Siemens began his experiments. Born in Hanover, Germany in 1823, Siemens studied at the University of Gottingen before he came to England in 1843. After inventing a steam engine using regeneration in 1847, Siemens and his brother, Frederick, applied the principle to furnaces. In 1856, the same year that Bessemer announced the discovery of the steel converter, the two brothers patented their regenerative furnace and built an experimental furnace embodying the principle the following year. Overcoming the difficulty of obtaining a refractory brick capable of withstanding high temperatures, the brothers built their first successful regenerative furnace in 1861 in Birmingham for a glass works. The first successful trial of the Siemens furnace for steel making was made in France in 1864. In 1867 Siemens established the Landore Siemens Steel Company in South Wales for the manufacture of open-hearth steel on a large scale. By 1873 this company had become one of the largest steelworks in existence, producing one thousand tons of steel per week.
As they had with many other European inventions and technologies, Americans adopted the open-hearth furnace with alacrity. The first open hearth in America was installed in Pittsburgh in 1868 by Cooper, Hewitt & Company of Trenton, New Jersey, which had purchased the Siemens' patent rights. This five-ton furnace operated for a year or two, but was not a commercial success. The distinction of the first firm operating an open hearth successfully went to the Bay State Iron Company of South Boston. Completed in 1870, the Bay State open-hearth plant also was based on the Siemens' patent. It consisted of a five ton furnace lined with clay firebrick.
The most difficult problem faced by open-hearth pioneers during the development period in the 1870s and 1880s related to the lining of the hearth of the furnace. During the oxidation process, molten metal chemically reacts with the furnace lining, producing a slag and affecting the final composition of the steel. Silica bricks used in the first open-hearth furnaces produced an acidic slag and, more importantly, did not remove phosphorus and sulphur from the molten metal. Since phosphorus makes steel brittle, the "acid process" required a low-phosphorus iron ore, which was generally in short supply. The development of the basic process, which produced a basic slag and neutralized phosphorus, was first undertaken in connection with the Bessemer converter by Sidney Thomas and Percy Gilchrist of England in 1877. Thomas and Gilchrist found that a lining of basic refractory brick, dolomite or magnesia, along with the addition of limestone, neutralized phosphorous in the Bessemer converter. However, it was not until 1886 that Samuel T. Wellman became the first steel maker to use these materials successfully in an open hearth furnace in the United States, when he employed magnesite to line a furnace at the Otis Iron and Steel Works in Cleveland. After Wellman's trial, steel makers were quick to make the transition from the acid to basic process. The installation of the first basic open hearths at the Homestead works of the Carnegie Steel Company in 1888 marked the full emergence of the technology.
According to Thomas J. Misa, the impetus for the rapid adoption of the technology was the widely recognized need for a high-quality structural steel, something which the Bessemer process was incapable of producing. The open-hearth furnace could remove phosphorus from pig iron, enabling steelmakers to produce high-quality steel with high-phosphorus ore. Just as important, the open hearth allowed for much greater control over the chemistry of the steel than the Bessemer. While the Bessemer made steel in a short period of about fifteen minutes, in which there was no opportunity for testing, the open hearth took from six to twelve hours to "cook" the charge, allowing for sampling and adjustments to produce steel to exact specifications. While quality was paramount, the open hearth had another advantage: it permitted the use of a large percentage of scrap. While the Bessemer used at most ten percent scrap, the open hearth could take up to ninety percent of its charge in scrap. A ratio of about fifty percent scrap to fifty percent pig iron was more typical, however. Thus, the open hearth enabled steel makers to remelt old steel, including plant scrap, and convert it to new products. For these fundamental reasons, the open hearth process caught on quickly among U.S. steelmen. By 1908, the year in which the new installation at Monessen was built, the open hearth had become the leading means of steel manufacture, surpassing the Bessemer in production for the first time, 8.7 million to 6.8 million net tons.
As would be the case with most of the technological changes made by Pittsburgh Steel Company at its Monessen Works throughout its history, the company was neither at the forefront nor far behind its competition when it installed open-hearth furnaces in 1908. The open hearth represented the mainstream of technology among the nation's steel makers. It appears, however, that the company's incentive to adopt the technology was not a desire to produce high-quality structural steel, as Misa contended for other steel makers when the open hearth was adopted in the 1880s and 1890s. Pittsburgh Steel's product line was steel wire products; wire nails, hoops, and bands, as well as galvanized fencing, "Pittsburgh Perfect Fence" (electrically welded fence) and barbed wire. Although the adjacent Page Woven Wire Fence Company used open-hearth steel to produce a similar product line, these products required only plain carbon steel, which could be produced with the Bessemer technology. The decision to install open hearths was probably related to an anticipated expansion of the company's product line. In 1909 the Pittsburgh Steel Company, through a closely allied company, Pittsburgh Steel Products Company, entered the seamless tube business by taking over the Seamless Tubing Company of America. Operating in Monessen since 1904, the latter had manufactured locomotive and boiler tubing. Since open-hearth steel is preferable to Bessemer in seamless tube manufacture, it would appear that the company went with the open-hearth technology with this in mind.
In considering the transition from Bessemer to open-hearth technology in the steel industry, it is interesting to compare it with a broader change in American industrial technology during this period. As David Hounshell demonstrated in From the American System to Mass Production, the overall trend in American industry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was toward standardized, high-volume, low-cost, continuous-flow production. This was the path blazed not only by Henry Ford, as Hounshell relates, but also by Andrew Carnegie. In steel, it was the Bessemer - rather than the open hearth - that most clearly represented this trend. It was much faster, used less fuel, and required slightly less labor. The open hearth went against the grain: its triumph was based on the quality of product rather than the efficiency of operation.
In the first four years of operation of the open hearth plant the Pittsburgh Steel Company purchased iron ingots from the Carnegie Steel Company mills of U.S. Steel in the Monongahela Valley for remelting and conversion into steel. The company had already expressed its intention to erect blast furnaces at the site, but the lack of capital prevented it from taking this step. This final step to full integration was undertaken in 1912, after President Rowe announced that the company would increase its capital stock from six to fourteen million dollars in 1911. On March 11th, 1912 ground was broken for the construction of two blast furnaces. Blown-in in August 1913, the two furnaces were identical and shared a common cast house. With a hearth diameter of nineteen feet and bosh diameter of twenty-two feet, seven inches and a daily capacity of five hundred tons each, Nos. 1 & 2 were of average size for the period.
The blast furnace plant at Monessen reflected twenty years of advances in design in raw materials delivery, hot blast generation, and gas cleaning in the American steel industry. Nos. 1 and 2 were equipped with four regenerative hot blast stoves each and shared a powerful turbo blower to provide hot blast for enhanced production, a system developed by Carnegie Steel Company at its Edgar Thomson Works in the late 1870s and early 1880s and the basis for the so-called "hard driving" of a furnace. With a Hulett moving car dumper, large capacity ore yard and ore bridge for raw materials delivery, and a skip hoist and skip car system for continuous charging of ore, coke, and limestone, the blast furnace plant reflected innovations in raw materials handling developed at Duquesne Works of Carnegie Steel in the 1890s. Together known as the "Duquesne revolution," these innovations increased pig iron production. A third feature of the Monessen blast furnace plant, which reflected recent innovations, was its blast furnace gas cleaning system. In addition to a dust catcher, the system included two wet gas scrubbers. Wet gas cleaning was developed in 1909 at Duquesne in order to eliminate a higher percentage of flue dust from the blast furnace gas, which was used to preheat the blast furnace stoves and, thereby, produce the hot blast. Dirty gas clogged the blast furnace stoves, lowered hot blast temperatures, and forced managers to shut down stoves periodically for cleaning. The wet gas cleaning system overcame these problems and resulted in an increase in output.
With the completion of the blast furnace in 1913, the Pittsburgh Steel Company's Monessen works became an integrated mill, and the company entered a period of time of high production, big profits, and expansion in employment and facilities that lasted until the early 1920s. The two blast furnaces, built to supply 500 tons of pig iron per day, frequently made from 650 to 700 tons in twenty-four hours. According to a commemorative history written on the occasion of the company's 50th anniversary, the No. 1 furnace briefly held the world's record for both daily and monthly production. Annual pig iron capacity was 403,000 tons in 1914, while Monessen's open hearth furnaces produced 694,000 tons of steel ingots in the same year. The surplus of steel over iron tonnage is explained by the use of imported scrap in the open hearth steel-making process. Following the pattern of other integrated mills, the company used its additional capital to purchase holdings in ore mines in Michigan and Minnesota to secure its ore supply. It also started its own on-site railroad company, the Monessen and Southwestern Railroad, to handle all materials in and out of the plant.
The onset of World War I and the resultant increase in the demand for steel led to boom conditions in the industry during the 1915 to 1919 period. According to a company historian, Pittsburgh Steel Company entered "one of the most dynamic periods of its existence." As America raced to arm itself, the company found a ready market for all the steel it could make. Rather than finished products, the company sold much of its steel in the form of ingots. This resulted in a level of profits lower than what it could have been had the same volume of steel been converted and sold as wire, tubes, or other products. This was not a critical problem during the boom years. Profits increased from less than $1 million in 1915 to over $4.5 million in 1916. However, after business began to taper off after the Armistice on November 11th, 1918, the problem of an imbalance of iron and steel making with finishing facilities became manifest.
The company did make an attempt to deal with the excess of steel production over finishing facilities during the war period. Through the Pittsburgh Steel Products Company, ground was broken for the construction of a new seamless pipe mill in February, 1917. By this time, the Monessen Works covered 160 acres and stretched 2.3 miles along the Monongahela River. Since there was little land at Monessen available for expansion, the company built the new mill at Allenport, located about six miles south of Monessen on the opposite (west) bank of the Monongahela River. By 1920 the Allenport mill consisted of a two-stand, seven-pass continuous rolling mill, piercing mill, coal-fired piercing mill furnace, cold draw benches, pickling house, annealing furnaces, and gas producers.