Whether it’s storage tanks, communication towers, or agricultural support equipment, Pittsburg Tank & Tower Group relies on steel to fabricate its products. Steel production has evolved in the 101 years since PTTG was founded in 1919.
The United States was the world’s largest steel producer and produced the cheapest steel at the turn of the 20th Century. It was a position that the United States would hold for several decades. The same year that PTTG was founded in Pittsburg, Kansas, the Great Steel Strike of 1919 caused unrest in the steel industry. The Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers attempted to organize the U.S. steel industry after WWI, leading to an unsuccessful strike that began on Sept. 22, 1919. The strike collapsed on Jan. 8, 1920.
American steel production remained strong in the immediate years following the end of WWI up until the stock market crash of 1929 that sent the nation into the Great Depression. A precious commodity during WWII, most steels were reserved to bolster the war effort in the form of ships, planes, and weapons. At the war’s end, more than half of all steel produced worldwide was American made – from storage tanks to buildings to toys to home appliances to automobiles.
American steel production boomed during and immediately after WWII. American steel mills produced about half the world’s steel in the late 1940s and about 40 percent in the following decade. At their peak, American steel mills employed about 700,000 people. For comparison, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said there were 87,700 steelworkers as of late 2018.
Mid-way into the 20th Century, the introduction of the basic oxygen steel-making process transformed the steel industry. Much of the rest of the industrialized world soon adopted the process, which required less labor, and was therefore cheaper. Steel manufacturers were also able to produce a vast quantity of steel with this process. During the 20th Century, the United States widely adopted the basic oxygen steel-making process. Other steelmaking processes became less efficient.
By 1970, the United States’ largest steel manufacturer – U.S. Steel – was no longer the largest steel company in the world. Nor did the United States remain the leading country in steel production. As the world’s steel production caught up and surpassed that of the United States, American steel producers began laying off large numbers of workers and shuttering its mills in some cases. The federal government took measures to adjust trade policies to help benefit the Americans but stopped short of bailing out the ailing industry or offering financial assistance. Restructuring led to American steel rebounding from a business standpoint but still left many workers out in the cold as technological advances had been made that rendered some steelworkers’ jobs obsolete.
China became the world’s top steel producing company in the 1990s. As the Asian country has industrialized, China has surged ahead as the world leader in steel production. Less than 40 years ago, China produced about a third of what American steel mills made. Now, American mills produce less than 1/10th of the volume of steel as China. China actually makes up half the world production in steel, while European nations account for about 24 percent. North American steel mills – which include the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, account for 6 percent. As of 2018, 30 out of 50 states produce steel, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute. The world steel industry peaked in 2007, but the Great Recession the following year saw demand plummet and prices fall.
Turning iron ore into steel used to be the leading way to produce the metal, but now more steel is produced from recycled scrap. Using recycled scrap is both more cost-effective and more environmentally friendly since it helps cut down on greenhouse gasses. Nucor opened its first mini mill in 1969 in Darlington, South Carolina, according to the steel company’s website. Most recycled steel is fabricated at similar mini-mills now.
Steel is the most recycled material in the world, and it can be recycled repeatedly without any loss in quality. The world manufactures 1.5 billion tons of steel per year (about 100 million tons of it in the U.S.). The U.S. is the 4th largest steel producing country in the world, behind China, Japan, and India.
In the U.S., about 70 percent of all steel products used are from recycled components. That steelmaking process occurs by melting steel scrap in Electric Arc Furnaces and adding any required alloying elements. All of PTT’s plate steel and components are manufactured from recycled steel. Recycling steel saves the equivalent energy to power about 18 million homes per year. It takes more than 40 trees to build a wood-frame home. It takes approximately four recycled cars to frame a typical 2000 square feet house. So, we are good ambassadors for our environment.
Stainless steel is an anticorrosive metal that became popular globally in the second half of the 20th Century. Everything from appliances to storage tanks to the Gateway Arch in St. Louis is made with stainless steel. Most stainless steel is made in mini-mills where it’s melted from scrap steel for reuse. Stainless steel gets its corrosion-resistant properties via the addition of chromium and nickel.
After decades in the tank maintenance business, Pittsburg Tank added fabricating and erecting tanks to its repertoire in 1959. Decades later, Allstate Tower, which manufactures communication towers and agricultural support equipment, was founded – further expanding the steel products that PTTG makes. Inside our two shops, we fabricate carbon steel, stainless steel, Inconel, Monel, Hastelloy, AL-6XN, Duplex 2205 & 2304, and cladded materials.
Steel has been around for a long time and will continue to be a reliable and recyclable construction material. PTTG hasn’t been around quite as long, but we plan on being around in the construction field for a long time too.