Beth Steel ceased to exist at 11:59 p.m.

Legendary steelmaker passes into history

January 01, 2004|By Jeanne Bonner | Jeanne Bonner,THE MORNING CALL

Bethlehem Steel Corp., once one of Maryland's largest industrial employers and the company whose steel gave shape to the Empire State Building in New York as well as the warships of World Wars I and II, ceased to exist at 11:59 o'clock last night.

Bethlehem Steel was dissolved and its stock canceled one minute before the dawning of the new year, about 100 years after its incorporation.

The action was expected, although the timing wasn't certain until it was announced by the company in a two-sentence press release yesterday afternoon.

FOR THE RECORD - As the result of an editing error, a story published Thursday incorrectly cited the former Bethlehem Steel Corp. as giving shape to the Empire State Building, which was a U.S. Steel Corp. project. Bethlehem's steel was used in the Chrysler Building.

Bethlehem Steel, for many years the second-largest U.S. steelmaker, once employed 284,000 nationally and about 35,000 at its Sparrows Point mill and shipyard in Baltimore County.

But it fell on hard times beginning in the 1980s, the result of high labor costs, bad management decisions, outdated technology and foreign competition.

In 1995, it closed its mammoth coke works in Bethlehem, Pa., ending an era and leaving behind a small city of buildings and blast furnaces on the banks of the Lehigh River.

Bankruptcy in 2001

The company declared bankruptcy in 2001 and last May sold its plants, including Sparrows Point, and most remaining assets to International Steel Group of Cleveland.

Shareholders who have held on to Bethlehem Steel stock are out of luck. Shares closed at just under 1 cent yesterday in trading on the Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board.

The 136 million outstanding shares now have no value, and the stock will not trade when financial markets re-open tomorrow.

The bad times remain fresh in the minds of many former steel workers.

Jerry Green, president of Bethlehem-based Local 2599 of the United Steel Workers of America, is still bitter that retirees lost health care benefits this year and some will receive reduced pensions. "Tonight when I raise my champagne glass, it won't be for Bethlehem Steel," Green said yesterday.

Yesteryear

Bruce Davis, a former Bethlehem Steel employee and an attorney who represented the company's white-collar workers through the Retired Employees Benefits Coalition, recalled the years when the company seemed indestructible.

"There was a time when Bethlehem Steel was one of the most important companies in the world," he said.

The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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