Travis Dewitz | Midwest Editorial & Commercial Photographer » Photography Projects, Works of Art, and Environmental Portraits



Steel is an alloy of iron and a variety of other elements, including carbon. With the invention of the Bessemer process in the mid-19th century, steel became an inexpensive mass-produced material. Once the backbone of the United States, steel has been on a downward spiral since the late 1960’s. Most have closed their doors long ago and only a handful still survive. The United States led the World in steel production by 1900 but has since lost that title. In 1900, the US was producing 37% of the world’s steel but today only produces 14.5%.  The steel industry is a large consumer of raw material which it needs to make finished steel. The raw materials include iron ore, coal (coke), and limestone. When steel demand or production goes down so does the demand for the raw materials needed for the steel. Many heavy industries are interconnected in some form or another. Steel mills also use to be a huge employer in the US but many technical breakthroughs and modernizations have cut the workforce once needed to produce  steel. The steel mill work force in the US went down over 500,000 in 1970 down to just over 150,000 in 2000.

“The plant is massive, grime-streaked, squatting in the valley
under five massive stacks, each one trailing a black ribbon
across the winter sky. Fires can be seen flickering through
the windows and long flames weave and dance from the tops of
guyed metal flues. Steam rises in clouds from vents and
chimneys and the sound of it all — the hissing, the
clanging, the rumbling, the shrieking — comes faintly, muted
by the falling snow.” ~ The Deer Hunter

Even though the production of steel in the US isn’t as high as it once was, steel is still a major product in many things we use everyday. I also read that the steel produced by every steelworker generates 3.5 other workers associated with the steel produced. These giant factories emitting plumes of smoke and steam as large as small towns are quickly vanishing from the river banks and lake shores of the US but we need to remember that these steel mills helped build the United States as the country we know it today. The photos that I captured in this set may soon be history but the steel produced from these mills will survive on our soil for hundreds of years to come.

Buy photos from my Steel Project here.