End of steel in Youngstown: Blast furnaces came down 35 years ago

Today, the old Ohio Works is an industrial park lined with businesses whose employees are most likely oblivious to what happened over three decades ago

Remaining blast furnaces demolished 35 years ago in Youngstown.
July 1982 US Steel employee magazine with the now-famous photo on the cover

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Thirty-five years ago on Friday, the four remaining blast furnaces at U.S. Steel’s Ohio Works were demolished — one of the most historic moments in Youngstown history. Though it only lasted ten seconds, the images it generated marked the end of the big steel era.

The ruins of the blast furnaces line what is appropriately called Ohio Works Drive.

On the morning of April 28, 1982, two and a half years after U.S. Steel closed the Ohio Works, a crowd gathered around the four blast furnaces to watch their highly publicized demolition. A concession stand was set up for U.S. Steel executives and their wives, but the steelworkers were kept behind a wall.

Explosives were set under each furnace.

It was a media event with photographers and reporters given open access, which allowed for the taping from several different angles.

“People showed up to see the most visual possible symbol that we could get that an era is over,” said Youngstown State history professor Tom Leary.

When it came time for the demolition, there was a countdown.

Some steelworkers described it as losing a good friend.

Leary helps run Youngstown’s Steel Museum where a famous picture — showing the blast furnaces halfway down — by Vindicator photographer Paul Schell graces two large walls, fronted by a fence with steelworkers looking on.

“This image has served not just for Youngstown, but for the whole process, for the contraction of the American steel industry,” Leary said.

He said that was the last time U.S. Steel ever held a public demolition. Those that followed the Ohio Works blast furnaces were all done quietly.

“There is not much left here of the Ohio Works that was part of U.S. Steel,” said steel historian Rick Rowlands.

What is left was part of operating the blast furnaces. A concrete wall — the date, 1940, barely visible through the weeds — and an electrical tower that brought in power.

Today, the old Ohio Works is an industrial park lined with businesses. An occasional semi makes its way down Ohio Works Drive. The people who work there are most likely oblivious to what happened 35 years ago.


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