Sparrows Point: An American Steel Story | WYPR

Sparrows Point: An American Steel Story

In 1887, it was an isolated stretch of marshland on the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. By 1958, it was the biggest steel mill in the world. It went bankrupt in 2001. And by 2015, it was a pile of demolished rubble. Sparrows Point is a story of capitalism, labor unions, race, gender, civil rights, pride, and hubris. It’s the story of American steel.

"Sparrows Point: an American Steel Story" is produced through a partnership between WYPR and the Baltimore Museum of Industry as part of the museum’s Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project. The Bethlehem Steel Legacy Project is a multi-year community engagement and preservation initiative to document the 125-year history of the steelmaking giant, made possible through the generous support of Tradepoint Atlantic. This six-part podcast series is sponsored by Maryland Humanities.

JM Giordano

By the mid-20 century, Bethlehem Steel was the biggest steel company in the US. It was an industrial giant that seemed too powerful to fail. But in 2001, it declared bankruptcy, decimating retirees’ pensions and health benefits. In this episode, we examine how the empire collapsed, and we bear witness to the aftermath.

Bethlehem Steel Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Industry

Women of Steel

Feb 17, 2021
TradePoint Atlantic Collection

In the 1970s, Bethlehem Steel was forced by a federal consent decree to start hiring women in all operational departments, and at Sparrows Point, a brave generation of female steelworkers first walked through the doors. They stepped into a work environment that was crass, sexist, and often openly hostile to their presence. This episode, we meet three ‘Women of Steel’ from that pioneering generation and hear their stories of setbacks and perseverance.

JM Giordano

A unionized workforce was never part of the original plan at Sparrows Point. Neither was racial equity.

Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society

How did a swampy peninsula on the Patapsco River get picked as the site for a revolutionary, state-of-the-art steel mill? What was it like to live and work in a self-contained company town? Did Bethlehem Steel help the Allies win World War II? And, by the way, just how complicated is it to make steel, anyway? This episode, we rewind to the origins of Sparrows Point and trace the growth of what would become the biggest steel mill in the world.

BGE Print and Negative Collection

From the labor gang to the blast furnace, the open hearth to the shipyard, the plate mill to the 68 hot strip mill, what was it like to walk into Sparrows Point and do a day’s work? Some say it was an adventure. Some say it was like fighting a fire. And some say it was like going to war.

Sparrows Point is a story of capitalism, labor unions, race, gender, civil rights, pride, and hubris. It’s the story of American steel. Get a preview of what's in store on the upcoming series.

Episode one will be released on Wednesday, January 27.