August 1, 1918: Industrialist Ernest Weir Renames His Company Weirton Steel
On August 1, 1918, industrialist Ernest Weir renamed his company Weirton Steel. He’d founded the company with J. A. Phillips in Clarksburg in 1905 as Phillips Sheet & Tin Plate. After Phillips’ death, Weir moved his company from Clarksburg to a southern Hancock County farm that would become the city of Weirton.
As part of the massive National Steel conglomeration, Weirton Steel became our state’s largest employer and taxpayer, and the world’s largest tin-plate producer. The city’s population exploded from virtually nothing to 8,000 in 1920 and 18,000 in 1940. During World War II, the company produced howitzer shells and other munitions and contributed to the atom bomb project. The company continued to grow after the war but suffered from foreign competition in the late 20th century.
In 1984, Weirton steelworkers purchased the plant in an innovative employee-ownership plan, or ESOP. The rest of the ‘80s were profitable, but business fell off dramatically in the ‘90s. In 2003, Weirton Steel, entered into bankruptcy. Since that time, the company has been sold twice and is now owned by ArcelorMittal. Employment at ArcelorMittal Weirton continued to decline. By 2010, the company ranked as the 67th largest private employer with about 1,000 workers.
Still, ArcelorMittal Weirton remained the world’s largest tin plate producer, despite having no hot metal operations. The extant parts of the mill receive coils from ArcelorMittal’s other American operation and clean and coat them.
Parts of the former steel giant, including the open hearth, blooming mill, quality control lab, and research and development structures, have been razed. A site on Weirton Heights was cleared to make way for a new Wal-Mart, a company which now holds the distinction of being West Virginia’s largest private employer.