June 11, 1884: Riverside Iron Works Make Steel Using Bessemer Converter
On June 11, 1884, the state’s first Bessemer converter went into operation at the Riverside Iron Works in Wheeling. The Bessemer process made steel even stronger by introducing more air and removing more impurities from iron.
The Bessemer process was just one factor in the rise of West Virginia’s steel industry. A tariff enacted by Congress in 1890 made American tin makers more competitive with the British. It occurred just as the demand for canned foods was growing. The cans were made of thin-rolled steel coated with tin.
The steel industry in the Northern Panhandle got a boost when Ernest Weir moved his sheet and tin plate company from Clarksburg to what is now Weirton in 1909.
Weirton Steel would eventually become the largest employer in West Virginia and the largest tin-plate factory in the nation. The incorporation of Wheeling Steel in 1920 made the Northern Panhandle a steel hub.
Although the state’s steel industry continued to grow through the post-World War II years, foreign competition began taking its toll in the 1960s. Employment levels in the steel industry have now dropped to historic lows.