What Happened to Weirton?

What Happened to Weirton - A Five Part Series

Since the 1960s, cities throughout the world have confronted deindustrialization, a phenomenon where economies advance and transition into a post-industrial environment. This evolution leads to complications on political, social, and economic scales, as cities struggle to find a path to the future that can guarantee the job security and community identity once offered by industry. Weirton, West Virginia, is one such place.

The city, once home to Weirton Steel Corporation, a powerhouse steelmaker that was once the largest employer in West Virginia, fell victim to the fall of the United States’ steel industry, and now is a shadow of its former self.

This five-part, personal narrative podcast titled “What Happened to Weirton?” showcases the struggles of Weirton in its post-industrial state. The episodes feature both voices of those who have worked in the mill as well as townspeople who were affected by the decline of the city to examine the history of the city and the social costs of deindustrialization. What was found were stories of suicide, population loss, economic hardships, as well as hopes for the future.

This project was created by Ella Jennings as a part of her Master of Science in Journalism at West Virginia University.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we continue a series that considers how some communities in our region have been impacted by deindustrialization. We also hear the latest in our ongoing series, “Wild, Wondering West Virginia.”

Benny Becker/ WMMT

Our region has faced major economic changes and challenges in the past decade. But if you know our region’s history, this story of boom and bust, renewal and recession, is an all too familiar story. In this episode of Inside Appalachia, we’ll explore how these economic changes affect people, our friends, our neighbors, and how entire communities can be uprooted by the closing of a local factory, or coal-mine layoffs. 

What Happened to Weirton? Part 5: Moving Forward

Jul 15, 2019
Ella Jennings

If someone had a crystal ball, they could tell you exactly what the future holds for Weirton. Sadly, there are no magic tools to make this a short story. But, with a bit of help from the gift of gab, I’ll tell you about the current trajectory of the area.

What Happened to Weirton? Part 4: Where is God Today?

Jul 15, 2019
Ella Jennings

The consequences of deindustrialization manifest in many different ways.

Sherry Linkon and John Russo, two prominent scholars in working class studies, have written several books and articles about this topic, and at this point, they find you can easily make a list of what will happen when industry leaves. Let’s run down it.

What Happened to Weirton? Part 3: As Goes the Mill...

Jul 15, 2019
West Virginia & Regional History Center

“History tells us, like it or not, as goes the mill, so goes Weirton, in good times and bad.”

This is a quote from Dr. David Javersak, a former professor and local Ohio Valley historian, from his book, "History of Weirton." There’s a lot of truth in that statement: Weirton would have never existed without the mill. And up until its fateful bankruptcy, the town fully depended on Weirton Steel, like any devoted company town. This episode will trace through some of the highlights of Weirton’s history, providing an overview of its prominence and decline.

Ella Jennings

One person’s story can change your outlook on an entire town. Unfortunately, their story can leave you with more questions than answers.

By 2018, around 10,000 people had already left Weirton in search of a better life. I wanted to find someone who had stayed in the area and could tell me about their experience with the mill’s downfall. This led me to a story written in 2006 by an Associated Press reporter, Vicki Smith.

Ella Jennings

In Appalachia, we know too well the symptoms of industry in decline. However, some aspects are much more visual than others.

On March 9, I stood anxiously with a crowd of Weirton natives and former steelworkers on a hillside in Weirton, West Virginia, overlooking Weirton Steel’s Basic Oxygen Plant, or BOP. Thousands of people contributed to the steelmaking process in the huge structure since its construction in 1967. Now, they were offering their final goodbyes.