Steelworkers manufacturing cotton ties at Upper Union Mills, Carnegie Steel Company, ca. 1915.
In the early nineteenth century, there were a number of furnaces in Ohio that processed iron. These small industries were made possible by local iron ore deposits in southern and eastern Ohio. In addition, some parts of Ohio also had coal deposits that could be used to fuel furnaces. Because of their proximity to the state's iron manufacturing, by the second half of the nineteenth century communities such as Cleveland, Akron, Canton, and Youngstown had begun to emerge as major industrial cities. Railroads also encouraged the growth of the iron industry.
After the American Civil War, iron manufacturers in Ohio began to introduce new processes to refine iron ore. The resulting product was steel, which was much stronger and more versatile than iron. Because Ohio companies, such as the Otis Steel Company, were quick to adopt new technology, Ohio became the second largest producer of steel in the nation by the 1890s.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the rapid growth of some steel companies led to a wave of mergers that created big businesses like the United States Steel Company and Republic Iron and Steel Corporation. Very often, smaller companies that had produced either iron or steel since the early 1800s were either taken over or driven out of business because they were unable to compete with the large corporations. The developments in the steel industry helped to encourage construction of large buildings, such as skyscrapers, as well as bridges and other projects. The automobile industry also contributed to the growth of the steel industry in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Although the steel industry in Ohio suffered during the Great Depression and many workers faced unemployment during that era, Ohio companies rebounded during World War II. The steel mills helped to produce steel for the United States military during the war. In the decades that followed, steel mills were prosperous. In the latter part of the twentieth century, Ohio steel mills, as well as mills across the country, faced new competition from foreign steel manufacturers. As a result of this competition, steel companies in Ohio declined, and many workers lost their jobs. The United States also faced economic problems in the 1970s and early 1980s that created significant challenges for the steel industry. Recently, some steel manufacturers have emerged from their difficulties and have reclaimed important roles within the industry. Those that have survived have concentrated on modernizing their mills and incorporating new technology.