Stephen Mihm, an associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, was recently quoted in CNN Money about the history of the steel industry.
When World War II ended, no industry was stronger or more important than American steel. In the 10 years starting in 1948, American steel mills averaged approximately 700,000 workers. Today only 83,000 people work in steel mills. Part of that decline is due to more efficient processes. The basic oxygen furnaces and continuous casters now in use can make steel using a fraction of the work, energy and manpower required by open hearth furnaces. Most of the steel produced today comes from recycled scrap. Foreign competitors in Europe and Japan were much faster to adopt more efficient technologies after World War II.
“Neither labor nor management was thrilled about the idea of spending the capital to switch to basic oxygen furnaces,” said Mihm, who specializes in the history of business. “But labor wasn’t the one making the capital investment decisions. It’s ultimately management that dropped the ball.”