The History of Bethlehem Steel and Why It Matters

Located in the Lehigh Valley just beside Allentown rests Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Bethlehem Steel was one of the most powerful symbols of American industrial manufacturing, as it created the steel for ships and armaments that helped win two world wars, the beams for the buildings that changed the New York City skyline forever, and the steel that composed the Golden Gate Bridge.

The Bethlehem Steel Company expanded in the early 1970s. With the war’s end, the global demand for steel was even larger than in wartime. With a large increase in consumer demand, massive amounts of steel were needed to rebuild the economies that were destroyed during the war. By the late 1950s, Bethlehem Steel was capable of producing 23 million tons of steel each year. Therefore, an influx of workers was needed to run the plant and produce enough steel. What did this mean? All of these workers needed places to live that were affordable in comparison to the minimal amount they were being paid to work at the plant.

“History reveals a pattern of housing programs and funding that continues to this day: Affordable housing is not deemed to be an end in itself, but a way to serve another purpose — for example, to house defense workers during the world wars, to create jobs during the Depression, to provide an antidote to civil unrest in the 1960s, or to stimulate the economy in the Great Recession.” -Charles L. Edson, Author of Affordable Housing — An Intimate History
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