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National Works Closed 30 Years Ago This Year

By Jason Togyer
The Tube City Almanac
November 01, 2017
Posted in: History

This year marked the 30th anniversary of an event that most people in the McKeesport area would probably rather not remember.

On Aug. 29, 1987, the final workers at U.S. Steel's National Plant --- 21 in all --- left work for the last time.

The plant, built by the National Tube Company, beginning in 1872, had once employed 9,000 people, and operated the largest pipe-making mill in the world.

But by 1981, National Plant was reeling. The Texas and Louisiana oil and gas drilling boom of the 1970s had collapsed. Foreign steel mills were exporting products to the United States --- often below the cost to produce them, a practice called "dumping."

Then, in the summer of 1981, the U.S. economy went into recession.

Steel production at National ended in 1981 when the blast furnaces were permanently idled.

Actual pipe production at McKeesport ended in October 1986, when more than 20,000 unionized steelworkers across the country went on strike against U.S. Steel. Those workers had endured years of layoffs, cutbacks and concessions, even as U.S. Steel was completing its $6.3 billion purchase of Marathon Oil and changing its name to "USX Corp."

Fewer than 400 workers remained at National Plant by that time.

Although the strike ended in February 1987, employees of National Plant and three other U.S. Steel facilities, including an iron-ore processing facility in Saxonburg, Butler County, returned to work only to be told the facilities were closing permanently.

The last workers --- mostly maintenance crews, tasked with shipping leftover pipe and machinery --- punched out 30 years ago Aug. 29.

In 1997, while I was working for the McKeesport Daily News, business editor Susan Simkovic, photographer John Barna and I collaborated on what we called "The National Works Project," collecting historical information, including stories, from a number of former McKeesport U.S. Steel employees.

For a variety of reasons, we didn't use everything we collected. But I didn't throw anything away. (If you know me, you know I never throw anything away.)

This week, in recognition of this sad, but important, event in McKeesport history, I'll be sharing some of the things I saved.

Today, I'm posting a timeline of significant events in National Works history, beginning in 1865 --- when brothers John and Harvey Flagler started a company in Boston, Mass., to sell iron --- until 1987, when the plant closed.

I'd be interested to hear your opinions, thoughts and memories. Feel free to email me at tubecitytiger@gmail.com.

Originally published November 01, 2017.

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