Originally founded in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the Lackawanna Steel Company moved its operations to Lackawanna, New York (a small city just outside of Buffalo) in 1902. After its transition from Scranton, the Lackawanna Steel Company grew rapidly, thereby removing workers and machines from its Scranton operations. Lackawanna’s new steel plant quickly grew and prospered as the leading manufacturer of rails and sheet piling.
In 1922, the second largest steel company in the United States, Bethlehem Steel, purchased the Lackawanna Steel Company for a mere $60 million. At this time, the Lackawanna plant was just over twenty years old and was beginning to show its age. Bethlehem Steel spent over $40 million in repairs and updates to the plant so that it could remain a large competitor in the steelmaking industry.
By 1941 and at the start of World War II, Bethlehem focused its operations on steel plate production for ships and tanks, as well as structural steel for the military. During World War II, Bethlehem’s Lackawanna plant became the world’s largest steelmaking operation employing over 20,000 workers on its 1,300 acre site. The Lackawanna plant’s prosperity lasted well into the early 1970s.
In 1977, the Lackawanna Plant began to make cuts in its production and workforce due to decreased demand for steel and the sudden onset of steel imports from foreign markets. Despite company complaints with regard to declining profits, Bethlehem’s Lackawanna Plant was profitable every year from 1970-1981, with the exception of 1977. Bethlehem Steel closed most of its Lackawanna plant by 1983 due to rising operational costs and the decreased demand for steel. Located on the shores of Lake Erie, the Bethlehem Steel Lackawanna Plant was once considered the 4th largest steel mill in the world.