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Cleveland-Cliffs acquisition marks latest changing of the guard for Region's steel mills

Cleveland-Cliffs acquisition marks latest changing of the guard for Region's steel mills

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ArcelorMittal's sale of most of its U.S. mills to Cleveland-Cliffs marks another chapter in the more than century-long saga of the steel industry along the Calumet Region's lakeshore.

Cleveland-Cliffs, a mining company that will become America's largest flat-rolled producer of steel after acquiring AK Steel and ArcelorMittal USA, is taking over the former LTV, Inland and Bethlehem steel mills along Lake Michigan's south shore in Northwest Indiana. Ownership of those three big mills has changed hands several times over the past 120 years, especially with the consolidation the American steel industry has gone through over the past two decades.

Bethlehem Steel opened the newest and easternmost mill, now ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor, to great fanfare in 1964, according to the Center for Land Use Interpretation. The governor of Indiana attended the grand opening and guests were brought in from Chicago on a special 19-car train to celebrate with steak and lobster. It was the last vertically integrated steel mill ever built in the United States to make new steel out of raw materials like coke, limestone and iron ore, which is shipped across Lake Michigan by lake freighters.

The steel mill off U.S. 12 in Burns Harbor made metal for cars, trains, Navy ships and NFL stadiums, including the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

But Bethlehem Steel, once one of the largest steelmaking and shipbuilding companies in the world, filed for bankruptcy amid the collapse of much of the domestic steel industry in 2001, and dissolved shortly after. Now-U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross's International Steel Group bought Bethlehem's assets out of bankruptcy for $1.5 billion in 2003 and started the mill in Porter County back up before India-based Mittal Steel bought it for $4.5 billion in 2005.

The following year, Mittal Steel, which originally started as Ispat International in 1978, merged with Luxembourg-based Arcelor, itself a merger of Aceralia in Spain, Usinor in France and Arbed in Luxembourg just a few years earlier amid the global upheaval in the steel industry. In 2006, Lakshmi Mittal created the world's largest steel company after taking over Arcelor in a $33.6 billion buyout that was "initially 150% hostile," according to the Financial Times. The deal ushered in the ArcelorMittal era along Northwest Indiana's lakeshore that is soon drawing to a close.

ArcelorMittal also took over the Inland Steel mill, which was built in Indiana Harbor in East Chicago in 1902, according to the Chicago History Museum. It started out as an open hearth mill and added its first blast furnace in 1907, just after Gary Works opened a few miles east along the lakefront. The steel mill grew Chicago-based Inland into one of the country's 10 largest steelmakers with more than 3.5 million tons of production during World War II and $700 million in annual revenue during the 1950s.

Inland employed more than 25,000 steelworkers during its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, according to the Encyclopedia of Chicago. It then partnered with Japan-based Nippon steel to build the I/N Tek and I/N Kote finishing lines in New Carlisle, joint ventures that ultimately became part of ArcelorMittal and that will soon by partly owned by Cleveland-Cliffs.

Long one of Northwest Indiana's largest and most iconic employers, Inland was acquired in 1998 by Ispat International, which slashed the workforce by nearly a fifth in 2002 when the mill single-handedly produced 5% of the nation's steel.

The East Chicago mill was taken over by Mittal Steel in 2004 and then became part of ArcelorMittal's global empire two years later, becoming known as Indiana Harbor East. 

Indiana Harbor West historically was a separate, smaller plant that was founded by industrialist Clayton Mark as Mark Manufacturing Co. in 1913 and then was taken over by the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company in 1923, according to the Center for Land Use Interpretation. It was taken over by the conglomerate LTV Steel in 1984, which was snapped up by Ross's International Steel Group after it filed for bankruptcy in 2000.

Together, the two mills in East Chicago were an industrial powerhouse under ArcelorMittal.

"Indiana Harbor, east of Chicago, is the largest steel complex in the USA, with the capacity to produce around 9.5 million tons of steel per year," according to the Center for Land Use Interpretation. "The plant produces a variety of flat products, including high strength steels, API pipe skelp, hot-dipped galvanized and aluminized sheets, and in particular, those steel products used by the automobile industry. This is one of three large steel complexes along the lakeshore, which together produce more than 22 million tons of steel a year, 25% of the total produced nationwide. This is also the largest heavy industry area in the nation."

But ArcelorMittal ended up decommissioning and scrapping two of the five blast furnaces at Indiana Harbor and is now selling off most of its U.S. operations for just $1.4 billion, save for its research and development facility in East Chicago and the AM/NS Calvert mini mill in Alabama.

The sale to Cleveland-Cliffs marking the latest transfer of ownership is expected to close by year's end.


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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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