Newport Steel

Newport Steel

By Jim Reis-reprinted excerpts with his permission from
Pieces of the Past-Volume 2

 

Previous to 1858, two men, Cassidy and Callahan, operated a wrought iron pipe works at Ninth and Brighton Streets.  In 1858 the Swift Iron and Steel Company was chartered in the state of Kentucky and was the first large scale operating company in this general area.  An account in the Ticket newspaper on May 22, 1875, listed Swifts and the Gaylord Iron Pipe Company, as two of the largest manufacturing plants in the South or West.

The next year, a reporter for The Newport Local newspaper toured the Swifts plant and termed the operation "one of the best and most impressing pictures of human ingenuity, skill and industry that it could possibly fall to the lost of man to behold.  Of this solid firm, with 250 solid men, H T Hubbard is superintendent, John Shelow is boss of the puddling department; William D Smith boss of the plate roller; Patrick Dillon boss of the bar and merchant roller; John Richards boss of ten inch and guide mill trains; A Davis boss of nobbling fires."  Out of seven steel mills in Newport and Covington, only three remained and, at the time of the 1876 account, Swifts was the only one still operating in a tight economic period.

Alexander Swift operated the plant consisting of coke ovens with charcoal fires, together with blast furnaces and a mill.  The company made castings and armor plates.  Just north of the present day Newport Steel, the company also built steamboats.  The steamboat E A Woodruff was one of the finest products.  This company prospered until 1880 when E L Harper, a pig iron merchant of Cincinnati, acquired it.  Harper also operated a steel mill at Riverside below Cincinnati.

After Harper had secured control of the Newport plant, his financial house in Cincinnati crashed and carried with it the operations of his two mills.  This resulted in bankrupt proceedings.  An advertisement of the sale in October 1887 described the complex located along the Licking River in Newport, about 1000 yards south of the Ohio River.  The 8 acres held a variety of buildings, machinery and raw materials.  The equipment included 24 coke ovens, a river crane, blacksmith and carpentry shops and a railroad spur.

The Newport Iron and Steel Works was sold to Henry Ahart Schriver of Ft. Thomas and Adam Wagner of Newport.  Within two years, however, the business was back in the courts.  Payment on $31,000 in bonds was past due.  A Kentucky State Journal  account on January 17, 1889, said Schriver was ill and unable to operate the company.  The firm was purchased by the Andrews brothers Joseph and Albert. 

Joseph A Andrews was born November 2, 1839 and Albert L Andrews November 28, 1842, both in Cincinnati.  They served with the Union Army in the Civil War.  After the war, Albert joined his older brother in a successful tobacco business in Cincinnati.

In 1885 the Andrews brothers had organized the Globe Iron Roofing and Corrugating Company in Cincinnati which manufactured iron roofing, and for sheet metal building products.  They felt that they could render better service if they were able to produce the metal from which the forms were made.  This prompted the buying of Newport Iron and Steel Works in 1891.

When the Andrews family took over the mill, it consisted of thirty-two puddling furnaces and an eight  and a ten inch mill, later a rail mill and a blast furnace.  At the turn of the century, Newport hummed with industry and commerce.  Some people even predicted that it would rival Pittsburgh as a steel center.  City and county governments encouraged industry to establish operations in Newport.  During this time the Andrews' operations had expanded to 17 sheet mills, requiring such bar tonnage that it was decided to acquire self contained steel making facilities. 

Also during the 10 years after the acquisition, the Andrews brothers purchased the old Queen City Race Track site along the Licking River in July 1906 in what is now Wilder.  A Kentucky Post story on March 19, 1907, said a new plant in the Wilder area would manufacture steel billets and bars for use in the rolling mill operations.  The plant was to employ 800 to 1000 men and produce 750 tons of steel billets daily.

It was a true family business.  Joseph Andrews was president of the Newport Rolling Mill, Albert was treasurer, and Joseph's son, William N was secretary.  At Globe, Albert was president, Joseph was treasurer, and one of Albert's sons, Joseph Gaff Andrews, was secretary.

Albert and his wife, the former Agnes L Gaff of Lawrenceburg, Indiana had five children; Joseph Gaff, Albert K, Margaret Landrum, Grace Virginia, and Frank M.  Joseph and his wife had three children; Joseph B, William N and Mary L.

A blow to Andrews Steel came on January 26, 1909, with the death of Joseph A Andrews at his home at Fifth and Park streets in Newport.  He left his interest in the steel business to his two sons.  His daughter got a $50,000 insurance policy and an office building at Fifth and Race in Cincinnati.  The following men were with the staff in 1909:
 A W Hubbard-vice president
J H Sloan-general superintendent
George L Blackford-assistant general superintendent
W R Flemming-metallurgist

The Andrews company continued to expand.  The rolling mill was overhauled in 1910.  In 1912, Newport Culvert Company was formed and employed about 50 people in manufacturing metal road culverts.  When WWI came, many businesses were forced to cut operations because of fuel shortages, but the steel plant was declared an essential business because it produced steel aircraft parts.  Employment at the plant reached 850 people during the war.

The war business was such that Andrews Steel discussed expansion in 1918.  As many as seven buildings were proposed between Seventh and Eighth streets in Newport and the company purchased land from 23 property owners.  Because of war production, the company also switched from two daily shift of 12 hours each to three shifts of eight hours each.  After the prosperity the war brought, the company proposed cutting employee salaries in 1921.  two thousand employees of Andrews rolling mill and steel plant walked out.  See Newport Steel Strike for a more detailed story.

Albert L Andrews died a few months after the strike ended June 19, 1922 at his home at Sixth and Park streets in Newport. He was succeed by his son, A K Andrews who then directed the entire operation.  His assistants were:
H M Davis-general superintendent
William Edgecomb-assistant general superintendent
George Brayton-superintendent of galvanizing.

In the next decade under the Andrews heirs, the rolling mill and steel plant, like many businesses, were beset by shutdowns, layoffs and strikes during the Depression years of the 1930s.  The Andrews family continued to operate the plants throughout the Depression and after the United States moved into WWII.

On March 16, 1943, the Andrews family sold its interests to Norman B Schreiber of Chicago, the Lehman Brothers and their associates, a New York banking syndicate.  The new owners named the operation the Newport Steel Corporation.

After the war, another prolonged strike hit the plant.  In the fall of 1949, workers participated in an industry-wide strike for higher wages.  The workers in Newport and Wilder finally agreed to a contract 34 days later.  In the 1950s, business surged.  A $9 million cold rolled steel plant was opened in Wilder in January 1955.  The owners decided to sell in 1956 to Acme Steel Corporation of Chicago, who christened the company Acme-Newport Steel.  Acme merged with Interlake Iron Corporation in 1964, former Interlake, Inc.  and the Newport and Wilder plants became parts of Interlake.

Complaints about pollution prompted Interlake to develop a water pollution control program in the 1960s and install a $2 million air pollution control system a few years later.  In 1980 workers and management became locked in a contract dispute.  Interlake officials threatened to close the plant if the workers voted against the contract.  The workers rejected the contract on July 3.  Interlake shut the plants on August 1.  It was a major shock to the Northern Kentucky economy.  At the time, it had 1200 employees.  But the plants were revived.

The revival came with the formation of Newport Steel by former executives of Interlake and local and state officials.  The plant reopened April 20, 1981.  Today Newport Steel employs more than 700 people.

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