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Lukens Steel Company corporate records

1874-1972 Majority of material found within 1933-1969
 Collection
Accession: 2314

Abstract

The Lukens Steel Company was a medium-sized, non-integrated steel company and one of the top three producers of steel plates in the United States. Lukens operated continuously at its Coatesville, Pennsylvania, site since 1810 and was one of the few successful survivors of the many nineteenth-century iron works that once dotted southeastern Pennsylvania. This collection of Lukens Steel Company records consists of corporate records, mostly from the Secretary's Office. The records are comprised of seven series: Shareholders' meeting agendas; Stockholder lists; Proxies for annual meetings; Board and committee meeting agendas; Financial statements; Secretary's correspondence; and Counsel's correspondence.

Dates

  • 1874-1972
  • Majority of material found within 1933-1969

Creator

Extent

67 Linear Feet

Historical Note

The Lukens Steel Company was a medium-sized, non-integrated steel company and one of the top three producers of steel plates in the United States. Lukens operated continuously at its Coatesville, Pennsylvania, site since 1810 and was one of the few successful survivors of the many nineteenth-century iron works that once dotted southeastern Pennsylvania. It was controlled by members of the Pennock, Lukens, and Huston families in direct succession for more than 180 years.

After eighty years as a partnership of the Lukens and Huston families, the firm was incorporated as the Lukens Iron and Steel Company on February 5, 1890. The company made some unsuccessful attempts to integrate backwards and forwards as part of a general industry trend. Lukens acquired coal properties in Harrison County, West Virginia, in 1902 as the Lukens Coal Company. Lukens purchased the Alleghany Ore and Iron Company of Virginia in 1907. Alleghany owned two blast furnaces and reserves of low-phosphorus iron ore. Through Alleghany, Lukens also acquired a one-half interest in the Victoria Coal & Coke Company of Caperton, West Virginia. However, none of these properties were ever effectively integrated with Lukens' operations in Coatesville. The Lukens Coal Company was sold in 1906, and the last Allegheny furnace closed in 1923, followed by the mines in 1925. Alleghany long remained an inactive subsidiary owning real estate and ore reserves.

To finance growth generated by World War I, the company was recapitalized and reincorporated as the Lukens Steel Company on January 17, 1917. In 1916, the United Engineering & Foundry Company began construction of a 206-inch, four-high mill partly designed by Charles Lukens Huston, and eight ninety-ton open hearths. This was the largest rolling mill in the world for many years, and could roll plates up to twenty-five inches thick and sixteen feet wide. The first plate was rolled on May 22, 1918. The output of the “Big Mill” was used in large marine boilers, one-piece crown and side sheets for locomotives, and foundation plates for skyscrapers.

After the war, the steel industry entered a period of stagnation. The American shipbuilding industry, long a Lukens mainstay, collapsed. In 1925, both Huston brothers agreed to step down from active management in favor of younger men. A.F. Huston (1852-1930) assumed the ceremonial post of chairman, and Charles Lukens Huston (1856-1951) remained vice president but relinquished direct control of operations. The only person in the family capable of leading the company was A.F. Huston’s son-in-law, Robert W. Wolcott (1892-1982), who was then managing the New Orleans branch office. Wolcott was an aggressive salesman who cultivated new markets, turning Lukens into a specialized manufacturer of hot-rolled plates and fabricated products made from plates.

Wolcott created two new subsidiaries. The By-Products Steel Corporation (1927) created semi-finished shapes from steel plates. Lukenweld, Inc. (1930) cut and fabricated shapes from plates by arc-welding, including the blocks and frames for diesel engines, machine bases, and gears. In 1930, Lukens also joined with the International Nickel Company to develop “clad steel,” a sandwich of steel plate faced with thin layers of resistant alloys. Clad steels proved an economical alternative for pipes and vessels used to handle caustics or sensitive products like prepared foods.

By the late 1960s, Lukens was manufacturing fifty percent more steel with twenty percent fewer workers. At the same time, Lukens began a modest diversification effort. It purchased Clayton Skiffs, Inc., a New Jersey manufacturer of small pleasure boats, in 1959 to control an outlet for light steel plate. Lukens acquired Natweld Steel Products, Ltd., of Rexdale, Ontario, a fabricator similar to Lukenweld, and renamed it Canadian Lukens, Ltd. in 1968. Lukens’ production reached an all-time peak of 897,000 tons in 1969. The retirement of chairman Charles Huston Jr. in 1974 ended more than 180 years of direct family management. Charles L. Huston III, the last member of the Lukens-Huston family to serve with the company, retired in 1991. The next two chief executives, W.E. Mullestein (1974-1978) and Charles A. Colson Jr. (1978-1981), had begun their careers in sales. In 1978, Lukens purchased the 110-inch rolling mill of the Alan Wood Steel Company of Conshohocken, which had failed the previous year. This facility was reopened on June 4, 1979, and produced light-gauge plate.

W. Robert Wilson became president in 1980 and CEO in 1981. Wilson was the first chief executive recruited from outside the company, and his tenure coincided with the collapse of the American steel industry in the recession of the early 1980s. Production fell precipitously from 722,000 tons in 1981 to 429,000 tons in 1993, although Lukens held its own as the number three maker of steel plate.

Wilson embarked on an extensive diversification program in 1981. The overall aim was to acquire manufacturing facilities that would use Lukens plate in fabricated products. The principal acquisition was General Steel Industries, Inc. of St. Louis. This firm had begun as the St. Louis Car Company, but had itself diversified as the market for rail-transit cars contracted. Through various divisions, GSI produced glass beads for reflective signs; crushers, vibrating screens, and other materials-handling equipment; rolling-mill parts; woven wire cloth; and plastic coatings for steel pipe. The acquisition was completed on March 31, 1982, when GSI was renamed Lukens General Steel Industries, Inc. To de-emphasize the steel business, the Lukens Steel Company was renamed Lukens, Inc. on April 14, 1982. Diversification continued with the purchase of the Superior Manufacturing company on October 1, 1984 and General Catholic Protection Services, Inc. on May 3, 1985. On January 28, 1987, Lukens, Inc. was converted to a holding company and reincorporated in Delaware.

The steel business was not altogether neglected, and a new automated control system was installed at Conshohocken in 1986, making it the most modern plate mill in the country. The fourth electric furnace was rebuilt in 1985, enabling Lukens to produce all its steel from a single furnace and retire its other three. However, in an attempt to streamline operations and cut costs, Wilson provoked a three-month strike by the United Steel Workers in the fall of 1991. One of the main points at issue was the industry’s practice of contracting out, the use of non-union workers to perform duties in the plant not directly tied to making steel. The board eventually withdrew its support, Wilson resigned, and W.R. Van Sant was named the new CEO in December. The strike was settled early in January 1992.

Van Sant returned to an emphasis on the company’s traditional reputation as a specialty manufacturer of steel plate and fabricated plate products. The divesture of manufacturing subsidiaries, which had begun during the last years of the Wilson administration, accelerated and was practically completed by 1993. Instead, Lukens concentrated in its core business by purchasing the Washington Steel Corporation, a stainless steel producer in March 1992. Still, management was unable to hold the forces reshaping the American steel industry at bay for more than a few years. Lukens, Inc. was sold to Bethlehem Steel Corporation on May 29, 1998, and became its Lukens Plant Division. Bethlehem in turn entered bankruptcy on February 15, 2001. Its viable assets, including the core of the old Lukens plant at Coatesville, were sold to the International Steel Group, Inc. of Cleveland on May 7, 2003.

Scope and Contents

This collection of Lukens Steel Company records consists of corporate records, mostly from the Secretary's Office, that passed into the custody of Bethlehem Steel. The records date from 1874 to 1969, with bulk dates from the 1940s to 1950s.

Series I consists of shareholders' meeting agendas from 1933 to 1969. These include dockets and supporting documents for both regular annual meetings and special stockholders' meetings

Series II consists of shareholder lists dating from 1917, from 1940 to 1952, and from 1955 to 1956. The lists are useful for tracing the gradual diffusion of ownership as the company evolved from its family origins.

Series III consists of proxies for the elections at the annual shareholders' meetings from 1918 to 1932.

Series IV consists of agendas for meetings of the board of directors and its committees from 1944 to 1969. In addition to the agenda outline, the files include the minutes of the previous meeting and any documents presented or discussed at the meetings. The files thus give a synopsis of the company's activities and decision-making at the highest level. Coverage ends with the peak year of 1969, so the later difficulties that led to the sale of the company are not covered. There are somewhat more extensive committee minutes and reports in the Lukens Steel Company records (Accession 0050).

Series V consists of various operating and financial statements from 1958.

Series VI consists of special correspondence files from the Office of the Secretary. Most of this material is from the tenure of J. Stewart Huston (1928-1963), but were kept separate from Huston's more extensive regular correspondence files, which are in the Lukens Steel Company records (Accession 0050).

Subseries A Alleghany Ore & Iron Company, dates from 1913 to 1944, with bulk dates from 1939 to 1943. Records include correspondence, income statements, expenses, payrolls, and bills dealing with the management of ore and timber resources, including prospecting.

Subseries B deals with the Atomic Industrial Forum, a trade group for the nuclear industry, from the late 1950s. Lukens hoped to cultivate markets for the specialty steels required in nuclear reactors. Records include Washington Atomic Reports and deal with such subjects as radiation effects and reactor materials.

Subseries C consists of papers dealing with the incorporation of the Lukens Iron and Steel Company in the early 1890s. There are also scattered auditors' reports and cost figures.

Subseries D Lukens Steel Company, consists primarily of five seal books from 1928 to 1972. The seal books are registers of each instance when the corporate seals of Lukens or any of its subsidiaries were used. The subseries also includes some Jacobs-Shupert United States Fire Box Company voting trust certificates from 1917.

Subseries E consists of World War II ration stamp accounts with the National Bank of Chester Valley, from 1943 to 1945.

Series VII, Counsel's Correspondence, consists of files from the Philadelphia law firms of Hepburn & Norris; Norris, Bell, Lex, Hart & Eldredge; and Norris, Lex, Hart & Eldredge that were retained by Lukens Steel. The primary correspondent is partner W. Barclay Lex. The series dates from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s, with some earlier documents. The files cover a wide range of legal services performed for Lukens, including drafting by-laws, annual reports, applications, contracts, and registrations to do business in various states; representing the company in proceedings before tax and regulatory bodies, including World War II agencies; and representing the company in lawsuits over accidents, customer and supplier disputes, and property matters. The files include stockholders', board, and committee minutes and reports on which the company sought legal advice.

Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research.

Related Materials

Lukens Steel Company records (Accession 0050), Manuscripts and Archives Department, Hagley Museum and Library.

Language of Materials

English


Additional Information

Related Names

Creator

Finding Aid & Administrative Information

Title:
Lukens Steel Company corporate records
Status:
Description rules:
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description:
English
Script of description:
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2021: Laurie Sather

Repository Details

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

Contact:
PO Box 3630
Wilmington Delaware 19807 USA
302-658-2400