Digital Collections Spotlight #42: Bethlehem Iron Works

Posted July 28, 2023 in Digital Access

Digital Collections Spotlight #42: Bethlehem Iron Works

This map from 1882 helps trace the development of what would become one of the most important industries in the history of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and more broadly the United States as a whole: the Bethlehem Iron Company, or as it would later be renamed, Bethlehem Steel.

The company’s history can be traced back to the 1857 founding of the Saucona Iron Company, which was primarily focused on producing rails for train lines and in 1861 was renamed the Bethlehem Iron Company. This company was in turn bought out by the newly formed Bethlehem Steel Company in 1899. The company soon encountered financial struggles but was revitalized by industrialist Charles M. Schwab, who as part of acquiring several other related companies changed the company’s name to its final and best-known form, the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. The company became extremely successful in the early twentieth century, supplying much of the steel used in many bridges and skyscrapers as well as being heavily involved in ship and weapons manufacturing during both World Wars[1], becoming a backbone of Bethlehem’s economy. However they faced increasing competition and financial struggles and in 2003 Bethlehem Steel was dissolved, having declared bankruptcy two years before.

This map, surveyed and drawn by Lewis S. Jacoby (1848–1929) of Allentown, shows the various tracts of real estate that made up the Bethlehem Iron Company’s property as of 1882 and includes lists showing when the tracts were purchased, from whom, their size, and the where they are listed in deed books. As such this is a valuable resource for tracking the development and growth of the company and its role in history. It also highlights how the late nineteenth century was a time of rapid change in technology, as the buildings on the plan include then modern things such as the “Steel Rail Mill” and older ones such as “Stables”.

It is worth noting that Bethlehem Steel does not fall under our current collections scope and many materials we previously held on the subject have been transferred to Lehigh University Special Collections and the National Museum of Industrial History, as they better fit the mission and resources of those institutions. However, some materials such as this map have remained part of our collection due to their value for understanding the development of Bethlehem, from its founding as an exclusively Moravian settlement to the present day.

[1] A few examples of projects Bethlehem Steel was involved with are the Empire State Building, Golden Gate Bridge, and USS Massachusetts.

“Plan of Property of The Bethlehem Iron Co. in the Borough of South Bethlehem Penna. 1882”, L.S. Jacoby, 1891 | DP.OVR.1016, Moravian Archives Bethlehem

Interested in seeing the map in greater detail? Check it out here!

Further Reading:

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Bethlehem Steel Corporation.” Encyclopedia Britannica, June 23, 2022. Accessed 7/11/2023

Jansen, Sarah. “Bethlehem Steel: Industrial Giant” Pennsylvania Center for the Book, 2009. Accessed 7/11/2023.


Want to learn more about our digital collections? Check out earlier posts in this series here.