Author Deborah Rudacille’s Roots of Steel chronicles the decline . . . of Sparrows Point, of Bethlehem Steel and of American manufacturing

Jun 01, 2010 | 04:23 AM | Kevin Foster

Deborah Rudacille's history of Sparrows Point, told largely through interviews with retired steelworkers, is called Roots of Steel.

But according to one of her sources, she could have chosen a different title. "You should call it 'Roots of Sadness'," an 83-year local resident said, "because nobody's working anymore and they lost everything they had."

That's not strictly true more than 2,000 people are employed at the Maryland plant, now owned by Russia's OAO Severstal, and some of those who cashed out before the wrenching 2001 bankruptcy of longtime owner Bethlehem Steel Corp. avoided the huge pension and benefit reductions that scarred so many.

Still, this is a book about decline—of Sparrows Point, of Bethlehem Steel and of the U.S. manufacturing base—and it doesn't make easy reading. At its peak in 1959, Sparrows Point claimed the title of the largest steel works in the world, employing 36,000 people. Wages were good, especially when the United Steelworkers union won hard-earned rights for workers in the 1960s and '70s, a struggle that takes up a large part of the book.....

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