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BOOK REVIEW Requiem for a heavyweight

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Inside Bethlehem Steel The Final Quarter Century is a visual tour of what was once the second-largest steel producer in the United States, and the story of how it struggled to survive in its last 25 years.

Through the photographs of Peter B. Treiber and the text of Elizabeth A. ("Bette") Kovach, the book celebrates the majesty and might of the steelmaker while chronicling the long decline of the company that literally built, transported and defended America for nearly 99 years.

Treiber and Kovach were both employees of Bethlehem Steel's Public Affairs Department, working out of its corporate headquarters in Bethlehem, Pa. Treiber was a staff photographer from 1977 to 1983 and then was contracted to photograph the company's facilities and products for use in marketing.

Kovach worked in corporate and employee communications from 1976 until the company's sale of assets to International Steel Group Inc. in May 2003. She was Bethlehem Steel's last director of corporate communications and spokeswoman.

"Bethlehem Steel was a dangerously beautiful place," said Treiber, now proprietor of Peter Treiber Photography, Bethlehem. "The texture of the surfaces fluctuated wildly from the rough and tumble to the shiny and smooth. Sometimes brilliantly lighted by the furnace's fire and sometimes dark and dingy, it was always a challenge to work in those conditions."

For Kovach, the book was a journey of life experiences. "The challenges were plentiful as the company slowly, painfully found itself in a long downward spiral," said Kovach, now proprietor of BK Communications Inc., Bethlehem. "But there was enormous pride in our work and a constant hope that the company would persevere."

The book showcases Treiber's photography in the mines, shipyards, integrated steelmaking operations and finishing facilities. Kovach's text provides insight into the operations, history, challenges and employee commitment that enabled Bethlehem Steel to celebrate nearly a centennial as an American industrial icon.

"Our intent is to celebrate the work and accomplishments-through photography and text-of the millions of people who worked for Bethlehem Steel from 1904 until 2003," Kovach said. "This book is not a decade-by-decade history of the company, but instead a glimpse of the company in its last years as it struggled mightily to survive."

Treiber said he and Kovach believe the memory and history of the company deserve to be preserved as a testimony to American ingenuity and hard work. "We do not offer an opinion of what went wrong with Bethlehem, but instead through our photos and words offer a view of Bethlehem Steel as it continued to serve its customers and improve its facilities during the last years," he said. "We purposefully chose to celebrate the legacy of a company that gave so much to so many people."

The leather-bound book measuring 12 by 9 inches has 92 photographs and accompanying text spanning 140 pages. Nearly all the photographs are full color, and all were taken between 1977 and 2000, when the mill was in full operation.

Inside Bethlehem SteelThe Final Quarter Century is available through local bookstores.

Additional information is available at Treiber's Web site, www.ptphoto.com.


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