We Made Steel

dsc_0036020811

Picture 1 of 8

Photo: Ethan Wallace

Founded in 1867 as the William Butcher Steel Works, Midvale Steel was originally a producer of steel wheels for railroad cars. The company chose Nicetown for its convenience to the existing railway–which brought the anthracite used for steel production–as well as its proximity to the huge Baldwin Locomotive Works. While it was nowhere near the size of US Steel or Bethlehem Steel, Midvale carved out a niche producing high quality steel for specialty markets (it was also one of the first mixed-race shops in the city). They produced armaments, offering the U.S. War Department an alternative to foreign producers.

Later in the 19th century, Midvale was the birthplace of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s time and motion studies, which exerted a profound influence on American industry. What eventually became known as “Taylorism,” or “Scientific Management,” led to greater company control over the shop floor to increase efficiency and productivity. However, it often worked better in theory than in practice.

The Nicetown plant was closed in 1976, and in the 1980s most of the surviving structures were razed. In 2002, SEPTA erected a depot and maintenance facility on the site. Perhaps the hundreds of people who pass through there each day don’t realize that two of the original Midvale buildings still stand in the middle of the property. Decaying and mostly empty, there are still hardhats, spare parts, gloves, and the occasional stray boot as a monument to the men that once worked there.

About the author

Ethan Wallace attended Temple University, where he received a BA in Communications. He has always been interested in the forgotten, unknown, or unseen parts of the city and has spent the last several years photographing Philly’s hidden and vanishing locations. He is also involved with the National Museum of Industrial History in Bethlehem, Pa. More of Ethan's photography can be seen HERE

Send a message!



1 Comment


  1. This place was enormous. I believe it was once called Midvale-Happenstall. Many smaller and productive steel plants were in every booming city. Much like Phoenixville and Coatesville. Only two buildings still stand. One currently is occupied. The other from which the photos were taken is empty.

Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
Rare Books Department At FLP Examines A City In Transition

Rare Books Department At FLP Examines A City In Transition

November 9, 2018  |  News

Affordable housing, displacement and gentrification, demolition for redevelopment--sounds a lot like today's local headlines, but Philly has been dealing with these issues for decades. This and more is addressed in the new exhibition, "Philadelphia: The Changing City," now on view at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Ali Roseberry-Polier has the review. > more

Dispatch From the Dolomites: Lamenting the Loss of Northern Italy's Philly Twin

Dispatch From the Dolomites: Lamenting the Loss of Northern Italy’s Philly Twin

November 7, 2018  |  Vantage

Contributor Ann de Forest dials home from Italy where she visits a little chapel that, until recently, had a sibling on Christian Street > more

Secluded Stone Stairway On Lincoln Drive Revealed

Secluded Stone Stairway On Lincoln Drive Revealed

November 2, 2018  |  Vantage

A mysterious set of stairs next to Monoshone Creek leads Sharon Barr on a path to uncover its origins > more

The Ghastly Tale Of South Philly’s Cult Of The Holy Ghost

The Ghastly Tale Of South Philly’s Cult Of The Holy Ghost

October 30, 2018  |  Vantage

A secretive cult dedicated to the worship of a Swiss woman met a horrific end in 19th century South Philly. Ryan Briggs unearths the grim details > more

How to Save A Slice Of Neighborhood Green Space

How to Save A Slice Of Neighborhood Green Space

October 25, 2018  |  Walk the Walk

Queen Village resident David O'Donnell is on a mission to fill his neighborhood with verdant pocket parks. He shares his playbook on how to save slivers of green space with HC contributor Joe Brin > more

A Century Of Public Events On The Benjamin Franklin Parkway

A Century Of Public Events On The Benjamin Franklin Parkway

October 23, 2018  |  Last Light

Patrick Glennon takes a look at big public shindigs and the making of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway through rarely seen photographs from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania > more