This 15-foot-wide, fiberboard sign once hung outside the No. 6 Blast Furnace at the former Duquesne Steel Works. Constructed in 1963 by U.S. Steel, and nicknamed “Dorothy 6” after the wife of U.S. Steel President Leslie Worthington, the No.6 furnace became the largest and most modern of its kind in the world.
Situated in the Monongahela River Valley, the heart of American steel production, the Duquesne Steel Works employed more than 8,000 workers at its peak shortly after World War II. By the time Dorothy 6 was completed, the decline of American industrial production had already begun. Despite that fact, Dorothy’s orange glow illuminated the night sky over Duquesne for more than 20 years as U.S. Steel’s most productive blast furnace.
Facing staggering losses of more than $1 billion by the end of 1983, U.S. Steel began shuttering operations throughout the valley, sending unemployment rates in the region soaring. In May 1984, the company stated it would close steel production at Duquesne, eliminate 1,200 jobs and schedule Dorothy 6 for demolition.
Unwilling to let Dorothy 6 go dark without a fight, and fearing that the closure of the most modern furnace in the region signaled the end of competitive steel making in the region, a coalition of union, community and religious activists employed a consultant to explore ways of making the plant profitable again. Though the coalition was able to twice postpone demolition, Dorothy 6 never fired again. In 1986, the United Steelworkers of America agreed with U.S. Steel that the furnace could not operate profitably. Even if the company invested more than $300 million in improvements and operated Dorothy 6 at 90 percent capacity, the furnace would lose $28 on every ton of steel produced.
When demolition began at the site in 1988, retired steel worker Wes Slusher rescued this sign, hoping to preserve Dorothy 6’s legacy. Slusher stored the sign at his home until 1996 when he decided it was time to find an appropriate location where it could be displayed as a testament to the Monongahela River Valley’s steel-making heritage. Over a period of many years, he offered the sign to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the United Steelworkers of America, McKeesport Heritage Center and the Heinz History Center – all of whom turned him down.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an article about Slusher’s quest to find an appropriate home for the sign. The piece caught the attention of both a State Museum curator who recognized the sign’s historic value and the owner of Pittsburgh-area computer networking company, FORE, who wanted to utilize the sign as part of a marketing campaign. The museum and FORE reached an agreement whereby FORE would have the sign professionally conserved and display it in its Engineering Building for a year before sending the artifact to its current home at The State Museum.
Submitted by CAP Curator Jennifer Gleim as this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure, the Dorothy Furnace sign will be featured in the upcoming Pennsylvania Icons exhibit.
About Pennsylvania Icons:
Featuring a diverse array of artifacts from the collections of the State Museum of Pennsylvania and other Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission historic sites and museums, Pennsylvania Icons tells the story of our commonwealth, its people and the role they played in shaping the nation. The exhibit features historic artifacts ranging from a 1654 map of the Philadelphia region to pieces of the Walnut Street bridge in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania Icons opens to the public on Sunday, November 8, 2015.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.