Master Photographer Captures Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel

As the legacy of an Ohio Valley industrial giant dims, a master photographer recaptures visually the heat of the blast furnace and the glow of the steelmaking process.

Jay Stock of Martins Ferry is issuing a new book, “Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel 1980s,” featuring photographs that he shot when given unprecedented access to all of the former steelmaker’s plants in the tri-state area. The coffeetable-size volume contains stark images of steelmaking from start to finish.

A one-page introduction by Stock and a one-page forward by Alessandro Baccari, a noted educator, author, curator and photographer from California, constitute the only significant text in the volume. With only a brief caption under each photo, the large images tell the story in a dramatic, visual art form.

A stroke of luck and a steely, bold determination combined to provide Stock with entry to the former steel giant’s many plants. The well-known photographer had an idea for documenting the steel mills, but, he said, “It was difficult to get into the plants.”

However, while taking photos of a family group in Sewickley, Pa., Stock met a vice president of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp.

Stock approached the man with his proposition.

To Stock’s delight – and perhaps surprise – the steel executive agreed and granted him complete access.

“I had a free rein. I could go in wherever I wanted and do whatever I wanted. It’s never been done before,” the Martins Ferry octogenerian said.

After making 20 to 30 visits to plants and taking hundreds of shots, Stock said he gave Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel officials a number of large images that were displayed in the company’s headquarters in downtown Wheeling.

With ownership of the steel facilities changing several times and the current owner in bankruptcy proceedings now, he decided it was time to issue a book immortalizing the now-threatened industry. “There’s a little bit of history here,” he said.

Stock is self-publishing the volume; area residents interested in purchasing copies of the book may call him at 740-633-3100.

Reflecting on the privilege of seeing steelmaking in action, he commented, “What magic this is to see the transformation from dust to structure that is capable of enduring many lifetimes.”

Covering eight variations of transforming iron ore into other products, the book contains images taken at the Follansbee coke plant, the Steubenville and Mingo Juncton blast furnaces, the basic oxygen furnace, the continuous caster, the Yorkville and Martins Ferry plants and the LaBelle Nail Factory in Wheeling.

In the introduction, Stock, 89, wrote, “Living in the Ohio Valley gave me an opportunity of a lifetime, to document first-hand our valley’s steel industry and its impact on so many people. When the opportunity presented itself for me to have access to the inner workings of this industry, I jumped on it full force. I remain grateful that my maker allowed this project to become a reality for me. I was given the opportunity to document this culture of manufacturing with no strings attached. I now know that this invitation is not freely extended to many people.”

He stated, “This book focuses on the many facets of the steelmaking industry and a glimmer of the thousands of various products that are created and used daily in all walks of life.”

The photographer observed, “The steel workers are a special group of people dedicated to the cause. A tremendous amount of time is devoted to learning the various aspects required to be an effective maker of steel. The work is hot, it is dirty, it is dangerous and above all it is involved! The hot metal that flows from the furnace is so spectacular that it seems hardly possible that a human being can work in this amount of heat. It is amazing to see molten steel poured into iron ladles to be transported to other areas of the factory for other processes.”