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Birdsboro Steel

The original forge that would become Birdsboro steel was built in 1740 and provided pig iron for the Revolutionary War, armaments used in the War of 1812, and the plowshares used to settle the Midwest. Later it would produce iron used by the Union in the Civil War, the railroads that crossed the country, and the Navy when they switched from wood to steel ships. A risky purchase of a tank manufacturing company that failed to win a government contract weakened Birdsboro, but in the end an extended strike and rising steel imports shut Birdsboro for good in 1988. Parts of Birdsboro steel were being torn apart for scrap while I was photographing it - a sad end for a site so prominent in American history. While not necessarily at this particular building, I was told that my grandfather had for a time worked for Birdsboro steel. I was curious to check it out - particularly after seeing some historical photos of the enormous steel pressed and other equipment that had once filled the hallways. I hadn't seen any pictures of the interior up until that point so I was in essence flying blind when I went there.

I discovered that the building and the grounds around it were being used as an auto scrapyard. There were hundreds of cars and trucks on the property, and the ones inside the building were in worse condition than the ones outside. Several collapses has squashed cars beneath them, and the atmosphere was very tense as at different points I heard people talking outside the building and dogs barking. It didn't seem as though anyone was coming inside, but it was hard to relax when I was constantly having to hide in darker areas until noises that may or may not have been related to my presence died down.

When I finally made it into the long hallway containing most of the original equipment, I felt very exposed. At the end of the hallway the bay for trucks to drive in and out was wide open, and at any moment a truck could have driven by or into the building leaving me with no real recourse for escape. I also kept hearing loud metallic crunching noises that I assumed were from a car crusher or some other manner of work they were doing outside - until I saw a huge claw-armed bit of machinery ripping steel out of the ceiling at the end of the hallway I was photographing. Deciding that at this point I had photographed as much as I needed to, I left quickly, thankful that I had been able to see as much as I did undetected.

Photographs and unattributed text by Matthew Christopher. For more images click the thumbnails below.