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U.S. Steel has defined Pittsburgh for more than a century. Will sale to Nippon change that?

Will sale of U.S. Steel to Japanese company Nippon change roots?
Will sale of U.S. Steel to Japanese company Nippon change roots? 02:22

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For more than a century, U.S. Steel and steel-making defined the Pittsburgh region.

Though its importance to the local economy has diminished in the past four decades, U.S. Steel remains central to our identity as a city and region.

KDKA-TV's Andy Sheehan looks at whether its sale to the Japanese company Nippon will change all that. 

Pittsburgh made U.S. Steel and U.S. Steel made Pittsburgh an international powerhouse around the world. Born out of the steel-making empire of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, U.S. Steel mills ran the length of the Mon Valley, making steel for America's bridges and buildings and the naval fleet in World War II. 

"It was the center for structural steel for making the skyscrapers, for armor plate, which made the great fleets that gave America international power, that came out of Homestead, the great buildings, the World Trade, the Empire State," said Charlie McCollester of the Battle of Homestead Foundation.

At one time, U.S. Steel was the largest steel producer and largest corporation in the United States, employing tens of thousands of immigrant workers. However, in the post-war years, the company began a slow decline with shrinking demand and increased foreign competition, and by the middle of the 1970s, the mills began closing. 

While some blame high labor costs, McCollester, a former machinist and now retired professor, blames U.S. Steel's failure to modernize and listen to its workers. 

"It died from the head down," he said. "That's what happened to it."

U.S. Steel recently scrapped plans for a $1 billion upgrade to the Edgar Thomson Works, and even though the company will now be in foreign hands, McCollster is hopeful Nippon will have a greater commitment to Pittsburgh and the workers here. 

"The Japanese understand," McCollester said, "that if you want to have decent manufacturing and survive you've got to use the intelligence and the feedback from the people who actually do the work, make the production, understand the metal, know what they're doing."

Though U.S. Steel will retain its name and its headquarters in Pittsburgh, the sale marks the end of more than a century of Pittsburgh's history and our identity as a steel-making capital. 

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