Tag Archives: Middletown

technology & culture

rolling along the Great Miami

at the intersection of Paper and Steel

many of these steel sheet rolling crews  witnessed the disappearance of their livelihoods because a paper maker was convinced there was a better way

Sheet Mill Crews 1906
Sheet Mill Crews, American Rolling Mill Company, Middletown, Ohio 1906


After forging steel into bridges and buildings during the 19th century, the steel industry turned toward stamping steel sheet into products for a newly emerging consumer class.


“In the years following World War I, there began an accelerated shift from the manufacture of capital goods to the mass production of consumer goods, made largely of steel sheets. The all steel car entered into production in the early 1920s, and a number of home appliances such as the washing machine, vacuum cleaner, electrical refrigerator, and toaster were already appearing on the market.”

Fisher, pg. 149


The second decade of the 20th century was a good time to be an independent, steel sheet manufacturer in the US. Especially one situated at the focus of its resource suppliers – coal barges from eastern Kentucky, rail cars of limestone from Indiana and massive ore boats from Minneota’s Mesabi range converged along the Ohio Valley. Manufacturers of steel sheet products came to them and built the Ohio Valley into the Silicon Valley of its day.

The American Rolling Mill Company’s newly built East Side Works (now the location of AK Steel in Middletown) was booming and employed dozens of sheet mill crews. Each 7-10 man crew could produce between 120-140 tons of steel sheets a week. Stacks of manually rolled sheets were shipped to manufacturers sheared and cut to size.

The resulting steel sheet products were an accommodation to process variability. Automobiles were designed with individual fenders, bisected cowlings covering the engine, roofs were cloth, doors were small and there was no trunk. The Model T in black was the mass produced standard.

Ford Model T Station Wagon

sheet steel that streamlined design

A design transformation occurred during the late 1920s to mid-1930s among a wide variety of industries and markets that used sheet steel. The most glaring example of its significance to industry is the transformation to the automobile body.

Over just a few short years, cars began appearing with hoods flowing into fenders, doors, roofs and trunk lids.  But not just cars were benefiting. Entire markets and especially the appliance industries increased production as they adapted to toward large, uniform steel sheet. Sheets that no longer arrived in stacks but were now delivered as huge continuous coils enabled and improved the automation of assembly lines for a wide variety of manufacturers.


Producing, then delivering steel sheet in rolls like paper, was invented at the American Rolling Mill Company in Middletown Ohio. This small but innovative steel company selected a group of specialists and their leader from within the company to pursue the first successful continuous rolling mill. They committed the money, the people and the space to pursue what many others in the steel industry had attempted but failed to accomplish.

The assembled team of innovators benefited from a convergence of different manufacturing disciplines with the emergence of new technology and power.


 Tytus & the continuous mill

In his book, “The Medici Effect,” Frans Johansson discusses the catalysts that create the conditions for innovation. A section of the book  is dedicated to The Intersection: Where Different Fields Meet. Here he describes innovation as it accompanies organizations that skillfully combine concepts and practices from different disciplines to produce new ideas and insights. Part of Middletown’s mythology is found in the belief that its paper making traditions made a significant contribution to the practices of the new steel maker in town.

I suspect there are times when individuals create enormous value by leading the traditions and practices of one discipline into another. And I suspect the same gamble fails just as often, probably more.

I’ll savor the stories where the risk pays off.  One such story is told in the life of John Butler Tytus who is credited with one of the greatest advances in steel making after growing up the heir to a Middletown paper company.


John Butler Tytus
John Butler Tytus Negative made for annual pass. Feb. 1916


After returning home from Yale and a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature, John Tytus took a job in the family business, the Tytus Paper Mill. Upon the death of his father, the family sold their share of the business and Tytus left to pursue other work. About 1904 he visited the new manufacturer in Middletown, the American Rolling Mill Company.

At that time, the entire Middletown facility was situated between Curtis Street and the Miami-Erie Canal along what is now Verity Parkway. Came to be later known as Central Works, it was here Tytus witnessed the brutal process of flattening red hot bars into stacks of steel sheets.






He asked for a job and was put to work as a “spare hand” on a sheet mill. Many of Tytus’ biographers tell the story of his rise through the ranks; how he began at the bottom and worked his way up.



Sheet Mill at Central Works
Sheet Mill at Central Works


Crout and Vorhis were no different.

“The other workers, who knew his background, first laughed at the young college man, but their derision soon turned to respect as he did his share of the work. and learned about steelmaking with remarkable speed. His boss, Al Dimmick, watched with interest as he progressed from doubler to matcher and rougher, alternating as he did with others, on day and night shifts.”

Crout & Vorhis, pg. 134




Al Dimmick
Al Dimmick, Roller, No.4 Sheet Mil



Al Dimmick and the rest of the Number 4 Sheet Mill crew.











Tytus was made assistant superintendent after a year and a half. By the time the photograph below was taken in 1914, he had risen to Superintendent of the American Rolling Mill Company’s Zanesville Works.


John Tytus 1914
John Tytus c. 1914 Superintendent Zanesville Works, Armerican Rolling Mill Company

“He counted 22 different times that the sheets were handled and concluded that a ‘business which had so much lost motion had plenty of future for a young man.’ “

As the story goes and Fisher repeats, Tytus is said to have commented to the General Superintendent, Charles Hook:

“‘Someday Charlie, we’ll be making sheets in long strips like they make paper.’ “

Fisher, Douglas Alan, “The Epic of Steel,” Harper & Row, NY, NY; 1963 pg.144

Tytus was convinced that prevalent practice of rolling of sheet steel was a prime candidate for radical change. He knew firsthand that the sheet mill and its labor intensive operations should be automated and spent the next decade making it a reality. The following offers a glimpse into the manual process he was so intent to replace.





the sheet mill


Rolling steel into flat sheets was more art than science and the artists were the rollers. Each roller had a crew and operated as an independent contractor; for many years, only the roller got paid by the company.

Sheet Mill helper
Sheet Mill helper, Central Works, American Rolling Mill Company

Douglas Fisher describes the first steps as a bar comes out of the furnace for rolling on a “rougher” mill in his book “Epic of Steel.”


“After the sheet bars were heated in a furnace to a uniform rolling temperature, a ‘helper’ deposited two bars before the rougher stand. A ‘rougher’ grasped the bar with tongs and inserted it sideways between the rolls.”  “As the bar emerged on the other side, it was grasped in tongs by the ‘catcher.’ While he was lifting the bar to return it over the top roll, the rougher fed a second bar into the mill and then grasped for a second pass the first bar that the catcher was steadying on the top roll.”

Fisher, pg. 142


The rougher mill prepares the sheet for the finishing mill where the “finisher” completes the rolling of bars into a stack of sheets in a similar fashion with catchers, matchers and helpers. The process resulted in stacks of sheets called a packet, measuring roughly 4-5 feet in length and 20-30 inches in width. Maintaining consistent thickness across a given sheet and among those in the stack was a constant problem.


pursuing the controlled pass

Over the course of the decade following World War I, Tytus put together a team of rollers and other artisans and engineers to design and build the continuous steel sheet mill. The advantages were obvious and had been attempted by many others.

Fisher’s “Epic of Steel” begins a list of attempts to build and operate a continuous mill with Henry F. Mann’s mill in Pittsburgh, 1865; then Samuel R. Wilmot of Bridgeport Connecticut in 1875; a continuous mill in Teplitz Germany ran from 1902 to 1909.

US Steel made the attempt twice and both failed after a few years of operation, one in Monongahela Pennsylvania from 1902-05, the other at Mercer Works in South Sharon Pa. from 1905 to 1910.

All of these attempts were made before the development of larger industrial electric motors and the power distribution necessary to run them.

The American Rolling Mill company was helping its own cause as one of the world’s early innovators for electrical grade steel. Also known as silicon steel, it’s a crucial component designed to increase efficiency and reduce energy loss in electrical generators, motors and transformers. Electrical steel continues to be a fundamental component to the generation, transportation and delivery of electrical power today.

About the time that US Steel terminated it’s continuous mill attempt in 1910, electrical providers were installing transformers that could power new and larger electric motors capable of 5,000 horsepower. The convergence of high power with new controls for motor speed presented Tytus with advantages over earlier attempts. These developments coupled with his persistence convinced Charlie Hook that it could be done.


the pitch

The following memorandum dated March 5, 1915 from Charles Hook to George Verity details an early development project for the mill and demonstrates Hook’s faith in Mr. Tytus’ idea.


Hook Memo to Verity March 1915
Hook Memo to Verity March 1915 regarding request for funding Tytus’ continuous mill idea

The memorandum reads:


“March 5th,1915

Office of Charles R. Hook

General Superintendent

Mr. Geo. M. Verity


Dear Sir:

During your absence in the month of February the question of a “New Mill” was suggested by Mr. J. B. Tytus.  After going over the matter very fully with Messrs. Danford and Tytus the suggestion looked very practical and I decided to take the matter up with Mr. Phillips and Mr. Frantz in your absence, in order to draw out any criticisms or suggestions that they might be able to make.  Mr. Frantz came down and spent an entire day with us, which gave me an opportunity to go over the matter very fully with him.

In the afternoon we discussed the matter very fully in a conference at which Messrs. Frantz, Phillips, Tytus, C. W. Verity and myself were present. Mr. Frantz had a few criticisms to make but felt the proposition was practical.

During the evening a demonstration was made on one of our Cold Mills at East Side which was very encouraging.

After this conference and demonstration Messrs. Phillips and Frantz felt it advisable to give me authority to proceed with the designing of the Screw Downs and the Guides, so that we would not lose any more time than necessary in the development of the proposition. This work is proceeding very satisfactorily under the supervision of Messrs. Eppelsheimer and Tytus.

I feel very positive that under the worst conditions that might prevail in carrying out this suggestion we should be able to make a saving of at least $2.00 per ton over the No. 9 Mill practice, with good prospects of increasing this saving gradually so that with good tonnage by the end of the first year the saving might amount to as much as $5.00 per ton.

Pg. 2

If the entire proposition as explained to you and the Executive Committee at the special meeting last evening meets with your approval, we would like to have authority to complete the design and drawings for the necessary continuous furnace and to build the Screw Downs and Guides when drawings for same are completed.

The necessary continuous furnace can I feel certain be worked out on paper from the experiences we have had on our Blueing Furnace, which has taken us several years to completely develop. The Screw Downs and Guides are however a new proposition that will have to be worked out and built in our own shops.

We estimate that the total cost of this work will run from $3500.00 to $4000.00.

Authority to proceed with this much of the will allow us to continue on the proposition for at least the next six to eight weeks without any delay. At the end of that time I will be able to submit a full detailed estimate covering the whole proposition and to show just what has been accomplished to date. We feel that this is one of the most important propositions that has been up for consideration in many years.

Yours truly,

Charles R. Hook”


The following are photographs of all those associated with this memo at about the time it was written, except Joseph H. Frantz, Vice President and in charge of the company’s newly acquired blast furnaces in Columbus, Ohio. His photograph was printed in the December 1915 edition of the Armco Bulletin on the page detailing the Board of Directors.


The memorandum indicates that Mr. Frantz held a great deal of influence on Mr. Hook.  According to Borth

 “Frantz had many years of experience in the practices of rolling sheets and, though a very practical man, possessed an analytical mind which was not closed to novel ideas.”

pg. 258


It’s fortunate for Armco that Joseph Frantz came to join the company with the acquisition of Columbus Iron & Sheet. Mr Frantz agreed with some reservations on the idea and gave his consent to move forward.


Armco Leadership in 1915

At the time this memo was written, the leadership of the American Rolling Mill Company were confronted with a huge opportunity and its corresponding wager. But these were men who were anything but risk averse.

The man credited as the founder of the American Rolling Mill Company, George M. Verity, managed a grocery concern in Cincinnati before being selected to assume the management of the bankrupt Sagendorf Tin Roofing Company. A very capable manager, Verity assembled an incredibly competent staff of steel makers to help him build the company.

Verity was a prolific writer and at the end of 1915 was witnessing a revolution between Labor and Capital. He wrote about the relationship of employer and employee in the company newsletter, offering not just his expectations of the “workingman” but also their leaders.

“Why all the talk about supposed differences between Capital and Labor, when each is not only necessary to the other, but when neither is of any value without the other? Where is the line of demarcation to be found when a laborer can be, and often is, a capitalist, and where the capitalist, so called, as far as the managing share holders of industry are concerned, are laborers?”

Modern Relation of Employer and Employee

George Verity was loath to make class distinctions. He blurs the boundaries between those entrusted with Captial and the Labor that creates value.  He describes the role of Manager as a Laborer to the Investor.

But Capital are not people. Capital is money and a concentration of that wealth is represented by Owners and Investors who, as Verity so aptly describes, hires their Directors, who in turn select their Officers, and so the modern industrial hierarchy is built.

Those who represent Capital are very careful with whom their wealth is entrusted. They demand loyalty of class and often select their leaders from established origins of existing wealth no matter their skill and qualifications.


the qualifications of John B. Tytus

According to Cristy Borth’s “True Steel,” John Tytus was awarded a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale in 1897, Fisher’s “Epic of Steel” describes it as a B.S. recieved the same year. Local Middletown educator George Crout and Armco corporate secretary Wilfred D. Vorhis’ wrote the article John Butler Tytus: Inventor of the Continuous Steel Mill” for the Summer 1967 edition of Ohio History, a quarterly magazine published by the Ohio Historical Society. They list his schooling  as

“Westminster Prep School at Dobb’s Ferry, New York. From there he went to Yale, where in 1897 he received his Bachelor’s degree in English literature.” pg. 133

In any case, it wasn’t an engineering degree but a manufacturing pedigree that opened the door for the young John Tytus.

It’s hard to imagine a man of letters today given an engineering assignment that essentially wagered the company’s future. Despite an academic focus on English literature, Tytus left very little written evidence of his directives during the mill’s development. He preferred to use the telephone.

Crout and Vorhis republished a memo found in his desk after his death, June 2, 1944, entitled


“Advice from John B. Tytus

1. In giving praise for a job well done be sure to give it to the deserving individual. If given to those not responsible for the good work they may secretly laugh at you.

2. A first mistake adds to ones knowledge and experience. A repetition of the same mistake is due to carelessness and represents a total loss.

3. A man me be morally honest in every respect: however the same man may be intellectually dishonest if he does not base his reasoning and conclusion on sound facts.

4. It is just as important to find causes for good results as it is to find causes for poor results. A comparison between the two extremes will point out more obvious differences.

5. When confronted with any problem, use all the knowledge and experience available in the organization This applies not only to using all the ability within a given works, but also seeking help from other sources.

6. Base decisions on facts not opinions or wishful thinking. Cultivate the ability to separate facts from opinions.”

Crout and Vorhis, pg. 145

Tytus’ creed is an homage to the Scientific Method.



Innovation at the Intersection of Art and Science

It took the better part of a decade of trial and error not by Tytus himself but artists steeped in the manual process of rolling steel sheet to reveal the roll shape that worked. A small select group of rollers, engineers, and machinists from Middletown Works pooled their talents under Tytus’ leadership. Tytus’ resolve endured a decade of failures with just enough incremental successes to keep the idea alive.

Johansson’s research on the conditions for innovation explains the need for failure.

Perhaps the most counterintuitive byproduct from the explosion of ideas at the intersection of fields is the simultaneous rise in failures.

… The more ideas you execute, the greater chance of realizing something truly groundbreaking.

Innovative people, then, experience more failures than their less creative counterparts because they pursue more ideas. It is thus very difficult – indeed, this book argues practically impossible – to realize ideas at the Intersection by flawlessly executing well-defined action plans. Yet this is how most of us are trained to think about strategy and implementation.

Johansson, pgs. 124-5

Johansson defends the organization willing to pay the price for repeated failure. Today, as our economy has shifted toward financial justification as value, investors demand for Return on Investment would render any similar effort impossible.


the Invention: progressive convexity

The American Rolling Mill Company was the first steel company in the United States to employ a dedicated research department to invent and develop new processes and products. The presence of this group established a culture of experimentation at the new company and Tytus took advantage of it. He ran several research trials over many years. He would pull sheets out between passes, cut them into strips and studied the cross sections. They were revealing what was occurring to the sheets under enormous pressure relative to the shape of the rolls. Progress was incremental and steady.

Tytus contribution to the continuous mill brought the importance of roll shape from the paper industry to steel. He was counseled by Tom Hall, an expert roll grinder. Roll grinders are the machinists who cut, grind and polish massive cylinders of steel that crush bars into sheets under thousands of tons of pressure.

 “Tytus’ basic patent was on the ‘controlled pass’ which was made by the shape of the rolls along the whole train. Frank Fanning, later an Armco Vice-president, summed up the principles underlying the continuous process as follows:

‘The discovery which made the wide strip hot rolling practicable and which permitted much greater width to thickness ratios than previously thought possible, was that the piece should have a slightly convex cross section and that at each successive pass the sheet should have progressively less convexity, and at least five factors controlling such a process were essential – the prepared contour of the rolls; the composition and springiness of the rolls; the screw pressure applied to the roll necks; and the shape, composition and temperature of the piece.’

Frank H. Fanning, Wide Strip Mills – Evolution or Revolution (Middletown, Ohio 1952) a paper read before the General Meeting of the American Iron & Steel Institute at New York, May 21-22, 1952; pg. 3-5

It was the application of these principles, not understood by former inventors and engineers who had tried to produce the continuous mill, that made the Tytus effort a success.”

Crout and Vorhis pg. 141


the mill comes alive in Ashland

In some respects, the war years were too good for the steel industry. Steel sheet producers were at full production feeding the emerging urban centers around the US and the war machine in Europe. There were no facilities available to experiment on a new mill. Everything was devoted to production.

But after the war, steel market growth slowed. The officers of the Ashland Iron and Mining Company couldn’t keep their ingot producing capacity profitable and decided to sell. George Verity and Joseph Frantz visited the operation in Ashland Kentucky and quickly determined that the 2 blast furnaces and 6 open hearths would be a good fit for the expanding American Rolling Mill Company.

Mills needed to be built and Tytus would take his team, his drawings and a commitment to an idea to Ashland in 1921.

Tytus’ Team

Outside events were affecting the source of labor at the time the continuous mill began development. The outbreak of World War One cut off the supply of eastern Europeans who dominated the ranks of skilled steel making artists and their artisans in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“The mill’s demands for hands were met by brawny men from Kentucky. ‘Not so good as hunkies,’ some labor bosses said of them. ‘Too independent!’ John disagreed. He liked these independent Americans. Inheritors of the American tinkering tradition and capable of using their heads as well as their hands… trying to make machines do what they were not designed to do – trying and failing, smashing equipment and laughing about it, and trying again.”

Borth, pgs. 258-9



About 100 workers from Middletown were sent to Ashland to build the mill. Crout and Vorhis list the following as important members of the team: Marion Amburgey, Albert Auberle, Tom Hall, Charles Hillman, M. W. Hodgdon, Hayes Holstein, E. B. Hudson, Russell Huntsberger, George Mellon, E. N. Millan, Clyde Murphy, Russell Smith, and William F. Tuttle. Below is a photograph of Charles Hillman and his crew, one of the few photographs captioned with the crew’s job titles.

Charles Hillman
Charles Hillman, Roller, East Side Works, American Rolling Mill Company, Middletown, Ohio

A decade of experimentation means a lot of failure and learning. To maintain ownership of the invention, Armco leadership ensures that every method is detailed in drawings, built, tested and results recorded. Rollers steeped in the tradition of hand rolling were called to Ashland with the engineers to improve their craft. They all became Armco researchers.

3968 Sheet Mill Crew
Sheet Mill Crew at East Side Works. L to R: Messers. Oakley Poe [Matcher], Geo. Nason [Rougher], Chas. Hillman [Roller], M. Sneathen [Doubler], Floyd Ruble [Pair Heater] . Feb. 14, 1917

Tytus cautioned his men , “Do things as cheaply as possible. If it works, we can rebuild it; if it doesn’t work, the loss will be less.”

Rumors spread through the steel industry that the ‘crazy’ engineers from Middletown were planning something new in Ashland. While some scoffed at them, other steel executives were worried, for they knew that Armco research was among the best in the industry, and that this organization many innovations, such as rust-resisting ‘Ingot Iron’ and high conductivity electrical steels, which had cut deeply into established markets.”

Crout & Vorhis, pgs. 140-1


 a culture that valued Innovation

George Crout and Wilfred Vorhis are focused on telling the Tytus story and offer a modest mention of the innovative culture at Armco. The American Rolling Mill Company was the first in the steel industry to employ a research department. Early facilities were minimal but its leader, Robert Carnahan was a pivotal player in Armco leadership.

Armco’s innovations set it apart from other steel companies. Their specialty steel products helped identify them as unique in the industry.  Armco grew rapidly in an era of steel industry consolidation.  While US Steel , Republic Steel and Bethlehem Steel were forming and acquiring steel making capacity up and down the Ohio Valley, Armco remained independent by serving smaller markets with niche products that, in some cases, are still hard to make.

To this day Armco’s corporate descendant, AK Steel, enjoys enormous market share of the domestic electrical steel market. Electrical steel, as was mentioned earlier, is hard to make. Electrical steel differs from the ductile carbon variety as it contains much more silicon and, like glass, the steel is brittle and difficult to roll. The costs of entry are still very high and potential competitors must learn what Armco invented.

Innovations that occurred in the early decades of the twentieth century are the foundation for the continued existence of steel making in Middletown today.

Innovation is the highest form of Labor because of its capacity to create Labor for others.


 the First Continuous Mill

First Continuous Mill, American Rolling Mill Company, Ashland Kentucky
First Continuous Mill, American Rolling Mill Company, Ashland Kentucky

Nine years after the Hook Memo to Verity, the continuous mill slowly came to life. There were a lot of breakdowns, false starts and cobbles but by

“…the end of February 1924, the first full month of operation, the new continuous mill, …produced 9,000 tons of sheet steel.”

Crout & Vorhis, pg. 142

The company’s cost justification for the project was 18,000 tons a month. After 3 years, the yield was 40,000 tons per month with much better quality and the entire industry was taking notice. The improvement in capacity and quality were way beyond what was originally anticipated. The industry press considered the mill

“epoch making” and “a monumental example of the scientific approach to a major manufacturing problem.”

Crout & Vorhis quoting the journal “Iron Age,” pg. 143

Armco wasn’t alone in their effort toward building a continuous mill but they were the ones who were awarded the patent. The mill wasn’t without serious defects and problems. In fact, Douglas Fisher writes

“the Ashland mill was anything but a continuous mill.

[Tytus] had difficulty in preventing the sheet from slipping from side to side and in maintaining proper tension between the rolls. These handicaps were overcome in a mill designed and constructed by A. J. Townsend and H. M. Naugle for the Columbia Steel Company at Butler, Pennsylvania. It began operation in 1926. The Butler mill produced strip up to 36 inches wide and was the first in the world to roll long lengths of wide strip on the continuous principle.

The question of competing patents arose between Armco and the Columbia Steel Company. It was resolved by the former purchasing the latter.

Thus, Armco controlled all the basic patents on the continuous wide hot-strip mill.”

Fisher, pg 145

Steel is still being produced by Armco descendant, AK Steel, at Butler Works. It remains to this day the single greatest source of electrical grade sheet steel in the US market. Few realize that the plant was acquired by Armco in a patent dispute over the continuous mill.


at the Screw Down, First Continuous Mill, American Rolling Mill Company, Ashland Kentucky
at the Screw Down
First Continuous Mill, American Rolling Mill Company, Ashland Kentucky

The technology for the mill was patented and licensed to other steel manufacturers. In the decade preceding World War II, every domestic steel company had to adopt the continuous mill practice to compete and Armco reaped the rewards in the form of royalties.


Products of the continuous hot-strip mill were welcomed by the trade, because sheet and strip in greater widths and lengths, with a more even surface, and of more uniform dimensions than the hand-rolled sheets, were at last available in mass quantities. Further improvements in the quality of properties of sheets and strip were made in response to demands of customers, who no sooner had a taste of one improvement than they asked for others.

Fisher, pg. 146


In the hearings before the Temporary National Economic Committee in 1940, Charles Hook:

“exhibited a fender from a Model T Ford and another from a 1939 Buick. Holding up the first fender, which he said was made from two welded hand-rolled sheets, he showed that it was possible to see right through its many coats of paint and detect the imperfections of the surface. By the hand-milled process, he explained, ‘You couldn’t get a surface fine enough, smooth enough, that the imperfections wouldn’t show through three or four operations.’ The larger Buick fender, on the other hand, was the product of the continuous mill and was stamped from one sheet.”


Hook further testified:

” ‘ there wasn’t any way under the old hand mill process, by which we could produce a sheet to make that part.’ Changes in the quality and properties of sheets made by the new process ‘are so great as to amount practically to the introduction of an entirely new product in the steel industry.’ ”

Fisher, pg. 146

The continuous mill had significant effects not just on industry but was felt most profoundly among those who plied their living from the hand rolling of steel.


the Roller is redefined

The emergence of the continuous mill changed the power structure of the Rolling Department in many ways but the position most affected was that of the Roller. The Roller was an independent contractor, hired for his craftsmanship and capacity to lead his crew. It was a powerful fraternity of artists in the manufacturing of sheet steel. The continuous mill significantly reduced their numbers but more devastating was their conversion from contracted artist to employed operator.

A very poignant story about the devastation that the mill brought upon the rollers has been recounted many times by Middletown icon, Knight Goodman. As the son of a roller recruited by George Verity in the 1920s to bring his family to Middletown, Mr. Goodman reveals the very personal effects new technology can bring when it changes the livelihoods of proud men.

I called on Mr. Goodman when I first began researching this subject in 1996. He invited me to visit his office and chat. His wife Dorothy made a great cup of coffee. Dorothy has since passed and as of this writing, Knight is still my neighbors of 25 years. The day after our chat, I received the following text,  Tribute to a Steelworker neatly typed with an accompanying note.

In the late 1920s Armco installed the Tytus continuous mill. A great invention. For Armco. For steelmakers everywhere. For my dad and his family, it was a disaster. Fewer rollers were needed and shortly after receiving a letter of congratulations from Mr. Verity for 25 years of continuous service – “You are an established and recognized part of the very hub of our Armco organization” – Dad and many other “older rollers” were demoted. Relegated to part-time work.

Dad’s pride resisted. He quit. Standing for what he believed right was admirable. His timing was terrible. The nation’s most serious economic crash blasted him and his family like a Stealth Fighter Bomber. Dad lost everything: House. Touring car. Fada radio. He returned the love of his family. His determination to support that family. His faith in the Almighty.

Knight Goodman, A Knightwork Extra: Tribute to a Steelworker


The mill had been adopted industry wide and by 1940, 26 continuous mill operations were built. The continuous mill is credited with  cutting the price of sheet steel in half between 1925 and 1940. But there was a human cost for these gains in productivity that came in the form of lost labor – the kind of work where a man could walk away from the family paper business and get a new start as a helper on a sheet mill crew.

One day a visitor approached the inventor and made the remark that his “monster” was taking men’s jobs. Tytus picked up his paperweight – a silver plated replica of the continuous mill which his men had given him – and asked the man:

“Did you ever try your hand at the work it eliminated?”

Crout & Vorhis, pg. 143