An image of the Sparrows Point Rail Mill c1895. Sparrows Point was named for Thomas Sparrow, landowner, and was the site of a very large industrial complex owned by the Pennsylvania Steel Company and thereafter Bethlehem Steel, known for steel-making and shipbuilding. Sparrows Point remained largely rural until 1887, when an engineer named Frederick Wood realized the marshy inlet would make an excellent deep-water port for the Pennsylvania Steel Company.
Steel was first made at Sparrows Point in 1889, by the Pennsylvania Steel Company. By the mid-20th century, Sparrows Point was the world’s largest steel mill, stretching four miles from end to end and employing tens of thousands of workers. It used the traditional open-hearth steel making method to produce ingots, a labor and energy intensive process.
Purchased by Bethlehem Steel in 1916, the mill’s steel ended up as girders in the Golden Gate Bridge and in cables for the George Washington Bridge, and was a vital part of war production during World War I and World War II. In the midst of the Cold War and Second Red Scare both the mill’s security and labor force were a point-of-concern for national security reasons and for the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee. The mill was serviced by four railroads: the Western Maryland, Pennsylvania, Baltimore & Ohio and yard work was done by the Patapsco & Back River Railroad.