Joliet Iron and Steel Works, once the second-largest steel mill in the United States, is now a vast network of crumbling ruins. The rails produced there were instrumental in the expansion of the nation’s railroad infrastructure.
The Joliet Iron and Steel Works Mill was an abandoned steel mill that has been preserved as a historic site by the Forest Preserve District of Will County, Illinois. The 52-acre Joliet Iron Works Historic Site was acquired between 1991 and 1997. The preserve is part of the Des Plaines River preservation system, which conserves more than 2,400 acres.
The History of Joliet Iron and Steel Works
Joliet Iron Works opened in 1869, only a few years after the end of the Civil War. Over time, ownership of the mill passed between various steel conglomerates. In 1889, the Illinois Steel Company acquired it, and Illinois Steel itself was acquired by Federal Steel, which would form US Steel, which is still in business to this day.
The steel and Iron mill operated from 1869 through 1936. The rolling mill, a key element of the works, struck its first blow in March 1873. Railroad rails rolled at the Joliet Works played a key role in the expansion of America’s railroad infrastructure.
The Bigger the Better was the steel industry motto: meaning more profit. In 1870, a furnace made 50 tons of pig iron a day. By 1906 the furnaces were making 400 tons a day.
Over 4000 workers were employed at these works in 1926. In its early years, the ironworks employed many immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe.
By the 1920s the Joliet Mill was the national leader in worker safety. This was important since the workers had to work in extreme conditions including, twelve-hour days, temperatures of 110 degrees, strenuous manual labor, and toxic materials. The job was tough and workers had to endure hazards such as extreme heat, toxic fumes, and dangerous falls. Injuries and deaths were not uncommon.
New structures were added over the ensuing decades, including the Nail Department, the Fence and Barbed Wire Department, the Annealing and Galvanizing Department, and a massive warehouse.
Due to lack of profit, the mill was completely shut down by the 1980s. In the 1990s, the Forest Preserve District of Will County created the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site. A mile-long walking path leads through the ruins of the ironworks, marked with signs that explain the significance of the various portions of the mill and the functions of the equipment that once stood there.
Across the railroad tracks from the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site, the structures of the steelworks remain abandoned and rusting. Unfortunately, they are off-limits to the public.
Historical Photos of the Joliet Iron and Steel Company
Photos of the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site
We prepared 100 Photos of the Joliet Iron Works Historic Site. Below you may find stunning photos of the Joliet Iron Works Ruins. Dozens of signs dominate the area, explaining the history and significance of the parts of the historic site.
Joliet Iron Works Historic Site Trail
Joliet Iron Works Historic Site features 0.59 miles of a paved trail that provides a self-guided interpretive tour of the site’s historical significance. The preserve also provides access to the 7.57-mile, crushed limestone/paved I&M Canal Trail, ideal for hiking or biking.