Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Story of the Sheet and Tube Mill Models

Many who have visited the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor have marveled at the three steel mill models displayed on the lower level. The three models, of a buttweld tube mill, hot strip mill and seamless tube mill are true to scale models of their full sized counterparts which were once important producing units at the YS&T Campbell Works. The history of these models is equally as fascinating as the history of their prototypes.

Their story begins in the depths of the great depression. Myron S. Curtis, assistant to YS&T President James A. Campbell, came up with an idea to build models of the company's two most important steel finishing processes, a hand sheet mill with an automatic sheet return, and a welded tube mill. The models would be taken to trade shows, conventions and other venues where the company had hoped to attract new customers. Mr. Curtis asked George V. James, foreman of the pattern shop; John McCaughney, patternmaker; and Edward Hendricks, toolroom foreman at the No. 1 machine shop to build the models.

The first two models were made largely of wood and sheet metal with a few castings. The hand sheet mill was equipped with a working version of the automatic sheet return device, an invention that was designed to reduce the amount of labor needed to roll sheet. The tube mill also functioned, and spectators could watch a piece of small diameter pipe work its way from the heating furnace, through welding and sizing rolls, then onto a conveyor where the ends were trimmed before being stockpiled.

A few years after these two models were built steelmaking at YS&T changed dramatically. A 79" hot strip mill was installed rendering the hand mills obsolete. Complimenting the new hot strip installation was a three stand cold strip mill. Also, a seamless tube mill, an electric weld tube mill and a butt weld tube mill were built to replace the original lap weld tube mills. Mr. James, McCaughney and Hendricks were once again called upon to build models of the new mills. This time, the trio decided to employ the use of castings to a greater extent and to also increase the level of detail in the new models.

The first model constructed was of the hot strip mill. It was fully operational and could roll lead bars into strips of lead sheet which were then rolled up in a miniature coiler. That model was followed by a model of the cold strip mill, which also included a miniature but fully working stamping press. After a coil was rolled through the cold strip mill it would be placed on an uncoiler in front of the stamping press, then fed into the press which stamped out souveneir tokens to be given to spectators.

The next model to be constructed was the seamless tube mill. It is by far the most complex of all the models. In it, a length of lead pipe is used to simulate the tube round. A piece of lead foil would be placed over the ends of the pipe to make it appear as if it were solid. Then the round would be fed through the heating furnace and out onto the roller tables. Next the round would be "pierced" and the foil would be pushed out of the way. The pipe would then go to the second piercer, then to a sizing mill before finally being deposited into a rack at the end of the model. The operation of this model required a certain level of skill as it has over a dozen switches and levers to be manipulated.

The last two models to be constructed were of an electric weld tube mill and a butt weld tube mill. Both of these models also operated creating a miniature product. All five models were transported to various trade shows, conventions and even the Canfield Fair from the mid 1930s until the 1960s. One or more of the models have been displayed at various times in Canada, Texas, California, Cleveland, Columbus, New York and Missouri.

In the late 1950s the electric weld tube model was given to the Franklin Institute, where it may still exist today. The cold strip mill model has disappeared and is presumed to be at the Smithsonian. The seamless, butt weld and hot strip mills wound up being displayed at the Buckeye School until the Boardman office building was constructed. At that time the hot strip mill was displayed in the library of the new headquarters. After YS&T's demise the models wound up in a warehouse in Pittsburgh before being donated to the Ohio Historical Society.

What is amazing is that out of the seven models that YS&T built, five of them are housed at the YHCIL. Just recently the two original YS&T models of the hand sheet mill and tube mill, which reside in the museum's basement, were dusted off and reassembled. Even the little stamping press which accompanied the cold strip mill sits on a shelf in the basement.

Over the past month, YHCIL volunteers have inspected, cleaned, oiled and test operated the hot strip mill. The two original models will be cleaned and repaired. The seamless tube mill is missing some important parts but a long range goal is to remake those parts and return it to operation. The educational possibilities that exist with these models, which were first realized by Mr. Curtis in the early 1930s, will be realized once again as we are able to demonstrate to our visitors some of the processes used in the making of steel.


  1. I had no idea of the history of these models. I assumed they were constructed by the Museum to illustrate the steel-making process. It's wonderful to know that the models themselves are historic. Thanks for the post.

  2. before I read this post, I dont know about history Sheet and Tube Mill Models.
    and then I know that.


  3. Does anyone have a map of the old steel mill locations in Youngstown, OH?

    My husband is interested in visiting the old sites.


  4. Thanks for a great piece of information.

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