Fact:
A Rail Mill opened in 1905 and rails became the chief product until the plant closed its doors in 2000.

 

Fact:
World War I was a major boom cycle when the war effort took all of the steel that Disco could produce.

 

Fact:
In 1931 an on-site, completely integrated, modern hospital was built.

 
 
 
 

 

The Birth of a Steel Plant (continued) - The Disco and Dosco Years
By Sydney S. Slaven


The Blooming Mill and Billet Mills were commissioned in 1902 and the sale of ingots, blooms and billets began. Although duties on imported steel were in place in Canada, it soon became apparent that Disco could not survive on the international sale of semi- finished products. Plans were made to diversify into other products such as rails, bars, rods, wire and nails. A Rail Mill opened in 1905 and rails became the chief product until the plant closed its doors in 2000. Two Bessemer converter furnaces were added in 1907 in an attempt to deal with the low grade iron ore and the high sulphur coal.

Disco had been a constant money loser up to this point but this situation improved when a domestic market developed for its rails. Whitney took this opportunity to promote the stock well above the book value and made a fortune when he sold out the steel and coal companies to a Canadian consortium in 1909. These two companies merged under the name Dominion Steel Company.

Disco floated a public bond issue to raise expansion capital and a new Blast Furnace came on stream in 1909. This was followed shortly by the commissioning of a Rod and Bar Mill as well as a Wire and Nail Mill in 1910. In the next two years, 4 Coke Ovens with 30 ovens each and another Blast Furnace were added. In 1913 another attempt to deal with steel impurities was made with the addition of two 500-ton mixing furnaces.

World War I (from 1914 – 1918) was a major boom cycle when the war effort took all of the steel that Disco could produce. A Plate Mill was constructed in 1918 but was mothballed because the war ended before it could begin operation. However, this mill would prove invaluable to the saving of Great Britain during World War II. More Coke Oven improvements were made in 1918 with the installation of two 60-oven batteries.

In 1920, a syndicate known as the British Empire Steel Corporation, (BESCO), acquired all assets of not only Disco, but Scotia as well. These included the mines at Wabana, the limestone operation at Aquatuna, Nfld., as well as the Halifax Shipyards. By now the steel industry was in a recession with the drop in demand, which accompanied the end of the war. Besco was badly undercapitalized and found itself in financial trouble from the start. Capital for modernization and expansion was not available and a number of money reducing routes were taken This led to a very violent period in the history of Cape Breton steel and coal.

The Scotia Plant at Sydney Mines was shut down and the works at New Glasgow were now to be fed from the Sydney works. Wages were cut and massive layoffs triggered violent strikes in the area. Besco formed a police force, (some would say a goon squad), to combat the strikers. The Canadian Military had to send in a large force of troops to act as peacekeepers between Besco and the workers. However, there was just not much demand for steel and, by 1927, Besco had collapsed into bankruptcy and went into receivership.
Strangely enough, the Sydney Plant prospered over the next two years because of government freight subsidies which allowed the plant to compete in the Central Canadian market. This short boom cycle attracted new investors and, in 1929, a British consortium took over the Besco operations and was called the Dominon Steel and Coal Company, (DOSCO).

Dosco inherited a disgruntled workforce and, in order to rectify this, introduced a concept that became known as “Welfare Capitalism”. This was implemented to meet some of the worker’s basic social welfare needs and, the main goal was a happy, contented worker. 1931 saw the completion of an on-site, completely integrated, modern hospital. It provided outpatient and in-patient treatment. There was a fully equipped operating room, a treatment room, a doctor on duty, an X-Ray room, a six-bed in-patient ward, and a live-in nursing staff. An ambulance was purchased for transportation of injured employees. From the start, lost time due to accidents was dramatically reduced and there were other side benefits as well. For example, hospital operations led to lower compensation costs while chest x-rays prevented the hiring of personnel suffering from tuberculosis. (Tuberculosis was a major illness of the first half of the 20th century).

The Birth of a Steel Plant .....Continued

 

 

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Last updated February 1, 2006