Acme Steel Coke Plant
The stretch of Southeast Chicago, Illinois along Lake Michigan was built on steel. In its heyday, roughly 200,000 people were employed along the same stretch by steel mills, or by other industries related to steel production and shipping. Immigrants from Europe flocked to the area, drawn by the promise of grueling put well-paying mill jobs. Today, this industry is no more.
Mills still operate along the lakeshore in northwest Indiana, but the giants of Chicago steel have all closed their doors. Wisconsin Steel folded in 1980 and the Acme Steel Coke Plant, which baked coal into coke (the fuel used to melt iron ore, from which steel is manufactured), closed in 2001. Following Acme’s closure, many former steelworkers, historians and preservationists stepped forward, hoping to prevent the Acme plant from suffering the same fate as the others: dismantlement and demolition.
Ultimately, those who wished to preserve the coke plant lost the site to a salvage company in 2004. The last blast furnace of its kind in the area, used to cook coal, was dismantled along with the sprawling conveyor belt that stretched hundreds of yards across the Calumet River, connecting Acme Coke with Acme Steel. On the bright side, the Acme Steel Mill was preserved and converted into a museum highlighting steel’s role in shaping and building Chicago in the early 1900s. Many documents and pieces of history were scavenged from the coke plant before it was demolished and are now on display at the museum.