The Many Roles of Steel
in Highway Construction

by Nico Scopelliti

Companies often approach their marketing with an eye on educating the customer about the importance and value of their products and services. In the '40s, '50s and '60s, however, companies took it quite far; further than what we'd expect in contemporary information marketing. How about a 30-minute, scripted and entertaining educational documentary exploring the history and development of a commodity, produced naturally by one of the commodity's more aggressive suppliers? These videos were often really quite well done and informative, if sometimes a bit hokey.

"The Open Road," from 1951, is a perfect example. How is steel used in the construction of highways? It actually plays many roles and The Bethlehem Steel Company wants you to know all about it!

Fortunately, there really is a great deal to learn. If you're interested in highways and you're interested in steel, this will be right up your alley.

Many of the highways shown are in Pennsylvania – the opening shots are the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Turnpike – and many of the bridges shown were still in service into the 21st century, though most are now gone, as the highway was widened and the alignment improved.  All of the shots of construction are from the Turnpike.

A big part of the film covers the hot rolling process in a steel mill – these shots from the old Bethlehem Works in Bethlehem and outside of Harrisburg. The Bethlehem works is now a casino, and the Harrisburg works is no longer a steel works.     

Notice the use of hot rivets as the connectors in place of bolts, as the workers heat the rivets, toss them, catch them, and then peen them.  Except for rivets, much of this equipment looks and works the same now as in the 1950s.  The biggest change is the replacement of wire rope in power shovels with hydraulic systems.

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