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The Long Life and Slow Death of Cokemaking in Erie, Pennsylvania

This aerial view shows the top of the coke batteries. Coal was delivered via conveyor belt to the top of the batteries, then an electrically propelled, super broad gauge Larry Car operated on top of the ovens, delivering coal to each battery. The silver coke handling structure, in center above tracks, delivered the coke from the coke wharf to hopper cars below.

The Long Life and Slow Death of Cokemaking in Erie, Pennsylvania

March 2021By Raymond Mercado/photos by the author

Steel manufacturing began in 1833 in the city of Erie, Pa. The Jarvis Company built the first blast furnace on the site where Erie Coke Corporation operated. In 1905, the Jarvis Company was reorganized into the Perry Iron Company. Two years later, another blast furnace was built and put into operation.

In 1912, Pickands, Mather & Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, took over the Perry Iron Company. A battery of 37 Wilputte coke ovens, which were used to convert coal to coke used in steelmaking, was built on the site east of the blast furnace, and they became operational in 1925.

Interlake Iron Company of Chicago, Illinois, took over operations and changed the name to Perry Furnace Company. In January 1942, another battery consisting of 35 Wilputte coke ovens, known as “B” Battery, was put into service. Then in January 1952, a new “A” Battery replaced the original 1925 ovens.

Erie Coke

This EMD SW1200 38 served the Erie plant along with various GE centercabs and other EMDs, which were either sold or scrapped. This former South Buffalo EMD SW1200 38 would haul loads of hoppers filled with coke out of the plant to CSX, to be interchanged with the Buffalo & Pittsburgh for shipment. The unit is presently for sale, awaiting a new owner.

In 1967, steel production was discontinued in Erie and the coke plant was closed. The coke plant was restarted in 1970 under the Koppers Company, but was initially operated by Interlake under a commercial agreement. Interlake leased the plant in 1974 to Koppers, which subsequently purchased the site in 1980. It continued to operate under Koppers until early 1987, when J.D. Crane acquired the high-quality foundry coking operation, renaming it to Erie Coke Corporation.

The independent plant continued as a merchant producer of high-quality foundry coke sold to the automotive and steel industries, but finally ceased operations on Thursday, December 19, 2019, after years of numerous air and water pollution citations and fines, ending 186 years of coke production in the city of Erie.

Coke is a grey, hard, and porous fuel with a high carbon content and few impurities, made by heating coal or oil in the absence of air; a destructive distillation process. It is an important industrial product, still used primarily in iron ore smelting in a blast furnace. The carbon monoxide produced by its combustion reduces iron oxide (hematite) in the production of the iron product…

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This article was posted on: February 16, 2021