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Steel Mill
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark, satanic mills?
William Blake, "Jerusalem"]

A steel mill is one of the closest approximations of Hell on Earth, if Dante's Inferno is used as a yardstick. Since metal work requires extremely high temperatures, a steel mill is a humongous maze of eerie machinery, fiery furnaces, extreme temperatures, molten metal, poisonous gasses, foul smells, deafening sounds and, most of all, heavy objects falling from height when least expected.

The steel mill can be either an integrated mill which produces steel from iron ore, or a mini-mill which produces steel from scrap. The nucleus of the former is the smelting works, which consists of ironworks (a blast furnace, which makes pig iron from iron ore, coke and limestone) and steelworks (either a converter or open hearth furnace, which makes steel from pig iron and scrap), and rolling mill, which prepares the steel products. The latter has typically an electric arc furnace for smelting the scrap and rolling mill for producing the steel products, such as sheet metal, slabs, girders and pipes. Usually the integrated steel mill also has cokeworks for making metallurgical coke from coal, and a chemical plant for further refining the coal tar into various chemicals. The by-product of blast furnace, slag, can be used on making roads, bricks and cement.

Mini-mills have superceded traditional integrated mills rapidly, and they are important scrap recyclers. The electric arc furnace can be considered as a man-made lightninig. They are usually located in places, where scrap can be easily obtained and where is an abundance of cheap electricity.

At best, a Steel Mill may be a Big Labyrinthine Building - the Severstal mill at Magnitogorsk, Russia, spreads twelve kilometers along the river Ural bank. Real Life steel mills are usually hangar-like, with large open spaces inside, due to the need to move around heavy equipment. At worst, it is a true Nightmarish Factory. Its Dangerous Workplace nature is often displayed by a large X Days Since Last Accident billboard.note 

There are even enormous hydraulic anvils, in case the metaphor is just not anvilicious enough all on its own.


Examples

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     Film  

  • The Deer Hunter, where the characters work as steelworkers. The picture was shot in a real steel mill at Mingo Junction, Ohio.
  • The climax of Terminator 2: Judgment Day takes place in one, of course.
  • The droid factory in Star Wars Episode II is the scene of a brutal battle between the heroes and their Geonosian adversaries.
  • Saruman runs one at Isengard in Lord of the Rings. Filmed using real ironworkers in orc costumes, pouring real molten iron, which must have been a nightmare for health and safety.
  • Dwarves run also one at the basement of Erebor in The Hobbit. Which qualifies as a Dangerous Workplace with No OSHA Compliance. Dwarves have apparently no concept of occupational safety.
  • In Rudy, the local steel mill is where Rudy's father and brothers work, where he is expected to work, and where his best friend dies in an accident, generously providing the catalyst for Rudy to decide he'd rather be elsewhere.
  • The climactic fight scene from Drunken Master II takes place in a steel foundry.
  • Po has a pivotal encounter with Shen at Shen's foundry in Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Super8. The steel mill shown only at the beginning has a prominent banner of the ilk of 'X days since the last workplace accident' ... before a worker resets the already not-stellar number for the time to 1. This sets the tone of the movie to come as one where Anyone Can Die.
  • Christian Bale plays a mill worker in the 2013 film Out of the Furnace.

     Literature  

  • Ganz Unten ("Lowest of the Low") by GŁnther Wallraff. He describes of the working conditions of Turkish immigrant workers in the post-WWII German steel industry. Reading about one of the workers stumbling at work and falling in the blast furnace is creepy.
    • Keep in mind this was of a West German factory in the early eighties.
  • Jurgis worked in one in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. He described working in one far more favourably than working in Chicago meatpacking industry.
  • The description given of Hank Rearden's mill in the second chapter of Atlas Shrugged. However, the incredible heat, heavy weights soaring overhead, and so forth are portrayed positively as symbolizing man's creative power and conquest of physical nature. Although a furnace leak later in the book does portray the extreme danger that are inherent in the processes of steel production very well.
  • In a similar vein to Ganz Unten, H. G. Wells's short story "The Cone" involves a disgruntled worker and his boss on a catwalk, viewing the pressure-valve cone on top of a blast furnace. Note to all steel bosses: it's probably best not to stand in front of disgruntled workers when you're overlooking an area that has red-hot metals and searing gases.

     Live-Action TV  

  • In the third season premiere Buffy the Vampire Slayer gets sent to a hell-factory that has all of these standard tropes, along with Year Inside, Hour Outside.
  • Doctor Who: The Cybermen set up one of these in Victorian London in the Tenth Doctor episode "The Next Doctor".
  • The sports-movie parody sketch from That Mitchell and Webb Look carries the bad research jokes beyond sports by having the characters work in a steel mine, combining the two standard "got to get out of this dead-end town" industries of plucky underdog movies.
  • Mentioned in the backstory of a little-remembered BBC serial called A Very British Coup: the newly-elected Prime Minister's father was employed in one, but one day something went wrong and, as the PM puts it: "He were splashed. By 'ot steel." The company's owners escaped punishment in a wrongful death lawsuit by claiming it was a result of the man's own negligence, a fact about which the Prime Minister is very bitter indeed.
  • Sesame Street has used this clip of a steel I-Beam being forged when an episode is Brought To You By The Letter "I". It's memorablly scary for many when they first saw it as a child.

     Music  

  • Billy Joel tried for this in his "Allentown" video, but it just came off kind of Ho Yay.
  • Bruce Springsteen in his "Youngstown". The "sweet Jenny" which he refers in that song is not a girl, but the Youngstown Steel and Tube Co. blast furnace named "Jeannette".
  • The folk song The Dalesman's Litany is about the rural population of Yorkshire in the 19th century being forced to work in the rising industrial cities. The steel mills are not described in positive terms.
    I've walked at night through Sheffield lanes, 'twas just as being in hell
    Where furnaces thrust out tongues of fire and roared like the wind on the fell
  • Tom Russell song U.S. Steel, which describes the demise of the steel industry in Homestead, PA.

     Tabletop Games  

     Video Games  

  • The Fallout 3 add-on "The Pitt" gives up what may be the world's last functional steel mill, staffed by slaves in loincloths and sadistic criminals as their foreman. The leader, Ashur, hopes to use the industry provided by the mill to build a self-sufficient empire.
  • Max Payne blasts through one of these in the third act of his first game. Apart from the other dangerous elements of the Cold Steel Foundry, he also has to deal with hired mercenaries and laser tripmines because it's a front for production of Valkyr as well as having a military bunker underneath the plant.
  • In Batman: Arkham City Batman goes inside Sionis steel mill, the first time through a chimney which there's a pool of molten metal below and second time trough the cooling tunnels with rivers of liquid nitrogen, the factory also serves as Joker's main hideout.
  • In Anarchy Reigns, at Black Side campaign, Jack fights Big Bull in a foundry. Molten metal acts as a environmental hazard.
  • Stage 4 of R-Type III. Filled with compactors, and a hellish maze of molten metal. Which you have to navigate through twice.
  • The TNT/Evilution half of Final Doom features a level inside what could pass as a steel mill, aptly named 'Mill', with hydraulic anvils, super-hot liquid that occasionally burns through a Radiation Shielding Suit and what barely passes for the top of an electric arc furnace.
    • There is also a map call "Steel Works" which is exactly what it say's in the map title.

     Western Animation  

  • In The Simpsons, Homer, worried about Bart's manliness after interactions with a gay shop-keeper, takes him to one of these mills to show him examples of masculinity. It backfired big time as it quickly converts into a gay disco.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life steel mills are the Trope Makers for Dangerous Workplace. On the other hand, the immensely hazardous occupational conditions and the hard physical work are usually compensated with very high pay.
  • The genre Heavy Metal has gotten its name from Sheffield, UK, where the genre was born. Sheffield was the centre of UK steel production in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Robert De Niro worked as a steelworker under an assumed name before filming the Deer Hunter, to get a grip of the steelworker's daily life.
  • Tony Iommi worked in a Sheffield steel mill before going Heavy Metal on Black Sabbath fulltime.

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