Brymbo Steelworks prospered in the early years of the twentieth century. There was investment in new technology and production doubled between 1898 and 1914.
German contractors were busy installing a new magnet crane in 1914 when the First World War started. They were all interned and the Ministry of Munitions took control of Brymbo. The works produced special steels for making torpedo nets and the fuse mechanisms for shells.
The years after the First World War were lean times for the steel industry. The Miners’ Strike (1921) and the General Strike (1926) both forced the steelworks to close, while the slump in orders during the Great Depression (1929-32) drove the steelworks into bankruptcy in 1931. With the works closed, Brymbo had one of the highest unemployment rates in Britain.
In 1933 Sir Henry Robertson saved the steelworks from demolition when his new company took the works out of administration. He entrusted to Emrys Davies and Thomas Roberts the task of bringing the works back into production, while he sought out new markets for Brymbo steel.
Robertson successfully negotiated with Rolls-Royce and the Air Ministry to become the supplier of special steels for aircraft engines. With Britain re-arming from 1936 in response to Hitler’s aggressive foreign policy, Robertson had chosen a growing market.
During the Second World War Brymbo used its new electric arc furnaces, and rolling mill, to produce special steels. From 1943 women took on manual work in the steelworks: operating the cranes and working in the mills. The steelworkers celebrated the end of the war in 1945, but with peace came new challenges.
Steel production at Brymbo (tonnes of steel)
1796 – 884 (iron)
1898 – 30,000
1914 – 60,000
1932 – 0
1936 – 65,000
1950 – 109,000
1960 – 143,000
1963 – 260,000 ingot tonnes
1965 – 315,000 ingot tonnes
1967 – 272,455
1972 – 350,000
1974 – 409,000 ingot tonnes
1990 – 245,000 (1990 capacity raw steel 560,000 tons)