Touted in the 1941 WPA guide to West Virginia as “the largest unincorporated town in the country” and the “‘Topsy’ of West Virginia industry,” Weirton was founded in 1909 as the company town of the Weirton Steel Company. According to the guide, it was not a typical company town, since “the corporation owns only the mill property; workmen do not live in company houses or buy at the company store; the community has a high percentage of individually owned homes, yet all discussion of individual or group activity is prefaced with the reservation, ‘if the mill works.’”
In 1930, after a merger, the company became part of the National Steel Corporation. When the Weirton plant was threatened with closure in 1982, its employees purchased it. Although the plant now has only half the workers it did during its prime, it was West Virginia's largest private employer in 1996, with a work force of 6,200.
Weirton, incorporated as a city in 1947, no longer has the “potpourri of foreign customs, [nor] a Babel of strange tongues” that the WPA guide claimed it did more than a half-century ago. Still, its several well-defined neighborhoods demonstrate the hierarchical divisions of workers in the steel mill. The many components of the giant Weirton Steel Corporation plant that stretch along both sides of Main Street (West Virginia 2) are the city's major presence and most lasting image, especially when the furnaces are fired. With a 2000 population of 20,411, Weirton is the state's sixth-largest city.
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