Built by the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company (CF&I) in 1901–2, the Minnequa Steel Works office building and medical dispensary in Pueblo are among the best examples of Mission-style architecture in Colorado. The dispensary helped provide healthcare to CF&I’s thousands of workers, and the office building was where the company’s landmark Employee Representation Plan was adopted and implemented after the 1914 Ludlow Massacre. Today the Steelworks Center of the West operates a museum and archives in the dispensary and is renovating the office building for use as a multi-purpose space.
A Growing Steel Plant
In 1880 William Jackson Palmer established Colorado Coal and Iron in Pueblo. His goal was to make Pueblo into the “Pittsburgh of the West” in order to provide coal, iron, and steel for his Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The company built its first blast furnace in 1881 and produced the first steel west of the Missouri River in 1882. After Palmer left the company in 1884, it survived but did not thrive. Meanwhile, John C. Osgood’s Colorado Fuel Company, founded in 1884, became the largest coal producer in the Rocky Mountains. In 1892 Colorado Fuel merged with Colorado Coal and Iron to form Colorado Fuel and Iron.
A major economic depression that started in 1893 slowed CF&I’s growth, but once the depression passed, the combined company expanded rapidly. From 1899 to 1903 CF&I acquired new mines across the West and poured $24 million into its Pueblo steel plant. The company’s coal output tripled, and its Minnequa Steel Works in south Pueblo became the largest steel and iron plant in Colorado and one of the largest in the United States.
By the early 1900s CF&I was the largest employer in Pueblo, with more than 4,000 employees. Its personnel department and medical dispensary were torn down to make space for a new blast furnace, so the company planned a new office, dispensary, and laboratory complex at the corner of Canal Street and East Abriendo Avenue, just west of the Minnequa Steel Works gate. CF&I chose Denver architect Frederick J. Sterner to design the buildings in the Mission style, with stucco walls and red tile roofs, which at the time was commonly used for civic and domestic buildings but rarely for industrial structures. The style was apparently chosen with the goal of enhancing property values in the company’s nearby Minnequa Heights development, which it started to build in 1900 to house workers.
The main office building, two-and-one-half-stories tall with a four-story tower, was finished in 1901. The laboratory was also completed in 1901 but is no longer standing. The dispensary, a one-story building with six rooms, was completed in 1902. Given the company’s large workforce and the demanding nature of steelmaking, the dispensary was one of the most important and active CF&I buildings in Pueblo. In 1902, for example, the company had 5,000 workers, and the dispensary treated 23,000 cases of injury or illness—or about seventy-five per day. In addition, all prospective employees had to undergo a physical at the dispensary before they could begin work.
Employee Representation Plan
The Minnequa office building is especially significant as the site where CF&I’s Employee Representation Plan was adopted and implemented in the late 1910s. An early and much-imitated example of welfare capitalism, the plan was essentially a “company union” established in response to a decade of labor disputes culminating in the Ludlow Massacre on April 20, 1914.
The road to the Employee Representation Plan can be traced to 1903, when George Jay Gould and John David Rockefeller acquired CF&I, helping it escape a financial crisis and continue its growth with an injection of capital. By 1910 the company had more than 15,000 workers, including about 10 percent of Colorado’s workforce. It owned fourteen company towns and operated mines and quarries in Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming.
Disputes over mine safety and company control of workers’ lives eventually led to a major strike in 1913–14 and ultimately to the Ludlow Massacre in April 1914, in which Colorado National Guard troops opened fire on a tent colony of miners north of Trinidad. Public reaction against the company’s owner, John D. Rockefeller Jr., was swift and harsh. Rockefeller Jr. quickly hired public-relations specialist Ivy Lee and labor expert William Lyon Mackenzie King, a former Canadian labor minister, to quell the trouble.
King recommended that Rockefeller Jr. implement an Employee Representation Plan to mediate grievances and give workers a voice on company committees. Quarterly and annual conferences between workers and employers would be held at the Minnequa office building. The plan essentially took the place of the defeated United Mine Workers union, but under the control of the company and without the right to collective bargaining. Adopted by coal miners in 1915, it soon spread to all CF&I employees and then to other Rockefeller-owned businesses. It served as a model for welfare capitalism programs established across the country in the late 1910s and 1920s.
Company owners were pleased with the plan, but workers grumbled that it gave them little real power. When the National Industrial Recovery Act gave workers the right to organize in 1933, the United Mine Workers quickly recruited most miners in Colorado. The Employee Representation Plan officially ended in 1935, when the National Labor Relations Act rendered such company-controlled plans illegal.
Additions and Changes
Between the world wars CF&I made significant additions to its Minnequa office and dispensary complex. In 1921 a two-story office annex—designed with Mission-style elements by Pueblo architect William Stickney—was completed north of the main office. Two additions in 1931 and 1945 expanded the annex.
As CF&I grew and added new processes for screening and hiring employees, its employment office could no longer fit in the main office building. In 1926 the company hired Pueblo architect Walter DeMordaunt, a former employee of Stickney’s, to design an addition at the west end of the dispensary to house the employment office. It continued the theme of Mission-style buildings at the complex.
In 1944 Charles Allen & Associates acquired CF&I. The office and dispensary complex in Pueblo saw several changes over the next two decades. In the late 1950s the Pueblo Freeway (later Interstate 25) was built between the office and dispensary complex and the steel mill. The tunnel between the two had to be extended, and a new main gate house with Mission details was completed in 1955. In 1960, a year after the freeway was finished, the company erected a large corporate sign beside the highway.
In 1969 Allen sold CF&I to Crane Company, a New York–based conglomerate, and the company streamlined CF&I’s operations. In 1971 it built a large steel-frame sales office on the north side of the office annex. CF&I ultimately went bankrupt when the American steel market collapsed in the early 1980s, but in the 1990s the mill and the office complex were acquired by a London-based multinational company called EVRAZ and reopened on a smaller scale as EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel.
In 2002 the office and dispensary complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel continues to manufacture steel rails, rods, bars, and pipes at the historic Minnequa Steel Works. Its sales offices are located in the former CF&I sales office, but other parts of the office and dispensary complex are operated by the Steelworks Center of the West as a nonprofit educational facility. The former medical dispensary houses the Steelworks Museum and the Steelworks Archives, which include CF&I’s company archives. In 2014 the organization began to build a new park—the Steelworks Park—north of the museum, and it is spending $12 million to renovate the former main office building into a multi-use space called the Steelworks Center.