In 1921, Kirkman O'Neal borrowed $2,000 from the American Trust Bank to invest in Southern Steel Works in the West End of Birmingham, Alabama.
In 1927, O'Neal bought out his partner and established the company as .
Just as the young company was hitting its stride, the U.S. stock market crashed. Throughout the Great Depression, held firm by maintaining strong customer relationships, and by 1935 had become one of the South's first metals service centers.
’s focus was serving customers whose needs did not meet the high-tonnage requirements necessary to purchase materials directly from the mills.
In 1941, the United States entered World War II and O'Neal worked to secure the company's first and most historic government contract with the U.S. Department of Defense.
O'Neal was hired to produce superstructures for ships and went on to become the nation's largest producer of general-purpose bombs.
General William S. Knudsen, former President of General Motors, was paraphrased as saying that: "Some clouds of concern and reservation surrounded the contract given to , as perceptions loomed that the bombs could not be adequately produced anywhere south of Detroit. Assumptions were that lacked skilled mechanics in the Birmingham District."
Contrary to General Knudsen’s initial reaction, he was ultimately amazed by ’s performance, stating that “We () were doing a better job than any of the other plants that he had visited, and also had lesser costs.
continued manufacturing on behalf of the military until V-J Day (Victory over Japan) on August 15, 1945, which marked the end of war operations in the Pacific.
Up until V-J Day, employed 1,300 men and women, working three shifts a day and producing 100 rail-carloads of bombs per month.
The work that was performed at O'Neal was deemed superior for its quality and timely delivery – earning the company the extraordinary honor of the Army/Navy E for Excellence award and two additional Citations for Excellence by the United States government.
In 1946, Emmet O'Neal, Kirkman's son, joined the company, marking the start of a new era of innovation and expansion.
In 1952, acting on Emmet's plan for growth, O'Neal opened its first satellite district in Jackson, Mississippi.
In the 1960’s, expansion continued into Florida and Tennessee with satellite districts opening in Jacksonville and Knoxville.
Expansion across the southeastern states continued throughout the 70’s with new districts that were established in Mobile, Alabama and Little Rock, Arkansas.
In the 1980’s, Steel went through a number of acquisitions. The company expanded Northward and Westward with its purchase of Indiana’s Shelby Steel, Wabash-LaGrange, and Liberty Steel.
Emmet’s son, Craft joined the company in 1984, representing the third generation of family involvement in the business. Craft is currently the Chairman and CEO of Industries.
continued their expansion by acquiring Weissman Industries, Carolina Steel and Metalwest.
One specialized area of growth was made possible by ’s 1997 purchase of Metalwest, an industry leader among light-gauge, flat-roll service centers, headquartered in Denver with locations across the nation.
Next came growth through the development of multi-stage processing capabilities in 1998, and the opening of dedicated weldment operations in Monterrey, Mexico, thereby providing Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) a reliable resource for large-scale and labor-intensive jobs that require specialized facilities and a high degree of manufacturing expertise and efficiency.
During the first decade of the new millennium, made 15 acquisitions.
In 2004, Aerodyne Alloys was acquired and moved Steel into the power generations market, and into aerospace and high-valued specialty products such as nickel, cobalt, and titanium.
In early 2005, further extended its product line with the acquisition of Leeco Steel, headquartered in the Greater Chicago area. Leeco is a leading distributor and processor of specialized grades of high-strength steel and alloy plate, and serves customers throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
In the fourth quarter of 2005, acquired TW Metals, a well-established service center specializing in pipe, tube, bar, rod in stainless, aluminum, alloy and carbon, as well as a variety of high alloys such as nickel and titanium. To date, TW Metals was the largest acquisition, and it helped to establish a company presence worldwide.
In 2006, acquired Timberline Steel, a full-line service center based in the Denver area with one of the largest and most comprehensive processing facilities in the Rocky Mountain Region.
Three additional and Ohio-based companies were also acquired in 2006: Ferguson Metals, AIM International, and Supply Dynamics. With these acquisitions, Steel continued to expand its product expertise, inventory, and capabilities directed at highly-specialized markets.
At the beginning of 2008, Ferguson Metals and AIM International merged to form United Performance Metals, which now offers the combined product lines and expertise of both former companies, still based in Cincinnati.
In late 2010, a major strategic and structural initiative was launched to re-focus Steel on its core business of fast, accurate, and dependable metals distribution.
Subsequently, the company’s expertise in complex, multi-stage processing they had developed over years of relationships with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) was channeled through the creation of Manufacturing Services (OMS).
At the start of 2012, in a strategic move to solidify ’s position as an industry leader in the ferrous and non-ferrous flat-rolled market, and to provide even better customer service, Metalwest and TAD Metals merged to form Flat-Rolled Metals.
At the same time, also created a new specialty division known as CHRG Metals, which concentrates on the distribution and processing of corrosion and heat-resistant stainless steel and nickel alloy flat product.
Simultaneously, the acquisition of Iowa Laser occurred. Its capabilities and expertise increased ’s manufacturing offerings and improved overall growth.
In July 2013, through affiliate United Performance Metals, acquired Vulcanium Metals, which operates stocking facilities in Northbrook, IL and Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Vulcanium carries a full line of inventory in titanium sheet, plate, block, and bar products. They specialize in providing titanium distribution and supply chain solutions to OEMs, and subcontractors around the world, as well as offering comprehensive in-house processing.
Today, Steel proudly remains as the nation’s largest, family-owned steel company – with an extended family of dedicated employees among each affiliate company, providing the finest in quality and customer service. Our primary focus has always been and will continue to be our customers, which we believe is synonymous to maintaining our position as an industry leader. We invite our customers to grow with us as we meet the challenges of the future.