Carbide Graphite Group, Inc., was but the latest title given to a company that was first founded in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, in 1899, which coincided with an explosive growth period in the American steel industry. Initially, chemist John Speer and financier Andrew Kaul founded the Speer Carbon Company in order to produce carbon brushes for electric motors and generators. The company added a plant in Niagara Falls, New York, in 1920 to graphitize carbon electrodes, a component in the production of steel.

As American manufacturing began to change in the 1950s, after the massive production demands of the 1940s and the growth of European and Japanese manufacturing post World War II, Speer Carbon felt the effects of these changes. In 1961, Airco, a producer of industrial gases, purchased Speer Carbon and renamed it Airco Speer. The company grew throughout the 1960s, purchasing National Carbide in Louisville, Kentucky, a producer of calcium carbide, and also acquired a government-built acetylene plant. The company continued to grow during the 1970s, and in 1978, British industrial gas giant BOC Group purchased Airco Speer.

The 1980s saw a rapid decline in American manufacturing that led to an eroding market for Airco BOC’s products. With revenues and profits dropping considerably, BOC sold its calcium carbide and graphite producing operations to a management and outside investment group in 1988. The newly created company sold some of its plants as part of the deal and reorganized as the Carbide/Graphite Group, Inc. in 1992. At this time, the company led the U.S in the production of graphite and calcium carbide industrial products. The company did very well until 1997, when a combination of a Federal antitrust investigation, coupled with a steep decline in electrode sales, led to the gradual demise of Carbide Graphite. This ultimately led the company to bankruptcy in 2001 with the liquidation of its assets, including the plants in Niagara Falls, St. Mary’s and Pittsburgh.