Siouxland Stories: A family of steel

Siouxland Stories

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) — If you’ve driven through Sioux City, you might’ve noticed the state steel company’s trucks hauling steel through Siouxland streets, something that’s been going on for almost 80 years. However, there’s a story of family, entrepreneurship, and triumph underneath those big, blue tarps.              

If you’ve driven through Sioux City, you might’ve noticed the State Steel Company’s trucks hauling steel through Siouxland streets, something that’s been going on for almost 80 years. But there’s a story of family, entrepreneurship, and triumph underneath those big blue tarps.

Norm is the eldest Bernstein brother with a big sense of humor. The Bernstein family moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Brooklyn, Iowa and then on to Sioux City.

“We came here in 1940. I was 6 months old. My parents moved here with my brother Norm and my sister from Brooklyn, Iowa believe it or not,” said Jack Bernstein.

“We did it in a couple of trucks. We hired a couple people to drive the trucks. I lost my pet goldfish along in the move. Couldn’t take the heat. And pretty soon, we’re living in the house. We’re selling the tricycle,” he said. “I rode down the big steep hill, which I shouldn’t have because I skinned my knee. And my dad yelled at me for skinning my knee,” said Norm Bernstein.

Norm’s younger brother Jack Bernstein is now the president of State Steel. Meanwhile, Norm manages Sioux City Compressed Steel, the scrap metal side of their business. But before them, the companies were founded and molded by their father, Sam Bernstein.

“He was a very charitable gentlemen who knew that he wanted to give back to the community as he gained success in his business. And that’s something that we work pretty hard at today, is to give back to our community and being very charitable,” Jack said.

And Sam Bernstein was able to quickly gain success with the first of two businesses, Sioux City Compressed Steel.

“And my dad went into the scrap metal or scrap recycling business, a business that we still are in today. My brother Norm manages or runs that business and I’m involved with our steel business, State Steel Company, which my dad started in about 1959,” Jack said.

Sam’s brother, Harry Bernstein, helped the family relocate from Brookyln, Iowa, to Sioux City, and in the early days of the business, was a big part of Norm Bernstein’s life, until the war.

“Oh yeah there was a lot went on in World War II. We lost people. The B-17, he got shot. Army Air Corps at the time. He was in the nose of the plane. And he got shot. Never came back,” Norm said.

And even though 80 years in business means a lot of hard work and problem solving, the brothers tell me, they wouldn’t have it any other way. In fact, Norm walked away from a career in metallurgy research to return to Sioux City and work the family business.

“And then about that time, I decided to come back to Sioux City and pick on Jack,” Norm said.

So how did it begin?

“Somebody suggested that we buy a truck load of steel which my dad did. And that one truck load turned into several. And eventually we put up a small building, and the building got larger. And over 20, 30 years, it all kind of got to its place,” Norm said.

But interestingly enough, it was the Bersteins’ decision to purchase what few of their competitors had at the time that set them apart.

“I think the biggest thing we did in one step was we decided to buy what they call a shredder. Now what do you do with a shredder? A shredder means that you grind things. You go in the kitchen and you start shredding stuff. That’s kind of what a shredder is except the shredder we’re talking about has 4,000 horse power to it. Whoops. I think that’s supposed to be a secret,” Norm said.

Between both businesses, the Bernstein’s employ between 350 and 400 people. Selling steel products to the general manufacturing trade, success that would easily have allowed the company to move out of the region.

“This is a great place for us to be. My dad loved this community as did my mother. My brother and I have continued to manage that business. And my son David Bernstein continues to be the driving force behind State Steel Company,” Jack said.

Passing on the legacy of their business, from one generation to the next.

“There’s nothing better than working with family members in a successful business. That’s a great way to pass on the legacy of the business if you will. I’m sure my father would be very proud to see what he accomplished here since he passed away in 1997. So that’s 23 years ago,” Jack said.

The brothers have had a hand in several Siouxland changes, like helping tear down one of the old train bridges spanning the Missouri River. But a lot they say, remains the same.

“It certainly has become a more modern place to be, with all of the advantages that take place throughout the country in regards to the commercial end of things,” Jack said.

One thing that’s never changed, is the daily pride both Jack and Norm say they get from driving their father’s company forward, into the future.

“And he [Sam] always used to get a big kick out of looking around … and joyfully looking at the successes he achieved. But I’m sure he’d be very pleased to see what we’ve been able to accomplish in the last 20 some odd years,” said Jack.

And at 87, Norm is still an active employee at the plants.

“I still stuck it out, because now I sit in my office and I look out the window, and everything seems to go in place, sometimes,” said Norm.

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