When the Twin Towers came down 14 years ago, about 200,000 tons of steel slammed into the ground. In the months after, rescuers searched through the debris and the mangled metal, looking for those who survived and those who didn’t. Every day, hundreds of trucks carried rubble out of the site.
Shortly after the attacks, New York City sold 175,000 tons of World Trade Center steel scrap to be made into something else. Some went to cities in the United States; about 60,000 tons went to companies in China, India, and South Korea. But some steel was recovered from Ground Zero for a different purpose: to be memorialized.
For years, that steel, along with hundreds of other artifacts from that day—crushed police cars, elevator parts, souvenirs, and jewelry from the underground mall—was stored in an 80,000-square-foot hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The 840 pieces of steel were cut to create 2,200 chunks. Since 2008, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has doled out these artifacts to government and nonprofit organizations for free. Now, just 30 remain.
The Port Authority program has provided artifacts to 1,500 entities nationwide, in all 50 states and several countries. Across the country, bits of beams that once held up the towers stand outside of fire departments, inside municipal buildings and libraries, in town squares and museums, including the National Sept. 11 Memorial and Museum at Ground Zero. The biggest chunk of steel, weighing 47,000 pounds, was given to the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which raises money for first responders injured or killed in the line of duty. The smallest—a handful of nails fused together—was given to the office of New York Senator Chuck Schumer. There’s steel at American military bases in Afghanistan and South Korea, the U.S. Embassy in Germany, the Imperial War Museum in London, even a police station in Brazil.