The series originated on radio as Theatre Guild of the Air. The hour-long television version aired from 1953 to 1955 on ABC, and from 1955 to 1963 on CBS. Like its radio predecessor, it was a live dramatic anthology series. During its first season on television, the program alternated bi-weekly with The Motorola Television Hour.
By 1963, the year it went off the air, it was the last surviving live anthology series from the Golden Age of Television. It was still on the air during President John F. Kennedy's famous April 11, 1962 confrontation with steel companies over the hefty raising of their prices. The show featured a range of television acting talent, as its episodes explored a wide variety of contemporary social issues, from the mundane to the controversial.
Notable guest actors included Martin Balsam, Tallulah Bankhead, James Dean, Keir Dullea, Andy Griffith, Rex Harrison, Celeste Holm, Sally Ann Howes, Jack Klugman, Peter Lorre, Walter Matthau, Paul Newman, George Peppard, Suzanne Storrs, Albert Salmi, and Johnny Washbrook. Washbrook played Johnny Sullivan in "The Roads Home" in his first-ever screen role. Griffith made his onscreen debut in the show's production of "No Time For Sergeants," and would reprise the lead role in the 1958 big screen adaptation. In 1956-57, Read Morgan made his television debut on the Steel Hour as a young boxer named Joey in two episodes entitled "Sideshow". Child actor Darryl Richard, later of The Donna Reed Show, also made his acting debut on the Steel Hour as Tony in the episode "The Bogey Man," which aired January 18, 1955. In 1960 Johnny Carson starred with Anne Francis in the presentation "Queen of the Orange Bowl."
Episodes were contributed by many notable writers, including Ira Levin, Richard Maibaum and Rod Serling. The program also telecast one-hour musical versions of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." The United States Steel Hour telecast "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" on November 20, 1957 with a cast starring Jimmy Boyd, Earle Hyman, Basil Rathbone, Jack Carson and Florence Henderson. Boyd had previously played Huckleberry in the earlier telecast of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer."