Iron and steel industry

Iron and steel industry: Late Nineteenth Century Immigrants

Iron and steel industry: Struggle to Unionize

Iron and steel industry: Life in the Steel Communities

Definition: Enterprises involved in the mining of iron ore, its smelting and processing, its conversion to steel, and its distribution to other industries

Significance: Immigrants to the United States were in many ways responsible for the rise and success of the nation’s large iron and steel industry. Most important, their labor made it possible for the significant growth and prosperity of steel manufacturing in America during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The growth of the iron and steel industries in the United States has seen a corresponding rise in the employment of European immigrants in the manufacturing of these products. Before 1880, workers in iron and steel facilities of the United States had derived primarily from northern and western Europe, particularly fromGreat Britain. These mostly English, Welsh, and Scottish ironworkers, engineers, and other metalworkers arrived in the United States during the early to mid-nineteenth century. These skilled migrants, after having weighed their opportunities, chose to emigrate fromthe British Isles to take advantage of rising opportunities in America, which included the option of owning farmland. Not only did they sustain the development of the American iron industry, they also accelerated the implementation of new technological aspects in its production. Many of these immigrants worked and settled among the diverse iron industries located in Pennsylvania, the largest iron-producing state through much of the nineteenth century.

James C. Koshan

Further Reading

  • Bell, Thomas. Out of This Furnace: A Novel of Immigrant Labor. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976. Originally published in 1941, this classic historical novel is set in the steel mills and communities of Braddock, Pennsylvania, and based on Bell’s family of largely Slovak heritage. It covers three generations, from the 1880’s through the 1940’s. 
  • Brody, David. Steelworkers in America: The Nonunion Era. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1998. First published in 1960, this informative and well-researched account of iron and steel workers during the early decades of the twentieth century continues to fill in the gaps of the history of pre-unionized steelworkers and their struggles before the 1930’s. 
  • Hinshaw, John. Steel and Steelworkers: Race and Class Struggle in Twentieth-Century Pittsburgh. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. Analytical approach to the unfolding social problems engendered by working in the Pittsburgh steel industry and its effects on subsequent workingclass families and communities as the industry declined. 
  • Kleinberg, S. J. The Shadow of the Mills:Working-Class Families in Pittsburgh, 1870-1907. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989. Narrative work focusing on the lives of mill workers and their families away from the shop floors that utilizes primary sources to build a portrait of working-class life. 
  • Krause, Paul. The Battle for Homestead, 1880-1892: Politics, Culture, and Steel. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992. Far-reaching, archival- based book on the struggles surrounding the community of Homestead that also provides the necessary context for understanding the infamous strike of 1892. 

See also: Alabama; Coal industry; Czech and Slovakian immigrants; Economic consequences of immigration; Economic opportunities; Employment; Goldman, Emma; Industrial Revolution; Industrial Workers of the World; Labor unions; Ohio; Pennsylvania.

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