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 from Great Britain. These mostly English,
The iron and steel industry continued to progress after the U.S. Civil War, and an increasing need for labor corresponded to this growth. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in particular, steel companies increasingly employed various eastern and southern Europeans in the production and fabrication of steel products. These immigrants included large numbers of
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, steelworkers in 1905.
During this period, the size and scale of manufacturing facilities increased dramatically. The use of more machinery prompted producers to recruit additional unskilled laborers from eastern Europe. About 30,000 new steelworkers were working in American factories by 1900. The motivation of many of these new arrivals was to make enough money to return to Europe and live well in their native villages and towns. The majority migrants who eventually stayed hoped for advancement from the lowest-paid and hardest jobs in the mills to better positions. Many of these men came alone and lived in the boardinghouses and company towns operated by mill owners. As their economic condition improved, they sent for their families, who gradually displaced earlier northern and western European immigrants and their descendants in the steel factories and communities. Meanwhile, they existed a well as they could while working long, hazardous hours with low pay.
Later struggles, especially the steel strike of 1919, witnessed even larger immigrant participation, despite successful corporate employment of nativist prejudice and armed force. It was the formation of the Steelworkers’ Organizing Committee and the support of the Congress of Industrial Organizations
Second- and third-generation immigrants and their families built more comfortable lives in steel communities such as Johnstown and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
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 working-class 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.
Czech and Slovakian immigrants
Economic consequences of immigration
Industrial Workers of the World