Lost Labor, Images of Vanished American Workers
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Raymon Elozua
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Carnegie Steel       I grew up on the far South side of Chicago. Within blocks of my neighborhood stood the mills and factories of United States Steel, Wisconsin Steel, Republic Steel, General Mills, Ford Motor Company, Lever Brothers, International Harvester, and Standard Oil in addition to numerous other smaller industrial manufacturers. Railroads tracks supplying these factories criss-crossed the local streets with 100 car long trains often stopping traffic. The air was always filled with the smells and soot of industrial production. Thriving local neighborhoods surrounded each plant as bedroom communities. Parish churches and schools, American Legion and union halls, Little League playing fields and ice rinks provided arenas of citizen interaction.
    After leaving the US Army in 1957, my father worked for 2 years at the South Works of US Steel before being laid off in the recession of 1959. In 1965, he helped me get a job at Inland Steel working in the tin mill to pay for my college education. This proved to be an experience, which to this day remains important. The first impression, I remember driving into the plant at Indiana Harbor was the sheer scale of the overall facilities. Standing outside the walls of the mill in no way prepares you for the acres of buildings, furnaces, and mills, all dedicated to a specific function, the preparation of iron ore into basic steel and finished products. The tin mill itself was a mammoth building filled with the machinery, rolling mills, pickling lines and annealing ovens necessary to turn slabs of steel into thin tin-plated sheets destined for Campbell Soup and other manufacturers.
    Inside the building after emerging from the lockers, the first sensation was the incessant noise, the immense heat and the vast size of this open sooty rust-red building. Dim overhead lighting illuminated long aisles of clanking oiled machinery. I would like to be able to give some exact idea of dimension but at the time I was not interested in such matters. I was just concerned with surviving my union apprenticeship. My first job in the mill was the lowest, most mundane and least respected but proved to be the best. Along with a fellow student from the University of Chicago, we were given the task of garbage men. Our job consisted of driving throughout the entire mill, towing an open trailer, emptying every garbage receptacle from every workstation and then disposing of the trash outdoors. We were given a location of every trashcan, drum or dempster to empty in the factory. Some were on the machinery itself necessitating a 3-story climb up a narrow scaffold to empty a small can. The job provided an immense amount of freedom from supervision. We only had to be done with our tasks by the end of the day.
    Most importantly this job offered me the ability to visit every department in the mill, getting to know all the foreman and workers on the production lines as well as a total overview of the operation of the tin mill. After 30 days my apprenticeship was over and I became a union member and was assigned to the shipping department. Throughout my travels in the mill, I had watched men at work. I always wanted to know what task they were performing and what skills were necessary to perform it well. The mill environment never left time for such explanations and later I always wished that I had been able to document both the environment and the men who worked there. I realized that for most industries and jobs there was very little public understanding of the nature of industrial production or the job and work that is involved. Few photographic records or films remain of this industrial heritage.
    Today the South Works is empty acreage, surrounded by " South Chicago," a destitute community of worn housing and vacant stores. This loss was a motivating factor when I first began collecting corporate histories back in 1979. I had discovered a copy of Fifty Years of U.S. Steel, self-published for its anniversary. This high quality book, expensively produced, contained superb photography and it sparked my interest in company histories. I began looking for pictures of men and woman at work, individuals who were living the American dream of creating a future for themselves, their family and their country, no matter the effort or hardship.
    Raymon Elozua, 1/01/03