The Fall of the Pittsburgh Steel Mills:

a Personal Account of a National Event

  Harry J. Chmielewski Jr.

My dad, Harry J. Chmielewski, lived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the time the steel mills were in gradual decline, throughout the 60's and 70's. Steel mills were origionally built in Pittsburgh because of the availability of needed materials and abundant rivers for the transport of heavy steel. The raw materials needed for making steel include iron ore, coal, and limestone. These were all found locally in Pittsburgh.

Steel mill workers had a relatively good job, Harry recalls. One could be uneducated, unskilled, and still make a lot of money working in a steel mill.

After WWII, however, the United States shared the technology needed to build steel mills with other countries. The Pittsburgh mills were not updated, since it proved less expensive to buid a new steel mill than to expand and update the origional ones in Pittsburgh.

After awhile, the raw material deposts began to run out, and had to be imported from other states. Eventually, it cost too much money to make steel in Pittsburgh, and as a result the steel mills began to shut down one by one.

Harry recalls, "I remember, when i was little, my dad talking to people and tellling me that the steel industry was going to dissappear in Pittsburgh. A lot of people diidn't believe him because there had always been so many steel mills, it was just a part of Pittsburgh. But he saw that there was no re-investmment, that the technology was getting old... I remember his words, he would say that the last steel mills were just goinng to rust away, and then that was going to be it. He was, in the end, essentially right."

Harry's father (also named Harry J..) was management at the mill where he was employed. When his mill closed down, he took early retirement. However, just after he retired came the very high inflation years of the 60's, and being on a pension, found his buying power reduced significantly. It got tougher and tougher to make ends meet.

"One thing I remember very well when I was little," Harrry sayys, "my father came home one day saying there wa going to be a strike. he couldn't go in and out of the mill with a strike going on, so he stayed and lived inside the mill to help keep things running... he packed his suitcase in a hurry and then left-- he didn't come home until four, five weeks later."

Harry later worked in the Pittsburgh steel mills two summers when he was in college, so he has many vivid memories of working there. he recalls the hard job he had one summer--

"I was at the hot saw where long, thin rods of steel were cut into smaller pieces. The tough part about woking there was the sawdust. The sawdust prooduced from cutting steel were tiny red-hot pieces of steel that would fly around and burn through our clothing. Even though we wore special asbestos suits, it still got down our backs, and in through our sleeves."

I learned a lot in interviewing my dad about this period in his life and in histoery. I never knew how tough it was on the environment and on thhe workers themselves to keep a steel mill running. I think the innterview was a very positive experience in that i lerned more about my family's history than I ever knew before.

 Harry J. Chmielewski Sr.

management of a Pittsburgh steel mill

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steel worker in steel mill

 Steel Worker Image Courtesy of Corbis. Http://www.corbis.com

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