At any one time, over 20 languages could be heard in the steel mills throughout the Calumet region. Because steelworkers often knew little or no English, employment manuals were written in a number of different languages.
Employment Manuals, Carnegie Illinois Steel Works (now United States Steel)
Gary Public Library
Workers from inside and outside the US were drawn to new employment opportunities provided by the Calumet region’s growing industries. In search of a better life for themselves and their families, these new residents valued the steady income and recognition that were often not available to them in their places of origin. As the needs of industry and the nation grew, so did opportunities for women and minority groups.
Individual employment records like these show the cultural diversity of the workforce. Companies routinely recorded workers’ country of origin and language spoken. The record displayed here is from Hammond Technical-Vocational High School, where adults could take classes to fill gaps in their training and fulfill needed roles in the war effort, such as drafting and machining.
Adult Vocational Training Record, Hammond Technical-Vocational School
Hammond Public LIbrary, Suzanne G. Long Local History Room
World War Two opened new opportunities for women in industry. While the end of the war saw these opportunities fade, women maintained a presence in the mills which started to grow again starting in the 1970s.
This 1943 Life Magazine cover is one of the iconic images that came to shape public understanding of the importance of women’s contributions to the war effort by taking on essential manufacturing work.
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest
Women steel workers welded their names on this steel plate while working at Inland Steel, now ArcelorMittal, during WWII.
Historical Steel Plate
John Weinstein, 2019
African Americans and Latinos had jobs in the mills from their opening, albeit often in more dangerous, dirty, or otherwise less-desirable tasks. The positions they could hold grew during war time, and ultimately, through the 1960s and 70s, unions and employers got on board with equal access to positions and promotions regardless of race.
An African American woman working levels at U.S. Steel Gary
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest.
Mexican workers standing on a rail engine that they operate. Many Mexican residents came into the region initially as railroad workers, and many of them continued in railroad jobs within the region.
Working in local industry, particularly steel, is a source of pride and social status. Workers take pride in putting up with heat, some danger, and converting raw ore into the skyline of Chicago. Pride, status, and the long tenure of the mills in the region help promote employment longevity within the industry across generational lines, and with individual workers choosing to stay with one employer.
25 Year Club mementos given by the steel company recognize employee dedication. Membership in the 25 Year Club is an accomplishment celebrated by industry peers as a milestone in one’s career and an opportunity to share the honor with similarly long-serving coworkers at the annual 25 Year Club picnic.
25 Year Club Awards
Northwest Indiana Steel Heritage Project
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