Pushing Back on Limits in Industry

Processing natural resources is often inherently dirty, as the smoke in this 1950s U.S. Steel Gary Works photo illustrates. Mills are much cleaner today, but the processes still release lead, other heavy metals, and particulates that can cause health issues.

Aerial View of Gary Works
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

The Risks and Repercussions of Industrialization

Working and living in an industrial region can be dirty, dangerous, and demanding. Risk has not historically been fairly distributed either in the workplace or in the communities of the region. And the impacts of some dangers cannot be avoided.

Historically, non-white workers were given the dangerous, dirty, less prestigious, and lower paying jobs. The tin rollers this worker is operating appear to have no guards to prevent injury.

Views at Tin Mill, American Sheet and Tin Plate Co.
U.S. Steel Gary Works Photography Collection, Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

The 1955 explosion at the Standard Oil refinery in Whiting Indiana, strikingly illustrates the risk of accidents for workers at many large industrial facilities, and also for surrounding communities. Click here to view photos of the explosion from the Chicago Tribune archives.

Fighting for Opportunity in Industry

Industrial workers in Northwest Indiana have a long history of activism. They participated in the major national steel strikes of the last century, displaying a significant degree of cross-racial unity in their labor actions. At the same time, African American workers fought for racial equity in both the workplace and the labor movement.

Ownership finally broke the 1919 nationwide strike, but it set the conditions leading to the eight hour work day.

African American steelworkers Louis B. Caldwell, and C.D. Elston shuttled between African American and Euro-American strikers reassuring each group that the other was still on board. They kept the strike effort together. While little is known about Elston, Caldwell notably learned about racial inequality and injustice by working as a Pullman Porter, became a lawyer, labor activist,and a founding member of Gary’s NAACP chapter. 

Steel Strike, strikers march on 5th Avenue.
Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

President Eisenhower ended the 1959 steel strike four months after this strike vote. It was, at the time, the longest strike in steel’s history. Workers managed to maintain the workplace safety rules they fought for, and gain a raise, but manufacturers also became more open to foreign steel.

Strike vote, July 1959
The Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University Northwest

Explore more about Industrial Opportunity

A Region Abuzz
Near the end of the 19th century, the Calumet region was abuzz with…

Diversity in Industry
Workers from inside and outside the US were drawn to new employment…

Industrial Opportunity: Introduction
Explore the opportunities created by industry, and its limitations…

Explore other themes by clicking the photos below

Natural Opportunity

Social Opportunity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: