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Steelton

Steelton: Immigration and Industrialization, 1870–1940

JOHN BODNAR
Copyright Date: 1977
https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctt7zw9rc
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zw9rc
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  • Book Info
    Steelton
    Book Description:

    A study of the immigrants who flocked to this Central Pennsylvania steel town in the late nineteenth century in search of employment. Comprised primarily of Southern blacks and Eastern European immigrants, they formed the lower class of this town. Analyzes the social structure and dominance of the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant elite.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7523-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-2)

    The mill towns and industrial districts which appeared in late-nineteenth-century America were obvious symbols of an emerging industrial society. Places such as Gary, Lackawanna, Homestead, Lorain, McKees Rocks, South Bethlehem, Sparrows Point, Youngstown, Weirton, Joliet, Whiting, Johnstown, and Braddock became both increasingly familiar and alike. Larger cities also acquired factories, mills, and districts populated exclusively by working people. The Cleveland “flats” or the south sides of Chicago and Pittsburgh were not unlike the smaller industrial towns with their sprawling mills, smoke-filled skies, and ethnic and racial diversity.

    While historians have noted the highly visible changes effected by industrialization-such as the...

  2. 1 Early Steelton
    (pp. 3-21)

    Steelton emerged as a steel-producing center in Pennsylvania after the Civil War. Situated just south of Harrisburg on the east bank of the Susquehanna River, the community consisted of only eight families in 1866. Stimulated by the expansion of the Pennsylvania Steel Company, however, the town soon attracted workers from rural Pennsylvania, Ireland, Great Britain, and Germany. With an additional increase in productive capacity in the 1880s, thousands of steelworkers were drawn to Steelton from the southern United States and southern Europe. By the end of the nineteenth century, industrialization transformed this Pennsylvania farm land into a bustling mix of...

  3. 2 Strategies
    (pp. 22-34)

    The peopling of an industrial community was not a random process. The mechanisms which brought specific persons and groups to Steelton included numerous familial and individual decisions and plans. Examination of this complex process is crucial if we are to understand the groups that settled in the borough and their intentions. Blacks, Slavs, Germans, and even native whites were not lured only by promises of opportunity in industrial America. There were dreamers to be sure, but most migrants were pragmatic individuals arriving at realistic decisions about their present and future survival. Steelton held specific solutions to the varying problems of...

  4. 3 Steelworkers
    (pp. 35-50)

    The alteration of Steelton through the migration of different groups with varied goals was reflected in the steel plant itself. Attracted by the wages and promises of the growing steel company, the work force acquired an ethnic diversity which threatened the potential for successful labor organization in the three decades after 1890. The company, rigidly opposed to any form of labor organization by its workers, reinforced this diversity by labor practices encouraging ethnic segregation in its various departments. Ethnic tensions between workers impeded labor solidarity.

    Pennsylvania Steel grew rapidly after 1880. Between 1886 and 1906 the work force,despite a temporary...

  5. 4 Community and Mobility
    (pp. 51-75)

    If Slavs, Italians, and blacks were ever to establish permanent roots in the town and participate in the leadership of the plant and the community, they needed a degree of upward occupational mobility. But the company had placed them in the lowest positions. The careers of Slavs, Italians, and blacks were less successful and more transient than those of old stock workers. The unskilled southern Europeans and blacks had difficulties in climbing upward and were more susceptible to moving during hard times. They could not afford to remain out of work long and, therefore, sought employment elsewhere when jobs were...

  6. 5 Maintaining the Social Order
    (pp. 76-101)

    Although holding influential positions in both the steel mill and the community, the old-stock elite felt challenged by elements of industrialization such as labor turmoil and the newcomers from eastern and southern Europe. They tried to protect their social dominance in spite of their minority status. Their frequent expressions of criticism toward newcomers were not designed to exclude workers who were needed in the mill. Instead, Steelton’s political, civic, business, and religious leaders instructed the southern Europeans and defined the limits of immigrant behavior. Realizing the company’s need for an inexpensive supply of labor, the local elite wanted to fuse...

  7. 6 The Newcomers Turn Inward
    (pp. 102-126)

    By attempting to retain their hegemony over the social order in Steelton, the old-stock leaders perpetuated its ethnic distinctions. These divisions not only insured the continued physical separation of the various ethnic communities, but also kept immigrants and blacks from playing any influential role in the borough’s affairs. Confined in lower-level occupations in the steel plant, housed in separate row homes, unable to rise occupationally, subject to economic vicissitudes, and lacking positions of power in the steel town, the newcomers turned inward. Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Bulgarians, and blacks displayed almost no regard for Anglo-Saxon concerns such as civic reform or...

  8. 7 Continuity and Change
    (pp. 127-149)

    Although immigrants had acquired a foothold in Steelton, they were not able to ease their way into the mainstream of life between 1920 and 1940. Immigrant children matured but occupied lower-level jobs and compensated for their inferior status as their fathers had done: by supporting the ethnic community institutions and selecting marriage partners within their own group. Anglo-Saxon leaders kept their higher social status intact and dominated skilled trades and local political and civic affairs. The company continued to influence local affairs and keep labor quiescent.

    While Slavic and Italian newcomers and their progeny now comprised nearly one-half the white...

  9. 8 Conclusion
    (pp. 150-156)

    The evolution of social relationships in Steelton reflected broad changes in American society after 1870. Rapidly modernizing under the weight of industrialization and urbanization, the American social order was assuming recognizable forms. Considerations of status and class became paramount to skilled workers, businessmen, and other professionals who stood to lose most by a radical alteration in the social structure. As Herbert Gutman has found for Patterson, New Jersey, industrial towns were not controlled by industrialists alone. Similarly, a melange of groups in Steelton subjugated religious and ethnic differences to a comprehensive program of status preservation. This was especially true of...

  10. Appendix 1. The Steelton Work Force
    (pp. 159-164)
  11. Appendix 2. Social Mobility in Steelton and Other Cities
    (pp. 165-168)