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January 19, 1995

Donation to University archives provides look at steelworker's life

It all seems so ridiculous now. That is the very idea something could have been done to save the gigantic steel mill and the thousands of people who worked in it on any given shift. But there it is in discolored black and white, bound by a faded green folder dated June 1954 and labeled "Emergency Operations Protocol – In Case of an Air Raid, Atomic Bomb Attack." Inside the instructions begin with ways to contact top management when the "Yellow Alert" sounds and continues through the emergency call signal, "Air raid alert lemon juice," to procedures for shutting down machinery and finally to the location of shelters.

"It gives you a reflection on the times," says William Gaughan, who recently donated the air raid manual and more than 22,000 other documents and photographs related to U.S. Steel's famous Homestead Works to Pitt's Archives of Industrial Society in Hillman Library.

The collection is the largest photographic collection by an individual ever given to the archives and the second largest from any source, according to archives' curator Frank Zabrosky. The largest photographic collection is from the City of Pittsburgh.

Zabrosky says the Gaughan material supplements two other extensive collections donated to the Archives of Industrial Society several years ago by U.S. Steel. One involves the Duquesne Works and the other the National Tube Works in McKeesport.

In addition, the archives last summer obtained the John McManigal papers. McManigal was president of United Steelworkers of America Local 1397 at the Homestead Works during the 1950s and 1960s, when the mill employed as many as 10,000 people.

Combined with the Duquesne Works material, the National Tube material, and the McManigal papers, the Gaughan collection gives Pitt one of the best original source collections on U.S. Steel and the American steel industry in the country. According to Zabrosky, the Gaughan collection, with its thousands of photographs, is particularly important because the Homestead mill has been razed and images of it never can be recaptured. Another of its great strengths is that it documents both the internal workings of the mill and U.S. Steel's involvement in the community. The collection contains everything from test reports on armor plate to photographs of the company choir entertaining visitors with Christmas carols to retirees being awarded medals.

"It is kind of a miscellaneous collection," explains David Rosenberg, curator of Pitt's labor collection. "Some of the material was produced by U.S. Steel, company pamphlets and reports. There also are brief historical sketches of the Homestead works and other mills." Beginning in the late 1890s with glimpses of the mill just a few years after the legendary Homestead Steel Strike of 1892, the collection continues into the early 1980s. It is richest, however, in material from the period 1940 to 1974, when the mill was part of the "Arsenal of Democracy" during World War II and automation began to take over the steel industry.

Besides the Homestead Works, the collection also contains a scattering of material from the Duquesne Works, Carrie Furnace across the Monongahela River from Homestead, the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock, Schoen Steel Wheel and Howard Axle.

Gaughan calls the Schoen and Howard operations, which were once located in McKees Rocks, the "forgotten Homestead." Andrew Carnegie had acquired the companies as part of his efforts to control the steel industry, from raw material to finished product. During World War II, both of those operations, as well as the Mingo Works in Ohio and Farrell Works near Sharon, were put under the control of the Homestead Works.

"I think a good scholar, a good researcher can really make use of the collection," says Gaughan. "I just hope somebody will be able to use it, even for small articles." Gaughan began working at Homestead in 1947 as a laborer in the open hearth section. He became a management trainee in the metallurgical department four years later and in 1967 was promoted to senior designer operations planning and control, a position he held until his retirement in 1983.

It was while he was in management training that Gaughan first became interested in the history of the Homestead Works. His interest was stirred by a lecture given to management trainees on the history of the mill and the strike of 1892, during which Henry Clay Frick attempted to break the steelworkers' union.

Over the years, Gaughan amassed a small collection of old photographs and other material related to the Homestead Works, but most of what is in the collection he rescued from a dumpster shortly before he retired in 1983.

"You have to have a sense of history and business people don't generally have a sense of history," he says, recalling the material he saw being thrown away during the phase-out of the mill in the mid-1980s.

A member of the Smithsonian Society for Industrial Archeology, Gaughan has lectured on the history of the Homestead Works at Carnegie Mellon University and for various groups. He decided to donate his collection to the University's Archives of Industrial Society because his three sons, William N., Timothy and Jerome, graduated from Pitt. In addition, he says, his brother, Norbert Gaughan, former auxiliary bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Greensburg and currently bishop of the Diocese of Gary, Ind., had earned his Ph.D. at Pitt and two of his wife's uncles had attended the University.

David Demarest and Gene Levy, two CMU faculty members whom Gaughan has worked with in the past, and Perry Blatz, a faculty member at Duquesne University, also encouraged him to donate the collection to Pitt.

"Penn State had tried to obtain the collection," Zabrosky notes, "but Gaughan felt it was too important to western Pennsylvania and wanted to keep it in Pittsburgh." The collection actually was given to the University in June. It was not made available to the public until December, though, because it turned out to be much larger than Gaughan thought and took longer than expected to inventory.

Originally, Gaughan had estimated the collection to contain about 6,000 items. By the time Zabrosky, Rosenberg and John Thompson, associate curator of the Archives of Industrial Society, finished cataloging it, they found more than 22,000 items. And Gaughan says he recently found another box in his basement that he had overlooked. "We wanted to get a little better control," explains Zabrosky. "We wanted to review the printed material to see what was there. We wanted to know what were some of the architectural drawings and the numbers of the images, as well as the kind of things they depicted before a public announcement was made." Along with photographs, technical manuals and architectural drawings, the collection contains personnel records, maps, films, safety records, awards, training material, government reports (including the Congressional hearings on the 1892 strike), life insurance policies, telephone directories, histories, strike files and pension records.

HarperCollins, Oxford University Press, WTAE TV, CMU, the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania and WBGH TV in Boston already have called inquiring about images they would like to use from the collection. WBGH is interested in using some images of the mill for a "Nova" television special it is developing on Andrew Carnegie, according to Thompson.

Among a few of the more memorable items in the collection is a photocopy of the medal that was awarded the Pinkerton guards who attempted to break the 1892 strike; a wage book from 1902 that shows laborers earning less that $12 and skilled workers about $34 for two weeks worth of 10- and 12-hour days; an application form dated 1913 and a photograph of Marshall Ferdinand Foch, the French commander and chief of Allied armies on the Western Front during World War I, touring the mill.

Material from World War II includes photographs of nurses visiting the mill, rubber recycling drives, production meetings and rallies, and a diagram of an incendiary device that was found on German saboteurs who had been captured off the coast of North Carolina. Gaughan says the diagram was sent by the F.B.I. and passed around to alert mill management to what an incendiary device might look like. Another paper shows likely targets at the mill.

Relics of the Cold War era include the nuclear air raid manual and a diagram, colored black and red, that shows destruction zones should a nuclear bomb be dropped on Pittsburgh.

In the early 1950s, under a law passed by the last Republican Congress, Gaughan and his co-workers were required to sign a loyalty oath.

"There were guys who had gone to major universities and protested it, but they all signed it," he says. "It was a hollow protest. You went along to save your job." A copy of that loyalty oath is part of the collection.

One of the more unusual items in the collection is a temperance pamphlet from 1937 warning of "Booze in Homestead!" Put out by the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Personal Workers League and the Ministerial Association, the pamphlet complained of 64 saloons and wholesale liquor outlets operating in the borough. It claimed that $600,000 annually was spent on liquor in Homestead and estimated that there was one saloon for every 57 voters or 292 residents. Then it provided two maps showing their locations.

"What they didn't realize was that a lot of people survived because of those little saloons," says Gaughan. "There wasn't any Social Security. There wasn't a welfare system. If Newt Gingrich is looking at something, he's looking at life in Homestead in the 1890s when there was no social support from governments at all. So, I can't get too upset about the saloons." One of the most disappointing photographs in the collection, actually a photocopy of a photograph, shows a steel workers' picnic at Kennywood Park sometime around World War I. Off in one corner of the photograph can be seen pavilion 14-C with a sign above it noting that it was reserved for people of color.

"A good scholar, if he prowls the Bill Gaughan collection and interprets it properly, he can come up with a good idea of what life was like for the steelworkers," says Gaughan.

It is a feeling that seems to be shared by Zabrosky, Rosenberg, Thompson and everybody else who has seen collection.

–Mike Sajna

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