United States Steel Corporation Homestead Works mould yard 1972--south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Photograph (C) copyright 2010 Ivan Safyan Abrams. All rights reserved.

 

In the summer of 1966, when I was a 19-year-old university student, I worked for the Union Railroad as a yard clerk on the extra board (on-call). Though I worked mostly the midnight shift, sometimes I'd be fortunate and have a day turn. I couldn't take my camera to work, so I don't have any photos of the many interesting things I encountered and experienced during the 2 months I worked for the Railroad. A few years later, I was able to take this and a few other photos of some of the places I worked.

 

The Union Railroad was a wholly-owned subsidiary of the United States Steel Corporation. It served the many US Steel (USS) mills that lined the shores of the Monongahela River, in Allegheny County, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Union Railroad still exists (2009) and still serves the USS mills--both of them (and a coke plant), the last remnants of what were once 38 such mills and a powerful industry.

 

The area depicted in this photograph is now, I believe, a parking lot for a shopping mall. Similar sights can be seen to this day in China, India, and other nations where basic industries still exist. Admittedly, the air in and around Pittsburgh is much cleaner than it was in 1972, but the region's industrial lifeblood has vanished. Couldn't there have been a better compromise?

 

Many critics believe that US Steel intentionally failed to modernize its plants and processes in order to extract the maximum profit from them in their last years. The final years of the Homestead Works, and others along the river, were their busiest. Then, one day, the fires went out, and thousands of people lost their jobs. The company blamed organized labor (a theme that resonated for nearly a century) and environmental regulations for its increased costs. Most of us who lived in Pittsburgh still find more fault with the management practices that were common in the industry; sustainability took a back seat to expedience, and quick profits triumphed over social responsibility. Others may differ, but that's how it seems to me.

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Taken on July 7, 2007

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