The City of Steel: Youngstown, Ohio

View of downtown Youngstown from Oak Hill Cemetery

Youngstown doesn’t need our pity. While perhaps there is no other city in America that has been so poorly treated by capitalism, I couldn’t help but see the glimmers of what had been, and what could be, a great place for hard working people to live and thrive.

Haines Photo Co. , Copyright Claimant. Panoramic view of Youngstown, OH. United States Youngstown Ohio, ca. 1910. Photograph. Library of Congress.

It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to live in a mid-sized city and wake up one morning to discover that the most important industry in your community has just lost 50,000 jobs. But that is what happened in the mid Twentieth Century, and to expect any city to recover from that is, to put it mildly, unreasonable.

Haines Photo Co. , Copyright Claimant. Ohio Works of the Carnegie Steel Co., Youngstown, OH. United States Youngstown Ohio, ca. 1910. Photograph. Library of Congress.

I read that the glow from the blast furnaces could be seen as far away to the west as Akron, and I believe it. But almost all of it is gone now–every single steel job. But much of the beauty that all of that money steel made for some very wealthy men still remains, and we’ll see some of it.

Vigilantes under Oscar Diser, city solicitor, E. Youngstown. Ohio Youngstown, 1916. Photograph. Library of Congress.

But Youngstown was never a “Florence on the Mahoning River.” It was tough, violent, and the strikes were legendary. In fact, the wages were so bad that they were the same in 1910 as they were in 1860s St. Louis–a $1 a day not adjusted for inflation. And when night fell, the riots began in the muddy-street company town of East Youngstown, and the violence was so bad that the town actually changed its name to Campbell in the aftermath of the national news coverage.

Militia dispersing mobs, E. Youngstown, Ohio, 1-8-16. Ohio Youngstown, 1916. Photograph. Library of Congress. (Ed. note: The photograph is a pastiche.)

I think what I’ve so disliked about coverage of Youngstown is that it is so often academic and dispassionate. In reality, Youngstown is a city with real people, a rich history, admittedly real problems and a place in modern America.

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