Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary Source: Oral History Interviews

Working in an Ethnic Community

Mr. and Mrs. Cyburt remember working in the mills and mines

When you come to the Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center you will see videotaped oral histories of Johnstown residents talking about their immigrant parents and grandparents. The Generations Theater is only able to show brief portions from those interviews. Below are other excerpts from the interview transcripts.

Ethnic groups in the steel mills

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptWell in my father's case, he worked as a machinist. And at that time, even before he retired, there were differences there. In other words, if you belonged to a certain organization, you got a better advancement. But also they judged you on the work that you do, and that was the same way with me.

I had a chance of advancing myself, but I'm sorry today that I didn't take that advantage. But there was all kind of advancements that I could have had in the mill. But I was contented where I was at, and I was one of the type that I don't think I could tell people what to do; I'd have to go and do it myself. [Laughter.] So I just stayed where I was at, but I can't complain, because we did have a nice life, working for Bethlehem Steel Company. I can't complain. They helped us with our home. They helped--through them they helped to educate our daughter a little, and we had a nice life even till today, right?

Mrs Cyburt: Right.

… Towards the end, before I retired, they were putting more different nationalities in different jobs. But before that, there weren't too many immigrants into higher positions….They were mostly German, Irish, English, and then after the war, World War II, more of our class of people started going in as foreman and so forth.

…As far as I'm concerned I never felt that I was of a different class, because I lived between all of these people, and they were nice, wonderful people, we got along together and so forth. So I had nothing against those people. I always tried to treat them nicely like Mr. and Mrs. whatever it was, and we seemed to get along. And, as far as in work, everybody seemed to work regardless of what nationality you were.

Well, under Bethlehem they had their own men sent over here as managers. And at times they brought in a lot of these what they called college graduates, they called them loopers that came in to break into their system.

Now, as far as the shop superintendent, that was local men. They were local men. And the foremen were all local men already. But as far as the top man goes, one of the men from Johnstown, he was a manager of Bethlehem Steel here in Johnstown. I can't recall his name anymore. But he was one of the Johnstown men here. Then later on a fellow by the name of Mr. Colbert was a Johnstown man, and he became superintendent of the Johnstown plant here. But outside of that, they mostly had men of their own caliber.

I wouldn't say that. I think they treated everybody about as good as they could. I had 45 years in the mill, and as far as I'm concerned, I was treated loyally. I can't complain.

A: In answer to your question there, at one time or another, it was father and son. But it was mostly like I said, German, and little by little Irish and so forth. And I got into the machine shop through my father too. But then like I said, after the war, they started bringing in different nationalities.

You had Slavs in there. You had Croatian. You had Germans. You had some Greeks. You had some Italians. They mixed everything together. So that wasn't too bad after that, but at first like I said, when I first got into machine shop, it was mostly father and son.

And when I got in there was I think three or four Polish fellows in there, that's all. And after I got in there and made it like four or five of us, and after the war, little by little, they started bringing these different nationalities in. But there was no problem of any kind with any of [them]...--no one thought he was better than the other one. They all worked together.

And towards the end, before I retired, they even brought some blacks in, …, but there was no problems. Everything was all right.

Mrs: Maybe that [conflict between ethnic groups] was before our time.

Maybe it was before our time, but as we grew up and so forth, things were a lot different already at that time, because we were a little more educated from the schools, and we learned how to get together. Sometimes you had a little spat, you know, someone would say something you didn't like. Well you got into a little argument or something, but outside of that everybody seemed to mingle around Johnstown here.

The miners' experience

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptMr: I wouldn't really remember what was going on in the mines, because I never worked in a mine, but I listened to people talk. It was a very dangerous job, very dangerous. At that time, they didn't have safety things as they have today. They inspect the mines before the men go in I understand, and they have all different kind of safety equipment, which they didn't have in those days.

And as far as I remember her [Mrs. Cyburt's] brothers and her father talking to me, they used to work on what they called a tonnage basis. They got paid for loading so much one car, but it wasn't very much money as it is today. When the union came in, that's when things picked up with the coal miners. But outside of that, the miners worked hard and it wasn't very much of a pay.

Mrs. Cyburt remembers growing up in a miner's family during the Great Depression

Grammaphone icon - denotes an audio recording transcriptMrs. Cyburt: In our family the struggle was that we had, you know, youngsters. Like, for instance, during Depression there was no work. The trouble was that there wasn't enough money to keep going for the better things of life, you know. It was just eat and sleep and every day things.
My father really didn't make that much money. My brother, as all younger men, when they work, they made some money, but they didn't hand it all over to the parents, you know, because they needed some of their expenses.
The struggle was raising the children that were left like there were like six younger ones of us, and it was a struggle, because the boys did leave for New York, and then at that time, the mines were out I think. My father didn't work for quite a while, and Depression. We went through all of that, and it was a struggle. I remember standing in line for many things at my age.

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