Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary Source: Photo Gallery

Coal and Steel Working Conditions

Riches Buried in the Hills

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Work in the steel mills was hot and hard. Work in the mines was dark, damp, and cold. Both could be very dangerous: molten iron could burn and machines could crush; mines could cave in or fill with poisonous or explosive gasses. Coal dust hanging in the lungs caused the lifelong disease "black lung."

In the early days, 12-hour days and six-day weeks lead to less alert workers and many accidents. Gradually, though, work became safer and less exhausting. Shorter work days and, later, more safety training and equipment, made work in the mills and mines much safer after the 1930s.

Labor unions played a big part in making these changes. They didn't just bargain for higher wages, but also for shorter hours, safer workplaces, paid healthcare, disability insurance, and much more.

While millworkers were glad when payday came, they also felt rewarded by a job well-done. They were proud of the teamwork of their work crews. When the country needed more steel to make weapons during wartime, they worked extra hard and celebrated their contributions to the war effort.

Click on the images below to view a larger image. To help you see as much as possible from these photographs, use the tool "Reading a Photograph."

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