Education: Heritage Discovery Center

Johnstown Area Heritage Association
Primary Source: Photo Gallery

Views of the Mills

Changing with the Technology Times

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In the early 1800s the ironmaster headed his small team of workers at his stone furnace out in the country.

Big changes transformed the iron-making after the Civil War. Railroads needed much more iron than these small furnaces could produce. In the 1850s, businessmen like Daniel Morrell built many furnaces near the railroad tracks and hired many ironmasters and their crews to work one big factory.

Then, the railroads wanted steel -- a stronger form of iron -- and lots of it! William Kelly in Johnstown and Henry Bessemer in England figured out how to convert large batches of iron into steel. The Kelly and Bessemer Converters and the blast furnaces that fed them with iron were huge machines that towered over the other mill buildings. Inside the factories more huge machines -- mills, forges, hammers, lathes, and more -- shaped the hot steel into products. Rails and wheels for the railroad, shells for the military, wire for fences and nails, plate metal for cars were shipped all over the country from Johnstown's steel works for more than a century.

But the 1980s saw just the opposite happen to the U.S. steel industry. Demand went down -- railroads were closing and cars were being imported from other countries. Worse, steel from other countries was cheaper for manufacturers to use than steel from the United States. All over the country, steel mills closed. Pennsylvania, with so many steel factories, felt it especially hard. Now communities in western Pennsylvania are looking for new ways to employ their citizens and to use the land along the rivers where quiet, empty mills now stand.

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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