Steel Mill Immigrants Of Industrial America For many Americans, the late nineteenth century was a time of big business, marked by economic and social evolution. In the period between the 1880 and 1920, the American economy was growing at a rapid pace. Many European immigrants without industrial skills flooded into American factories and steel mills. These new comer’s came in search of better economic opportunity, which paved the way for Heavy, low paying labor that became the job description of the era for many immigrants. One such story of immigrants of the time is Thomas Bell’s Out of this Furnace. This not only a story of three generations of Slovaks and the challenges they faced but also about the Americanization and evolving of political consciousness of the immigrant workers of the American steel towns(415).
Djuro Kracha is the first of his immediate family and of the three generations of immigrants to come to this country. Like many immigrants he hoped he was leaving behind the endless poverty and oppression which were the birthrights of a Slovak peasant(3). Starting out with little, Kracha first worked in the rail road industry and then followed a friend to Homestead. Dubik, because it was easier to get a job with a friend already working in the mill, landed him a job working in the blast furnaces. Work in the mills was hard and dangerous. The men worked from six to six, seven days a week.
One week on day shifts and one week on night shifts, at the end of every shift the workers worked twenty-four hours. When the men worked the long shift they where exhausted, this made it fatally easy to be careless. Accidents were frequent and the employers did little or nothing to improve the conditions that the workers had to face. One example in the novel is when a blast furnace explodes and kills George’s best friend Dubik; these kinds of accidents were typical of daily life in the mills during this period. Trapped by the constant work schedules and fear of losing their jobs, the men could only hope to escape their daily routine and tell the mills to go to hell(33). In the novel, Kracha’s family is a full one.
He has three daughters and a world of problems at home. Despite this he refuses to waste away at the mill after a couple of years. So he sees opportunity, and becomes a butcher. Unfortunately he fails at his attempts to climb the ranks economically. Kracha, like most workers of the time, drowns him self in alcohol to hide from the problems of bills, finances and taxes. Kracha’s wife, Elena, had to take in boarders to lighten the economic load. This is a typical practice of women in the mill towns.
Not only did they take in boarders, but also they took care of the house and had to raise the children wile sometimes taking odd jobs to make ends meat. The second part of the novel is about Mike Dobrejcak who married, Kracha’s eldest daughter, Mary. Mike is also a mill worker, migrated to America when he was still in his teens. This second generation of Slovaks is becoming more aware of politics, and how important their votes are in elections. With a greater understanding of the issues around them the second generation of immigrants started to vote.
Still working in the mills they hold fast to the American dream. Faced with the same problems that the first generation had, now he was faced with wage cuts along with the never-ending struggles with the union. The next part of the book is about Mary. When her husband (Mike) dies she is compensated from the company and the local or lodge he is a part of. Since fatal accidents were common and the reality of families trying to support them selves were apparent many mill workers belonged to these clubs.
These organizations also worked toward a better working environment and a higher wage. Later, Mary is diagnosed with Consumption and she dies. The last part of the novel is about Dobie, one of Mike and Mary’s children. This period of time is a time of change, policies towards workers are different from the first and second generations and the unions have finally gained power. No longer do the workers have to endure a twelve-hour workday, nor do they have to live in fear of losing their jobs or even lives.
Dobie, who lead the march for economic freedom now finds himself as the union leader trying to gain what his father and grandfather never had. For many Americans, the late nineteenth century was a time of big business marked by economic and social evolution. In Thomas bell’s Out Of This Furnace we get a first hand look at life for three generations of Slovak immigrants. Not only did they survive the blast furnaces with the hopes of a better life. They forced social and economic evolution and made life better for all of us, making the country what it is today.
At least their hardships were not in vein. Let the heavy soul burn on the light men’s feet, where death to a noble end makes dying so sweet. Unknown quote History.