One drawback to being a time traveler is that ones’ joy in the moment is often clouded by knowing the future. I can rather get lost in 1957 easily, but whenever I am researching various things about the day, I inevitable find myself going down a path I must follow. This lead to this lead to this; the “Alice down the rabbit hole” I have come to call it.
So, today I want to share such a journey I took. It started with some innocent findings of a town in Ohio, Youngstown.
Here is a video about Youngstown from 1944
Youngstown Ohio in 1850’s before the industrial revolution really hit it. Here we can see how towns once existed. A mix of agriculture/housing/shops all within walking or easy distance. No cars meant we HAD to be green.
By 1900 coal began to be mined in the area. This, of course, lead to Steel. And with the help of the automobile and the tripling of production during WWII it got bigger rather quickly. And after the war, continued onward and upward And by the 60’s the mill and the surronding countryside was growing with the wealth of the country through steel. The USA was a powerhouse exporter of not only oil (which was beginning to run out at this point and we would see that result in the 1970’s)but auto, steel, industry.
By 1977, the steel works and large industrial complex had been a part of the area for decades now. It seemed a permanent fixture, providing jobs and economy for the area. Homes and town had built up from the wealth and jobs.
What I found very interesting was that in In 1952, during the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman attempted to seize United States steel mills in order to avert a strike. This led to the U.S. Supreme Court decision of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Company v. Sawyer, which limited presidential authority. Had Truman successfully seized control would this have set a precedent? And what, prey, precedent do you mean, 50’s gal, I might hear you ask. That government intervention might be needed when things get ‘too big’. “Oh no!” I hear the gasps, no government intervention. Yet, of course, because of this, the companies continued unhindered by policy into September 19, 1977. ON that day, now locally remembered as ‘Black Monday”, the company abruptly closed its Campbell Works and furloughed 5,000 workers. Closings continued through the 70’s and 80’s.
This image ( from THIS flickr stream) really hit home for me. The desolation and waste.
Here is a local testament from 2011:
"When I grew up in the 1950s, the city was at its peak," said Father Ed Noga, who heads St. Patrick's on Youngstown's South Side. "There were kids everywhere and everyone converged on downtown. You went to eat, to shop and to go to the movies."
Today, downtown is positively sleepy and even somewhat derelict. Residents have to drive out of town to shop for clothes or house wares. And while foreclosures have long been a scourge in this city, they have recently skyrocketed along with the rest of the country, up 178% in February from a year ago.
But, we might ask, where has the steel gone? We still drive cars and have need of steel in this country, is that not so? Well, it must be made somewhere. Where have all the American Steel companies gone, they are still making so much money?
China has the world’s largest steel industry. Indeed, in 2005, China made more steel than the next four largest producers combined. From 2000 to 2005, China’s steel production increased by over 170 percent, as the Chinese industry added capacity at a furious rate. Between 1998 and 2005, China’s steel exports more than quadrupled, as China established itself as one of the world’s leading exporters. This explosive growth in both production and exports would not have been possible without the support of the Chinese government.
Now, I have no way of knowing if government intervention in 1952 could have set a precedent that would have helped such industry to be forced to stay in the country. But, certainly, something should have been done. The jobs are gone, the towns are gone, the industry is gone for the majority of the people. Yet the few who owned the steel mills make an even higher profit now due to the lower costs of production in China. Then, I ask myself, is it fair that they were allowed to leave? They are a private industry, but are we not private citizens? Perhaps had there been laws that said, “you may leave and take the industry, but you cannot sell in this country what is not made in this country without having this higher wage put upon you for bringing it back in” That is a fair idea for without such an idea, here we are now.
And it isn’t just steel. So much industry that is flourishing now here in 1957 is poising to leave over the next two decades. I feel we really had it right, we Americans, here in the 1950’s. We were given this opportunity to grow and build ourselves up while the rest of the civilized world was repairing itself from a destructive war fought in their backyards. We could have made a fair playing field for ALL Americans: workers and farmers. Because not everyone WANTS to be a captain of industry. Some people just want a nice home affordable, a home they can pay for, reasonable priced food and a chance to raise a family. And if we ALL wanted to be millionaires, how could we, it would make no sense as it could not happen. The idea of allowing freedom where it should not have been took it away from the freedom from most.
When I look at the happy faces smiling out at me in my vintage magazines. Listen to the happy songs and watch the funny sitcoms of the era and the bright and shiny movies, it sometimes makes me cry. I want so bad to really be here, 1957 and to shout out to the others around me. “Pay attention! What you have now is wonderful. Keep shopping downtown. You don’t need to grow bigger. Johnny doesn’t have to leave the farm, work to keep the farms small and local” but, I know very well, it would fall on deaf ears.
Much like the plot of any fictional time travel book, I could easily go to 1938 Germany and begin shouting to those around me, “Pay attention, don’t turn away as if nothing is happening. You can stop it now!” Of course they would not listen to me. It would fall on deaf ears.
In many ways this can of worms I have opened with this project has left me feeling much like a true time-traveler. I see myself sitting on the threshold of some great significant historical event seeing how it all happened, only no one can or won’t hear me. Was I better off before, when I didn’t know. When I thought the things the TV told me were true. When I believed that the government was full of people who cared about my freedom and not peopled with heads of the big 5 corporations? And, funny thing is, I had to put on a girdle, make a nice little home, kiss my hubby off to work and live in 1955 to realize it all. Irony, I think, is not a strong enough word for that situation, that my living decades away from my own time has made me the most aware of it than I ever was before.
So, where has that left me today?
To me, being Vintage isn’t just Pink kitchens, buying old things and wearing pretty dresses, its about looking back for the good and bringing it forward again. We have the opportunity to re-live the past in a way that puts aside any of the bad we had then, as we don’t need forethought when we look ahead. Then, with the old skills we can make a better future out of the past. I do know that we cannot, with any true success, just continue on as mindless consumers who don’t want to ask ‘WHY’.
It seems to me one of the main drawbacks to our American vast landscape what our extreme growth during the boom of industry and the automobile. Now, were there laws not allowing the companies not to leave the U.S. then these towns would still exist. Of course, we as consumers would have to pay a little more for our things, as they would be made by us who would cost more money. But, then we would put it all back into our own economy. What a difference would our country be today if products sold here had to be produced here. Yet, we happily buy our cheap products made elsewhere, drive our cars long distances to get these items, watch our downtowns fade and our vast agricultural belts become barren with overplanting of corn and watch the waters get polluted by their run off of chemicals.
I am not sure what would need to happen in this country to make it different. I think one thing would be that we just stop and look around and figure out why it is this way. But, as long as large companies are allowed to produce outside our country, and retailers to gut the market with cheap foreign made products and we all happily buy it all up, there is no change ahead until it will be too late.
There are some people who, much like those after a natural disaster or war, are going into these wrecked towns and trying to rebuild. The sad bit is, they were built around the very industry which is now gone. Is rebuilding that same structure the right answer? On what level can it really exist that way? We might make as many ‘cool art galleries and coffee houses’ but really, without any industry to support the economy really, then we are just playing house in an old city still supplying our needs from the big box stores.
There is a town, Braddock PA that is trying to come back HERE is their site.
But, again, is this the right way? To make this post-apocalyptic or I should say post-Industrial town alive again with what was built on that industry which left it the right answer? I don’t know.
In many ways I am beginning to think we might need to look back further than the 1950’s back to Youngstown in the 1850’s. When the town was made up of what it needed, food shelter, neighbors, and industry wasn’t a big machine that could come in and out as it wished leaving devastation like some great giant. Leaving it much like a desolate post war world.