Ohio History Journal

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Canton and the Great Steel

Strike of 1919: A Marriage

of Nativism and Politics


Prior to 1900 the production of iron and steel in the United States

was primarily the domain of the skilled "English-speaking" worker.1

By the turn of the century, however, the skilled worker was becom-

ing extraneous. Technological innovations in the production of steel

deskilled the labor force, and immigrants from southern and eastern

Europe flocked to America's steelmills to assume the bulk of the low-

paying, "backbreaking" unskilled jobs.2 The new immigrants usual-

ly  settled  in  dilapidated  neighborhoods    near the mill-often     re-

ferred to as Hunkeyvilles-where they followed social and cultural

patterns alien to the American experience.3 Consequently, they were

frequently the targets of xenophobia and nativism. The popular view

of the "hunkies" as stupid beasts of burden was supported by the

immigrants' squalid living conditions, their willingness to work long

hours at the most arduous jobs, and their sporadic drunken revel-





William E. Scheuerman is Associate Professor of Political Science at State University

of New York at Oswego.


1. David Brody, Steelworkers in America: The Non Union Era (N.Y., 1960), 96-111.

U.S. Congress, Senate, Immigrants in Industries, Part Two: Iron and Steel Manufactur-

ing, I, 61st Congress, 2nd session, Senate Document 633 (hereafter referred to as Senate

Document 633).

2. Brody, Steelworkers in America, 96-111; Senate Document 633; Report on Condi-

tions of Employment in the Iron and Steel Industry in the United States, II, U.S. Com-

mission on Labor, 1913 (hereafter referred to as Labor Conditions).

3. For some general works concerning eastern and southern European immigrants in

the steel industry, see John Bodnar, Immigration and Industrialization: Ethnicity in an

American Mill Town, 1870-1940 (Pittsburgh, 1977); James R. Green, The World of the

Worker: Labor in Twentieth Century America (New York, 1980).

4. For a good analysis of the complex relationship between the skilled native worker

and the unskilled immigrant in the steel industry, see Henry B. Leonard, "Ethnic

Cleavage and Industrial Conflict in Late 19th Century America: The Cleveland Rolling

Mill Company Strikes of 1882 and 1885," Labor History, 20 (Fall, 1979), 524-48. Whiting

Williams, a "Labor relations expert" who studied labor conditions in the steel indus-