IN Mr. Hamlin Garland's article on Homestead, printed
in the last number of McClure's Magazine, the
reader will find vividly presented the fresh, sharp impressions derived
by the author from a visit of a few hours. The impressions and observations
of one who has himself worked in the mills, and shared the lot and life
there, may be of interest also.
On first viewing Homestead, two thoughts are forced
upon a mind of mechanical bent: namely, the immense wealth necessary to
build, equip, and run a plant of such magnitude; and the ingenuity and
skill required to devise and manage it. The plant now has almost seventy-five
acres of ground in actual use, and employs from thirty-five hundred to
four thousand men. It is equipped with the finest machinery that human
invention can devise, and money buy. It is managed by men of great ability,
and worked by a force of skilled laborers second to none. 'I'he policy
has been to spare no expense in the matter of equipment; and to do or spend
anything, from money to human life, in order to have a large product. The
result is that to-day any single mill in the whole plant at Homestead has,
probably, a larger possible output than any other mill of the same class
in the world.
The thirty-five-inch mill, for example, has a possible
output of three hundred and fifty tons of beams every twelve hours, or
seven hundred every twenty-four. One would think that this was enough to
supply the whole United States; yet the thirty-three-inch mill is nearly
Even when one makes inspection only of the fine steel
buildings with their huge engines and hydraulic cranes, and with the great
piles of crude material and finished stock, he is impressed with the mountain
of cold cash they represent. Yet the Carnegie Steel Company and its allied
interests include vastly more than these. Across the river the Edgar 'J.
plant is nearly as large, and includes the finest rail-mill and blast furnaces
in the United States, if not in the world. The mill at Duquesne, for blooms
and billets; the wire and nail mills at Beaver Falls; the structural mills
in Twenty-ninth Street, Pittsburg, and those in Thirty-third Street; the
Isabella Furnaces; the Lucy Furnaces; the Keystone Bridge Company; the
immense coke industry consolidated and managed by Mr. H. C. Frick, together
represent an amount of capital and ability equaled in but one other organization
in the country. The company has branch offices in all the large cities
of the United States; it has its own private telegraph lines to all important
points; it has its own gas territory, and drills its own wells and pipes
its own gas for all the mills. The office force is enormous. In the central
office in Pittsburg, at the beginning of the present dull period, it is
said, one hundred and fifty clerks were suspended at one time without crippling
the force. The company has in its employ, all told, probably twenty-seven
thousand men. If we consider the small average of five souls to a family,
we can see that this company alone controls the happiness and prosperity
of at least one hundred and thirty-five thousand people.
Proofs of skill and inventive genius are displayed on
every hand. The processes are the result of a gradual and wide-spread development;
but the magnificent machinery employed for rapidly and surely handling
the immense masses of metal is largely the conception and achievement of
men who are, or have been, in the employ of the company as workmen in the
When I went to the superintendent and asked for work,
he said, " What can you do?"
"Anything. I am large, strong, active, and willing.
I have been about machinery all my life, and want work badly."
He touched a button, and a boy appeared. " Show this
man down to the converting-mill and ask Fred if he can do anything for
him. Good morning," he said, and my interview was over.
I put on my new overalls and jumper, and followed my guide
down through the mills. We made our way through piles of stock, raw material,
rolls, etc., and came at last to the huge converting-mill. The superintendent
was found, and the word delivered. He glanced at me a moment; then said,
not unkindly: " You look good and strong; jump in and help those fellows
there on those vessels."
I hardly knew what he meant; but through the smoke and
steam I saw some men beneath one of the vessels, or converters,*
working with sledges and bars to get the bottom off. The mill with its
ponderous and massive cranes, the immense vessels all covered with black
scale and soot, the flying sparks, the roaring flames, the lights coming
and going, the air filled with steam and smoke, and, finally, the shrill
and deafening noise, awed, confused, and even disconcerted me more than
I should have liked to acknowledge.
I seized a sledge lying near and "jumped in."
We at last got out the "keys," as they call the wedges which
hold the converter together, and by the help of a hydraulic ram took the
bottom off. This left a white-hot opening eight feet in diameter and about
six feet from the ground, under which we must work. It seemed to me as
though the skin on my neck and hands would burst with the heat. My clothes
even steamed and smoked. How I wished I had been anywhere under the sun
(good old Sol), rather than under this fiendishly hot sun hanging so very
near us !
When we had the new bottom on, we went up to the platform
above the converters, and drove the keys home more securely, and stopped
any small hole there might be with "ball stuff."**
A shrieking engine passed by me and swiftly poured into
the converter a "heat" of iron. Then the blast was turned on,
and a cloud of yellow and saffron flame, mixed with sparks and small particles
of metal, rushed out of the mouth of the converter into the air. One of
the men caught me by the arm and pulled me away just in time to save me
from being seriously burned; for I was not expecting the flame.
By noon I was so tired I could hardly stand, but I stuck
to it for all I was worth. During the afternoon I frequently fell down
because my knees were too weak to hold me up. My hands were burned and
blistered, and my new overalls were filled with holes burned by flying
sparks. About four o'clock in the afternoon, while working under the platform,
I was startled to see a stream of red fire run over the edge of the platform
and strike in the midst of some workmen. As it touched the wet ground it
exploded with a report like that of a cannon. The molten metal flew in
every direction. Many workmen were burned more or less severely; and in
the case of one poor fellow--it makes me sick still to think of it--the steel
came down directly on the head and back. We got him out of the steam and
smoke, and carefully and tenderly cut his burned clothing from him. As
we placed him on the stretcher the burned flesh dropped from his bones.
Yet they told me such an accident was liable to happen any time. The man
lived, but at what a cost! Burned so as to be hardly recognizable, he lingers
out a miserable existence, a burden to himself and his friends.
When I was relieved at six o'clock, it seemed as if it
would have been utterly impossible for me to live in that mill another
hour. I dragged myself to my room end went to bed at once. All that night
I tossed and turned my aching bones, trying to get into some position less
painful than the last. I was tortured by a thousand grotesque fancies,
and by the picture of the poor fellow who was burned so badly. At last
I got into an uneasy drowse, but I felt as if I had not been asleep a minute
when my alarm clock announced to me that it was 4.45 and that I must get
up to my 5.10 breakfast. Oh, the misery of that rising and going to the
mill! Every bone and sinew seemed as if made of red-hot iron, and the joints
as if rusted together.
It was a dark, foggy morning, I found when, having desperately
got up enough will-power to dress, I tumbled out to my boarding-house.
The Pittsburg smoke and fog are proverbial, but I really think that on
that particular morning one might have cut tangible chunks out of the black
wet air. The board walks in Homestead are never in repair, and on the way
to the mills I stumbled along through mud and stones, over boards and into
holes, carrying in my hand my tin dinner-bucket, which contained my mid-day
On my first Sunday we relined the converter, and it became
my duty to stand up in the inverted vessel and hand up ball stuff and limestone
with which to reline it. The vessel had been left to cool simply overnight,
and I suppose the temperature of the dry air inside of it stood at about
one hundred and forty degrees. I worked as hard as I could, but near noon
I fainted, for the first time in my life.
My experience at Homestead was the experience of the majority
of workmen there. The working hours are from six A.M.. to six P. M. one
week, and from six P. M. to six
A.M. the next. The nature of
the work, and of the consequent life, will be best indicated by a little
tour of the mills. I will start in the converting-mill.
A Bessemer converter, with its twelve tons of molten iron
under full blast, is the grandest display of pyrotechnics that man has
yet achieved. The thunder of the blast deafens you; the ever-brightening
flame, flashing up finally as high as fifty feet, blinds you; sparks fall
everywhere; smoke and steam confuse you; your mind and senses are in a
whirl. Yet, however confused, a sense of the majesty and glory of the display
is never absent from your thoughts. The blast finished, the converter tips
downward, while a huge crane places before it a ladle of the capacity of
fifteen tons. The converter is tipped a little more, and the white, fiery
liquid runs into the ladle. The ferromanganese is then thrown in, to recarbonize
the steel, and this is attended with a violent reaction. Flames leap up,
and not infrequently the metal boils over the edge of the ladle.
From the ladle the metal is poured into ingot moulds of
sizes differing according to need, and placed on cars. When the moulds
are filled the cars are drawn by a puffing, screeching little engine, called
a dinkey, into the rolling-mills, where the ingots are to be used. There
an ingenious device called a "stripper" takes off the mould,
and leaves the ingot, now a red mass of steel, ready for the "soaking
pit," in which it is to be heated to a soft white heat throughout,
before being rolled. Then a huge crane, of twenty-five tons capacity, wheels
deftly around, picks up the ingot with a pair of heavy tongs, and swings
it off smartly to the mouth of the pit. The cover is rolled back from the
pit by men with bars, and the ingot is lowered into place. When, in the
" heater's " opinion, it is hot enough, the men roll the cover
back again, and the crane carries the piece to the rolls in the manner
described by Mr. Garland.
Sometimes the tongs of the crane slip, and the ingot falls
against the side of the pit and gets wedged tight. Then is the time to
see men working in the heat. They struggle and strain at their bars, now
pushing, now pulling, working with a strength and desperation the stranger
cannot understand. A minute lost means so much less pay to every one of
them, for they are "tonnage" men, and are paid entirelv in proportion
to the product of the mill. The sweat pours from their faces and arms,
their clothes smoke and steam, their eyes are blurred with the steam rising
from their faces, and the cords stand out on their brawny necks.
The " bottom-makers " at work are a spectacle
of terrific labor, too. See them wielding their heavy tools--lifting, punching,
pulling, and scraping over that awful hole which fumes forth consuming
heat. You find it too hot for you, and you stand at least four feet from
the pit. But the "bottommakers" are directly over the pit's mouth.
The shoes they wear have soles an inch and a quarter thick, and yet the
heat often blisters their feet. A man at such work drinks probably six
or seven gallons of water a day, and most of the time has a heart action
of about one hundred and twenty-five to the minute.
The "heater" must be a workman of great skill
and judgment. One might think it would not be hard to tell when the ingots
were hot; but look into the pit. Very likely you will say it is empty when
in it are two ingots nearly ready to roll. Your eye has not been trained
to such a bright light, and you cannot distinguish the ingot from the incandescent
walls of the pit. The "heater" must know the grade of steel he
is handling, and heat it accordingly. A high carbon steel would be made
of no value whatever if heated to the heat which a low carbon steer receives.
He must heat to the limit, and not one degree over. If the piece is not
hot enough, it will probably break a roll. If it is too hot, it is ruined
by being "burned." The "heater" must be saving of his
gas and careful of his pits, and he must get from his pits and from his
men the most work possible.
The "roller" also must be a man of
and judgment. There is in use in the thirty-five-inch mill a twenty-six
hundred horse-power engine with a forty-foot fly-wheel. But such is the
pressure required to squeeze the beam into shape, that I have frequently
seen this engine stalled and the ingot stuck in the rolls. Often under
the pressure the rolls, though they are nearly three feet in diameter,
snap in two. Therefore the man in charge, the "roller," cannot
be too careful. A mistake of only one-sixteenth of an inch in his draught
may mean a broken roll. And as a roll costs about one thousand dollars,
the loss of one or two may cost the "roller" his place. His weights
must be accurate. The beams must be delivered straight. If the rolls are
not exactly over each other, the beam will curve, and the "roller"
must not only see that it does not curve, but also know the reason why
if it does. In short, he must be on the alert at all times, and he must
be able to manage his men.
The men are changing rolls now. Note that wrench--a piece
of iron and steel weighing three thousand pounds. It is not much like the
familiar monkey-wrench. See the cranes working swiftly and lightly, handling
rolls, boxes, bearings, and rest-bars. The men are covered with grime and
grease from the bearings. A seventy-five pound "S" hook hanging
above in the chain falls, and strikes a man on the head. Two others run
for a stretcher, and the poor fellow has many a long week in bed. He is
lucky to have escaped with his life. Yet they work on just the same. The
loss of a finger or toe is a matter of common occurrence. That big wrench
swinging round in the air is the source of much danger, and many and many
a time have I seen the man on top of the rolls jump over it and heard it
crash against the housing behind him. Suppose a roll chain breaks, as they
often do! The doctor's report for Homestead for the last year records over
a thousand accidents and at least a dozen deaths. Yet there is no lack
of men. The managers have applications from twice the number they can give
The plate-mill--a mill capable of rolling plate as wide
as one hundred and nineteen inches--is perhaps the most picturesque of them
all. The furnaces are placed in a circle, and a man sits on his crane and
swings with it from furnace to rolls. The furnaces are of the horizontal
type, differing therein from the pits.
The throwing of salt on the plates to cut off the scale
causes a tremendous roar and explosion, like a volley of musketry. When
salt crystallizes it does so by the aid of moisture, and when it is thrown
on the plate the rolls crush it; the moisture is at once vaporized, and
the explosion blows the scale loose, to be washed off by the water which
is sprayed on the plate. The "roller," or "screw-down"
as he is here called, stands upon a platform nearly over the work, and
the steam and scale are very bad for the lungs. The operation is very simple;
but the rapidity of action, and the play of light and shade, combined with
the roar of the exploding salt, give a fascination to the scene.
We come next to the open-hearth furnaces. These are almost
the only basic open-hearth furnaces in successful operation in the United
States. Each furnace holds about thirty tons of metal, and it takes about
eight hours to charge and finish a "heat." The process is more
exact than the Bessemer; the carbon is more certain; the steel is purer
and more homogeneous, and is tougher. The process is used for the finer
grades of work and for the armor-plate work.
Each furnace has its own melter and two helpers. Here
is one that they are charging by hand. The long, flat iron shovel is called
a peel and is managed by the first helper. Obedient to a shout, the boy
at the levers raises the door; the helper slides the bar with the metal
on it into the furnace, and, at the right spot, turns it and leaves the
pig iron in the furnace. By the time they have loaded in twenty-five or
thirty tons of metal in this way, they are ready to stop.
Of the heat at a furnace door one can have no conception
unless he has done the actual work. Four feet away the heat is sufficient
to make your clothes smoke; and there are times when a man must work directly
up at the door. The skin contracts and seems about to burst; a steam rises
from it, and the salty perspiration gets into the eyes and pours in streams
from the face. After such work a man can sometimes actually wring water
from his clothes and even pour it from his shoes.
In a furnace at my left they are patching the lining.
The operation is very much the same as that of charging, save that a ladle
is used instead of a shovel, and the shovelful of dolomite must be thrown
into exactly the right place. The melter and helper both work in this case,
and a great deal of care is exercised to fill all hollows and pits in the
lining. If great care is not exercised, the heat may burn through and all
go to the bottom of the pit together. When an accident of this kind happens,
dynamite is often used to break up the chilled heat.
Here is a furnace with a "heat" ready to pour.
The ladle is in place, and the stopper set and dried. Dryness is absolutely
necessary in all this work, for when melted steel touches moisture there
is an explosion, caused by the sudden evolution of steam. The "heat"
is tapped with a long iron bar, and twenty-five tons of boiling white liquid
fire flow into the ladle with a great flutter of sparks and flame. The
helpers are kept busy keeping the tapping holes clear. As soon as the "heat"
is out, they set to work to clean the furnace of slag and prepare it for
The ladle is lifted by a crane and placed on a truck.
A "dinkey" pushes it down to a large crane in the centre of a
huge pit. In this pit are the moulds, all set and ready for the steel.
The crane gently picks up the ladle, moves it easily and accurately to
the appointed place, and the stopper is pulled. Most of the moulds here
are poured from the bottom and not from the top, as with the Bessemer.
A central sprue is set, with pipes leading to the moulds and entering them
at the bottom. This insures a better ingot, as there is less occluded air
and less action of boiling.
The large moulds here are built up in sections and clamped
together. After a "heat" has been poured the men must get down
into that hot hole, knock the clamps off, hook the cranes onto the pieces,
and set the sprues, after sweeping the stools, to prepare for another "heat."
It is frightfully hot in the pit. A man can only stay
there an instant. One man jumps down, strikes a couple of blows, and is
pulled out again; another takes his place, and he in turn is succeeded
by another. All are sweating profusely, and with the hot sand on the feet,
and the fine, hot dust in their eyes, are miserable. Yet nobody falters
or hangs back; each one jumps in, in his turn, and is hauled out laughing
but exhausted. Think of getting down into a pit where the "heat"
which has just been poured is standing on each side of you, while behind
and in front are the walls so hot that they would char wood were it put
Amidst all this toil and danger the men are not without
their sports. It is, let us suppose, two o'clock in the morning, and word
has come to the rolling-mills that the converting-mill has broken down
and that there will be no more steel for at least three hours. The waiters
dispose themselves for rest or play as best they can. There is one who
has fallen asleep in spite of his efforts to keep awake. He sleeps the
sleep of utter exhaustion. But creeping stealthily toward him is a fellow-workman,
who has in his hand a piece of freshly burnt limestone and a cup of water.
He places the limestone on the sleeper's leg, and pours the water on it.
The limestone begins to steam and smoke.
Still the man sleeps on. But in a moment he stirs uneasily,
then springs to his feet with a cry of pain, only to be greeted with a
howl of laughter from a crowd of men who have been watching the fun (?).
He holds the hot burned cloth of his trousers away from his blistered skin.
Any wrath he may have he best keep to himself, for a man caught sleeping
is a fair mark for any joke, however hard. I have seen a shovelful of hot
sand put on a man's shoe. No matter how quickly the victim may get his
shoe off, in such a case, he has a large blister to warn him not to sleep
There is Bill, the greatest wag in the mill, asleep in
plain sight on a pile of sand. In Bill this looks suspicious; but a confiding
fellow-workman, Jinx, who has been his victim in many a trick, steals up
to "bug" him, as this burning a man with a bit of lime is called.
Bill, however, has a flexible jointed iron pipe concealed in the sand,
and a confederate at the valve. As Jim is about to place the lime, Bill
raises his arm with the nozzle under it; his confederate turns the valve,
and a stream of water one and one-quarter inches in diameter, driven with
a force of five hundred pounds to the square inch, strikes Jim squarely
in the chest, lifting him clear from the ground. Bill coolly keeps the
nozzle pointed at him and completely drenches him, though he crawls away
as fast as he can.
A man lying down, but obviously wide awake, is approached
secretly from behind by another, who places a hot brick convenient to his
grasp. Then the second, with much parade, makes an attempt to "bug"
him. Tile lounger springs to his feet with a cry of rage, and looking about
for something to throw, seizes the hot brick, and gets a blistered hand
to nurse along with his wrath.
Such are their jokes. Rough? Rather; but then, the work
is rough, too! And what is the life of the doers of such work when the
work is done?
It is Saturday. All day long lines of men have been going
to the office for their pay. After a long wait the precious pay is secured,
and they return to the mills to work. When they get home at night the first
thing three-quarters of them do is to change their clothes and start for
Pittsburg to have "a time." Out of the three thousand five hundred
men who receive their pay, how many do you think put the bulk of it to
any good use? Very few. After a hard week's work the relaxation is tremendous.
The man feels that he is free again; that he has been a slave--yes, worse
than a slave--for two whole weeks; and now he will enjoy the money he has
so hardly earned.
He not know any better; he cannot look
see that he is throwing away the best years of a very short life in a wild
riot. He only feels that he must have a "good time." Such a time
as he has, too! A hard worker, he is also a hard drinker.
How do they stand it ? How could any human being stand
it? No one knows. They all die young. Very few men well along in years
are found anywhere about the mills. Yet these men go on for a number of years, and any one
of them could do twice the work in the heat that any man could who had
worked as the men work in the East..
Of course there are exceptions.
Many of the men have happy families, and those of the better class are
very well off. The company houses are very good, and have all the modern
conveniences, and the men who are sober and care for their families, besides
being prosperous, live comfortably. But the average mill-man is a reckless
daredevil. Independent and prodigal, he combines many good with many bad
qualities. He is generous to a fault, yet he forgets or neglects to care
for his family. He lives upon his animal nature, and then debauches it
by the wildest excesses. He is not as a rule a man of a high order of intelligence,
but still he is quick and skilful in his work. A strange character surely;
a creature who seems to be made by the work, and not for it.
*The conversion of iron into steel by the Bessemer process
consists of blowing a large quantity of air through the bottom of the vessel
containing the iron, which is called the "converter"; and in
the process this bottom is impaired and has to be constantly renewed. The
iron is decarbonized and refined through the combination of the oxygen
of the air with the carbon, silicon, and manganese of the iron. During
the oxidation enough heat is generated to keep the metal in a liquid state.
Usually the carbon is all burned out, and the decarbonized metal is then
recarbonized by the addition of spiegeleisen, an alloy of manganese, iron
and carbon, or by ferromanganese, an alloy richer in manganese. Coke dust
is often used in high carbon steel.
* *Ball stuff is Canister ground in an edgestone mill
and mixed with water to the consistency of dough. When heated it becomes
very hard and is much used for lining vessels and furnaces.