Labor History is Ohio History!

Punching the clock at Youngstown Sheet and Tube. Courtesy of Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor via Ohio Memory

May is widely recognized as Labor History Month, and as such, we’d like to shine a spotlight on the powerful history of labor, the manufacturing industry, and the labor movement in Ohio’s own past. Ohio Memory has a huge amount of resources available on the state’s labor history, particularly related to some of the major manufacturers and industries that helped build the state we know today, as well as the various union movements that fought for the rights of every worker.

Republic Steelworker, ca. 1930-1950

Many images, such as the one above, come from the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, since Youngstown and the surrounding area long served as a hub of the steel industry. In November of 1900, a group of 55 Youngstown citizens, led by James A. Campbell, raised $600,000 in capital to create the Youngstown Iron Sheet and Tube Company. Land was purchased along the Mahoning River approximately three miles east of downtown. In 1902, the mill opened for production. Spectacular growth marked the company’s second decade, some of it spurred by the demand for steel caused by World War I. In 1923, YS&T purchased the Brier Hill Steel Company of Youngstown and the Steel and Tube Company of America of East Chicago. During the 1930s, the company survived the Great Depression and the 1937 “Little Steel” strike to emerge as a leading steel producer.

An employee of Republic Steel Corporation, another Youngstown steel company, is seen here silhouetted against the glow of molten steel. Like YS&T and others, Republic prospered until competition from foreign steel, higher wages, and new environmental codes began to hurt the firm in the 1970s.

Machining a gear at the Jeffrey Manufacturing Co. that would be sent to Washington state to be used in the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, ca. 1934.

Another major player in Ohio’s labor history is the Jeffrey Manufacturing Company, headquartered in Columbus. Begun in 1887 when Joseph Jeffrey bought out his partners in the Lechner Mining Machine Co., Jeffrey manufactured mining machinery and other large-scale industrial equipment. Much of the equipment they produced–things like conveyors, drilling machines, bucket elevators, mine fans and coal cars–was used by other major Ohio industries, particularly coal mining in the southern part of the state.

Some other less well-known Ohio companies include the American Crayon Company in Sandusky; the F.E. Schumacher Company, manufacturer of ladders and screen doors;  Spangler Candy Company, which has been producing Dum Dums since 1953; and Bell Brothers Pottery, one of the over 300 potteries operating around Ohio in the 19th century.

United Farm Workers demonstration in Columbus, ca. 1973.

As many Ohioans know, the history of labor and manufacturing in Ohio has not always been a happy one. Clashes between workers and employers, as well as union members and non-members, have peppered the last century and a half. This important aspect of the topic is captured in Ohio Memory collections as well, underscoring the sacrifices and strife that have characterized the struggle for workers’ rights.

Visit Ohio Memory to learn more about Ohio’s labor history, or find out more about resources available at the Ohio History Center, including our new Vistas and Visions photography exhibit!


Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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