“Everything is possible for him who believes.”

(Mark 9:23)


ACME midland


History of  Midland

During periods of low water on the Ohio River, before the New Cumberland Locks and Dam permanently raised the pool for reasons of commerce, a rock formation would be exposed in the riverbed at the mouth of Little Beaver Creek, near what is now the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line. Scoured clean by the river, its occasional appearance prompted tourist outings by local residents to view carvings known as petroglyphs.

Unknown ages ago an Indian artist or artists carved pictures of a bird, a turtle, and other iconic images here and there into that wide shelf of hard rock, leaving one of the few records of thousands of years in which aboriginal tribes hunted, fished and lived their lives in this vicinity. Flint tools and points found below the sheltering bluff on Midland’s east end indicate a long-term camp existed there, and a couple of Indian skeletons have been found across the river at Shippingport.

Today those rock carvings are permanently under 10 feet of water. Only the older living residents will recall actually seeing the mysterious petroglyphs, mute reminders that in history’s long view, Midland, Pa., is a very young town indeed.

The steel mill wasn’t founded until 1905, and the borough in 1906, barely a hundred years ago. Many other towns up and down the valley are older by a century. Upriver, the town of Beaver was platted in 1792. Four miles downriver at its southern terminus at Glasgow, at that same mouth of Beaver Creek where Indians carved the petroglyphs, the engineering marvel that was the Sandy and Beaver Canal had already gone boom and bust a full half-century before enterprising Pittsburgh industrialists selected J.A. Neel’s farm as a site for what would become Crucible Steel, one of America’s great steel mills.

A visitor passing through here on horseback or by riverboat in 1900 would have seen a pleasant expanse of river bottom land with scattered farmhouses, fields, orchards, and a country schoolhouse, Neel’s Independent School District, named for J.A. Neel, the landowner who donated the property. There was no Midland Borough then. (Ohio and Industry townships met where Seventh Street is now.) The place wasn’t called Midland. If anything, it was referred to by the name of the school.

School was in session only four or five months out of the year because the children couldn’t be spared from farm work except in the winter. Built at a cost of $100 in 1865, the school educated the children of local farmers – including six offspring of Neel, a former riverboat man and coal operator who came here from McKeesport.

Neel bought 194 acres in Ohio Township from William Waugh for $30 an acre in 1859. He added another 202 acres from a Jesse Smith 5-6 years later, and put in a very productive grain and apple operation.

Neel, according to a Midland history written in 1932 by local resident H.E. Rogers, “hired men to clear off the land, that is, the timber… He then built a large fine house out on the bank facing the river, for himself. It is at the present time being used for an office building by the Crucible Company. He also had built five large barns for his hay and grain. The land was very fertile. . . On 32 acres of land west of what is now the Seventh Street school grounds, 900 bushels of wheat were taken off in one year. Mr. Neel planted several large orchards of fine varieties of apples, two on the bank facing the river and two over next to the hill. I remember him taking off in one year about 1,500 barrels of apples and shipping them to commission men in Pittsburgh and to McHattie Bros. in Beaver Falls and to Jas. L. Keech of Indianapolis, Indiana. In that same year with a steam cider press on his farm he made more than 400 barrels of cider and sold them to a man in East Palestine, Ohio, for two dollars a barrel. The lower end of his farm was noted for its growth of cantaloupes and musk melons, which were shipped to Pittsburgh by rail in barrels.”

Neel’s wasn’t the only farm located on the present site of Midland Borough. A farmer named McCoy kept sheep on his 196 acres on the west end but did not reside here. Daniel Kaine, a lawyer from Uniontown, Pa., had 274 acres on the eastern side and built a fine country house he used as a summer home. He rented out the farming. George Steebner kept cows there and shipped milk out by rail. Four families, by name of McMasters, Bray, Harsha and Rogers – resided on and farmed another 200-acre parcel formerly owned by a Mr. Hoge.

“These several families, with the Bakers on Fusch farm, the Potters and Chistlers on the north, comprised a community of neighborly, peaceable, law-abiding people. The community went mostly by the name „Neel’s School District,‟” wrote H.E. Rogers in that 1932 history.

As if the size and scope of his agricultural enterprise, and his civic endeavor in starting a school, weren’t enough to mark J.A. Neel as more than just a local farmer, there is the evidence that Neel thought big in a notice preserved in the collection of the late Clyde Piquet, mayor of Industry and eminent local historian.

The notice, probably a newspaper ad, lists the location and date as Industry, Pa., on Nov. 28, 1887. Posted no doubt by the drillers, in hopes of signing additional oil leases on adjacent farms – the notice stated that Jordan S. (sic) Neel “gave a contract last week to Chaffee & Hays, oil well drillers of Fairview, to drill a hole 3,000 feet deep, provided oil or gas in paying quantities was not discovered sooner. It is our hope and prayer that Jordan will strike it rich… then offer a location and free gas to every company locating there. Then lay out this natural site for a young city, and boom’er, and may the Lord be with you. There’s millions in it.”

Drillers had found enough oil just downriver at Glasgow to feed several wells and refineries in that little boomtown, but there’s no evidence any ever was found on Neel’s property. His land was destined for a different kind of boom – steel. J.A. Neel’s son Arch, his heir, sold the 397-acre Neel farm for $87,000 to representatives of H.C. Fownes, W.C. Fownes Jr., J. Ramsey Speer and Charles McKnight of Pittsburgh in 1904. They also bought the McCoy, Kaine and Brucker farms for the location of their new steel mill.

In the space of a few months beginning in the summer of 1905, a level expanse of Ohio River Valley was transformed from sleepy farmland into a booming steel mill town that its creators named Midland.

America was growing, busting out at the seams. Demand for iron and steel outpaced capacity of existing mills and furnaces. Industrialists were looking for new sites, and this was said to be the only good Ohio Valley site within 100 miles of Pittsburgh that either wasn’t already developed or hadn’t been bought up by land speculators.

It was an optimistic, wide-open era for American industry. They’d build not only a steel mill, but the town to go with it.

A man named T.K. Miller came here in the spring of 1905 and bought the Neel, McCoy, Kaine and Brucker farms, acting on behalf of the Speer, McKnight and Fownes families, a group of Pittsburgh industrists.

A headline in the June 30, 1905, edition of the Beaver Times announced, “A MAMMOTH STEEL PLANT IS PROJECTED.”

“To the iron and steel industries of the Pittsburg (sic) district a new one is to be added as rapidly as it can be built,” the newspaper story stated. “The site will be on the north bank of the Ohio River at Cook’s Ferry, Beaver County. There, 1900 acres of land have been bought.”

The plan to build a steel mill and lay out a town for the workers was led by H.C. Fownes. The story said not only was the Fownes group spending millions of dollars to build a new mill and town, but it had bought 1,000 acres of coking coal along the Monongahela River and planned to buy into the open pit iron ore mines in the upper Great Lakes region to supply their blast furnaces and open hearths.

Midland is one of two cities in America – the other being Gary, Ind. – that were conceived, designed and built from the ground up as steel mill towns. Gary, nicknamed the “Miracle City,” was conceived as a model utopian industrial city. Although Gary was 10 times larger than Midland, they were built at the same time, with the same American melting pot dream at their core. They drew the same racial and ethnic immigrant mix for labor, boomed with the building of America and the world wars, and went bust with the decline of the domestic steel industry in the late 1970s.

That first news article in the spring of 1905 credited no source for its information, but gave many details which soon were proven accurate.

The company was to be known as the Midland Steel Co. Some say the name came from the site being midway between Pittsburgh and Wheeling. Others, that it echoed the famous Midlands steel district in England. Whatever the source, the name of the company became the name of the town.

In July 1905 the first of many crews of men began work. Elmer Arbuckle, a resident of Shippingport, Pa., across the river, was the first hire. He and five men used farm equipment to begin clearing the site to make ready for construction of a blast furnace, boiler house and equipment to cast pig iron. Arbuckle moved his family here in September to a newly built house at the corner of Sixth Street and Beaver Avenue.

The master plan for the town was laid out, with industrial operations on the south side of Railroad Lane, an alley, and homes and businesses along and north of Midland Avenue, the town’s main thoroughfare. Hundreds of workers descended upon the site. At first, skilled workers, surveyors, draftsmen, bosses and engineers lived in the few farmhouses – including the big Neel homestead – while laborers sheltered in barns, sheds and hastily built shanties.

The first 20 homes were built along Beaver Avenue between Fourth and Seventh streets. Most housing was built by the mill ownership and rented to worker families.

On Aug. 3, 1905, a news story in the Beaver paper said Midland Steel had contracted for the construction of 50 houses, and port and harbor facilities were being planned. Three days later the newspaper announced 250 coke ovens were to be built. On Sept. 7,

it was reported linemen were stringing electrical lines to a boiler house where power would be generated. A month after the real estate deal was closed, the town was taking shape.

It is truly “ironic” – pardon the pun – that Midland Steel made no steel, only iron, in the first few years of operation. It should also be noted that Midland Steel was but one of several steel- and iron-related industries locating in Midland. A pattern was set early of these plants being bought, sold, consolidated and split off.

H.C. Fownes had been president of the Carrie Furnace Co. in Rankin, sold it to Carnegie Steel in 1901. Fownes also was president of the S. Jarvis-Adams Co., a Pittsburgh iron foundry, which planned a foundry and open hearth furnace on 20 acres in the eastern part of the Midland site. Jarvis-Adams had a large need for iron, casting it into such products as axle boxes for wagons, brake assemblies for rail cars and trolleys, bell dies and mine car wheels.

Fownes had an interest in the Rust Boiler Co., a firm founded in 1901 by three Pittsburgh brothers named Rust. Thriving because of the boiler’s design and adaptability, the Rust Boiler Co. started a foundry for its products at Midland, fronting the river, in 1906. Three years later Babcock and Wilcox had bought Rust Boiler and moved its operations to Barberton, Ohio, and a new company called Treadwell Construction bought the foundry to make basic manufacturing equipment.

ACME Crucible Steel Co. of America - Copy

Crucible Steel Co. of America

The Crucible name came to town in 1911 when the Pittsburgh Crucible Steel Company, a subsidiary of Crucible Steel Co. of America, bought Midland Steel’s coke ovens and blast furnace. Crucible was the nation’s leading producer of specialty steels, and thus was introduced the product line for which the Midland Plant of Crucible Steel would become famous.

Midland Steel’s first blast furnace was completed in 1906 and christened with Mrs. J. Ramsey Speer ceremoniously lighting it for the first time. The Beaver newspaper reported that on Thursday, Sept. 6, 1906, Mrs. Speer applied the match, which consisted of a long steel rod which had been brought to a white heat at one end and which was thread(ed) into the prepared fire wood. An enormous big American flag was hoisted over the blast furnace….”

In December 1907, the S. Jarvis-Adams Co. poured its first heat of iron from a cupola furnace. With a change of ownership, in 1912 Jarvis-Adams became the Pittsburgh Iron and Steel Foundries Co., and the new owners installed an open hearth furnace which poured the first heat of steel later that year.

Pittsburgh Crucible began to expand Midland’s capacity, building eight 60-ton open hearth furnaces and a 40-inch blooming mill in 1913. The rolling of the first ingot on Aug. 4, 1913, was another milestone in Midland’s development as an integrated steel mill. Maintenance shops and a 24-inch bar mill came in 1914, two more open hearths in 1915, a 28-inch billet mill in 1916, and two more open hearths in 1917.

Pittsburgh Iron and Steel, the former Jarvis-Adams, began building another open hearth in 1914, a furnace that turned out ordnance castings throughout the first World War.

The war years 1915-17 saw Midland’s iron and steel facilities producing at full capacity.

Crucible alone employed 2,700 workers during this time.

The Borough of Midland was incorporated in 1906, carved out of Industry Borough. By 1907 the town had 114 homes and 1,132 residents, according to a survey conducted by Midland Steel to assess the housing situation (Bill Evans, paper, 2001).

Midland Avenue was the only paved street in town. When it rained, the heavy wagon traffic turned the others in to deep mud, prompting the town to be called “Midland.” Construction of a streetcar line by the Beaver Steubenville Traction Co. was hailed as great progress.

According to Evans, most of the skilled labor was held by people of English, Welsh, Swedish and German stock. “The majority of the work, however, was manual and unskilled. To supply that labor, large numbers of immigrants came from southern, central and eastern Europe.”

The 1910 census found Midland with a population of 1,244, 54 percent of them foreign-born.

The largest group of foreign-born was Italians, 224 or 18 percent. Identifying country of origin as well as ethnic group, the census, wrote Evans, separately listed as foreign-born: Austrian Croatian, 125, and Hungarian Croatian, 6; Austrian Slovenian, 80, and Hungarian Slovak, 10; Hungarian Magyar, 37, and Austrian Magyar, 18; Russian Polish, 81, and Austrian Polish, 23; Russian Lithuanian, 32; one percent Irish, Russian Yiddish and German, and, confusingly, 20 identified as Austrian Russian.

Owning the housing, the mill could and did decide where its workers would live, and it settled these immigrants in parts of town with others of the same ethnicity. Eastern Europeans were placed east of Fifth Street in “Hunky Town.” The mostly U.S.-born skilled workers and supervisors lived east of Fifth Street, in “American Town.”

In June 1912 Crucible Steel bought the 123-acre Christler farm along Midland Avenue 300 yards west of the mill and built 400 duplex homes which they rented to immigrant worker families.

By 1920 the census showed Midland had grown to 5,452 residents. The Eastern Europe influx of laborers continued, augmented by 309 blacks from throughout the South, mainly Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi, and 88 Mexicans. Many of the African-Americans worked in the coke plant and the Mexicans were chippers, cleaning molds in the foundry. The blacks lived almost exclusively in a two-block section of Ohio Avenue, west of Fifth Street, and the Mexicans lived west of Fifth Street along Midland Avenue.

“Because they were newcomers, they worked at hard jobs, in places in the mill that were dirty and dangerous,” Evans wrote.

On a larger scale, this segregration by neighborhoods might have produced ethnic and racial ghettos on the one hand and privileged enclaves on the other, but Midland wasn’t big enough for that. Midland was a small mixing bowl. People of differing heritages, races and ethnicities lived and worked together. They were in each other’s laps, and had to get along. They might worship in different churches but their kids went to the same schools.

The mill generated prosperity enough for all, and Midland acquired a rich blend of diversity, tolerance, pride and unity – traits it retains today, and sorely needed in times of economic distress.

Midland was an industrial boomtown from the get-go, a Little Pittsburgh on the Ohio River, an economic engine that churned out specialty steel in impressive variety and incredible quantity. The mill was a hard, dirty place to work, but the enormous wealth that was created translated into thousands of jobs, and the town flourished according to a carefully prepared and tightly controlled plan. Churches and schools could hardly be built fast enough; clubs, societies and sports proliferated; commerce thrived. Those who had jobs were as happy as human beings generally are, though they might chafe at company work policies, or at the ethnic and racial restrictions, attitudes and practices of a melting pot that took generations to melt.

When the town celebrated its Golden Jubilee in 1956, the 50th anniversary booklet looked forward to the next 50 years, burbling that “The future of our town and its people is certain to be even more golden than the wonderful jubilee year we‟re celebrating here now.”

All in all, the mid-„50s were a great time to live and work in Midland, just as they were in most of America.

The mill and related industries here had worked at a fever pace to produce materiel during World War II, emerging at a run into the prosperity of the postwar years. After the war 21 and then 63 more coke ovens were added, new hot strip and cold strip units were placed in operation in 1949, the No. 2 blast furnace was modernized, open hearth furnace capacity was boosted to a 165-ton capacity, and in 1950 two new electric furnaces were added.

The Midland Works of Crucible Steel Co. of America employed 7,200 workers in 1950, had a monthly payroll of $3 million and paid 80 percent of local taxes to support the schools and borough. In 1956, Crucible announced a $20 million expansion program for the mill to increase stainless steel rolling and finishing capacity by 70 percent. The mill added 29 more coke ovens, a 24 inch bar mill and a dephenolizing tower so it could quit dumping phenol into the Ohio River.

ACME PA Cyber school

PA Cyber school- Midland

In 1951 Remington Arms and Crucible partnered to launch a new company, Rem-Cru, to produce the lightweight but strong titanium metal, hired 450 employees, and built as its headquarters the office building at 1200 Midland Ave. that is now used by PA Cyber Charter School. The Mackintosh-Hemphill Co. at the east end of town was purchased by the E.W. Bliss Co. The Air Reduction Co. enlarged its facilities for extracting nitrogen and argon gases. Treadwell Construction Co. was thriving.

In October 1950 the Iron and Steel Engineer Magazine published a 20-page, highly technical and detailed article on the Midland Works of Crucible Steel Co. of America. The facts which tumbled from this article were mind-numbing: 270 coke ovens processing 2,700 tons of coal a day, two blast furnaces producing 670 and 700 gross tons of basic iron a day, open hearth furnaces converting that iron into steel at a capacity rate of 793,200 tons a year, and six electric furnaces converting scrap into 230,000 tons of steel a year. Heating, rolling, annealing, pickling, drawing, stamping and other finishing processes produced stainless and other steel types in a dizzying variety of products.

Who were the people who accomplished this massive output? Most fell into one of two groups: workers or management.

The mill was created and expanded by Pittsburgh industrialists and capitalists, mainly of Scottish, Welsh or English heritage. When the mill and the town to accompany it were laid out in 1906, everything was done according to a plan, right down to which ethnic and racial groups would live in which parts of the town.

In Bill Evans‟ 2001 paper “Historical Geography of Midland PA,” Evans stated, “the skilled jobs available at the new factory were few and held primarily by English, Welsh, Swedish or German, or the lineage of such stock.”

ACME Post Office

Post Office

Most work was manual and unskilled, however, and to supply this need the company brought workers from southern, central and eastern Europe: Italians, Serbs, Croatians, Slovaks, Magyars, Poles, Lithuanians, Russians.

“In „the town that Crucible built,‟ growth was not haphazard but planned,” wrote Evans. Mill foremen, supervisors and engineers lived in larger homes in an area roughly east of Fifth Street, while the ethnic Europeans lived west of Fifth Street. The black laborers who came in from the South and some Mexicans were also restricted to their own neighborhoods. The mill owned most of the housing, and so could control who lived where.

Work in the mill was similarly segregated along ethnic and racial lines.

Robert J. Zelenski, who later was president of the United Steelworkers Local 1212, had aspirations of a college football scholarship but ended up in the mill in 1950.

“I was on the track gang, and laborer in the open hearth, a Pollack job,” said Zelenski, who still resides in Midland. “You see, the Poles and the Lithuanians were the third helpers, the Serbs were the second helpers, and the Catholic Irish were the first helpers. The foremen and the bottom salary were the Scots. The assistant superintendents and superintendents were English. And you had whole departments structured like that.

“The coke plant was basically black. The Italians had a bad shake. They put them in the sewers, they put them in some of the dirtiest jobs in that mill. When you went in that plant employment office, they put you where they wanted you, and then you were locked and frozen there and you couldn’t get out.”

One of Zelenski’s proudest achievements as a union local president, 1975-79, was breaking up the employment office system by having new employees placed in a central department. Jobs were posted and workers could bid into other departments by seniority.

Zelenski said the employment office’s strategy went back to the early days of the union, and was used to weaken it by bringing in new hires who were not union sympathizers.

Midland’s union history was tied in closely with national union movements of the „30s and before.

Zelenski said the first formal organization here was the Steelworkers Organizing Committee, created about 1935 and led by Jimmy Mullin and Bert Hough. As a kid, he remembers his steelworker father, Bob “Concrete” Zelenski (a superb baseball player and boxer) taking him to hear union organizers on the streets of Midland.

“There was an empty lot on Sixth Street – it’s still there – and they would bring in a stake bed truck. Bert Hough with his Scottish brogue – he was a Scotsman from Glasgow, wounded in World War I in the British Army – would get up there with his bullhorn and just lambaste the company.

“When I was just a little boy we used to go down there and the whole street and corner would be packed with people, and they would donate money, like 50 cents, for a union card. It’s pretty tough to collect dues off people who didn’t want to cough that money up.”

Local 1212 of the United Steelworkers of America was organized in 1940. “The first strike incidentally was called in 1940 by a black man by the name of Thornton who was a vice president of the union,‟ said Zelenski. He didn’t know what the strike was about, but there were plenty of issues, he said. “At the meeting the company representative, a Mr. Poe, he told the union guys assembled, he said, okay, fellows, you’ve got the union but I’ve got the employment office.”

Neel School, named for the farmer who donated the lot, was a country school already in existence when Midland burst into being in 1906. A new Neel school building went up by 1907, dedicated with a parade and speeches, but it was inadequate by 1912 and students were placed in three temporary sites throughout town, including in the old Neel school.

Neel was doubled in size in 1913, a First Street school was opened in 1915, and the Fourth street school opened in 1917. One boy and four girls formed the first graduating class in 1918. (Previously high school students were tuitioned to Beaver.) A Catholic school with four grades opened in 1928, soon expanding to eight grades.

Lincoln High School, the glory of the community, was opened in 1927. An addition doubled the size in 1929. An athletic field and stadium were built in 1948 on nine acres in the east part of town.

Midland was sports-crazy, with multiple baseball fields, mill departmental teams, union local teams, women’s baseball and softball teams, boxing clubs and high sports of track, basketball, football.

Joe Tonti, who later brought a certain amount of notoriety to Midland as the “world’s strongest upside-down man,” was captain of the high school football team in 1925.

Among all the athletes of this period, one name stands out as a story of athletic glory unrealized with a tragic early death.

Valedictorian and senior class president, Dave Alston earned 12 high school letters in football, basketball and baseball. Six feet tall and fast, he took Midland’s basketball team to the WPIAL title game and followed his brother Harry to Penn State, there leading the freshman team to an undefeated season and gaining national notice.

Esquire Magazine named him one of the top 10 sophomores in the country. His coach called him the greatest player he ever coached, comparing him to Jim Thorpe. In August of 1941, Alston died after undergoing a tonsillectomy. A Saturday Evening Post writer picking his All-American team named Alston “sophomore of the year in memoriam

For those who lived in Midland in the 1950s and „60s, it was the time of their lives.

Those were prosperous times for America, and nowhere more so than in Midland. Money poured out of that mill like oil from a gusher. Getting a job was easy, but getting a seat at the table of power took work, organization and guts.

Democrats went to the polls and steelworkers went to the streets to pry power loose from the hands that had held it tightly since Midland, America’s planned steel town, was founded in 1906.

In the elections of 1952 and 1956, Democrats kicked Republicans out of borough and county offices they had held for 50 years. Dems have held political power for the half-century since in Beaver County.

In the strikes of 1949 and 1952, steelworkers gained power and won concessions, but a long strike in 1959, while viewed as a victory at the time, sowed the seeds of the American steel industry’s decline when customers began turning to foreign suppliers.

Midland’s Golden Jubilee booklet in 1956 proudly noted the town had a dozen churches but didn’t mention it had twice that many bars and clubs. A man could get a drink after work no matter whether he worked daylight, afternoon or midnight shift.

Boys who graduated from Midland’s Lincoln High School in 1950 had been too young to fight World War II but not the Korean Conflict. College was a possibility for this generation and for the dogfaces returning from the wars, paid for either on the GI Bill or with what they could earn in the summer working at the mill. The girls might go to college, too, but most wanted to get married and have kids.

For the men, it was easiest to just go into the mill. The money was good and jobs were easy to get, especially if you knew someone. Easier, sometimes, if you didn’t know someone. The employment office liked applicants from East Liverpool and Chester because they were less likely to sign a union card. When the mill employed 6,000, probably 3,000 were from East Liverpool.

The mill hunkies who first worked at Midland, who escaped Europe ahead of the trench warfare carnage of World War I, and who weathered the Great Depression, raising families in mill-owned housing west of 7th Street, were retirement-age grandfathers now. Their sons fought the second war or supplied the steel that helped win it, and after the war the sons struck the company to get the wage and benefit increases that the government had tightly controlled during the war effort.

When Ella Mae Lewis Dapollonia graduated from Lincoln High School in 1950, someone told her, “If you’re looking for a job, you had better register Independent because you don’t know what kind of (political) environment you’re getting into.”

She went away to college at Indiana State to become a teacher, and in the summers worked at Midland’s municipal swimming pool as a lifeguard and assistant manager. “I remember I was in front of the borough building and Eli Corak asked me „How do you like your job at the swimming pool?‟ He said, „Just remember I got you that job.‟ I had never approached him. I never even knew him.”

“Fifty-two was when Corak got in (as mayor) and ‟56 was when they took over,” said retired steelworker and former Local 1212 President Bob Zielinski. In 1956 the Democrats won 11 of 12 Midland Borough offices. Democrats took over in Aliquippa – home of the sprawling J&L Steel works – and in Beaver Falls and other county mill towns.

Up until then, said Zielinski, “Beaver County was Republican and Midland was Republican. You had to be a Republican to get a job in that mill. On election days the mill would bring you out to vote straight Republican. If you bucked them, you were out.”

The only Democrat he knew growing up in Midland was the postmaster, a Dem appointee from years past. “When we were in high school, we’d say, hey, there’s a Democrat! It was old man Hayden passing out campaign stuff. In this town you didn’t dare be a Democrat. This little skinny guy, he had guts.”

Zielinski said two events changed the political landscape. One was President Truman’s dictate to steel and other industries that they had to divest themselves of company housing so employee families would no longer fear eviction for things like union organizing.

“What Truman did was he told corporations you are either in real estate or in manufacturing, so Crucible had to liquidate all the houses they had in town. They sold a lot of them to managers for maybe $1,500, dirt cheap.”

The other was a contract concession to the union not to discharge union members without cause. No longer afraid of being put out of work or on the street, Democrats went to work to lock up votes in Midland’s five precincts.

“That was in the late 1940s, not early enough to affect the 1948 elections but it did in 1952,” said Zielinski.

ACME American Serbian Club

American Serbian Club

John “Shaky” Milkovich’s father was John S., a master mechanic in the blooming mill and later in management.

“My dad was a registered Republican on paper. That was the only way he had a job. They used to take men out of the mill to vote,” said Milkovich.

Shaky was a member of the Lincoln High School Class of 1950. joined the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in college but someone forgot to tell that to the draft board and he was sent to Korea as a corporal in the combat engineers. He went right into the mill when he got back in 1954.

“The old guys would watch you. If you were interested in learning they would help you. If you weren’t, they let you go,” he said. He worked in the finishing mill where they made bars up to 24 inches in diameter. Later he was a furnace recorder, assistant heater, and sub-foreman. He retired when the mill closed and later worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. Vic Lescovitz and then State Rep. Mike Veon.

Men who had spent their lives in the mill may have lacked formal education but “there was so much raw talent there it was unbelievable,” Milkovich said.

“One time the mill was down and they couldn’t get the right size going into the rougher. This was in the finishing mill. They went out and got this old Serbian guy out of a bar. He was a heavy drinker. He couldn’t read or write. They gave him a pair of tongs and he fixed it.”

“Midland was a great town to grow up in. You were friends with everybody and you knew everybody,” said Ella Mae Dapollonia. In high school “I was in everything, band, clubs, the school newspaper, the „Newsette, prom committee, Tri-Hi-Y, orchestra, Girl Scouts. I went to Girl Scout Camp at Raccoon State Park and was a counselor.”

Like everyone else, she made sure she came home for the Midland 4th of July Parade. “We have movies of the 4th. Oh, those floats were gorgeous.”

She was lifeguarding at the pool when steelworkers went on nationwide strike in June 1952 and stayed out for two months.

“We had whole families coming to the pool because they didn’t have money to go anywhere else. If you didn’t come early you didn’t have a space.”

Truman backed the union in the strike of ‟52 and steelworkers won wage and benefit increases, and got a partially closed shop.

Phil Murray, CIO and then USW president, came to Midland to dedicate the new union Local 1212 in 1952. He and Bert Hough, a local who was involved in the highest levels of the steelworkers union and president of District 20, sat down with news reporters and spoke together when radio station WBVP brought in its microphones.

Midland’s union hall was the biggest USW local hall in the nation, and it was a center of community activity, especially at Christmas when they gave out treats to every kid, and during strikes, when the union hall was the food bank.

David J. McDonald became USW president after Murray died in November 1952.

McDonald led the union into strikes in 1956 and 1959, seeking to tap into the high profits the steel mills were earning. The union had no strike fund in 1952 but it did in the 1959 strike. Food and emergency cash was given to steelworkers for necessities during the 116-day work stoppage. The USW won a minor wage increase but steel customers turned to Japan and other foreign sources for supplies, beginning the decline which culminated in the bust of the late 1970s for American steel.

“The companies were out to break the unions. They stockpiled like hell, but what they didn’t anticipated was Japan,” said Zielinski.


Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School

Ella Mae Dapollonia, now 78, been a college kid during the 1952 strike, but “In 1959, I was married. I had two kids and was living over at Midland Heights. I remember quite well because my husband was working at the Midland Hot Strip.” There was no maternity leave so she had resigned her grade school teaching job in Midland to raise her family. Still, she was substitute teaching during the strike and that helped provide income. “I was busy with two little children. All I worried about was putting food on the table with them.”

Not everyone suffered. Jerry Suffoletta, now 74, remembers playing a lot of golf during the strike of ‟59. “I was single, living at home. I was an inspector in the Cold Strip. I didn’t have a family to support, no rent, room or board. It was a nice extended vacation. My dad was in management so he got paid. He was a foreman in the melt shop open hearth.”

The Midland Golf Course at the eastern end of town “was long gone by then” but he played at the Crucible management golf club, a nine-hole course up the hill from Midland.

Suffoletta was a member of the Lincoln HS Class of ‟55. He enrolled at Mount Union College and could work enough in the summer at Crucible to pay his tuition. In ‟58 he came back to Crucible for good and was a supervisor in the blooming mill.

He likes to recall how Midland took care of its own.

“There was a man, he lost his arm the first day in the mill, and he had a job there for the rest of his life

(The following story was gleaned from materials in the collection of the Midland Heritage Project, a group formed in 1995 to preserve the history of Midland and the surrounding area. Members include Patience Katich, Fran Francis, Dottie Shovlin, Florence Krakoff, Mark Migliore, Evie Adams, Tony Hallett and Geneva Hosey. The permanent collection of the Midland Heritage Project is located at Boston House, located at 935 Ohio Ave. Also, Ohioville Mayor John Szatkiewicz provided guidance, and information was utilized from the book “Rivers of Destiny” published in 1999 by the Beaver County Historical Landmarks and Research Foundation and the booklet “Fifty Years of Midland: The Story of Our Town,” printed in 1956.)

By Fred Miller

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