Youngstown = Steeltown
April 30, 2009 9:21 AM   Subscribe

Steel Town is a pretty cool little film made in 1944 highlighting Youngstown, Ohio's steel industry and it's workers. The shots inside the mill are amazing. Now, much like other old steel towns, Youngstown is working to make a come back in new ways
posted by nnk (11 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
oops. that's its workers
posted by nnk at 9:22 AM on April 30, 2009

Obligatory Springsteen video link.
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:38 AM on April 30, 2009

That video is incredible. Thanks for the link!
posted by wemayfreeze at 9:41 AM on April 30, 2009

Wow. That was flippin' awesome.
posted by slogger at 10:11 AM on April 30, 2009

Cool, I'll have to listen to this after work. I grew up in Youngstown, both grandfather's worked at the Sheet and Tube. Damn has that city been hit hard. Even in the nicer areas of town there are vacant homes, that cant sell for 10k.

Obligate Pretenders link

They are from Youngstown after all.
posted by batou_ at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2009

Chrissie Hynde is from nearby Akron, but the Pretenders are an English band.
posted by plastic_animals at 10:57 AM on April 30, 2009

I grew up near Youngstown (about 10 miles) as well, and my parents still live there. This is what it's like now:

(Obligatory note: the reporter/voice over is a friend of mine, though I would wholeheartedly recommend the YT vid anyway.
posted by harperpitt at 11:00 AM on April 30, 2009

This is an interesting post. Like most rust belt towns, Youngstown's been trying to make a comeback since the early 80s. Of course I wish them the best, but headlines aside, it seems that the odds are somewhat against them. For those interested in this whole question of dealing with deindustrialization, a guy who graduated from my program wrote his dissertation comparing Youngstown to Allentown, PA. It's an interesting story, and I'm not sure he offers as complete an explanation as he'd like, but the idea is that Allentown has had a much better recovery than Youngstown because its community of social elites did not overlap entirely with its community of economic elites. It's at least an interesting thought, one that sounds like a bit of a twist on the Richard Florida idea of creative class, influx of diverse people and ideas, etc., driving cities in the 'new' economy.

Sean's book is here:
posted by LoneWolfMcQuade at 11:07 AM on April 30, 2009

Thanks for the info plastic_animals, I was always under the impression that song was about Youngstown, but I guess all of Ohio got hit pretty hard with the steel mill closings. Same things happened - downtown was devastated, the train station closed ... I hope they at least still have the mafia. One positive thing to say about Youngstown is the city has an excellent park - Mill Creek. Just don't stay past dark.

Harperpitt, my grandparents lived in the Brownlee Woods section untill about 3 years ago. That was the last time I was there.
posted by batou_ at 11:18 AM on April 30, 2009

Thanks a lot for posting this. I don't live there, but I know the area like the back of my own hand.

batou_ is right, I've routinely seen one-family homes for $6,000. Many of the grand old mansions along the thoroughfares where "nice" people once lived are grey and twigged with decades of neglect; some are abandoned to drug-addicted squatters, or other kinds of ghosts.

Substitute Gary, Detroit, western Pennsylvania, Flint, Buffalo for Youngstown and the picture is the same. The rapid decay over the past thirty or forty years has been shocking. So many of the rust belt towns were little island boomtowns of single industry surrounded by woodland or soybeans that once the jobs disappeared, whole neighborhoods of families evaporated into film-set levels of abandonment.

If you still live in the atoll of suburbia surrounding the city you can drive ten minutes inward and hit weedy urban dystopia, where things for the most part appear to have stopped in time since 1965. Or you can drive ten minutes outward, north or south, and then all of a sudden it's Amish or Appalachia. I'm exaggerating somewhat, but not by much. It is surreal.

There are photos here of what remains of local industry (note the continued reliance on automobiles and steel), as well as many of the abandoned old mills.

There are some silver linings. The air is breathable nowadays. The cost of living is low. Development has increased a little in the last few years. Youngstown, like Flint, Detroit, and Buffalo, has embraced "creative shrinkage" (read: razing empty neighborhoods but keeping the symphony hall). Locals like to think of themselves as underdogs (more video of him and the town, too) and scrappy Robin Hoods and get consistent sympathetic attention during presidential election years, which they like, even if nothing ever comes of it. The town is used as a film set from time to time.

Carl Sandburg wrote a whole volume of poetry about these places. They grew explosively during the steel years of the 1920s and 1930s. Could he or anyone else have predicted that the change would come so soon? Fifty years the towns were dead.
So fire runs in, runs out, runs somewhere else again,
And the bar of steel is a gun, a wheel, a nail, a shovel,
A rudder under the sea, a steering-gear in the sky;
And always dark in the heart and through it,
Smoke and the blood of a man.
Pittsburg, Youngstown, Gary—they make their steel with men.
posted by jeeves at 12:08 PM on April 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I guess for me, having not lived during the heyday of industry in America, having only seen the decline and the beginning of the upswing of new industries here in Pittsburgh, it's really interesting to see actual footage of people working in the mills and living in these types of towns. I guess in general, I've always loved that movies and videos can give me a glimpse into the workings of places I could never go myself.

My mother grew up in a one company coal town, and for the brief time when she grew up, the town bustled -- so this film is a little like looking, in macro, into my own family's past.
posted by nnk at 1:05 PM on April 30, 2009

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