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The Steel Trade

Three books about the Steel Trade which can be accessed on the internet!
Thomas Firth & Sons, Norfolk Works
Sheffield, 1900
This is an album of photos, printed to be given to Thomas Firth's customers, so it shows the range and capacity of the work they could undertake.
The pictures follow the manufacturing processes, from importing Swedish bar iron, through the conversion to steel and the production of cast steel in crucibles.
converting firth works
There are photos of huge hammers and the variety of large scale castings and forgings that the firm could make, largely for marine engines and armaments.  Armour piercing shells are lined up in pyramids. On a smaller scale there are images of file making. 
So far, so dry, but the glory of this book is the way that the light streams in through dusty windows, showing the heat and dirt out of which came the steel and the proud prosperity of Sheffield steel at its best. Workers pose beside a giant saw or  crankshaft or gun barrel. 
lathe firth works
casting firth works 
At the Works 
by Lady Florence Bell, London 1907
This book resembles the sociological investigations of Charles Booth, to whom it is dedicated, or the earlier work of Henry Mayhew. In it, Lady Bell, wife of a successful iron master, describes the organisation of the iron works in Middlesbrough, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
It's a hard, dangerous place. She describes the works in detail, with diagrams of the blast furnace and a few photographs. She notes the working conditions; the risk of burns, the toxic fumes.
tapping the works
She delves into the home life of the workers, examining their budgets, their diet, clothing and reading habits. She documents their distressing habits of drinking and gambling. Throughout the book, she describes problems but suggests no solutions. She understands that the enterprise depends on the workers, notes that the work is injurious to their health, and that they cannot afford to be off sick, but stops short of describing any way to protect them or giving any criticism of how her husband runs his business. 
tapping 2 the works 
Steel, The Diary of a Furnace Worker
by Charles Rumford Walker, Boston 1922
This is a brief memoir by a man who graduated at Yale, did military service, and decided, in 1919, to follow his principles and adopt the hard life of a steel worker in Pittsburgh. There is enough personal narrative to make it engaging but also a vivid description of what the steel trade was like at the time. Much of the work would have been familiar to the men at the Bells' works in Middlesbrough, but on a bigger scale. It was beginning to be mechanised, but much still depended on the skill and judgment of the workers. 
The work was hot, exhausting and dangerous. You will feel what the long shifts do to brutalise the men, as they tend the machinery with shovels and hammers. 
Walker stops short of saying that the only hope for the workers is in unions, but makes clear how the mill bosses exploit the willingness of poor men to work hard for little pay at great personal danger. 
 Andy Tuckwell

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