I have had a special passion for this project due to my family’s background in steelmaking. My parents, Andy and Betty Stuber, met as teenagers in their hometown of Mingo Junction, Ohio, just south of Steubenville on the Ohio River, home to the steel mill featured in the 1978 motion picture The Deer Hunter. Andy’s mother and father had emigrated, separately, from Czechoslovakia and married in the U.S., and his father worked in the mill. As did almost everyone, including Andy’s and Betty’s extended families.
On returning home after World War II, Andy entered an apprenticeship as a “roll turner” at Copperweld Steel in Warren, Ohio. He joined the 15 million American men and women who came home from the war, went to work, and began the thirty years of the “Golden Era” of unprecedented growth and widely shared prosperity. As I note in Chapter 1:
America had won the war in no small part because it made steel. Steel that went into the construction of thousands of “Liberty Ships” carrying personnel and materiel, tanks that would defeat Rommel in Africa and Europe, aircraft that would destroy Germany’s capacity to produce fuel, weapons and ammunition, and ships and aircraft that would defeat the Japanese in crucial naval battles in the Pacific. Now America began making the steel that would go into automobiles, bridges, skyscrapers, electrical transmission towers, and appliances during the “Golden Era.” Andy would be one of those doing the making.
Meanwhile, Betty’s family had moved to the Pittsburgh area in search of work during a downturn at the Mingo mill. They lived in Braddock, Pennsylvania, in a group of buildings they called the “project”, at the top of a hill overlooking the U.S. Steel corporation’s Edgar Thomson steel works opened by Andrew Carnegie in 1875, where Betty’s father worked. That mill is still in operation. But the mills in Coatesville, Bethlehem, and so many other places across America, now stand silent. Will the U.S. Steel mill in Granite City, Illinois reopen? Or will it fall victim to the Chinese overcapacity in steel, and remain silent? I believe it is a metaphor for our future. As goes that mill, so will go our country.
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Another source for my passion for this project is this: I did the research for this book in the library of my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. I understand it to be the largest open stack library anywhere, and it is a high privilege to wander its stacks in search of answers. That the son of a steelworker and firefighter, himself the son of immigrants, could gain admission to an Ivy League school, and emerge from it, grad school, and law school without much debt, embodied the American Dream at its best. But as MIT economist Tom Kochan and others have pointed out, we may be the last generation to enjoy that dream. I hope and pray that this book can be a wakeup call and a guide for restoring that dream for our children and grandchildren.
Philadelphia, April 21, 2017
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