Archive ID: 2022-004-53

Rolling Mill foreman “Wild Bill” Watkins at U.S. Steel, South Works

Date Created: 1973

Donor: Bob Sarnowski

Media Type: Photograph


This image of U.S. Steel-South Works Rolling Mill foreman “Wild Bill” Watkins was taken by Bob Sarnowski, a fellow employee. Bob recalled that steelworkers were commonly known by nicknames.

Bob Sarnowski grew up as part of a Polish immigrant family in South Chicago. Like his grandfather, father, and uncles, he went to work in the steel mills. He grew up two blocks away from US Steel-South Works, so close that his mother would have to take in her laundry from the clothesline to evade the red dust from the Open Hearths. Bob worked at South Works from 1973 to 1981 and apprenticed as an electrician, or “motor inspector” as they were called in the mills. He also loved to take photographs. Although steel mill management prohibited workers from taking photos in the mills, Bob would sometimes sneak his camera in under his coat to evade mill security in order to take pictures. These images are particularly precious since they are some of the few available taken by workers themselves rather than mill management. Bob took a series of photographs when the mill was still operational during the 1970s and, later, of South Works in various stages of decay as it began closing during the 1980s. Bob donated his images to share this record with others.

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Deindustrialization   Mill Artifacts   Mills   South Works   Steel Industry   Steel Labor   1950-1979   South Chicago   African-American   Photograph