Archive ID: 1981-051-5

Two workers and “DANGER” sign in multiple languages

Date Created: undated

Donor: William Ferry, U.S. Steel

Media Type: Photograph


Steel mills are dangerous places to work and were particularly so in the early days of the steel industry. Because many early steelworkers were immigrants who spoke various languages, communicating about how to keep safe could be challenging. This was part of the reason that early work “gangs” in the mills were often members of the same ethnic group who spoke the same language. This image circa the 1910s is part of a series of photographs collected by the Committee of Safety at the South Works mill of Illinois Steel/US Steel in South Chicago. Robert J. Young began a study of injuries at the South Works plant in 1905, and the Committee of Safety was formed as part of this effort. In 1907, a muck-racking article by journalist William Hard revealed that 45 workers had died at South Works in 1906 and an estimated 598 were seriously injured. The public outcry put pressure on the steel companies to increase safety procedures. In the ensuing years, the Committee of Safety would document efforts to increase safety at South Works, including the translation of safety warnings into various languages. The “Danger” sign next to these two workers wearing newly developed safety goggles has been translated into Czech, Hungarian, Slovenian, and Polish. This reflected the fact that the majority of recent immigrants who might not know English at the time were from Slavic countries.

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Mills   South Works   Steel Industry   1900-1919 (WWI Era)   South Chicago   European Descent   Photograph   1981-051   Carnegie-Illinois Steel   European   Glasses   Goggles   Hammers   Hats   Industry   Labor   Mills   Safety   Safety glasses   South Chicago   South Works   Steel   Steel industry   Steelworkers   Tools   U.S. Steel   Workers