Archive ID: 1981-051-5

Worker wearing protective net mask

Date Created: undated

Created By: U.S. Steel

Donor: William Ferry

Media Type: Photograph


Steel mills are dangerous places to work and were particularly so in the early days of the steel industry. This photo shows an early net safety mask from 1890 which provided some protection for a worker. It was part of a series of photos collected by the Committee of Safety at the South Works mill of Illinois Steel/US Steel in South Chicago. In 1905, Robert J. Young began a study of injuries at the South Works plant. The ensuing Committee of Safety would recommend 3,000 changes based on close analysis of their mill operations. Even with the changes implemented, however, high death rates continued. In 1907, journalist William Hard wrote a muck-racking article about the dangers of working at South Works. The article, titled “Making Steel, Killing Men,” noted that 45 workers had died at the mill in 1906. It was estimated that 598 out of approximately 10,000 employees suffered substantial injuries or were permanently disabled that year. In response to the public outcry over deaths and injuries, US Steel would begin a national safety program for all their mills in 1908, modeled on the one it had developed at South Works. In 1981, U.S. Steel-South Works managers would donate a series of albums to the Southeast Chicago Historical Project, including one on the work of the Committee of Safety that showed safety gear prototypes. These images offer a fascinating historical record of the early steel mills and their dangers. Despite such early safety programs, many Southeast Chicago steelworkers in oral histories described continuing dangers and horrific accidents in later decades.

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Mills   South Works   Steel Industry   Pre-1900   South Chicago   Other/Unknown   Photograph   1981-051   Carnegie-Illinois Steel   Industry   Labor   Machinery   Machines   Masks   Mills   Photograph   Photographs   Safety   South Chicago   South Works   Steel   Steel industry   Steelworkers   U.S. Steel   Workers