U.S. Steel and Gary, West Virginia: Corporate Paternalism in Appalachia

By Hennen, John | The Journal of Southern History, August 2012 | Go to article overview

U.S. Steel and Gary, West Virginia: Corporate Paternalism in Appalachia


Hennen, John, The Journal of Southern History


U.S. Steel and Gary, West Virginia: Corporate Paternalism in Appalachia. By Ronald Garay. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2011. Pp. xxii, 265. $48.00, ISBN 978-1-57233-730-5.)

U.S. Steel and Gary, West Virginia: Corporate Paternalism in Appalachia opens with the early-twentieth-century founding of Gary Hollow, a collection of coal camps owned by United States Steel in McDowell County, West Virginia. Relying on corporate reports, trade journals, and broadly based secondary sources, Ronald Garay then deconstructs the patterns of dependence in Gary created by the U.S. Coal and Coke Company (USCC), a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, and documents the post-World War II erosion of social and economic life in a single-industry community. The story of Gary Hollow demonstrates the intimate connection between rural Appalachia and the expansion of global industrial capitalism and reflects the experience of many peripheral American communities.

The first six (of seventeen) chapters document the construction of facilities and the development of a welfare capitalism system overseen by the autocratic but effective U.S. Steel chairman of the board, Elbert H. Gary. Gary Hollow by the time of the 1919 national steel strike was a lively "model" industrial community with a diverse native and immigrant population mix, good wages (albeit with an eighty-four-hour workweek), and absolute company authority (p. xii). The failure of the strike strengthened USCC's control throughout the 1920s and the early years of the Great Depression, but the paternalistic arrangement in the area began to change in 1937, when U.S. Steel signed a bargaining agreement with the Steel Workers Organizing Committee, the precursor to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). As an adjunct to the new labor-management relations in steel, the UMWA became the sole bargaining agent for the miners in Gary Hollow. …

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