The collection comprises of 21 albums depicting the steel making and finishing operations of the United States Steel Corporation. All of the images were made by Russell Aikins around 1940. The albums contain photographic prints (8" x 9-1/2"). The majority of prints are mounted on spiral-bound pages. The photographs were created for public relations purposes and provide visual documentation of American steel making technology, production practice, and worker manager relationships. Subject matter varies widely, depicting the process of manufacturing steel or steel-related products. The photographs have a strong human and dramatic emphasis. The strongest theme is industrial mobilization for the war effort. Many photographs document female wartime work in industry, and African American workers are also represented. The theme of worker safety is well documented with images depicting safety glasses and protective garments. Printed captions below each photograph usually identify workers by name and occupation.
The collection is arranged into one series, chronologically by album number.
Russell Chorley Aikins was born in Philadelphia on December 7, 1896. He began his photographic career at the Philadelphia Inquirer as a news photographer in 1917. Two years later, Aikins joined the New York Times Sunday Rotogravure Section and the World Wide Syndicate as a staff photographer. In the early 1920s, Aikins organized and ran the New York Times Washington picture bureau. Aikins served briefly, in 1929, as an editor for the newly developing Associated Press (AP) photo service. Following the growing trend in the photo news industry Aikins left the AP and became a freelance photographer. He opened his studio in New York City and did work for Fortune, Time, Life, and Colliers.
Aikins career shifted in 1937 when he decided to "devote all my time to the portrayal of business and industry." Aikins noted the need for big business to be represented and saw his images as tools for business self-promotion: "It had been a growing conviction with me that industry in addition to its product advertising should promote its fitness to serve the public and its ability to make quality goods." He started to recruit companies to combat the stereotypical cold, unfeeling edge of big business. Aikins called this new style of photography "camera-reporting," which he thought could transport stockholders, customers, and the public into the mills, giving the viewer greater confidence in the corporation and its products. A few companies Aikins represented included Chrysler Corporation, General Electric Company, Johnson & Johnson, and the United States Steel Corporation. After World War Two the demand for the technique Aikins helped to pioneer began to diminish as public and labor attitudes changed. After 1948, there is no record of Aikins' activities.
Division of Work and Industry staff.
The United States Steel Corporation was created in 1901 by the purchase and consolidation of several companies by financier J.P. Morgan. At the time of formation, it was the largest company in the world. U.S. Steel represented Morgan's attempt to bring stability to the volatile steel market. Morgan purchased Andrew Carnegie's highly aggressive Carnegie Steel and brought it together with Federal Steel, National Tube, American Steel and Wire, American Sheet Steel, American Hoop Steel, American Tin Plate, American Bridge, and the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron Mines. Other companies were added later.
Capitalized at $1.4 billion, U.S. Steel was in 1901 the largest company in the world. It controlled over 50% of American Steel production but was in many ways hamstrung by its size. While the operation of Carnegie Steel was characterized by technological efficiency, US Steel avoided innovation. Some in the company referred to the Corporation's policy as "no inventions, no innovation." The company was thought by many to be driven by a banker's vision of protecting investment, not an industrialist's vision of increasing production. Always sensitive about public antitrust action, Elbert Gary, the leader of the company, sought to cast U.S. Steel as a "good trust." In 1936, the CIO formed the Steel Workers Organizing Committee (SWOC), and began a massive union drive. Although strongly antiunion, U.S. Steel, under Myron Taylor was the first major steel company to recognize the steelworkers union in 1937.
An industry once characterized by low wages and harsh conditions emerged by the late 1940s as one of the highest-paying blue collar employers, forced to negotiate with one of the nation's most powerful unions. Following recognition of the union U.S. Steel followed a corporate strategy of paying for wage settlements by increasing steel prices. This often put the giant company at odds with governmental economic policy.
Division of Work and Industry staff.
Materials at Other Organizations
Baker Library Historical Collections, Harvard Business School
1934 Art and Industry Exhibition photograph collection
The 1934 Art and Industry Exhibition photograph collection contains photographs that were on display in New York City and Chicago in an exhibition sponsored by the National Alliance of Art and Industry.
United States Steel Corporation photographs, circa 1940-1960
A large collection of black and white gelatin silver prints depicting the United States Steel Corporation's steel plants, works, personnel, machinery, mining operations, buildings, warehouses and production of the numerous products manufactured by the company, circa 1940-1960.
Industrial Life Photograph Collection, 1920-1941
Photographs collected by the Business Historical Society to document major industries in the United States and industrial processes.
Lowell National Historical Park
Youngstown Center for Industry and Labor
Immediate source of acquisition is unknown.
Collection is open for research.
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.