Republic Steel Company

From Ohio History Central

Republic Steel Corporation Interior.jpg
Interior view of the Republic Steel Corporation in Youngstown, Ohio, ca. 1930-1960. The silhouette of an

employee is seen against the glow of hot metal.

The Republic Steel Company was founded in 1899 in Youngstown, Ohio. The firm was originally known as Republic Iron and Steel Company. For the company's first three decades of existence, it prospered, as Ohio was one of the leading industrialist states of the period.

In 1927, Cyrus Eaton purchased a majority of the stock in the Republic Steel Company. At the same time, Eaton also purchased stock in other companies. He hoped to unite these companies together to compete with the U.S. Steel Company—the largest steel manufacturer in the United States. Under Eaton's leadership, the Republic Steel Company expanded its manufacturing holdings to include plants in Massillon, Elyria, Canton, Cleveland, and Warren, Ohio. Thanks to Eaton's efforts, the Republic Steel Company emerged as the third largest steel producer in the United States.

The Republic Steel Company, like many other businesses, faced an economic downturn during the Great Depression. The firm, unlikely many others, remained in operation and actually expanded its holdings by purchasing smaller steel companies as they went bankrupt. Tom Girdler now headed the company, and under his leadership, the firm's corporate headquarters moved to Cleveland. During the 1930s, the Republic Steel Company also faced tensions with its steel workers. The company's workers sought to unionize, but Girdler and his subordinates did all in their power to prevent this from occurring. In 1937, workers at the Republic Steel Company, the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company, and several other steel companies went on strike over low wages and poor working conditions. Collectively these steel companies were known as “Little Steel.” The strikers belonged to the Congress of Industrial Organizations, a union established in 1935. The workers used sit-down strikes and picket lines to attain their goals of better wages and improved working conditions. In the past, when workers went on strike they would leave the factory to join picket lines. Company owners often hired “scab” laborers to cross the picket lines and continue production. The practice of using scab labor made it difficult for striking workers to obtain their demands. In contrast, in a sit-down strike, workers quit working but still occupied their places within the factory. This process made it difficult for the factory owners to send in additional workers to continue the job. In addition, factory management was more reluctant to use private security forces or other strike breakers to intimidate the striking workers, as that approach threatened destruction to plant property.

People sympathetic to the workers used airplanes to drop food inside of the plants. They also attempted to mail food into the businesses, but the post office refused to deliver the packages to the strikers. To prevent the strike from occurring in the first place the Little Steel companies had hired their own police forces to intimidate workers. During the strikes, the companies lobbied local residents to put pressure on the strikers and their families. Numerous citizens formed committees, including the Mahoning Valley, Ohio Citizens Committee, the Citizens Law and Order League of Canton, Ohio, and the John Q. Public League of Warren, Ohio, to protest the striker's actions. Little Steel brought in scab laborers to work the machines, while the sit-down strikers remained in the plants. The employers even used tear gas to drive the strikers out of the businesses. The governor of Ohio, Martin L. Davey, eventually sent troops in to break up the strike.

While Republic Steel proved successful in the “Little Steel Strike of 1937,” with the outbreak of World War II, the firm quickly permitted unions in its mills so that the firm could acquire lucrative government contracts. The company prospered throughout the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, but competition from foreign steel, higher wages, and new environmental codes began to hurt the firm. The situation continued to worsen for the Republic Steel Company during the 1980s, and in 1984, the company merged with Jones and Laughlin to create LTV Steel.

See Also