Looking back: Pressed Steel Car Co. sponsors Independence Day parades to instill American values
Photo courtesy the McKees Rocks Historical Society
Thousands of foreign protesters from all walks of life went on a historic strike known as the "McKees Rocks Strike of 1909," in order to improve working conditions for labor workers.
By Jamie Wiggan
Days before thousands of workers walked off the job protesting meager wages and harsh working conditions, the Pressed Steel Car Co. sponsored its first annual Independence Day Parade to boost morale and instill American values among the mostly foreign-born labor force.
The year was 1909 — 10 years after the Pressed Steel Car Co. set up shop in Stowe’s Presston neighborhood.
It seems their efforts were unsuccessful, at least initially.
Not easily shirked, the company continued hosting annual parades for years to come.
Celebrations would unfold over 12-hour itineraries, beginning with parades in the morning, then moving into sports in the afternoon and concluding with “adult-only” dancing.
The company produced accompanying event programs filled with pictures, patriotic words and acclamations of the Presston community.
A surviving program from 1913 shows the company’s efforts to promote its housing options through a collation of resident endorsements:
Then resident Andy Muicinto of 48 Ohio St., is quoted saying, “There is no place like Presston for me. Every year things are getting better here.”
A Mr. L. Amshell states, “I have some people nearly every day asking me to intercede for them to get houses in Presston as they would rather live here than up in McKees Rocks.’”
The infamous McKees Rocks Strike of 1909 began on July 10, when a number of workers ended their shift without receiving their pay. Ultimately, more than 6,000 workers speaking nearly 20 languages joined the bloody protest, which raged for two months and drew national attention.
Scholars now recognize the strike as an important development in foreign-born American labor history.
Referred to derisively as “Hunkies,” the Eastern European strikers made little immediate headway, but they did manage to earn a reputation as tough, competent workers, capable of organizing and standing up for their rights.
Programs from subsequent parades are filled with references to civic improvements initiated by the company. A 1916 booklet shows the company-owned town then boasted a range of recreational amenities and clubs, including a casino and a YMCA, as well as a baseball team, band and orchestra.
To the Pressed Steel Car Company, American values were seen as a way to unify the multi-ethnic workers around a sense of common purpose.
“There are in the United States today, over 16 million foreign-born people, and they are the parents of more than 20 million American-born children…great work is going on to get them in touch with Uncle Sam, and help fit them out for Uncle Sam’s citizenship,” the 1920 program states under a section on Americanization.
The Pressed Steel Car Co. operated until 1956, when it was taken over by the US Steel Company.
The 180-acre site was later parcelled out to several companies, with the largest tract now owned by McKees Rocks Industrial Enterprise.
The lines of distinctive row houses that make up the Presston residential neighborhood remain intact and mostly occupied.