Shenango China, Inc.

New Castle, PA - Having lived in New Castle for a time, I drove past this place often on my way back to Youngstown. You can't see much from 224, but behind the trees sits a 100+ year old factory that looks like it was carpet bombed. This place has a fascinating history, and played a huge part in the employment and lives of the people of New Castle. I could post photos of the sections that look like they were shelled, but I'll leave you with some documentation of the things left behind, some company history, and an emotional statement from one of the employees a few months prior to the factory closing for good. See below.. BUT FIRST, this photo of a china coffee cup. Nothing too exciting right? I noticed it was marked "Mayer China, Beaver Falls PA" so I ask myself what is pottery from Beaver Falls doing in New Castle? It dawned on me when I first got a real camera, I took a trip to a china factory in Beaver Falls, which was demolished shortly thereafter. Turns out I was at Mayer China's original factory. The company was bought out by Shenango, and in the 90's they closed Mayer and transferred the production to New Castle. I will post the images from the trip to Beaver Falls in the future. 


The New Castle News of May 8, 1991, printed a passionate editorial from Shenango China employee Patti Ryan that read in part, “As the first wave of permanent layoffs took place April 12, myself included, I’d like to share a few thoughts with my fellow Shenango China employees and people of this community. For all of the “Rah-Rah Shenango China” people who had tremendous pride in their work, it was more than just a job. It was a group of people who grew closer through good and bad times. For those who never felt that sense of pride, it is difficult to put into words. Those of us who have, need no further explanation. Upon visiting Washington, D.C., this past summer, I proudly showed my 8-year-old daughter the Castleton China display in the White House. It was obvious to me that she also understood the pride. It wasn’t necessary to have worked there to felt it. This community will feel the economic impact of this plant closing, along with a sense of loss… Now, the Shenango logo which, to me, always symbolized the pride, is being taken to New York. To put it bluntly, after the corporate rape, our Shenango Indian is being dragged to Syracuse. As consumers, I hope the area people will remember this when making purchases, because the Pfaltzgraff Corp. and its stooges at Syracuse China have done the good and loyal people of this community and Shenango China a great injustice.”



"During the late 30’s, Mr. Smith became convinced that America would soon be in the war. He began building three bisque 70′ tunnel kilns and one 105′ kiln. Delayed steel shipment caused the kilns to be raised under circus tents. Wartime created many difficulties. Young skilled workers went off to war. Many employees went to work in defense industries, which paid higher wages.

Although government contracts made up over 50 percent of all production, critical materials forced substitutes. Due to this hardship, more creative methods of decorating, mixing color and packing were devised. In addition, during the war CIO-USWA won the right to represent the workers. With the end of the World War II, it became apparent that a balanced expansion would have to be achieved. The government ware made during the ware was one fire, plain white ware or with little decoration. In the post-war economy there would by a large demand for dinnerware and overglaze hotelware. A building plan was initiated in 1945 and completed in 1947. The addition contained 150,000 square feet for decoration and a 60,000 square foot building with a 200′ tunnel kiln was built for a new refractories division.

During the war, they also made the ceramic parts for land mines. A group of local businessmen including officers of Shenango formed a company for this express purpose. Later this led to a minority stockholder suit, which occupied the officers and directors for a ten-year period."



New Castle Refractories Co.


New Castle Refractories - New Castle, PA


I photographed this 105 year old firebrick factory on Industrial Street about a month before they knocked it down. I didn't know it was slated for demo, just how it worked out. There was quite a bit left behind in the office, some interesting reports and employee data. The production floors were gutted, and the kilns were falling in on themselves. The letter they heartlessly tacked to the message board (fig. 4) to let the employees know their livelihood was gone was still there, next to a calendar that stopped in March 09. I have that letter now, it's right next to the one I liberated from Copperweld Steel, where my grandpa worked. 


Coincidentally, the company that shuttered and abandoned this plant also bought the refractories arm of Shenango China, which I photographed the same day. I guess there isn't much of a market for firebrick in a valley that no longer makes steel. These are the ripple effects of Black Monday. Trickle down deindustrialization I guess.



Republic Steel Warren Works


Republic Steel Warren Works; Warren, O. My grandpa on my Mom’s side applied here in the 40’s. Part of the hiring process was to weigh you, and they told him to “go home, eat a steak and a bag of potatoes, and try again”. He was skinny like me, so he wound up doing his 30 some years out at Copperweld. They ran me off of the property, so here are some detail shots, and some houses around the mill to show the ripple effect.

They tore down almost all of the BOF side of the mill. It is so strange to me to drive down Pine Ave and be able to see the blast furnace over on Main. Gone are the days of waiting half an hour for a mile long coke train to back into the mill across Pine. The place just looks bombed out. To quote Bruce Springsteen, “My daddy came on the Ohio works when he came home from World War II, now the yards just scrap and rubble.. guess them big boys did what Hitler couldn’t do”

From the Vindicator, regarding the 1937 Little Steel Strike at the Republic Mills: “On June 20, the day after two strikers were killed at Stop 5 on Poland Avenue, and on several other occasions, Republic Steel ran an ad offering a $500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone threatening families of employees of the company or destroying property of employees at its Warren or Niles plants. Even the boys in Warren complained that pickets had bought all the baseball bats, according to a story published in The Vindicator on June 15, 1937. Planes were used to drop food to management and steelworkers who stayed inside the plants. One of the planes crashed while attempting to land on Republic Steel property in Warren, an event caught on camera by Vindicator photographer Lloyd Jones.Whether the plane malfunctioned or was shot down by pickets was long debated, too; but Republic Steel offered a $1,000 reward in a Vindicator ad for information leading to the arrest of anyone shooting at their planes.”

Girard, O.


Girard Ohio - Abandoned Coal Tipple 

I’ve always been fascinated with this building, it was one of the first abandoned industrial areas I photographed. I climbed out on the roof of the little sub building before but my crazy ass cousin went to the top of the building that was blown over in a wind storm. The rotted rusted old iron spiral stairs were too sketchy for me even then but he made it. Actually being under the leaning tower yesterday was pretty sketchy too. While I was down there I was thinking the obvious metaphor for the crumbling American heavy industrial complex would make a good caption, then a train came out of Brier Hill loaded with seamless steel pipe made in Youngstown. There’s something to be said for the contrast.

Weirton Steel Corporation


Weirton Steel. Weirton WV. These are pretty old, took them while they were tearing down the blooming mill building. I was one of, if not the, last person to photograph the engine that drove the blooming mill (last photo). That TWENTY FIVE THOUSAND HORSEPOWER monster I was standing on was built by the William Tod Company. It was built in the big grey mill building under the Market Street bridge in beautiful Youngstown, Ohio. You know the historic building the downtown gentrifiers want torn down to build a dog park or something. There are 2 Tod engines left in the world, one of them is preserved on Hubbard road if you wanted to see how insanely massive they are. http://www.todengine.org/

US Steel Homestead Works


Rankin, PA.


I got the chance to go to the Carrie blast furnaces, which are pretty much all thats left of US Steel’s Homestead works in Pittsburgh. Same mill my dad hauled his second load of steel out of. I went with the guys from http://acousticarchives.com/ They documented the acoustics in different parts of the mill, and let me do the same with my camera. This video shows the same beat which changes from room to room as if it was recorded in the cast house, in a hot metal rail car or under the highline etc etc http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vw2N1tKJGKA pretty damn cool plus historically significant. If the mill wasnt deafeningly loud when it ran thats how the guys voices would have echoed. Glad I got to be a part of this.

Sunday Creek Coal Company

Millfield, O.  - I found this place completely by accident. My buddy had to go somewhere in southern Ohio, and it was a beautiful day, so I grabbed my camera and called it a road trip. We were somewhere down near Athens and we see a sign that just says “Mine Disaster ->”. We turn and follow the signs through these back roads and see a smokestack peeking up over the trees. There was a historical marker right near the stack so I hop out and tell my buddy ill call him in a while.

Turns out this is a place where 82 men died. Four executives that made big news, four of their guests, and 73 miners. In the group of 73 working men there were lots of fathers and sons, I read the obituaries. There was a huge rescue attempt, including self contained breathing apparatuses, but I suspect they wouldn't have pulled out all of the stops if the owner of the company wasn't down in that hole. The coal companies historically didn't give a fuck about the miners; it is said that if you killed a man you kept your job, if you killed a mule you were fired. Mules were expensive, men were expendable.

It was kind of disturbing being down there by myself, knowing I was standing on top of the mine that took all those lives. I've been in some haunting places, but this one made me feel uneasy the entire time. After I photographed what was left of the mine, I walked through the town of Millfield. You could tell it died when they closed the mine. The homes that still stood were original coal camp houses the company built long before they mined out the area. People live there still; it reminded me of walking down Steel Street, just more poverty.

Here is a very detailed account of the disaster, along with a full list of the men killed. The amount of people with the same last name kind of makes me want to throw up.


US Steel Ohio Works

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO: The top photo looks like an old dock on a beach somewhere, but its whats left of conveyor belts (middle row) and the flooded basement left over from tearing down US Steel’s Ohio Works (bottom row). I took these so long ago man, the photos from the roof of the mill have to be at least 5 years old. Actually that was the time me and my cousin Matt got caught by the security guard. The guy was hostile at first because people had been mercilessly scrapping the place, plus he didn't believe that somebody wanted to photograph the ruins before they tore it down. I tell him my whole family was steelworkers, i grew up on Hazelwood and could see the smoke stacks from my house etc etc. It turns out he was some big shot at the mill when it was running, and the head of security after it was abandoned. Guy offered us a tour of the place when he found out i knew his granddaughter, but we didn't take him up on it. That's a big regret of mine. they tore everything down like 6 months later. Don't mind me though I'm just thinking out loud.


Republic Steel Warren Works

Warren, O.  The last blast furnace in the Steel Valley @ RG Steel - WCI - Republic Steel on Main Ave in Warren. Its idle now and they will probably scrap the whole mill before they restart it. My cousin that worked out there said the furnace was on its last leg, and the company that bought it is an industrial scrapping company. Think this was the biggest blast furnace in America when it was built by the Wm Pollock Company of Youngstown, O. End of an era

Warren, O.

The last blast furnace in the Steel Valley @ RG Steel - WCI - Republic Steel on Main Ave in Warren. Its idle now and they will probably scrap the whole mill before they restart it. My cousin that worked out there said the furnace was on its last leg, and the company that bought it is an industrial scrapping company. Think this was the biggest blast furnace in America when it was built by the Wm Pollock Company of Youngstown, O. End of an era

Truscon Steel Company


Youngstown, O.

Bunch of detail shots from the old Avanti plant on Albert Street they tore down recently. A lot of car parts, signs and the old moulds for the fiberglass car bodies. This was a Republic Steel plant, the Truscon division, where they made steel trusses. The Avanti was a Studebaker they built in the 60s that other companies built when the company folded. The Cafaro’s bought the company, moved the production to the old Republic mill in Youngstown. The whole mill complex is demolished and they make the Avantis in Mexico now.

Weirton Steel


Weirton, West Virginia - Dead 15 and 50 town overhead cranes in the rolling mill engine shop.

I shot this shortly before this building came down; was there to document the Tod Engine that ran this mill. As far as I know then engine still sits in the yard rusting away where the rolling mill shed was.