Iron Artisans is a deeply interesting, insightful, and meticulously researched book. Ron Lewis addresses a major gap in the study of American industry and immigration and ethnicity in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by providing a comprehensive, full-length study of the contribution and experiences of Welsh immigrants in the American iron, steel, and tinplate industries. His book brings out well the human dimension to the topic and establishes the importance of individual experience and contingency, as well as structural factors, as agents of change. Equally, a sense of place emerges strongly in the discussions on various Welsh communities, be they in Pittsburgh or Youngstown. A fascinating new contribution to literature in the field.
America’s emergence as a global industrial superpower was built on iron and steel, and despite their comparatively small numbers, no immigrant group played a more strategic role per capita in advancing basic industry than Welsh workers and managers. They immigrated in surges synchronized with the stage of America’s industrial development, concentrating in the coal and iron centers of Pennsylvania and Ohio. This book explores the formative influence of the Welsh on the American iron and steel industry and the transnational cultural spaces they created in mill communities in the tristate area—the greater upper Ohio Valley, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania—including boroughs of Allegheny County, such as Homestead and Braddock. Focusing on the intersection of transnational immigration history, ethnic history, and labor history, Ronald Lewis analyzes continuity and change, and how Americanization worked within a small, relatively privileged, working-class ethnic group.
From previously fragmented histories, Ronald Lewis has created a coherent explanation of the strategic importance of immigrant Welsh workers to the rise of America’s metal industries. American iron, steel, and tin plate manufacturing would never have become competitive with their British precursors, he argues, without the repeated transnational transfer of skill, technical knowledge, managerial expertise, and—often to the woe of company owners—clannish labor cultures born in industrial South Wales. Lewis fills in countless gaps while never overstating his case. This well-written, exhaustively researched book will become the new standard on the Welsh role in US heavy industry from 1860 to 1910.
Ronald L. Lewis is professor and Stuart and Joyce Robbins Chair emeritus at West Virginia University and historian laureate of West Virginia. He is the author of eight books and numerous articles and book chapters, and coeditor of fourteen books. In retirement he continues to reside in Morgantown, West Virginia, with his wife, Susan.