We pause to remember that fateful day 40 years ago when Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.’s Campbell Works ended operations, thus triggering the subsequent demise of King Steel in the Mahoning Valley.
Sept. 19, 1977 – Black Monday – is etched in the memories of thousands of Valley residents who were directly and indirectly affected by the closing of Sheet & Tube.
The date also is a stark reminder of how quickly the fortunes of a region can change.
The Vindicator memorialized the life-draining event with an editorial published Sept. 20, 1977, under the headline, “The Worst Blow”.
Here’s what we said, in part:
“Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co.’s announcement Monday was the worst single blow ever suffered by the economy of the Mahoning Valley.
“By shutting down most of its operations in Campbell and by moving its general offices to Chicago, the firm is terminating or furloughing about 5,000 employees. Besides the jobs lost among steelworkers, thousands of other workers will have their work curtailed or eliminated.
“The loss to the Valley is impossible to define, for this decision will affect almost every aspect of life.”
Implicit in that statement was an acknowledgement the closing of Sheet & Tube was unexpected and, thus, caught the Valley with its defenses down.
Indeed, the editorial made note of the fact that Jennings Lambeth, president of Sheet & Tube, had on Sept. 10 expressed confidence the company would survive the “shakeout” of the steel industry in America.
The Vindicator sought to cushion the shock of the closing with these words:
“Other communities have had such blows and survived. One example is South Bend, Ind., which depended heavily on the Studebaker Corp. When the historic builder of wagons and automobiles folded, city officials, citizens and labor got together in a joint effort that restored most if not all of the city’s economic vigor. There never has been a time when it was so essential for this Valley to unite in some such effort to surmount disaster.”
MONUMENTAL RIPPLE EFFECTS
But what no one in the Valley on Black Monday could predict was that in a matter of years Big Steel would become but a memory and 50,000 residents would have their lives disrupted.
That’s why it has taken this region so long to recover from the economic collapse.
Twenty years ago, the Valley was still trying to find its bearings while using what remained of its industrial might as life preservers.
Here’s what The Vindicator said then in recalling Black Monday:
“Today the Valley must look to the future. Where once the Mahoning River was the Steel Valley’s lifeblood, we now look to an airport that has the potential to attract new industry to the area. The Mahoning Valley sits an overnight drive between Chicago and New York with a great potential to serve the warehousing and light manufacturing needs of a third of the nation.
“We have seen the past. It has made us what we are. We must now join together to make the Mahoning Valley what it can be.”
For five days this week, The Vindicator and Vindy.com are commemorating Black Monday with stories, pictures, graphics and videos to tell the story of the collapse of America’s Ruhr Valley.
But after that trip down memory lane, we, the people of the region, need to keep focusing on the future.
It is significant the Mahoning Valley is gaining a national reputation as a leading creator of new manufacturing processes.
America Makes – an appropriate name if ever there was for this region – is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in downtown Youngstown.
Its cutting-edge technology develops additive manufacturing methods using 3-D printing.
Just about every major industry will benefit from what’s being created in the Valley.
It is also significant that America Makes is closely aligned with the Youngstown Business Incubator, which has won global acclaim for the many start-up software companies it has guided to maturity and success.
The future of American manufacturing is less about brawn and more about brains.
Even the steel industry has changed since those heady days of enormous mills along the Mahoning River that hired thousands of workers.
To be sure, it’s appropriate to remember the past. But, it’s essential that we in the Mahoning Valley embrace the future.