U.S. Steel Gary Works Photograph Collection, 1906-1971


by Steve McShane, Archivist/Curator, Calumet Regional Archives, Indiana University-Northwest

View of furnaces [click for larger image]
[click on picture to view larger version of image]

"It has been decided to construct and put into operation a new plant to be located on the south shore of Lake Michigan, in Calumet Township. Lake County, Indiana, and a large acreage of land has been purchased for that purpose. It is proposed to construct a plant of the most modern standards..."

With these words in 1905, Elbert H. Gary, Chairman of the Board, United States Steel Corporation, initiated what contemporaries called "the industrial wonder of the world." U.S. Steel's Gary Works was, indeed, a monumental achievement. The construction of the world's largest integrated steel mill climaxed the dynamic post Civil War growth of the nation's steel industry and symbolized the incredible power and might of American industrial development in the early twentieth century.

Bessemer converter [click for larger image] Two technological developments in the 1860s and 1870s stimulated the expansion of America's steel industry: the mass production of the Bessemer converter and the development of the open hearth process for producing steel from iron. Between 1867 and 1900, annual steel production rose from 22,000 tons to 11,400,000 tons. Molten steel poured from open hearth furnace [click for larger image] The industry served as a backbone for America's industrialization and manufacturing boom in the late nineteenth century and simultaneously enjoyed tremendous market demand.

Intense competition, however, characterized the steel industry. This cutthroat atmosphere led steel magnates to push for efficient operations and cost containment. The relentless drive for economy resulted in adoption of mechanization and the latest technologies for steelmaking. In addition, industry leaders, particularly Elbert H. Gary, saw the wisdom of the integrated production process, that is, central control of all phases of production, from raw materials to finished products to distribution. This drive for economy via integrated, continuous production furnished a major reason for the formation of the United States Steel Corporation in 1901 with authorized capital of $1,400,000,000. Financed by John Pierpont Morgan and directed by Elbert H. Gary, U.S. Steel Corporation consolidated a number of steel companies (including the Andrew Carnegie interests) into one centralized corporation to organize resources and facilities for maximum efficiency. Thus, U.S. Steel could control all aspects of production, from iron and coal mines to steel plants to railroad networks to lake shipping. With this philosophy and structure, the U.S. Steel Corporation led the steel industry at the turn of the century.

Despite its success, however, U.S. Steel could not meet demand, particularly in the Midwest, and many of its mills were aging. Judge Gary realized a new, modern integrated mill complex was needed. After much discussion, the Corporation settled on a northwest Indiana site in the Calumet Region and named it after Judge Gary, by then the board chairman of U.S. Steel.

Although Gary Works was the most impressive industrial effort in the region, it was not the first. The factors attracting U.S. Steel in 1905 had drawn Standard Oil to Whiting in 1889 and Inland Steel to Indiana Harbor in 1901. Along the southern shore of Lake Michigan, amidst swamps, sloughs, barren dunes, and scrub oak, industrialists found ideal sites for manufacturing plants. The area provided plentiful, cheap land for industrial expansion, low taxes, a rail network comprising five major lines, abundant water supplies for production and transportation, and proximity to Midwest markets and the Chicago labor supply. The Gary site was, in short, the perfect place to build the world's largest integrated steel mill.

Once Judge Gary had decided on the Calumet Region site in 1905, U.S. Steel Corporation wasted no time in acquiring the necessary land. Corporation attorney Armanis F. Knotts (a former mayor of Hammond) quietly began purchasing tracts, eventually totaling 9,000 acres along seven miles of Lake Michigan shoreline and nearly two miles, south to the Wabash railroad tracks. The cost for this land approached $7.2 million dollars. U.S. Steel formed a subsidiary, the Indiana Steel Company, to construct Gary Works.

Leveling of the dunes during construction [click for larger image] On March 12, 1906, construction engineers, led through a snowstorm by Ralph E. Rowley, began laying out the mill, harbor, and railroad yards. By early summer, teams of horses and mules (many from area farms) began leveling and grading the dunes on the lakeshore. Buildings and facilities rose rapidly above the sand and swamps, creating an impressive industrial skyline. The engineers relocated the Grand Calumet River, the "moat" between the southern end of the mill site and the north end of the town site, and also redirected three major rail lines traversing the area.

Ore boats entering and leaving the harbor [click for larger image] The Corporation had envisioned a massive mill complex, and it was not disappointed. Over twelve million cubic yards of sand were removed. Foundations for the mill structures required two million yards of concrete. The railroad yards could hold 15,000 cars. A mile long harbor was built, twenty-five feet deep and 250 feet wide, between two parallel piers extending 2,360 feet into Lake Michigan; it included a turning basin 750 feet in diameter to accommodate the huge iron ore boats.

In just over two years, on July 23, 1908, the ore boat Elbert H. Gary entered Gary Works harbor with the first load of iron ore. In December, the first of twelve blast furnaces began producing iron. In February 1909, two open hearths tapped the first "heat" of steel and the rail mill produced its first finished product. By the end of the year, 6,800 employees had produced 570,000 tons of steel.

View of plant skyline [click for larger image] Both steel production and mill construction continued at an accelerated pace. By 1920, Gary Works contained twelve blast furnaces, 838 coke ovens, forty-five open hearth furnaces, two 25-ton converters, a rail mill, billet mill, slabbing mill, two plate mills, twelve merchant mills, axle mill, tie plate mill, steel wheel plant, and a dozen mechanical shops covering 300,000 square feet. The buildings embraced over 100,000 tons of structural steel, 9,000 tons of corrugated sheets, 4,000 squares of tile roofing, and 163,000,000 bricks.

Coal from the company mines [click for larger image] Consistent with Judge Gary's philosophy of integrated, continuous production, the steelmaking process flowed from east to west: raw materials (primarily coal) were converted to coke in the coke ovens, and entered the blast furnaces, along with iron ore and limestone (from Minnesota and Michigan, via Lake Michigan), creating molten iron, which was poured into Bessemer converters and/or open hearth furnaces. The resulting steel was then poured into ingot molds for shaping into plates, rails, bars, and slabs, eventually processed into finished products. Gary Works, along with other U.S.Steel subsidiaries located near the original mill, produced raw steel, rails, wire, hoops, tin plate, rods, pipes, tubes, sheets, wheels, axles, and cement. In rapid, efficient fashion, Gary Works became U.S. Steel's flagship plant and assumed the leadership role among steelmakers in the Calumet Region and across the nation. Between 1906 and 1930, U. S. Steel's Gary Works truly became "one of the industrial wonders of the twentieth century" and served as the capstone to the Calumet Region's industrialization trend in the Golden Age of Industry.

Along with building a state of the art integrated steel mill, U.S. Steel officials sought to construct a model company town for the skilled workers, foremen, and supervisors. The corporation poured resources into the design and construction of the Town of Gary, built simultaneously with the mill. U.S. Steel's First Subdivision, that area of the city on Corporation property, enjoyed paved streets, landscaped residential areas, a booming downtown district, and pleasant company housing. Planners deliberately avoided, however, the experiences of paternalistic company towns such as Pullman, Illinois, where the company had owned all housing and dictated the morals and social behavior of the workers. Instead, the Corporation desired a more subtle form of influence over town affairs, letting employees own their own homes while the company sold lots and provided mortgages. Although non-corporation businesses and homes flourished in the First Subdivision, the company dictated strict regulations on building and design.

U.S. Steel created a subsidiary, the Gary Land Company, to design the city. The Land Company's president, Eugene J. Buffington, noted the Corporation's pragmatic view of the town's plan: "Gary is nothing more than the product of effort along practical lines to secure the right living conditions around a steel manufacturing plant." The Gary Land Company succeeded in that mission, at least in its First Subdivision, extending south from the plant site to about 9th Avenue. Although the city grew beyond this border, the actual company constructed town resided in the First Subdivision.

Built simultaneously with the mill, the First Subdivision comprised 800 acres, platted into 4,000 lots; each block included Jefferson Park  [click for larger image]forty residential lots. Streets were designed in grid fashion, parallel to two major thoroughfares, 5th Avenue (east west) and Broadway (north south). Businesses along these main streets had to rise at least two stories and be built of stone or brick. The residential areas were well manicured, with paved streets, sidewalks, young shade trees, and topsoil. Another USS subsidiary, the Gary Heat, Light, and Water Company provided free water for trees and lawns for four months a year. The Gary Land Company installed all utilities and sewers. U. S. Steel donated lots for parks, churches, the public library, YMCA, and other buildings. The First Subdivision also included the booming downtown business district, with the hub at 5th and Broadway.

House in the first subdivision  [click for larger image] Employees could purchase lots from the Land Company but had to adhere to strict building regulations, including erecting a building within eighteen months. Only the very well paid employees could meet this requirement, so the Gary Land Company began to build, sell, and/or rent houses for supervisors, foremen, and skilled workers. 506 houses in a variety of styles and price ranges were offered for sale or rent, depending on the income and status of the employee; most were rented at rates determined by the model and location in the First Subdivision.

By 1908, two years after mill and town began construction, the Corporation had spent $42,000,000 on the mill and town projects. Local boosters referred to the Town of Gary as the "Magic City" and the "City of the Century."

While the Corporation erected a modern state of the art mill town in its north side First Subdivision, it virtually ignored the southern end of the city outside of its property. Living in the First Subdivision was out of the reach of the bulk of the Gary Works workforce, most of whom were foreign born Shacks outside of the first subdivision [click for larger image] laborers. By 1920, fifty-two nationalities made their home in Gary, along with a significant number of African-American migrants from the South and Mexican workers from south of the border. The newcomers lived in the southern area of the city, known as "The Patch." There a very different Gary evolved, with numerous shacks, saloons, and overcrowded boardinghouses, along with a proliferation of real estate speculation and unsanitary conditions. A mining camp atmosphere prevailed, including over 200 saloons, with names such as the "Bucket of Blood." Gambling and prostitution flourished. Unpaved streets, no sewage facilities, and no running water were trademarks of the Patch.

As historian James B. Lane has described, the Gary police chief at the time referred to the Patch as "hell on wheels." :

"Here men drank, brawled, and sometimes died. Here charming streetwalkers sold their wares in a way any of the fifty-plus nationalities could understand. Here men either stashed away their wages in order to return to the homeland to a comfortable life or to bring their wife or mail-order bride over or gambled and drank away every sweated penny."

Thus, Gary's early history comprised a 20th century Tale of Two Cities. On the one hand, the company built and maintained the north side, a place of law and order, strict regulation of building and boozing, a glittering downtown surrounded by immaculate residential areas. This was the land of USS executives, foremen, and skilled workers, along with professionals and small businessmen. On the other hand, on the "other side of the tracks" rose the south side, the Patch, a rough, unregulated, unordered society, a slum. This was the unplanned Gary, the home of the unskilled worker. The irony here is that on Gary's lakefront existed the most advanced technology in the world at USS Gary Works. The best planning and engineering had gone into building the world's largest integrated steel mill; yet, a couple of miles south lay chaos and disorder.

When one enjoys the dramatic views of city and mill captured in the US Steel Gary Works Photograph Collection, one should keep in mind that the company photographers documented only the mill complex and the First Subdivision, although the collection also contains some images of the south side. While the south side was part of the Town of Gary, the company built town, the "Steeltown," was located to the north. This "Two Gary" phenomenon served as a continuous theme in the city's history through most of the twentieth century. It goes a long way toward explaining the dynamic and dramatic changes Gary experienced in its ninety-six years. It will be interesting to see how the "City of the [20th] Century" will develop as a "City of the 21st Century."


Brody, David. Steelworkers in America: The Nonunion Era. Harvard Historical Monographs, 45. New York: Russell & Russell, 1970.

Calumet Regional Archives. U.S. Steel Corporation Collection, CRA #41. <http://www.iun.edu/~lib/cra041.htm>.

Fisher, Douglas A. Steel Serves the Nation, 1901-1951: the Fifty Year Story of United States Steel. New York: United States Steel Corporation, 1951.

Lane, James B. City of the Century: a History of Gary, Indiana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Mohl, Raymond A. and Neil Betten. Steel City: Urban and Ethnic Patterns in Gary, Indiana, 1906-1950. New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986.

Moore, Powell. The Calumet Region: Indiana's Last Frontier. Indiana Historical Collections 39. [Indianapolis], Indiana Historical Bureau, 1959.