Politics, Propaganda, And The Steel Industry

Xander describing his exhibition


Politics, Propaganda, And The Steel Industry

Author: Xander Schempf, Museum Studies Intern at Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area – Fall 2017

Spending over six months working with Rivers of Steel Arts taught me more about the history of Pittsburgh and its role in the development of the United States than being born and raised here. As part of my internship, I had the opportunity to develop a new exhibition for the traveling “Steel Case” – a mobile display case that functions as a miniature gallery on wheels. In preparation for the exhibition, I began by sifting through Rivers of Steel Arts’ vast archive to create a list of possible themes. None of them were quite right, so I always ended up scrapping them for something else. Eventually, I stumbled upon some old magazines created to spread information about union rights. Searching for related materials led me to an array of interesting artifacts and documents that taught me a lot about the WWII era, a moment in US history that until now, I did not know very much about. 

With the guidance of Director of Historic Resources and Facilities, Ron Baraff, and the Chief Curator, Chris McGinnis, I developed a Steel Case exhibition that examines the political propaganda produced before, during, and after WWII in response to the rise of the steel industry in the United States. The rise of the steel industry ushered in new political ideas, my case considers how the political climate of the period was shaped by two major competing ideologies. There were left-wing groups who sought to attract steel industry workers to the socialist ideology, and in response, there were large corporations who quelled and attempted to maintain the existing capitalist working state. Themes such as the “common man” and the “greater good” were staples for each side in discrediting the other and strengthening their own views. Yet, hidden beneath corporate language was a continued effort to quell movements that threatened their status. The objects on view are only a small selection of the materials that can tell this story, but the ones I have selected seek to illuminate the progression of these interactions from unions, the industry, and popular culture, exploring how their influence made its way throughout many facets of twentieth-century America.

The exhibition is on display at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland through April 30, 2019.  

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