As a child, I lived between 2 of the great lakes, Ontario and Erie. Once a canal that led into Lake Erie, it was the famous “Erie canal” and it went from the Hudson River at Albany to Lake Erie in Buffalo.
The canal was discussed as early as 1724, it was mentioned in a report on fur trading. It was proposed in the 1780’s when America as a country was very young. Although construction didn’t begin until 1817. The Erie Canal was completed in 8 years at a cost of $7.143 million (equivalent to $121,000,000 in 2021) and was the 2nd longest canal in the world at that time.
Please remember, all children in NY had to take NYS history. I have a pretty good memory for facts, but the dates I needed to thank Wiki for.
This was a wild country. Indians were raiding for both the French and English, killing and burning out the settlers. French & Englishs, would in turn would raid Indian villages and burn them out.(This was the time of the 5 great nations, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca nations).
Not counting enemy raids, life was very hard, people died from a myriad of diseases easily cured today. A small cut could go ‘sour’ and cause death. Maternal and infant death rates were very high. And most of the doctor, if you could find one, were incompetent. It was better to go to a wise woman (Witch, and safer.)who also served as midwives.
One of my husbands great, great ancestors came down the canal on a wooden pole boat from the East to settle in a small village called Gowanda, NY. Some of this brave mans descendants are still there.
But I digress. With the opening of the Erie canal, there was finally some competition with the railroads for the transport of coal and oil, etc. With increased oil and coal production moving
across the Great Lakes, using the canal, eventually Steel Mills were built south of Buffalo in Lackawanna.
The Blast furnaces of these mills were fueled by coal. There was no such thing as pollution control in the 19th century and it eventually showed. Most young people today have no idea how black and thick the smoke that billowed out of the many, many smoke-stacks from the blast furnaces could be. It was like it snowed black flakes
Bethlehem Steel was one such mill, the smoke, made it hard to breath. The housing communities were just…black. Very little vegetation grew. It was like the city of the dead, with dirty little children sitting on the family stoop, looking hopeless. Laundry hanging on the line turning a dingy gray.
But New York wasn’t the only state with these huge companies, Pennsylvania. Michigan, Ohio also had these billowing dragons.I don’t think the cost in human lives can truly be counted. Pulmonary diseases, including Silicosis, chronic bronchitis, lung & epithelial cancer, Asbestosis and other cancers in the workers. But the family were not spared, each member had their own jobs to do. Sadly and unknowingly fathers brought the culprit for the disease home. The mill jobs became almost hereditary the cycle continued.
Something I didn’t know
More frightening? Between 1946-1956 in NYS, the plant “rolled” 2 radioactive materials, uranium & thorium on a 9 acre portion of the 70 acre site, for the US Atomic Energy Commission. The company rolled uranium billets into rods that were shipped off site via rail cars. These rail ca traveled through countless cities who that unaware of it.
Bethlehem steel closed down sometime after 1956 and although the company was decontaminated in 1958 to verify effective contamination. In 1976 another radiological survey was performed and most of the residual contamination remaining from the uranium and thorium rolling operations was confined to areas inside & immediately outside buildings 6 & 8.
In 1982, the company filed for Chapter 11 protection and in march of that same year, another company bought out the assets.
And on and on it went:
Our past isn’t nice, it isn’t pleasant, but with education, it will improve for the generations to come