Destination: The Americas

Steelton, Pennsylvania (PA)
Archivist: Henry Fischer

  Baldwin, PA, was a small backward town situated in the neighbourhood of the Susquehanna River some three miles south of Harrisburg, when shortly after the Civil War the Pennsylvania Steel Company chose it as the site of the first American steel plant in 1866.  It was an ideal location with both the Pennsylvania Canal and Pennsylvania Railroad running parallel to the river nearby and in close proximity to the ore and coal fields in nearby Cornwall.  The small rural hamlet was transformed and eventually lost its identity and character with the
construction of the large steel plant complex on the flatlands adjoining the river.  It was inevitable that the company officials and their labour force would dominate the life of the community so that it became known as “Steel Works” until 1880 when its name officially became Steelton. 

Before 1890 Steelton was a homogenous community of some 10,000 inhabitants made up of mostly of white Anglo Saxons Protestants with a smattering of Germans, both those native to Pennsylvania and recent immigrants many of whom were skilled workers in the steel industry.  The original unskilled workforce that was later brought in were primarily Irish immigrants and blacks moving in from the rural South living in row houses built and owned by the steel works and served by the company store where they spent the greater part of their income. 



Steel Mill Life For The New Immigrants

A strike in 1891 by the skilled workers challenged the power of the Pennsylvania Steel company but was quickly put down.  In the aftermath of the strike the company encouraged massive immigration from southern and eastern Europe including the Austro-Hungarian Empire and did so through recruiting agents.  These men were often local freelance operators living among their own people and who were also working for the steamship companies receiving their fees from both on the basis of the numbers of immigrants they enlisted.  The arrival of thousands of these Croats, Serbs, Italians, Bulgarians, Slovaks, Hungarians and the so-called Banaters (as the first arriving Danube Swabians were known locally) forever changed the character and composition of the population of Steelton. [Complete Story]

The Attraction to Steelton

What attracted the immigrants to Steelton was the “high wages” the steel industry paid.  An unskilled worker was paid up to twelve cents an hour.  He could work for twelve hours a day and earn $1.44!  An added incentive when it came to families was a large cigar factory that also employed 800 women at seven cents an hour! Agricultural work back home could never match that.  The worker’s own expenses seemed minimal in comparison.  The single and married men living in boarding houses paid $2.50 a month for their room that they usually shared with up to four other men.  Their meals were extra.  They could provide their own or eat with the family.  Most chose the latter option.  [Complete Story]

Donauschwaben in Steelton


German Evangelical Lutherans from Tolna, Somogy & Baranya in Hungary

Steelton Danube Swabian Surname Registry

Local Genealogical Research Aids
Steelton, Dauphin Co., & Pennsylvania State Records

Settling Down or Moving On

In many ways, the majority of the Danube Swabians who arrived in Steelton as their destination on coming to the United States were simply passing through and left few traces behind of their sojourn there, except for the descendents of those who remained, many of whom in the future would have no knowledge or recollection of their Danube Swabian heritage beyond knowing their families were of German origin. 
Complete Story]


Steelton, PA Archivist, Henry Fischer

DVHH < Destination: The Americas < United States < Steelton, Pennsylvania (PA)

Last updated: Wednesday January 14, 2009

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