Out of This Furnace: the US Economy in the Period Between 1880 to 1920 Essay

Paper Type:  Book review
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1142 Words
Date:  2022-09-22

In the period between 1880 to 1920, the US economy was at a rapid developmental phase. Several European immigrants with no technical skills flooded into steel mills and factories in America. These immigrants came searching for better economic opportunities that opened prospects for a low wage but strenuous labor turned out to be the job description in the immigrant's lives. Thomas Bell through his book, "Out of This Furnace" gives a vivid narration of the experiences of immigrants in the steel industries during this period. The story of the presence of America's immigrant laborers is one of minimal failure and success due to the bias and prejudice experienced by the workers, high mortality rates, and poverty as a result of low pay.

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Bell narrates the experiences of a multigenerational family of Slovakian immigrants. The family of five generations moved to the US in search for greener pastures. One of the first to arrive was Djuro Kracha. In the book, Kracha has three daughters, and a bunch of challenges follows his household. The book begins by narrating his journey from the "old country" and the work he did to save enough cash for his visit to Pennsylvania to work in the mills. Kracha believed that "by moving to America they might become millionaires" (Bell, 7). The novel goes ahead to talk of Kracha's indictment by the typical community as a "hunkey" and his daughter's and grandson's lives. Irrespective of this, the family soon becomes acculturated and Americanized and start to refuse the manipulation they are facing in the steel mills. Even though the workers were facing discriminations, some immigrants were better off in the country with their freedom, as Kracha claims "I'll agree, but don't you remember our lives in the old country?" (Bell, 59). Kracha then comes across prospects of becoming a butcher. Regrettably, his efforts of gaining more financial prosperity failed.

The family's deliberate progress to business ownership was rapidly ended by some events; similar to most of the laborers at the time, Kracha becomes an alcoholic as a means of dealing with his issues and returns to work in the steel mills. These occurrences ultimately intertwine with America's evolution of the 1880's and 1940's. During this period, an upsurge of Eastern European immigrants raised in the US, triggered by developing technology and growing industries. This wave resulted in the creation of other plants, factories, and steel mills that reformed the US workforce. Kracha's experiences demonstrate a level of resentment towards European immigrants from the American communities. With no doubt, the Kracha's were adversely affected by attributions and stereotypes. His wife was forced to go out and work to help keep the family financially stable;"this was a regular practice of women in the mills" (Bell, 18). They worked in the steel industries, and still had to raise children and take care of the household chores to make ends meet. The second generation of the Slovaks began to be extra conscious of politics and the impact of their involvement in the elections. With a raised awareness of the surrounding problems, they start practicing their rights of voting. They uphold the American dream as they continue working in the mills.

In conjunction with this native, the creation of labor unions is presented, and Bell makes his audience to gain an impression of how these unions were perceived and advanced by those who were to benefit from it. Through each generation, it is visible that immigrants turned out to be another liberal in their lifestyles and beliefs. Most of these perceptions change, nevertheless, the main fascinating bit is the labor union development and the worker's perception during this period. Most of the laborers lacked political freedom or a chance to make decisions in the industries. Nevertheless, following all these hardships, the immigrants went on in their fight for improved lifestyles. For several individuals, the US in the era of economic evolution in the late 1800's, displayed a nation of dreams and hope, an area that would offer them great economic opportunities.

Bell presents Kracha as a railroad work before he gets a job in a Dubrik mill (Bell, 3). His job descriptions as brought out by the author give the audience an impression of the living and working conditions at the mill. The work environment was relentless, arduous, and dangerous. The laborers endured long working hours, which resulted to fatigue that in turn led to accidents as seen through George's death whose life comes to an end following the explosion of an explosive boiler (Bell, 120). Even though this was not new incidences in the industry, no actions were taken to improve the working conditions and safety of the mill's workers. Bell's scenes in the novel, are not limited to the laborers working conditions, but also talk of the environmental damage as a result of industrialization. The mills had filled the rivers and shorelines and destroying trees, resulting in harsh living conditions for the people.

Through Bell's account of Mike's opinions, it is clear that "while the workers needed change, their perception of how this was to be accomplished was against the capitalists" (Bell, 190). The last part of the novel focuses on Dobie, Mike's son. His experiences and life differ significantly from Mikes as he grows in an era of changes and reforms. During his period, the unions are more prominent, and working conditions and workers' rights have improved. Dobie's tale shows how the American mill workers overcame capitalism to attain political freedom (Bell, 411).


Following the 1920's period, there was depression and recession which made immigrant laborers unpopular. This book dramatically conveys the immigrant's lives of the Dobrejcak's and the Kracha's and describes their need for achieving equality and parity. What changed was the grit of working against powers attempting to shield the family from getting into the main society. With every generation of the Slovak family growing and working up in the steel towns, we get the perception of the origin of America's industries. This novel also shows the evolution of the relationship between labor and management during the late eighteenth and early twentieth century. The mill owners were racist and discriminated against individuals such as the Slovaks who were known as "Hunkies." The laborers did not have political freedom and had no say in the activities in the workplace. There was a continuous fight between the mill owners and the workers since strikes are often mentioned in the book. Most of these wars resulted in deaths. Generally, the relation between the workers and mill owners was never good, and it deteriorated during Dobie and Mike's era. The workers finally got their freedom after the owners settled on signing union contracts. This novel was quite interesting as it gives its readers a rich understanding of the lives of immigrants during the second industrialization period between 1880 to 1920.

Work Cited

Bell, Thomas. Out of this Furnace. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1941.

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Out of This Furnace: the US Economy in the Period Between 1880 to 1920 Essay. (2022, Sep 22). Retrieved from https://proessays.net/essays/out-of-this-furnace-the-us-economy-in-the-period-between-1880-to-1920-essay

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