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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Dad at Dinner: 1938

Dad at Dinner: 1938

July 1938. Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. "The Clifford Shorts family at dinner. Mr. Shorts is a roller at the Jones & Laughlin steel mill." Medium format negative by Arthur Rothstein for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

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Other Dimensions

My dad grew up in McKeesport, with much the same relationship with the steel mills. I'm particularly keen on these Pennsylvania pictures for a glimpse into that world.

His father (a laborer at one of the tube works) died when Dad was 7, in 1937. He thereafter faced a hard, often hungry, youth after that time. When I see pictures like this I see the kind of life he may have had if Grandpa had lived, with a little more money, food and a dad to take care of things here and there.

Evaporated Milk

The Shorts are using the evaporated milk to whiten the coffee. My late wife did that forever, passed down from her parents and I've seen others do it also. Two tiny little holes punched into the can and away you go.

Clifford Jr.

If I found the right obituary, one of these boys is Clifford Shorts, Jr., who died on Oct. 30, 2012. His brothers were Ronald and Kenneth (the latter predeceased Clifford), and sisters were Bernice and Patricia. One daughter is not pictured in the 2nd photo.

Rolling, rolling, rolling

My dear departed father in law was a roller at a steel mill. He was suspended in a pulpit about 10 feet long by 6 feet wide. About 6 feet below him were hot glowing slabs of steel, most at least 20 feet long and about 6 feet square. He sat behind a large steering wheel and used two foot operated pedals. This orchestration he perfected would stop the conveyor belt, flip the slab on its side, cut off the front at the specified length, move it up, and cut off the other end then send it on its way to eventually become one of those large rolls of steel you see on flatbed tractor trailers. The exact length of the slab was determined by the paperwork in front of him. Fortunately the pulpit was air conditioned year round. He would get frequent visitors who took advantage of the air conditioning on a hot day. During a tour I saw firsthand the grit and noise and heat he endured every day providing for his family. When he retired the mill eliminated the rolling operation and did it a different way. Apparently those rolls of steel held their heat for quite some time. He said after three days you still couldn't touch one.

Five kids in all

Clifford and Catherine Shorts had five children, the three youngest of whom are still living.

Labor history in the making

Clifford Shorts had been a millworker at Jones & Laughlin, but by July 1938 he was working full time as the financial secretary for the C.I.O. organization, the Steel Workers Organizing Committee ("SWOC"), for the plant. In the mid-1930s, plant management and conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices believed that the New Deal's Wagner Act, creating rights to collectively bargain, was unconstitutional, and the company refused to follow it. Instead, they created their own association to represent workers (and appointed Mr. Shorts as one of its leaders).

But Mr. Shorts and others soon broke away and formed SWOC, which filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. The Board's action against the company led to the Supreme Court's landmark decision in 1937 upholding Congress's power to enact the Wagner Act, for reasons that reflected even broader federal powers to regulate the national economy. When Congress considered amendments to the Act in 1940, Clifford Shorts gave testimony. This 1995 law review article tells the story well.

I wonder how Junior was taking it.

Being already a big boy and all that. And dad still not trusting him with a table knife. And that in front of a stranger from the big city, and his camera.

I would love to see the boy's whole face during the process.

Eat your veggies and drink your milk

If I'm not mistaken, the kids are eating peas in milk. My father used to love them this way, but I could never really stand peas, in milk or otherwise.

[There's a can of Country Club Evaporated Milk on the table. In addition to the kids' glasses of milk. This family had strong bones! - Dave]

Love the watch - Just the right size

Some of today's styles leave me cold. In particular: men's wristwatches are too big, and men's suits are too small. Dad's wristwatch is just right.

A plate of ??

What is on that plate on the far right? Is it cheese??

Re: Striped Shorts

Those kids would all be in their 80's now if any of them are still around.

Striped Shorts

Click to embiggen.

Her Beautiful Laundrette

That second iron on the shelf suggests that Mrs. Shorts may take in laundry. "In by nine and out by five."

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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