Beaver County Industrial Museum in Darlington
I was born in Allentown, on the Southside of Pittsburgh, and now live in the Boston area. Over the past several years both of my parents passed away ( they lived in Ohio). Having been to Pittsburgh several times over the recent past and really enjoying my time in the city, I got the idea to come to Pittsburgh to do some research on my grandfather, who worked at the J&L mill in Pittsburgh, and my father, who used to fly with the Air National Guard out of the Greater Pittsburgh airport. After several months of research and planning, I had an itinerary put together. I was going to visit the Air National Guard squadron, the Beaver County Industrial Museum, and the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.I was not sure about going to the Beaver County Industrial Museum as I wanted to visit in March and it didn't open until the Spring, and it was only open on Sundays. It looked intriguing as it said that the largest part of their collection was about J&L. I emailed the museum, not expecting to hear anything as it was closed. I was astounded to not only get a quick reply, but an offer to open up the museum pretty much anytime I could make it. The appointed day came and my flight was cancelled due to weather. I rescheduled for 2 months later, and the flight was again cancelled due to weather. I had to reschedule soon, so I chose to come on the following Sunday. The Heinz Center was closed then, and my contact at the Guard unit was not available, but I decided to go anyhow. I figured that if the collection was too small, I could spend any extra time in Pittsburgh.Don Inman, the director of the Beaver County Industrial Museum, came out early to open up for my arrival. He literally rolled out the red carpet, and gave me a personal tour of the museum and its collection. In the reading room I was able to peruse some fascinating material. There were books recording accidents, the results of investigations, and any changes made as a result. Some events were pretty grizzly, grim reminders of how hard and dangerous the work was. A highlight for me was reading the J&L company magazine called " Men and Steel", published for shareholders and employees. In the magazines were lots of human interest stories- what people did in their free time ( hunting, fishing, visiting retired colleagues, playing violin, taking part in variety shows, bowling), and lots of pictures about employee picnics at Kennywood and employee children. Looking through these magazines transported me to the days of my childhood. That connection to my past alone made the trip worthwhile. From up on the hill overlooking Southside I can recall seeing J&L blackening the skies over Pittsburgh back in the 50s. Growing up all we ever seemed to hear about was J&L, so it was very interesting to get a better feel for actually what went on there and what it must have been like to work there. Other fascinating perspectives that I got from the Men and Steel magaziness were from the articles written by the mill doctor, who apparently was a pediatrician (!). I am a physician, and I marveled at how this doctor wrote in 1952, not long after antibiotics first became available, that too many people demand antibiotics for illnesses that are viral, and therefore will not respond to antibiotics. In the week after I read that, a study came out saying that today 50% of patients with viral illnesses were given a prescription for an antibiotic. 66 years and little has changed! He wrote other articles about tonsillectomies, health and nutrition that still resonate today. As it turns out, Don Inman is not just the curator of the museum. He is essentially curator of the history of steel in the Pittsburgh area. He has a passion for preserving and educating the public about the rich history of the iron and steel industry.He co-authored a book, "Portraits in Steel: An Illustrated History of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Corporation", that I already owned. (So of course, I got him to sign my copy). The book is excellent in its coverage of the history of J&L, including great insight into labor relations and the economic impact of the industry. Seeing and handling some actual artifacts in the museum was like icing on the cake. It was a good thing that I had the entire day to spend at the museum. Not only did I learn so much more about J&L than I had ever hoped; thanks to Don Inman, who really went above and beyond, I learned a tremendous amount about my family history. Census records that he pulled up confirmed that my grandfather had once changed the spelling of his last name. Family lore had it that he left the mill when workers were on strike, working in the mines until the strike was over. He then had to alter his name to get back into the mill. Don's research proved it.I learned so much more about J&L and my grandfather than I could have ever hoped, and it is really to the credit of Mr. Inman. This little museum and it's curator are hidden gems!