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History in the Hills: WSX Bulletin treasures

The Visitor Center at Historic Fort Steuben doubles as the headquarters of the Steubenville and Jefferson County Convention and Visitors Bureau. And that means we have a lot of visitors from all over the country who stop and visit us from hither and yon.

After talking to visitors for a while, the subject of our industrial past inevitably comes up. We naturally explain that once upon a time the mills were king of our valley. They provided in one way or another, steady employment for generations of local families in our area. To get right down to it, if your family has been in the area awhile, your ancestors came here most likely due to the mills, or an enterprise connected to them in some way. So, for better or worse, the mills are essentially part of our story, our collected community and personal lore that connects us through the years to our ancestors and those who came here looking for a better life for their families.

When those ancestors arrived here and went to work, communities formed, and bonds were made. As our mills grew in the early part of the 20th century, specifically in the plants of the Weirton Steel Co., there was a need to keep everyone connected and informed about the goings on, not only in the community, but in the various departments of the mill itself. Thus, in April 1934 the Weirton Steel Employees Bulletin was born.

The bulletin was an important way to get information out to the thousands of employees, but, most important, in the early issues of the publication, to report on the interdepartmental baseball tournament that was a big part of life at Weirton Steel at that time. In the very first issue of the bulletin, J.C. Williams, then-president of the company, said, “We should have some means of informing all employees regularly as to the many interesting plant happenings going on in our midst every day, which perhaps only a few of us hear about … there are many things of interest to our employees which can be brought out through some form of works publication, issued regularly, to each of our employees.” The bulletin from that moment on became a regular part of mill and community life for the next 55 years.

Throughout the life of the publication, there always were neat stories, anecdotes and community news connected to employees included in its pages. News of weddings, engagements, births and deaths all were reported in the bulletin. It is fun to look back and see the many faces we may recognize from our family as little children. My father, uncle and aunt are all included in the bulletin as babies.

Not surprisingly my favorite group of bulletins were those published during World War II. It was a time when the mill came together to work as a matter of national pride. Women, some previously at home, rolled up their sleeves to help out in any way possible. The bulletin staff did all they could to send the publication to many of the soldiers who were employed by the mill, provided they had a valid address. Often the soldiers wrote back thanking them for the kind gesture. The section “With Our Boys” featured Amy the Army Editor who wrote, “Trainees and enlisted men are urged to write this column to bring news of ‘Our Boys’ to their many Weirton Steel Friends.” In the Dec. 25, 1942, edition, my great uncle Pete Zuros wrote, “I have received your bulletins monthly and my fellow soldiers and I enjoy them tremendously. The news and the progress of the workers of Weirton Steel make me glad that I am defending our great country.” These letter of well wishes are numerous and touching. After so many years, somehow it is still heartwarming to know our fathers and grandfathers, while serving, had a little bit of home for comfort.

In the post war years the bulletin thrived, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, documenting our community and the many changes and improvements the mill was part of. Various issues were dedicated to “Safety Week,” “The Community Center,” “The Weirton General Hospital,” “The Annual Scout Week” and so on. Anything that involved employees, their families or was a big event in town, chances are that a bulletin photographer was present.

The publication contained so much in its 20-or-so pages that it would be difficult to relate all that was included over the years. It was no doubt special to have a blurb or picture featured.

This great publication capturing the life of our area for so many years came to an end in 1989 and that closed an incredibly special time in our history. Today the bulletins are sought-after mementos of a past time in our area, often appearing in online auctions and antique stores.

The Weirton Museum and Cultural Center, which is the repository of the Bulletin archives, has for many years maintained the large bound copies of original bulletins for the public to view. Recently these great publications have made it online and are completely searchable due to the great efforts on behalf of the Weirton museum.

Dennis Jones, executive director emeritus, and Savannah Schroll Guz, current executive director, deserve our high praise in making this valuable resource available to all of us with help from a grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council.

I encourage all of you to visit weirtonareamuseum.com and click on the “Digital Research Tab” to access the collection.

Back in the very first edition of the four-page bulletin, Williams hoped that “through such a publication we can all be brought a little closer together by being better informed as to the many somewhat personal things going on around us every day.”

I would wager that the bulletins are still bringing us closer together even after all these years.

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