thumbnail of The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 1
Transcript
Hide -
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
That looks better now, with the blank thing in front of the—
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
We're ready.
INTERVIEWER:
OK. About Aliquippa?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
I moved to Aliquippa in 1914. My father came from Atlanta, Georgia, up to Aliquippa, as the assistant super-intendent of the J and L plant at that time. Aliquippa was known as Woodlawn, it was the company town of J and L , it was built on about, I think, six hills, with the main street running down the valley between the hills. The superintendents, of which father was one, lived on the third hill, or plan six, as they called it, which was the Knob Hill of Aliquippa, at that particular time. The main street had a streetcar running down the middle of it, and the main stores were all on the front, Franklin Avenue, was the call of it. The main store was the PM Company, which is the company store. There was a drugstore on the corner called Hannah's Drugstore where everybody used to meet for ice cream sodas. The main grocery store in town was run by an Italian called Bontempo. There was a movie theater, Harvey's Movie Theater, as I remember. Further down the street were the houses, and the churches were located in that part of it. Aliquippa, as I remember, was a town of about twenty thousand at the time, and
the main industry in town, of course, was J and L. In fact, it was a company town. J and L built the town, laid the town out, and
the mill supervision, management of the mill,
were responsible to see that everything in Aliquippa was conducted in a good, solid fashion, for the benefit of the citizens of the town.
Aliquippa was a wonderful place to grow up. There were lots of woods around the hill. Back of my, our home was a farm where a fellow had an apple orchard, which it used to be great fun to steal, climb the fence and steal the apples. In short, Aliquippa was my idea of a wonderful place for a family to live in the early stages of their life.
INTERVIEWER #2:
Excuse me, we need to stop for just a second.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
Cut.
INTERVIEWER:
As soon as we get the signal.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
And, got the signal.
INTERVIEWER:
OK.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
The town was laid out in what they called 'plans'. Plan one, two six, the plans were all on hills, except for, I guess it was the west end of town, which was on the, bordered on Franklin Ave. The supervisors of the different mills, foremen and on up, lived in plan one, two, and three. Most of the laborers lived on the hills down to the west end of the town. Plan eleven was the plan where most of the, shall we say, lower income people, lived, but they were all supervised and policed in a good fashion, and there was little if any crime in the early days of Aliquippa. I can't emphasize too much the fact that it was a good place to live for kids. The school system was good, there were two or three grade schools and one high school in the early days. After I left, they built a new high school on the top of the hill, and I think that was where Tony Dorsett went to high school. Aliquippa had a baseball field and a swimming pool that was furnished by the mill, where I learned how to swim, and all in all I'd say Aliquippa was a great place. I haven't been back in, oh, maybe thirty years, so I can't tell you much about it now, but that's the way it was at that time.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, in the article you gave me last night, your father described Aliquippa as \"a benevolent dictatorship.\" Can you tell me what he meant by that?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, I think he meant by the fact—
INTERVIEWER:
I'm sorry, can you say \"my father\"? When he said—
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
He meant, my father said, was the superintendent of the mill, and the superintendent of the mill was responsible to see that the conditions were right for the employees of the mill to live. They saw to it that there was police protection, saw supervision, the facilities were taken care of. The water company and the sewer company were all under the supervision, indirectly, of J and L . There were no outside influences allowed to creep in. I say allowed, I don't know if that that's the proper word, but no outside influences crept in that were to the detriment of the people and conditions of the town at that particular time.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, what kind of influences would have been detrimental to the community?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, you could have had a lot of crime. You could have had [coughs], you could have people who allowed their property to disintegrate, and fall apart. That didn't happen. I hope that answers your question.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, your father, as we talked about yesterday, was extraordinarily successful and well-respected as an executive. Can you tell me about his philosophy of business, and his management style?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
My father was the best business executive I ever met, and the best business executive in the United States at the time. He had, main theory was he would hire good people, give the people a good job to do and let them do it, not interfere. If they did it, they progressed and got along, if they didn't do it, they were replaced. There were no ifs, ands, or buts about it, either you did your job—and there was no beating on the head or anything, you would just, the performance told the story, and it was his belief that if a man was successful, let him do his own job, but pick the right fellow for the job. He also, I believe it's truthful to say that father felt that, promotion from within was more desirable than going outside and hiring a lot of outside people. While I'm not saying that J and L didn't hire outside people, but, I know they did, but whenever possible, father always believed that it was better for the morale of the organization to promote within, if you had qualified people to do so. He was a fair man, father was smart, intelligent, innovative, big word. He was knowledgeable about the steel business. Father went to Lehigh University, had an engineering degree, he had experience before he came to J and L . I would say, all in all, he was, father, as I remember him, was successfully in every job he ever took out. I think that's about all I can say on that.
INTERVIEWER:
And how did workers feel about him?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Most of the workers that knew him, loved him. I can't say that was universal, because there were people that didn't perform up to standard and were removed. I remember a story, one time, I'll tell you about. Father, in later years, was the director at the Aviation Corporation—
INTERVIEWER:
You know what, I'm sorry, I'm gonna have to interrupt. Are you going outside of the '30s? Are you going outside of the '30s?
INTERVIEWER:
No, well, it was in '39. Well, forget that.
INTERVIEWER:
I'm sorry.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Forget that.
INTERVIEWER:
Any stories in the '30s that illustrate what kind of boss he was?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
No, I can't tell you anything particularly about that.
INTERVIEWER:
Can you tell me about Captain Mock, who he was, and what his job was?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Captain Mock, when I met as a boy of about five or six years old, was head of plant protection at the Aliquippa plant. He was a tall fellow, about, I would say six feet one, straight, ramrod straight, with steely blue eyes, and he was one of the finest men I ever met in my life. He was fair, he was courageous. He was also one of the best rifle and pistol shots I've ever seen in my life. Captain Mock taught me how to shoot a shotgun, and we'd go down on the slag dump at the plant, he'd throw clay, he'd have another fella throw clay pigeons in the air and I'd shoot at them with a shotgun, and he'd miss, and I'd miss them. He'd break them with a .22 rifle. He was an ex-Pennsylvania state trooper, and one of the early ones, and one of the good ones. He was hired from the Pennsylvania state police by J and L. He later went to Pittsburgh after I left Aliquippa, to be in charge—
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
—of all plant protection for all of J and L's plants and mines.
INTERVIEWER:
OK, we're out film. That, every eleven minutes we have to change film rolls.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
OK.
CAMERA CREW MEMBER:
INTERVIEWER:
OK.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Captain Mock was in charge of all the plant protection of the J and L plants, eventually. He was in charge of Aliquippa when I knew him. He was responsible for the safety of the plants, for the security of the plants. He was also, I think, something of a benevolent godfather to the police force in Aliquippa, although I'm not sure of this. I think he, I think one of his ex-patrolmen became chief of police of Aliquippa, that I'm not exactly sure about. Fella I'm talking about was Mike Cain, who used to ride around on a motorcycle all the time with a sidecar on it. Mock was one of the most fearless, well-controlled people I've ever seen. There was a time, in the '30s, when a fellow went berserk in the payroll department and started shooting at the people in there, and he came out the side door of the main office with a revolver in his hand, and Mock was in the police office, which was about fifty to seventy-five feet away. He grabbed a gun and ran outside, and the fellow was standing there with this .45 revolver in his hand. I said, what did you do? He said, I let him shoot at me once so they wouldn't say I killed him in cold blood. He shot at me and missed, and I shot him three times and didn't miss, but he said, the first time, when he didn't go down, I thought to myself, I must be getting old, I can't shoot. He said, I found out the bullet hit a rib and slid right around his heart. I said, Where did the other two go? About and eighth of an inch away, but they missed the rib. And the fellow was carried away in an ambulance. But it just goes to show the courage of the man.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, you told me he was paid to oppose the Union, can you tell me what that meant?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
He, he did what?
INTERVIEWER:
You told me yesterday he was paid to oppose the Union.
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, that was part of his job.
INTERVIEWER:
Can you tell me what that meant?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, it meant that, no union organizers or things were allowed to go on on J and L property, and he saw to it that they didn't. he wasn't under-handed about anything, if someone came down, it was his job to know where the union organizers were. J and L was opposed, as was all the steel industry, was opposed to the union formation of their employees. They thought things were going along pretty well, and they were. So Harry Mock was, well, I would say, it was his job to see that the status quo remained, if possible, without being rough or unruly or out of the bounds in the way he did it, and I think he did it with dignity, that I ever knew of, anyhow.
INTERVIEWER:
Now, can you tell me how your father felt about unions?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
My father was not in favor of unions. Definitely. He felt that it was better for people to take care of their own life, than to have somebody else try to take care of it for them. Unfortunately, there people in the industry, in different industries, that took advantage of their employees, which was not true of J and L , or most of the big companies that I knew of. As a result of it, father recognized there was some need for union, but there was no need for adversarial opposition of unions to management all the time, which created a division between the workers and the people they worked for. He was strictly opposed to that. He felt that the management of J and L and Republic Steel at that times he was with them, was interested in and very much concerned about the ultimate welfare of their employees, and if they were treated fairly, they would do their job. Unfortunately, the unions came along, the unions which did come along created an atmosphere of animosity, or negative approach, and there was an adversarial that existed and still exists to this day, although I think that conditions [coughs] in the last seven years have lessened that some. I think that probably the better grade of people in command of the unions over the years, of development, education, learning, and experience, has proven to most of them, or a lot of them, at least, that it's better to get along than it is to fight all the time, and there was a lot of that, very much... the early days of the steel workers, United Steel Workers, there were a bunch of radical elements in certain portions of the steel-working business. Whether there was, father always thought that, that most of the, that radical element was Communist-backed, or Communist-inspired, anyhow. I'm not so sure that was right, but there were definitely radical elements, and most of the radical elements were - oh, it may be unfair to say so, but most of the radical elements were uneducated, or of a lower grade of education, and had their own interests at heart more than the interests of the other employees, although they claimed they didn't. Father was against unionization, and felt that things were getting along the way they had been, and I think, in general, he was right. But that's about all I can say about that.
INTERVIEWER:
That was great. Can you tell me, when he formed Republic Steel, what were the conditions, what was it like there?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
The conditions at the time of the formation of Republic Steel, which was in 1928, 1929, were at the end of the boom years. And during the boom, Cyrus Eaton of Cleveland had bought a bunch of steel companies that he was going to put together an industrial empire in the Middle West, but Cyrus Eaton got into a proxy fight on control of one of the companies, and while they won the fight, he lost control of the companies he bought, and by the time Republic was formed, which was April 8, 1930, Cyrus Eaton was out of the picture. Father was, had been hired to, by Cyrus Eaton, to form, put together the merger of all these small, or smaller, steel companies, and at the time of the merger he was in sole charge of the thing at that particular time. There was a fellow by the name of E.T. McLarry, who was President of Republic Iron and Steel Company, who was appointed president of the company, and father was chairman of the board. And McLarry lived for about a week, and died, and business conditions were getting so bad at that particular time, they never replaced him as a president. They made father chairman of the board and president of the company, and he was the one that bore all the command decisions during the early and the middle '30s. That pretty well explains it.
INTERVIEWER:
And yesterday you were telling me that business was really, um, poor, during those early years?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Business wasn't poor, gal, business was terrible. They went from nothing, to a case of extreme poverty. They had trouble meeting payrolls, they had trouble keeping the plants going. They had trouble meeting their financial responsibilities, but by hard work and the friendship of some knowledgeable people, and the fact that the Republic management that was put together was an excellent management, they survived the early '30s. Although, I think they would have had tough going, if the War hadn't come along.
INTERVIEWER:
Can you tell me the story you told me yesterday, about calling in the salesmen?
TOM GIRDLER, JR.:
Well, at one time, they had lost their line of credit in New York City, due to the jealousy of some previous assocaites, which we won't mention. They were having trouble generating enough money to beat the next bi-weekly payroll, so they called all their salesmen in from the road and sent them out to collect bills, collect past-due accounts or current accounts to get enough money in to pay for the next payroll, which they made successfully. After that, they established a line of credit with a New York bank, due to friendships that father and a fellow named Myron Wick, who was our financial vice-president, had generated over the years on Wall Street, and they survived. But it was close.
INTERVIEWER:
We're out.
Series
The Great Depression
Raw Footage
Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 1
Producing Organization
Blackside, Inc.
Contributing Organization
Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis (St. Louis, Missouri)
AAPB ID
cpb-aacip/151-1c1td9nm9g
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/151-1c1td9nm9g).
Description
Interview with Tom Girdler conducted for The Great Depression.
Asset type
Raw Footage
Genres
Interview
Rights
Copyright Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode).
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Credits
Interviewee: Girdler, Tom
Interviewer: James, Dante J.
Producing Organization: Blackside, Inc.
Writer: Malkames, Rick
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Film & Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis
Identifier: cpbaacip1516w96689027__fma261978int20120514_.h264.mp4 (AAPB Filename)
Generation: Proxy
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Citations
Chicago: “The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 1,” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 9, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-1c1td9nm9g.
MLA: “The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 1.” Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 9, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-1c1td9nm9g>.
APA: The Great Depression; Interview with Tom Girdler, Jr. Part 1. Boston, MA: Film and Media Archive, Washington University in St. Louis, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-151-1c1td9nm9g