WKBN photographer shares 40-year-old footage of Youngstown-area steel mill workers

Local News

Friday afternoon, Nick Rich presented the footage to Bill Lawson of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The history of the steel industry has been well documented, and this evening we have another two reels of film to add to the collection.

They were found in the basement of longtime WKBN photographer Nick Rich and given to an organization to preserve them forever.

On a recent Saturday morning, we followed Rich into his basement in Lawrence County’s Neshannock Township to a box where three months earlier he found two reels of old steel mill footage. It was shot 42 years ago.

“I knew it was historic and I didn’t want to see it get thrown away,” Rich said.

It was the fall of 1979, two years after Black Monday. At the time, Rich worked for WYTV, which was working on a documentary on the collapse of the steel industry.

“We rarely had an opportunity to go into mills because it was a dangerous place back then to be, and we were really surprised they let us in,” Rich said.

Rich and two other photographers arrived at the old Republic Steelworks in Warren during the early morning shift change. They spent two hours in the mill filming as the blast furnace was tapped and watching a ladle of molten steel move through, stopping to pour its product into ingot molds. Then it was on to the blooming mill, where an ingot was molded into shape.

“It was very noisy and it was very hot at different times and it was like organized chaos,” Rich said.

Rich has been a news photographer for 45 years, covering everything the Youngstown area has to offer. He knew the old film needed to be saved — it was history, so he saved it.

“I forgot about [it] for 42 years,” he said.

After the canisters were rediscovered, he had a Pittsburgh company digitize them. But now, what to do with the film?

Friday afternoon, Rich presented the canisters and their 38 minutes of film to Bill Lawson of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society. Lawson is big on provenance — he loves the stories behind historical items.

“It’s great to have the person, in the case of Nick, who actually shot the film in the late 1970s, held onto it and brought it in, and do the extra step of reformatting it into digital. Doing all that and being so proud of his work and bringing it to us, and that’s the provenance right there,” Lawson said.

“I’m so glad to be able to bring it here to the Historical Society because this is where it belongs. Not in my basement, but at the Historical Society where people can look at it,” Rich said.

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