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Gary Screw and Bolt Factory | Photo © 2020 David Bulit

Gary Screw and Bolt Company

Location Class:
Built: 1912 | Abandoned: 2004
Status: Demolished
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Gary Screw and Bolt Company

The Gary Screw and Bolt Company was founded in 1911 by a group of executives of the Pittsburgh Screw and Bolt Company. It opened in the summer of 1912 with its first 100 employees. The company became an important defense contractor during World War II, employing 1,000 men and women and manufacturing nearly 4,000 tons of bolts, nuts, rivets, threaded rods, and special fasteners monthly.

U.S. Steel Recognition Strike of 1901

The year 1919 was a tumultuous time not only for the Gary Screw and Bolt Company but for the city and people of Gary. Back in 1876, the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers (AA) was formed. It was a union of skilled steel and ironworkers deeply committed to craft unionism. However, technological advances had slashed the number of skilled workers in both industries. The AA led multiple strikes, such as the Homestead Strike, which culminated in a 10-day-long gun battle, resulting in ten deaths and dozens of wounded men.

In 1901, U.S. Steel was formed from a combination of Elbert Gary and J.P. Morgan’s Federal Steel and Andrew Carnegie’s steel operations; it also incorporated the American Tin Plate Company plants. This formation of steel plants threatened the AA with ruin as the corporation refused to acknowledge unions at its non-unionized plants but also refused to recognize or bargain with its unionized plants. In response, AA called for a strike on August 10, 1901.

The strike was crushed before it even started. Members refused to turn out at several plants, with others showing up in small numbers. The plants that did strike saw thousands of strikebreakers pouring in and idle plants reopening. The strike against U.S. Steel ended on September 14, 1901. It was a massive loss for the AA as the union lost recognition at 15 plants. The company even won a pledge from the union not to organize any plant not already unionized and to reject any affiliation offer from a unionized plant.

Gary Screw and Bolt Company
1946 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Gary, Indiana. Library of Congress

Gary Screw and Bolt Strike

On March 22, 1919, a fire destroyed the plant’s electrical department, causing $100,000 in damages. One hundred and fifty men were laid off due to the loss.

On the morning of July 28, 1919, many employees of the Gary Screw and Bolt Company staged a walkout as part of a larger movement among the nation’s steelworkers. The company had fired two machinists, stating they could not afford such high-priced labor. In reality, they were fired due to being responsible for the growing agitation among the employees. The striking employees demanded that the two machinists be rehired first. They also demanded an eight-hour workday, one day’s rest a week, and the abolition of the 24-hour work shift. They also demanded double pay for all overtime work and for work on Sundays and holidays.

When interviewed, Superintendent C. E. Carr stated that 80% of the men were still at work, but it was later learned that the plant was practically idle, with only about 10% in operation. The company gave in to their demands, including wage increases, back pay, and the reinstatement of the two machinists.

A second strike occurred on August 29, 1919, when around 500 employees walked out, leaving the plant idle. Earlier that week, the company had fired two electricians, claiming the two men were incompetent. At the same time, labor officials stated that the two men were fired for union activities within the plant.

Gary Screw and Bolt Company
Labor leader rallying striking Steelworkers in Gary, Indiana. 1919
Great Steel Strike of 1919

On September 22, the Gary Screw and Bolt workers joined the nationwide general strike. Almost immediately, U.S. Steel executives turned public opinion against the union by publishing information exposing one of the labor leaders as a Wobbly and a syndicalist and claimed this was evidence that the steelworker strike was being masterminded by communists and revolutionaries. Newspapers from then referred to the strikers as ‘Reds.’

U.S. Steel brought thousands of unskilled African-American and Mexican-American workers to work in the mills. Officials played on the racism of many white steelworkers by pointing out how well-fed and happy the black workers seemed now that they had ‘white’ jobs. Company spies also spread rumors that the strike had collapsed elsewhere, and they pointed to the operating steel mills as proof that the strike had been defeated.

In Gary, strikebreakers and police clashed with unionists until the U.S. Army took over the city on October 6, 1919, and martial law was declared. Military and police personnel raided union headquarters and meeting places and arrested radicals plotting to bomb military garrisons. By October 15th, the strike in Gary had collapsed. President of the Gary Screw and Bolt Workers’ Union, Edward Mulholland, was expelled from the union after he said that members of the American Legion could not join the union, upsetting many returning soldiers from the war. By November, workers were back at their jobs in Gary.

Rise and Decline of Gary Screw and Bolt

It was announced in June 1925 that the Gary Screw and Bolt Company had purchased the Continental Bolt and Iron Works in nearby Munster, Indiana, for $722,000. From then on, it began operating as the Continental Works of the Gary Screw and Bolt Company. This merger brought Gary Screw and Bolt’s operating personnel to approximately 2,700.

A major fire destroyed two main buildings in 1947, reducing production by almost half. Despite that, the company retained over 900 employees and invested $1 million to expand and modernize the complex. The end came in the 1980s during a recession due to international competition, which resulted in the plant’s closure on December 31, 1986, and all the equipment and machinery being sold to a liquidator.

Gary Screw and Bolt Factory
Baggers showcasing the different sizes of nuts that are produced at the plant. 1956

The Gary Urban Enterprise Association

The complex was laid vacant until 2002, when it was purchased by the Gary Urban Enterprise Association (GUEA). The purpose was to use the building to store donated clothing before the clothing was cut up into strips and shipped to countries needing bulk textiles. The city agreed to forgive all the back taxes on the property in exchange for the GUEA to conduct a basic environmental cleanup on the site and sell parcels back to the city upon request. It wasn’t long before the federal government investigated the organization.

Between 1998 and 2004, the executive director of the GUEA, Jojuana Lynn Meeks, purchased over 655 properties. As a tax-exempt non-profit, the GUEA was required to submit a development plan to the Lake County Government showing its intent for these properties to maintain tax-free status. Meeks never reported these purchases. In addition, Meeks began transferring these properties to several companies she had created for a post-GUEA life.

In 2006, Jojuana Lynn Meeks and Financial Manager Charmaine Pratchett were charged with misuse of public funds, under-reporting of funds, theft, excess pay, and malfeasance, among other criminal charges. Meeks received a six-year prison sentence, and Pratchett received a seven-year prison sentence. In addition to their convictions, Board members Derrick Earls and Johnnie Wright, Gregory Hill, Lawrence Meeks, Roosevelt Powell, Willie Harris, and Will Smith were convicted of corruption, fraud, theft, and wrongdoing.

Reuse of the Old Plant

Once again, the former Gary Screw and Bolt Company factory was laid vacant and remains so to this day. A rather controversial thing was left behind: hundreds of pounds of clothing donated to the GUEA, now decaying on the factory floor. Environmental Cleansing Corporation, a demolition and recycling firm, bought the property in 2014 to store scrap metal, wood, concrete, glass, and paper, some of which are sold to nearby steel mills. The company planned on maintaining its headquarters here and building a rail spur to connect to the Norfolk and Southern rail lines on Screw and Bolt’s south side. A portion of the factory was also planned to be demolished, which eventually occurred in September 2021.

Gary Screw and Bolt Factory
Hundreds of pounds of clothing donated to the GUEA now decay on the factory floor.
David Bulit

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