Back in 1955, this page from a Buffalo Evening News marketing piece was created to let potential advertisers from all around the country know that Buffalo was filled with a blue-collar workforce with plenty of disposable income — “people working, people living, people buying,” said the promo piece.
“Buffalo industries are BIG in the United States,” the page says, “and these Buffalo industries are BIG in creating wealth.”
With numbers probably gleaned from Labor Department stats, Buffalo claimed 43,300 steel workers, 36,700 auto industry workers, 19,400 petroleum/chemical workers and 15,000 grain/food workers.
The combined number of people working in manufacturing in just those industries in the mid-’50s was about 115,000. Today, the number for all industries is less than half of that. In August 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor says that there were 51,300 people employed in manufacturing jobs. More people were working in steel plants and grain elevators in 1955 than are working in any factory or plant in the Buffalo area today.
Inside Buffalo’s General Mills plant, Robert W. Duszczak operates the puffing gun, used to turn grains into breakfast cereals. 1965 photo. (Buffalo News archives)
While manufacturing is not as important to Buffalo’s economy as it once was, these days there’s steady growth in sectors like education, health care and hospitality.
BUFFALO, NY – For the second half of the twentieth century, industry was on a steady decline in Buffalo– but it was really at it’s height when Fortune Magazine did a 10-page cover story on manufacturing and the industrial might of Buffalo and Western New York in its July 1951 issue.
The Frederick Franck painting of Buffalo’s waterfront and downtown is great by itself, but the 27 photos of humming industry, almost half in color, and the rich accompanying text show the general sense of optimism about the future of the Niagara Frontier just after World War II.
There’s even a reference to one corporation deciding to build a factory elsewhere because there just weren’t enough people looking for work in Buffalo.
Outside of a few big names, many of the mid-sized factories that came and went here are all but forgotten to the collective memory. Buffalonians often use “Bethlehem Steel and GM” as shorthand for the providers of thousands of blue collar jobs that were once plentiful in Western New York.
And while those two giants may have employed 30,000 men here at the height of it, there were more hard working Western New Yorkers punching a clock in dozens and hundreds of other smaller factories. Large corporations and mom and pop outfits.
As you’ll read below, ‘the 200,000 factory workers (of Buffalo) make everything from pig iron to pretzel benders.’ It also says that Buffalo is heavily Polish, mostly Catholic, and anti-Red.
Just like many of you, my own family history is reflected in these photos. My great-grandfather worked at Westinghouse, my grandfather scooped grain at General Mills. My father-in-law worked for Hooker Chemical.
Of course, the mere mention of Hooker is a reminder of what a truly mixed blessing the high paying jobs of dirty industry was in so many cases. Western New York became ground zero for one of the first disasters to call attention to the disposal of toxic waste. The the company was found negligent, along with the City of Niagara Falls, in what was to become known simply as ‘Love Canal.’
Enjoy this look at Buffalo’s “fascinating industrial kaleidoscope,’ and make note that the photographer on this story was Victor Jorgensen, more famed for his V-J day shot of a sailor and nurse kissing in Times Square.