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Between 1885 and 1900, what percentage of Andrew Carnegie's steel workers died on the job annually?

the Economist.
Fatal accidents in the steel mills, he calculates, accounted for 20% of all male deaths in Pittsburgh in the 1880s. Newspaper lists of men killed and wounded each year were as long as a casualty list for a small battle in the American civil war.

"Labor and Steel".
In 1920 the mortality rate in iron and steel was nearly twice the rate in general manufacturing, according to the Prudential Insurance Co. of America.

for laborers the most important occupation aumerically it is more than twice the average.*

The sickness risk in steel is bigger than the accident risk. Excess deaths from pneumonia alone were nearly as numer- ous in the industry in 1929 as all deaths from accidents ; and the severity rate for non-fatal cases of sickness has been higher than the severity rate for non- fatal accidents in the only steel plant which is known to compile sickness severity rates, Middletown plant of the American Rolling Mill Co. 18

What percentage of their work force did they lose annually?

( I chose those dates because they represented to my mind the most dangerous period in one of the most dangerous industries. As labor was loosing what little influence they had and before modest reforms began after 1907. )

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    Your second source seems to completely lie outside of the specified time frame of the question, and after Carnegie sold his steel business.
    – justCal
    Dec 20, 2017 at 18:25
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    Yes it’s part of the question background not part of the answer.
    – user27618
    Dec 20, 2017 at 18:36
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    Not an answer, but the Heinz museum in Pittsburgh (yes, the catchup brand) has a section dedicated to self-organized welfare, before there were public welfare. It has pictures such as workers without arms, cared by the nice old lady from the parish. The workers themselves would collect money, and churches and workers unions would organize lists of people in need. This museum could be a nice source of data or references if you are really interested. Would this be more efficient than centralized welfare?
    – Luiz
    Dec 21, 2017 at 12:53
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    At least steel mills were not as dangerous as coal mines and lumber jacking. I think it is always interesting to look at alternatives. Jan 2, 2018 at 1:24
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    What percentage of males in Pittsburgh in the 1880s worked in a steel mill? If 80%, or even 21% then 20% of male deaths would make it safer than alternatives, so knowing the baseline is crucial…
    – tim
    Aug 3, 2020 at 2:02

2 Answers 2

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The quote from The Economist is at the wrong end of a game of Telephone. If you follow it back through Krass (2002, p. 218, n. 26) to Kleinberg (1989, p. 31), it turns out that 20%-30% of male deaths in late 19th-century Pittsburgh were due to accidents of all kinds, not just those in the steel mills. For white-collar professionals the same number was 12.5%. So this 20% figure isn't much help for answering the headline question.

Having looked at these and other sources, I do not expect it likely we will find useful data that directly measures what the question is asking for before 1907. According to Aldrich (1997, p. 308) the fatality rate in the overall US steel industry was 0.7 in 1907, 0.5 in 1910, and did not surpass 0.4 in any subsequent year. A few more targeted data points can be found from Rosenow (2014, Chapter 4).

Crystal Eastman documented 195 fatalities in Pittsburgh’s steel mills during the year June 30, 1906, to July 1, 1907. The Bureau of Labor found that at least 569 steelworkers died as a result of work accidents between June 1908 and June 1910.

A table based on Eastman's report shows that only 73 of this deaths were at the Carnegie Steel Company, where 23,337 men are reported to have been working, implying a fatality rate of .3% among Carnegie's workers in 1906-1907.

Rosenow also states in a footnote:

Extrapolating from a Homestead Works document that details fatal and nonfatal accidents after 1911, it is likely that between eight hundred and one thousand workers died at that plant during its years of operation (Fatality Records for the Homestead Works of United States Steel Company).

It is unclear from this how many workers there would have been total and over how many years those deaths occurred, so it's impossible to estimate a percentage from this.

In sum, the available data leaves much to be desired, especially before 1907. I've had no luck identifying a possible source for the 1 in 11 figure for 1898 stated in another answer and it seems rather questionable.

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  • "the fatality rate in the overall US steel industry was 0.7 in 1907, 0.5 in 1910, and did not surpass 0.4" I believe you are missing percent characters in this sentence. At the moment the numbers read like seven in ten, five in ten, four in ten.
    – Jan
    Dec 2, 2023 at 13:05
  • @Jan I followed the original there. I would have to dig a little to be more confident that those numbers are percentages, but that is how I interpret them.
    – Brian Z
    Dec 2, 2023 at 14:38
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Steel workers industry wide 1898, 9% died on the job annually. I found this on a history channel production.

From “The Men Who Built America”, S01E07 “Taking the White House”. Counter 00:03:48

1898

90% of Americans survive on less than $100 dollars per month. Average American worker earns barely $1 per day, well below the poverty line. In a single year one out of eleven steel works will die on the job.

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    Watched the same program - the stat sounded non-credible to me, so I came here for a citation... circular so far, which is too bad. Stats need to be calibrated for life expectancy in the period, comparable occupations, cause of death etc. The same program was multiplying $ by ~100 to get modern equivalents, so $100/mth = $10,000 And the point was they were creating modern productivity which is the only cause of wages. Hence Ford being able to pay much higher wages a few years later. 1 in 11 dying in workplace accidents every year seems non-credible.
    – tim
    Aug 3, 2020 at 1:44

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