AfriGeneas States Research Forum
[PA] African-American steel worker's family
STRANGE, Reuben Strange (c. 1855-1920) & wife Catherine (c. 1862-1910)
Greenway, VA to Pittsburgh, PA // Speculative biography of an African-American steel worker // Sources: Ancestry, Family Search, Heritage Quest
For historical perspective on African Americans in the steel industry, see Dennis C. Dickerson,
This brief biography traces the life of Reuben Strange, a Pittsburgh steel worker. This Reuben Strange (3), born about 1855 in Virginia, is one of several African Americans bearing the name of a respected ancestor from Winchester, VA. He was a farm laborer in Greenway, Clarke County, VA 1870-1880. He is a son of John and Cloe (Chloe) Strange. This John Strange is most likely a descendant or relative of Reuben Strange (2), married to Betsie, of Clarke County, VA. John’s relative Reuben (2) most likely is a son of Reuben Strange (1) of Winchester, Frederick, VA who was freed from slavery in 1817, and whose known children are: Courtney, married to Moses Leonard; Reuben (2), married to Betsie; and Richard, married to Sarah. The elder Reuben (1) operated a respectable tavern at 118 E. Piccadilly in Winchester, serving beer and cakes provided most likely by his daughter Courtney and her husband Moses Leonard, a baker. Catherine, wife of Reuben (2) is a daughter of Edward and Sally Williams. Parents are named in the August 14, 1879 record of the marriage of Reuben Strange and Catherine Williams in White Post, Clarke County, VA. Reuben and Catherine Strange were counted as husband and wife in the 1880 census for Greenway, Clarke, VA. Around 1880-85 Reuben moved to Pittsburgh, Allegheny, PA where his VA-born relative Emanuel Strange had been living as early as 1880 with PA-born wife Margaret. In 1890 Reuben Strange was listed in the Pittsburgh City Directory as a puddler (iron or steel industry worker) residing at 3009 Smallman.
Known children of Reuben and Catherine, enumerated in the 1900 census, Pittsburgh, include: William, born June 1879 VA; Sandy b. July 1885 PA; Ralph b. Feb 1897 PA; Charles b. Sept 1898 PA. These four sons were the surviving offspring of ten that Catherine had borne in twenty years of marriage. Reuben was counted twice in the 1900 census for Pittsburgh: as a puddler at “Diamond Steel Mill” in the household he headed with his wife Catherine at 6 Townsend in Pittsburgh’s 8th Ward; and as a laborer at a steel rolling mill at 52 Fulton or Kelton, also in 8th Ward, home of his VA-born mother-in-law Mary Edmonds and brother-in-law John Edmonds, a marble polisher. Reuben apparently worked at Black Diamond Steel Works of Park Brothers and Company. At age fifteen, Reuben’s son Sandy also worked for Park Brothers Company as an “errand boy” at the “Park Building.” On August 16, 1886, the Newark Daily Advocate reported the destruction of a four-alarm, ten-engine fire in Pittsburgh “that threatened to be the most disastrous in this city for years” and resulted in “a $100,000 loss” to the company. In another accident on December 20, 1901, “The Black Diamond Steel Works of Park Brothers, on Thirtieth Street, was the scene this morning of an accident in which at least five workmen lost their lives and twelve were injured by the explosion of the four large boilers in the building…Reports are freely circulated that from ten to thirty were killed, and it will not be known just how many are dead until the wreckage is cleared away.” Not only steel workers, fire fighters, and rescuers were endangered in such industrial accidents. Anyone in the vicinity of the inferno could be hurt. In the 1901 fire, one of the boilers “went through the roof of the bar mill, soared through the air across Thirtieth Street, and crashed into the residence of Robert Price at 8 Thirtieth Street…completely wrecking the house. Price and his family were asleep at the time, and had to rush to the street in their nightclothes,” the New York Times reported.
Reuben was listed as a widower in the 1910 census, when he and his son William were counted at a Pittsburgh boarding house. About 1890-1900 Reuben Strange worked in the steel industry as a puddler, working with liquid iron or steel, or a laborer at a steel rolling mill. In 1910 Reuben worked as a city street cleaner. Perhaps he had been injured at the steel plant, or simply no longer had sufficient stamina for the dangerous, exhausting labor. Possibly he, like other black steel workers, had been pushed out of the industry by hostile supervisors and co-workers. Reuben’s wife Catherine apparently had died by 1910; Reuben between 1910 and 1920. By 1920, Reuben apparently had died. In that year his VA-born son William, restaurant chef, lived with DC-born wife Cora at 415 Michigan. William had stable employment 1900-30 as a cook or chef in hotels and restaurants. Reuben's younger sons Ralph and Sandy usually were employed as errand boys or messengers at a bank or office building.
After the death of their parents, Reuben’s sons William and Ralph lived with or near their probable relatives Margaret and Emanuel Strange. Family members also continued to share job information as they sometimes worked at similar occupations. In 1917 Ralph Strange worked at Standard Steel Car Company; in 1920 Emanuel Strange Sr. was employed as a car cleaner. Emanuel Strange Sr. most likely is an older brother, uncle, or possibly a cousin of Reuben Strange who also had moved to Pittsburgh from Virginia. Emanuel Strange Jr. (Emanuel Moses Strange), elder son of Margaret and Emanuel Sr., lived in Chicago in 1910 with relatives Carrie and William Robinson. Emanuel Moses Strange (wife Alice) and his younger brother William L. Strange (wife Hazel) probably moved from Pittsburgh to Chicago around 1910 with another relative, William Jackson Strange, b. 1871 in Carlisle, PA. These men, employed as porters and teamsters, apparently worked in both cities, Pittsburgh and Chicago.
As Reuben’s son William had stable work as a cook or chef, he and his wife Cora were able by 1920 to establish their own household which they sometimes shared with William’s younger brother Ralph. In 1920 Ralph, employed as a messenger at a doctor’s office, was a roomer in the household of VA-born Emanuel Strange and his PA-born wife Margaret, at 803 Gearing in Pittsburgh. In that year, Emanuel Moses Strange, elder son of Margaret and Emanuel, worked as a Pittsburgh city street cleaner—a job previously held by Reuben Strange. Emanuel and Margaret’s children include Emanuel Jr. (wife Alice), Jennie, and William L. Strange (wife Hazel). When Reuben’s sons registered for the draft during World War I, William Strange and Ralph Oliver Strange both lived at 710 Gearing, close to the home of their relatives. William was a cook at Trump’s Restaurant, 536 Southfield, Pittsburgh; Ralph worked at Standard Steel Car Company, Frick Building, Pittsburgh. In 1920 William lived with his wife Cora at 415 Michigan when his brother Ralph lived with Emanuel and Margaret on Gearing. William was counted twice in the 1930 census: at his home at 207 Chalfont with wife Cora and his brother Ralph, bank messenger; also in East Pittsburgh at 836 Linden, with his probable co-worker John Rowe, restaurant waiter. By the time of his World War II registration, 1941-42, William’s younger brother Ralph lived at 2901 Wylie and worked at Carnegie Steel Company, Carnegie Building, Pittsburgh.
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