Located in the lobby of the United Steel Workers Headquarters in Pittsburgh is a statue of what appears to be a half man. The sculpture is based on the mythical Pittsburgh icon of the steel industry, Joe Magarac and was installed in 1974.
The legend of Joe Magarac was first told in a story that appeared in Scribner’s Magazine in 1931 and was written by Owen Francis. The legend is believed to have been started by eastern European immigrants.
It was said that Magarac was an actual man who was made of steel. His birth occurred in an iron ore mine and he grew up in a furnace. He was seven feet tall and his shoulders were as big as a steel mill door. He drank hot steel like it was soup and ate steel ingots like they were meat. He is said to have worked 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
Joe Magarac dedicated his life to helping all steel workers and would appear out of nowhere to keep them from harm. One story claims he showed up at a steel mill and stopped a falling 50-ton crucible from landing on a group of steelworkers. When a train loaded with ingots broke loose and was heading down hill out of control, Magarac caught the last car and pulled the train back up the hill, saving everyone at the bottom.
He called Mrs. Horkey’s boarding house his home. Joe Magarac earned the right to marry the beautiful Mary Mestrovich after winning a weight lifting contest but let go so she could marry her true love.
The demise of the legendary Joe Magarac is a topic of constant debate. Some say when materials were needed for a new mill he melted himself down in a Bessemer furnace so the new mill could be built. Others claim he’s in an abandoned mill waiting for the moment that furnace burns again. Still others believe he is simply still alive.
A version of the Joe Magarac story was told in a song by The New Christy Minstrels on their 1964 album called “Land of the Giants.”
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