Shaping the Corporate Image: Header

Shaping the Corporate Image


Shaping the Corporate Image: Intro

From the Depression to World War II to the post-war era, U.S. Steel public relations campaigns responded to the public’s evolving perceptions of large corporations in regard to anti-trust issues, labor activism, wartime duty, profit margins, and the free enterprise system. From the 1960s onward as U.S. Steel repeatedly faced PR challenges inherent to large corporations, it continued to turn to photography. The more than 1,200 images at Baker Library testify to the corporation’s inventive deployment of the medium and the emerging profession of public relations to shape social views of the giant enterprise. In an age of the new media landscape, where rapidly proliferating social networks are revolutionizing the reach and influence of corporate public relations, U.S. Steel remains an illuminating case study both in its time and today.

Shaping the Corporate Image: Slider

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Fritz Henle. Brake cable assembly, Worcester Works, Worcester, Massachusetts.

Scooping up loose iron ore, Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Co., Birmingham, Alabama.

By-products coke ovens, Geneva Steel Plant, Geneva, Utah.

Spinning wire into suspension cables on Delaware Memorial Bridge, American Bridge Company, Wilmington, Delaware.

Sweifet-Roleff Studio. Chemical control laboratory, Oliver Iron Mining Company, Duluth, Minnesota.

Producing flat stitching wire, Newburgh Wire Works, Cleveland, Ohio.

Russell Aikins. “Venting” zinc furnace condenser, Zinc Works, Donora, Pennsylvania.

Shaping the Corporate Image: Body

U.S. Steel photographs feature the talents of artists drawn to the industrial aesthetic and photographers from the corporation’s engineering corps and local studios who had access to and familiarity with nearby company plants. The corporation’s PR campaigns entailed not only the efforts of photographers in the field, but also a team of editors, writers, and designers. The assignment, selection, and placement of images in a range of media from corporate publications to traveling exhibitions were designed to build relationships with many public audiences representing specific demographics: employees, stockholders, consumers, students, local communities, and representatives of government.

Historian Gonzalo Montiel Roig notes that photographic archives “linked to large steelmaking industries have a dual purpose . . . of documenting the industrial process and constructing a homogeneous account to the benefit of the business, ideological and commercial interests of the factory owners.”57 The powerful images commissioned by U.S. Steel document the story of the industrial advances, technological might, and human enterprise entailed in transforming raw materials into commercial steel products and profits. Each employee is portrayed as vital contributor to the whole that constituted the corporate family. Collectively, the photographs represent a commanding body of work intended to convey the image of U.S. Steel as a focused, benevolent enterprise working in the best interests of its stockholders, employees, the public—and the nation.

Shaping the Corporate Image: Footnotes

57 Gonzalo Montiel Roig, “The Industrial Photography and the Steel Company Archive of Puerto de Sagunto: Representation, Power and Identity (1944–1976),” Revisita Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas 149 (Jan.–Mar. 2015): 71.

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