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Merle McCurdy dressed in a cook’s attire on the deck of an ore ship on the Great Lakes.

Merle’s career on ore ships was short lived. Pressured by the economic constrains generated by the Great Depression, the Pittsburgh Steamship Co. in 1932 reduced its iron ore shipping volume by ninety percent. Hoping that the market erosion due to the steel industry would be short-lived, the company reassigned many of its experienced sailors to shipping jobs previously opened only to African Americans such as porters, cooks, and stewards.

Merle was suddenly out of a job and with few options available, he moves to Cleveland, OH. He finds work as a bellhop at the Hollenden Hotel, a downtown luxury hotel that was frequented at the time by popular celebrities and industrialists.


Miller, A. (1999). Tin Stackers : the history of the Pittsburgh Steamship Company. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press.

DPLA Rights


career, U.S. Steel, Hollenden Hotel, Cleveland, Great Lakes