Mar 30, 2023

Made In The Lehigh Valley

The other day I was self checking out of the grocery store, and across the aisle was Bethlehem Steel T-Shirts.  They were made to look retro, with pre-faded logo and copy, which said MADE IN USA.  Although, I knew the phrase referred to the steel,  I couldn't resist looking at the shirt's label.  Needless to say, it was made in China. Ironically, Bethlehem Steel was a self sufficient company, which even  produced ships with its own steel.

When I was a boy I worked in my father's meat market located at the foot of Union Street, where the Hamilton Street Bridge crossed over the Lehigh River.  Saturday was busy, with many customers who worked at the Steel, Lehigh Structural, Black and Decker, Western Electric, Mack and dozens of sewing factories.  A couple of guys who worked during the week at Arbogast & Bastian helped my dad out on Saturdays.  Both Swift and Wilson meat packers had wholesale branches near by.  They would be supplied by rail sidings,  which  criss-crossed that area of the city.  At that time everything was made in America, except for cheap novelty junk.  Now, in addition to losing our manufacturing,  we're even losing our retail,  as everything comes directly from online ordering and warehouses.    I suppose that soon the cashiers at the supermarket will be a relic of the past.

reprinted from March of 2017


  1. “I suppose that soon the cashiers at the supermarket will be a relic of the past.”

    Not quite a relic yet, but there are certainly more self checkouts than when you first wrote this post.

  2. Over the past 50 years there has been a revolution in this country, a revolution in how things are made and how businesses are managed. Instead of manufacturing in the United States, we've exported that sector of our economy to other nations, where it costs less to make things.

    It started with cars, and it's gotten to the point that toilet paper is made in Mexico, because it costs less to make it there. Minimum wage was $1.20/hour in 1973. Now, officially, it's $9.50/hr, but many places pay more than that for their lowest wage jobs. Don't expect to retire and receive a pension, they're not offered any longer by most employers. 401 type plans which rely on the stock market is what is out there. And expect to have several employers over your working lifetime. 20 years and a gold watch is long over. More like 40 years and whatever you've accumulated in your 401 plan is likely the case. And hope the market doesn't tank too many times in your working career. Walmart no longer hires door greeters...

    The electronics revolution of the 1980s now provides a way for businesses to utilize self-checkouts, putting the burden of scanning prices on the purchaser, eliminating that minimum wage job of the cashier. I saw an article about a fully-automated McDonalds, where there are no employees, even flipping burgers is done by automaton. Drive up to the computerized terminal, press the buttons, scan the card, then drive around to the other side and pick up your order at the now automated window. No humans involved. They're on their way to a store near you...

    Not sure where you've been, self-scanning supermarket checkouts have taken over my supermarket. Although there is one cashier checkout with a bagger. The cashier does double duty at the customer service desk. Selling money orders and taking back that can of soup for one reason or another. Lottery tickets are now sold by a machine next to the ATM against the wall of the store. They accept debit cards to get your ticket so you can retire on the ticket they issue to you. There is also a machine in my supermarket from my state DMV to scan your vehicle registration, insert the card, out spits your sticker and new registration. No need to stand in like at the DMV for that any longer. That eliminated that clerk's job..

    This is why we are a poorer nation in 2023. If you don't have the technical knowledge, basically to repair all of the automation that has replaced non-skilled labor, you're pretty much unemployable of the automation machines, made and assembled overseas. The next will be police robocops, I'm sure..

  3. Robert W. BilheimerMarch 30, 2023 at 10:25 AM

    Thanks, Michael for reminding everyone that Bethlehem Steel was also a shipbuilder... Most people are not even aware of that here in the Lehigh Valley. Amazing, in that, Bethlehem was actually the largest shipbuilder in the world for most of its history with shipyards on three coasts. Ironically, in some ways, it was even a larger shipbuilder than it was a steelmaker -- and it was the 2nd largest shipbuilder in the world too! Quite a legacy.

  4. America is doomed ! 😭