Lorain’s International Legacy

Puerto Rican Origin

After World War II the United States created a plan to help Puerto Rico that, at the time, had a large amount of poverty.

Industrialization and modernization of Puerto Rico, known as Operation Bootstrap, rested on three major components:

  1. Industrialization by invitation: the inducement of American corporations to relocate in Puerto Rico in exchange for lucrative tax benefits;
  2. A cheap labor pool, educated in the English language and under the U.S. imposed curriculum;
  3. Proposed emigration of over a third of the island’s population, a security measure to ensure the plan’s viability.

Although this plan had many downsides, as one saw in the 1970s, it was the primary reason for bringing the Puerto Rican population to Lorain.

Following World War II, National Tube Company, a division of U.S. Steel, announced, “$100 million expansion and modernization project.” The one problem with this expansion was the companies in Lorain had a fierce competition over labor. With so many opportunities in town, there was a very large turnover rate in the National Tube Company. Therefore, the National Tube Company hired S.G. Friedman Labor Agency, a Philadelphia based company to recruit Puerto Rican workers. After strenuous tests that included a physical examination, a reading and writing exam in Spanish, and a report of good conduct from the police, 2,000 Puerto Rican men were chosen to work in Lorain, Ohio. The first group of Puerto Rican men came on a bus from working at farms in Pennsylvania and Michigan on October 27, 1947. The second group came on a plane with 206 Puerto Rican men on February 6, 1948. Between 1947 and 1948, 1,000 Puerto Rican men had been recruited to work at the National Tube Company.

It should be noted that the Puerto Ricans were treated very poorly by their recruiters. The new workers were flown in planes that carried livestock. Most of the planes were deemed unsafe and defective, and usually had an inexperienced person flying the aircraft. In multiple occasions, Puerto Ricans had been killed during the journey. Also, the National Tube Company nor Friedman’s Agency had failed to provide the Puerto Rican men with adequate winter clothing, after the companies promised they would.

At first, there was no public knowledge of the recruitment of Puerto Rican workers by the National Tube Company. One statement was issued in the Lorain Journal on February 6, 1948 stating that “26 natives from Puerto Rico,” had arrived. The next statement would not come until June of 1948 when the Post Tribune of Gary, Indiana stated their city would begin replicating the importation of Puerto Rican workers like Lorain, Ohio. From then on, newspapers tried to persuade citizens of acceptance to these new Puerto Rican community members. They were noted to be, “racially acceptable and good-looking, but they also had been proven to be completely civilized.” The General Superintendent of the National Tube Company, Robert Urquhart, said, “In our plant, the Puerto Ricans are exerting a decidedly favorable influence on the whole picture. They are excellent workers and absenteeism among them has been negligible. One of my main concerns today is to placate the foremen who come to me asking, “Can you let me have some more Puerto Ricans?” That has been true in every department to which these workers have been assigned.”

The recruitment of Puerto Rican workers soon stopped, but the migration of Puerto Ricans did not. At one point, 100 Puerto Ricans were arriving per week to Lorain and only 25% of them could find jobs. The Puerto Rican government sent Daniel Dochian of the Employment and Migration Bureau of Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor to, “assist Puerto Ricans to migrate to parts of the United States where suitable jobs and housing are to be found. At the same time, the agency will warn the Puerto Ricans away from such areas as Lorain where jobs are scarce and housing inadequate.” The city of Lorain, as well as the state of Ohio, both advertised in Puerto Rico that there were no more employment opportunities in Lorain. The Ohio Employment Services relocated 1, 524 Puerto Rican men from Lorain to Youngstown and Cleveland. As well as social services held workshops to encourage Puerto Ricans to not bring their families to Lorain.

The barracks, where the Puerto Rican workers originally lived, would form La Colonia, the Puerto Rican community of Lorain. However, La Colonia would become very overcrowded.

There began to be heavy discrimination of Puerto Ricans in Lorain, especially in housing. There would be signs posted on apartment buildings ready, “NO PUERTO RICANS, NO PETS.” Puerto Ricans soon moved into housing in South Lorain designated by the Sheffield Land Company as Foreign Housing. However, the housing in this area soon turned into slums, while, “many suffered injury, disease, and death.” That led the Puerto Rican population of Lorain to start buying homes on Vine Avenue, and then later around the railroad yard adjacent to Vine Avenue. This area was first known as Puerto Rican Boulevard, and then later called El Campito.

El Hogar Puertorriqueno was formed from many self-help organizations, including La Liga pro Bienestar Puertorriquena. The slogan of El Hogar Puertorriqueño is “Propiedad de todos los Puertorriqueños”, or “Property of all Puerto Ricans”.

The first church established in La Colonia was Templo Bethel. Many would later find a church home in Chapel of the Sacred Heart.

“The Puerto Rican Community in Lorain stands out as the most extraordinary in the country. It’s universally known as the most stable Puerto Rican community on the mainland.” 1978, Father Joseph P. Fitzgerald, Fordham sociologist.