American folk heroes are powerful people, whether real or not. These remarkable individuals often embody desired strengths or skills. What sets a folk hero apart from the general public is his or her transformation from the common to the extraordinary by virtue of their deeds and choices. One example is steel worker Joe Magarac who was considered by many to be the Paul Bunyan of the steel workers.He became the ideological symbol for the steel-working public.
In the 1930’s Joe Magarac was manifested by the steel workers of Monongahela Valley in Pittsburgh, as a powerful symbol representing the grit associated with this industry. His official title was “Joe Magarac: Man of Steel,” as he is depicted crushing a piece of hot steel with his bare hands. He bent iron with his bare hands and felt no pain from the scolding hot temperatures of the metals. He could build large railroads merely by shaping metal between the wedges of his fingers. However, he was idealized because despite his super human strength, he still was an earnest worker who put all his energy, time and will into his work, something the steel workers of America can relate to. He may have been a mythical creation, but Joe Magarac became a powerful motivational tool for these workers. He helped these workers’ will to keep fighting through one of the most downtrodden events in our nation’s history, The Great Depression.
Joe Magarac first hit the media in the issue of Scribner’s Magazine in 1931. He was a model for the immigrants coming to America in search for the American dream, specifically those entering the steel industry. Joe Magarac represented dedication, a much-needed quality for the immigrants to find success in their new homeland. He was a catalyst for progress in the steel industry during an era in desperation for positive advancement.Joe worked every day of the week, which seems like an exaggeration, but in reality, these steel workers worked 6-7 days a week in grueling conditions. The conception that Joe was “married” to his work acted as a metaphor for the sparse amount of time these workers spent with their families because they were strictly tied to their work. As a mythological character, he represented the courageous prototype of the steel worker during an era hungry for motivation.
The connection between Joe Magarac and the qualities of a folk hero is undeniable. A folk hero is idealized for their remarkable actions and honorable personalities. Their strong will and perseverance trigger inspiration. As it did with Joe Magarac who rose from the steel workers’ imagination as a hero, idol and symbol.