Joe Magarac

Joe Magarac

Joe Magarac is a legendary American folk hero who was a steelworker in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Magarac first appeared in print in a 1931 Scribner's Magazine article by Owen Francis, who said he heard the story from immigrant steelworkers in Pittsburgh area steel mills. However, field research in the early 1950s did not uncover any traces of an oral tradition about the character. Since "magarac" means "donkey" in Serbo-Croatian, folklorists have speculated that Joe Magarac was originally a satirical character, if indeed he was not made up on the spot by Owen Francis's informants as a joke.cite journal | last = Gilley | first = Jennifer | coauthors = Stephen Burnett | title = Deconstructing and Reconstructing Pittsburgh's Man of Steel: Reading Joe Magarac against the Context of the 20th-Century Steel Industry | journal = The Journal of American Folklore | volume = 111 | issue = 442 | pages = 392–408 | date = 1998 | url = | doi = 10.2307/541047 | month = Nov | year = 1998 ]

As the story goes, he was a sort of patron saint for steel workers. He lived at Mrs. Horkey's boarding house, was made of steel, supposedly rose out of an ore mine to help steelworkers, and won the beautiful Mary Mestrovich's hand in marriage in a weight-lifting contest, but allowed her to marry her true love, Pete Pussick. He would appear out of nowhere at critical moments to protect the steel workers. One story goes that he showed up to stop the falling of a 50-ton crucible, set to fall on a group of steelworkers. His fate is debated as well. While one version of the tale states that he melted himself in a Bessemer furnace for material to build for a new mill, another states that he is still alive. This version suggests that he is waiting among an abandoned mill, waiting for the day that the furnace burns again.

Legend has it he worked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Joe Magarac stories were told in other industrial cities of the Upper Midwest, too, though his home was always Pittsburgh. In Racine, Wisconsin, he was described as a Czech to children in Bohemian families. He was the ideal role model for parents to present to children who would likely follow them into factory work. He was strong, brave, self-sacrificing and worked with the strength of a hundred men.

One version of the Magarac story was recorded by the New Christy Minstrels on their 1964 Columbia Records release "Land of Giants": "We're gonna build a railroad down to Frisco and back, and way down to Mexico. Who's gonna make the steel for that track? It's Joe... Magarac."

The Magarac legend is described in some detail in John Brunner's science fiction short story "The Iron Jackass", which in many ways is a futuristic retelling of the legend with the Joe Magarac role played by a robot.

Note: "Magarac" is pronounced "mah-gah-rats" in Croatian, Serbian and Serbo-Croatian.


External links

* [ Students' accounts and illustrations of the story]
* [ Amazon page with "Joe Magarac" streaming audio]

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