On Tuesday and Thursday of this week, we spent some time examining the differences and similarities of Braddock and Vallejo. Let's start with the differences.
Basic Facts About Braddock, PA (15104)
- Geographic size: .6 square miles (roughly 350 acres)
- Population (2000 Census): 2,912
- Ethnicity: 67% African American; 30% white; 1.5% Latino; .25% Asian; and 1.25% everything else
- Median household income: $18,473/year
- Percentage of population living in poverty: 35%
- Largest private employer: US Steel Edgar Thomson Works (900 employees)
- Current economic situation: Declared "Financially Distressed" by State of Pennsylvania in 1988
- Geographic size: 48.8 square miles
- Population (2000 Census): 116,760
- Ethnicity: 36% white; 24% African American; 21% Filipino; 16% Latino; 3% everything else
- median household income: $47,030/year
- Percentage of population living in poverty: 10%
- Largest private employer: Kaiser Permanente Medical Center (3,900 employees)
- Current economic situation: Declared bankruptcy in 2008
Both towns have a long and illustrious history. Braddock was the site of the Battle of the Monongahela, and was named for British general Edward Braddock, who fell during the battle. It was Braddock's young aide-de-camp, a Colonel George Washington, who would eventually lead the Continental Army when Britain's American colonies decided they didn't want to pay taxes levied on them by Parliament after the French and Indian War. In effect, what happened in Braddock eventually led to the United States of America. As the home of the Edgar Thomson Works (established by industrialist Andrew Carnegie in 1875), Braddock is also the birthplace of modern steel industry in America.
Vallejo came about as a gift from local landowner General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo to the new state of California for a state capitol. Vallejo served as the state capitol for only two years (1852 and 1853), but the United States Navy quickly recognized the value of the site--located at the point where the Napa and Sacramento rivers flow into San Pablo Bay--as a strategic location for a naval base and shipyard. Mare Island Naval Shipyard opened in 1854, and for the next 140 years built and repaired ships and submarines for the Navy.
Both towns have their roots in heavy industry with working waterfronts. Braddock's location along the Mon made it perfect for bringing in the raw ingredients of steel, and then shipping the finished product out to world. Vallejo's location adjacent to Mare Island was perfect for taking steel and turning it into ships.
Both towns have suffered devastating economic losses. Braddock is a town built on steel. As long as steel was made in America, Braddock and many other towns thrived. But as American industries shifted to using cheap foreign steel, mills were closed, jobs were lost, and communities found their economic base pulled out from under their feet.
Vallejo was a Navy town. When running at full capacity, as it was during World War II, Mare Island Naval Shipyard (MINSY) employed about 50,000 workers, and Vallejo's population swelled to nearly 80,000. Although the town shrank considerably after World War II, many Vallejoans worked as "Yardbirds," building submarines during the Cold War. Then, in 1993, Congress voted to close MINSY. Almost immediately, people began to move away and businesses began to close. Vallejo could not withstand the shock. In 2004, the school district was placed under state control when it needed a $60 million loan to keep the schools operating; in 2008, Vallejo became the largest California city to declare bankruptcy.
Two towns: on the surface, as different as can be. But underneath, similar enough for each to claim the other as "my brother from another mother."