In many times of war in the history of the United States, domestic production has increased greatly. This was true for World War II
was faced with a high and drastically increased demand for steel. This demand greatly benefited the area, increasing its prosperity and success. During wartime, the United States was also closed to many products from other countries, including steel. This made Pittsburgh one of the only sources for the product, increasing demand further. With the end of the war in 1945, this great demand dropped significantly and, unlike the Civil War, there was no new expansion. After the war, the United States implemented various outreach programs and rebuilding efforts to the countries that it helped to destroy. Part of these programs included the outsourcing
of many products, technologies and resources. Steel, for example, went primarily to Japan (3).
The strong steel industry that led to the success of Pittsburgh also had a part in its downfall. In steel production a large amount of waste is produced over time and Pittsburgh became very badly polluted. “Rivers ran brown from toxic chemicals, sewage and refuse that filled them. Coal mines, coke ovens and their huge piles of debris and ash waste littered the bad, muddy hills” (4). Most workers in the city learned to bring two shirts with them to work as one would become so filthy with soot and ash that they would have to change them halfway through the day. The pollution that was created was also known to cause many health problems and the city became very undesirable to live in. Additionally, after years of use, the natural resources that the steel industry relied so heavily on became drastically depleted and very hard to access (3).
The pollution created by the steel mills in the city was also a factor in the “sprawl” of Pittsburgh. Pittsburghers found it highly undesirable to live in such a polluted inner city and moved outward in all directions. The most significant example of this sprawl is evident in the annexation of Allegheny City in 1907, against their desire not to become part of the city. Mill towns also began popping up outside of the city and many people and jobs followed. During this time, it was also the common desire among Americans to obtain the “American Dream” and own land. This contributed greatly to the sprawl as people found land outside of the city, many in the suburbs. The increased availability of automobiles also aided in the sprawl as individuals were more mobile and able to travel from the city. The sprawl of the city is still a problem that Pittsburgh faces today. Between 1982 and 1997 the population of the city decreased 7% while the use of land increased by 43% (11).
Technology played a vital role in the rise of the steel industry in Pittsburgh, yet it also played a role in the city’s decline. For example, the development of airplanes to be used to transport cargo made this method much quicker and more efficient than the railroad. Use of the railroad became less and less. Additionally, little or no funding for research and development created a great lack in technology and Pittsburgh fell behind many comparable areas. Pittsburgh was not able to keep up technologically with any of its competitors as well. Other areas continued to develop new technology and more efficient ways to produce steel. This made other countries, in particular, able to sell the same goods for cheaper than Pittsburgh companies who were still dependent on less efficient methods (3).
During the late 19th century, labor unions became very popular in steel mills throughout Pittsburgh. Workers rallied together to fight for higher wages, better benefits and safer working conditions. These organizations forced companies to pay out more money towards the workers in wages and safer equipment. If the company did not give in to the union’s demands, workers often orchestrated general strikes. These work stoppages proved very costly to the employer in lost profits. Ultimately, many companies would meet many of the demands of the unions and would be forced to pay out more money to appease them. The biggest strike in Pittsburgh history was the Homestead Strike of 1892. For nearly five months, the Homestead Lodges of Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and the Carnegie Steel Company battled over contract negotiations. The steel industry, vital to Homestead, suffered greatly (9). The steel industry in Pittsburgh also suffered from many other strikes including the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 and a multitude of textile strikes. On July 23, 1877, these strikes reached a boiling point and resulted in major riots throughout the city (10).
Many of the factors mentioned above that led to the decline of Pittsburgh are also a part of one of the biggest factors, touched on above, outsourcing. Other counties did not have labor unions and could pay their workers very low wages and not provide safe working conditions. Other countries had also developed more efficient technology in the production of steel and products necessary to its production. Overall, it proved much cheaper for Americans to buy these products overseas. It also proved cheaper for U.S. companies to send the work overseas and pay for it to be brought back to American. Overall, demand for American products dropped drastically and steel was one of the hardest hit.
Pittsburgh continues to be known throughout the country and the world as a blue-collar industrial city. While the city is trying to shake that image, it is very hard to do. The steel industry is a vital part of Pittsburgh’s history and critically shaped this area. Without it, Pittsburgh would not have seen the success that it did in the 19th century and the area would not be where it is today. Many of the factors that led to the success of the steel industry in Pittsburgh are some of the best attributes that a city can have. Many have realized this promise and potential and are diligently working on improving the region. Since the fall of the steel industry, various initiatives have been implemented in an attempt to salvage the now bankrupt city. City government has done an excellent job improving the infrastructure of the city – transforming it from the dirty and polluted city that it once was into a clean and environmentally friendly atmosphere. The rivers have been cleaned up and new parks are being created. The future of the city is very uncertain to many, but it has excellent potential. Despite whatever the future may bring to the city,
to many Pittsburgh will always be the “Steel City.”