Summary Information
Title: Bruce Drisbach-American Steel & Wire Company Photographs
Collection Number: AIS.2001.02
Creator: Drisbach, Bruce

Collection Dates: 1915-1917
Extent: 126.0 items (7 boxes)

Language: English

The Bruce Drisbach-American Steel & Wire Company Photographs consists of 126 glass plate negatives documenting the construction of housing in Donora, Pennsylvania, and the construction of the American Steel & Wire Company buildings. Landscape and family photographs are also included. Digital reproductions of the entire collection are available online.

ULS Archives Service Center
University of Pittsburgh Library System
7500 Thomas Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA, 15260
Date Published:

September 2009

Finding aid prepared by Renee Ziemann.

The American Steel & Wire Company, founded in 1899, occupied 300 acres in Donora, Pennsylvania, and later became part of the United States Steel Corporation in 1900. Ground was broken for the Zinc Works on June 16, 1915 which would occupy 45 acres of land along the Monongahela River on the opposite side of Donora. The first zinc was produced at the plant on October 29, 1915. The zinc was used to galvanize wire and other steel items as well as being a component of explosives and brass.

Donora and the Zinc Works are probably most famous for the disaster on October 28, 1948 when sulfur dioxide emissions covered the area during a weather inversion leaving 6,000 residents ill and twenty residents dead. This was the first documented case of air pollution deaths. Within twenty years, the American Steel & Wire Company closed.

Bruce Drisbach, or Dreisbach, the oldest of 12 children, was born October 8, 1881 in Nescopeck, Pennsylvania. He was employed by the American Steel & Wire Co. as a photographer and also worked in the offices. He died September 2, 1959.

Collection Scope and Content Notes

The Bruce Drisbach-American Steel & Wire Company Photographs documents the construction of the American Steel & Wire Company and the housing for its workers. The images chronicle the varying aspects of a steel mill community, from the equipment used to its employees and their family’s homes and living conditions. Subjects are creatively captured through the use of accented light and varying angles, portraying an artistic image of unpleasant objects and events. This collection represents the conception and realizations of the American steel town, a symbol of the nation’s Industrial Age.

Drisbach family photographs are also included in the collection.


The photographs have been organized into four series. All images date between 1915 and 1917.

Series I. Mill Construction

Series II. Mill Views and Equipment

Series III. Housing Construction

Series IV. Miscellaneous

Subject Terms

  • Industrial housing -- Design and construction -- Pennsylvania -- Donora
  • Mills and mill-work -- Design and construction -- Pennsylvania -- Donora
  • Mills and mill-work -- Machinery -- Pennsylvania -- Donora
  • Zinc smelting -- Health aspects -- Pennsylvania -- Donora

Corporate Names
  • American Steel & Wire Co..
  • Donora Zinc Works.

Personal Names
  • Drisbach, Bruce

Family Names
  • Drisbach family

  • Donora (Pa.)

  • Dry collodion negatives

  • Business and Industry
  • Labor
  • Personal papers

Access and Use
Access Restrictions:

No restrictions.

Acquisition Information:

Purchased from Marie Martin Fine Arts Service from the niece of Mr. Drisbach in 2001.

Alternate Format:

Digital versions of the photographic images are available online:

Preferred Citation:

Bruce Drisbach-American American Steel & Wire Company Photographs, 1915-1917, AIS.2001.02, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh

Processing Information:

This collection was processed by Miriam Meislik in May 2001. The finding aid was created by Renee Ziemann in April 2009 using information provided by the processing guide as well as from the corresponding digital collection.


The University of Pittsburgh holds all the rights to the material in this collection. For information about permission to reproduce or publish, please contact the Archives Service Center.

Collection Inventory

Series I. Mill Construction

Scope and Content Notes:

Construction of the American Steel & Wire Company is depicted from ground breaking to completion. Interior and exterior views of the building under development portray construction tools and methods applied during this period.

Box 1 Mill Construction

Series II. Mill Views and Equipment

Scope and Content Notes:

This series contains interior and exterior images of the mill, including views of equipment, mill workers and workers using equipment. Four photographs depict a gathering of mill workers.

Box 2-3 General Mill Views- Interior and Equipment

Series III. Housing Construction

Scope and Content Notes:

The housing photographs detail construction of housing from groundbreaking to near completion. They show the variety in the types of housing constructed and care in craftsmanship. Also portrayed are the conditions of existing housing as well as the downtown Donora area.

Box 4 Slum Housing Conditions and General Town Views
Box 5 New Housing Construction, September 11-25, 1917