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1860s: Industrial Growth in Pittsburgh

1870s - early 1900s: Industry in the Gilded Age

1880s-1920s: Rise of the Middle Class and Progressive Values

1930s: The Great Depression

1939-1945: World War II

1940s-1960s: Urban Renewal

1970s-1980s: Beyond the Rust Belt


G. Mensinger [Lyon Shorb Collection]

1860s: Industrial Growth in Pittsburgh

The earliest set of photographs in the Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections comes from the collection of Lyon, Shorb & Company. This rare collection of images documents employees of the company. Here workers were photographed as individuals, proudly standing next to the tools of their trade. This collection is a unique depiction of emerging industrialization in the Pittsburgh region, when mills and foundries were small operations and management viewed workers as skilled craftsmen.

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90 Ton Ingot-Pouring [William J. Gaughan Collection]

Eliza Cast House Crew - Iron Carriers [Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation Collection]

1870s - early 1900s: Industry in the Gilded Age

Industrialists built massive corporations relatively unchecked by government or watchdog agencies, and men like Andrew Carnegie accumulated fortunes unprecedented in American history. Waves of immigrants flooded industrial cities for the promise of bountiful jobs and stability for their families. As advancements in technology rendered the craftsmen of earlier decades redundant, these hopeful workers became little more than "dime-a-dozen" laborers in the eyes of the corporate powers. Consequently, these men suffered safety hazards, low wages, and little job security.

In the Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections, the photographs of industry from this period of American history focus on the machines and technology that economized and streamlined manufacturing. The extensive workforce of unskilled laborers was generally depicted in group portraits, and the supportive infrastructure of railways and urban development were also documented in photographic media.

Images of the Homestead Steel Works, 1890s
  • Images of Jones & Laughlin Steel Works, 1870s-1910s
  • Images of the Mesta Machine Company, 1900-1910s
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    Charles Rutter [F. Theodore Wagner Collection]

    Woman Dropping a Suggestion [H.J. Heinz Company Collection]

    Swimming [Kingsley Association Collection]

    1880s-1920s: Rise of the Middle Class and Progressive Values

    A middle class rose from within the ranks of industrial management and from the services and professions that supported the urban community. Commuter neighborhoods and commuter railways separated them from the smoke and labor housing near the factories. They had more time, more education, more money, and more nearby resources and products on which to spend their money. A popular product found in the middle class home of this era was the camera, which allowed individuals and families to document their domestic lives and daily activities. Many photographs in the Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections were taken by amateur photographers of this era.

    Meanwhile, muckrakers were writing about work place abuse and labor reform. Overall, a zeitgeist of personal and community improvement emerged. Here, in Pittsburgh, some industrialists, like H.J. Heinz, saw the value of socially content employees and made impressive strides to provide pleasant workplaces and impart cultural values upon their workers. Others, like Andrew Carnegie, supported the construction of museums and libraries for the enlightenment of the people. Civic-minded groups set out to improve the lives of immigrants and impoverished urban communities by supporting food distribution, healthcare, activities for children, neighborhood beautification, and programming to Americanize recent arrivals.

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    Dinner Time [James R. Cox Collection]

    W.P.A. Workers [Pittsburgh City Photographer]

    1930s: The Great Depression

    New Deal politics ideally focused on work and welfare for the people. The photographic record of this period balanced the harshness of poverty and joblessness with the positive outcomes of public programming. In Pittsburgh, charitable institutions continued their work during the Great Depression. Community leaders such as Father James Cox spoke out for the rights of the displaced and jobless. Public works projects improved the infrastructure of the nation while providing work.

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    4th War Loan Billboard [William J. Gaughan Collection]

    Portrait of a Soldier [Teenie Harris Collection]

    1939-1945: World War II

    World War II brought new life to industrial centers like Pittsburgh. Steel mills and factories expanded in size and scope to accommodate the war effort. For public relations campaigns and accountability to government war offices, corporate photographers documented home front mobilization, including images of women filling factory jobs left vacant by men serving in the armed forces. In their homes and neighborhoods, soldiers became local heroes and were proudly photographed by friends, family, and portrait artists.

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    Construction and Demolition in Gateway Center [Allegheny Conference on Community Development]

    1940s-1960s: Urban Renewal

    Government support of infrastructure development and urban renewal of the 1930s was revisited in the Post War era. Civic centers, highways, and office buildings were erected for the sake of community improvement. The consequences of urban renewal in Pittsburgh were mixed. The city gained beautiful structures for working, playing, and commuting; but in the process, old neighborhoods, such as Pittsburgh's Hill District, were reconfigured, ethnic communities were razed for building projects, homes were destroyed, and the flight of white communities to the suburbs was set into motion.

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    Fountain at Point State Park Looking Toward the North Side [Allegheny Conference on Community Development]

    1970s-1980s: Beyond the Rust Belt

    Global economies shifted, and American steel was ceasing to be the sustainable industry it once was. Industrial centers struggled to find new identities in the Rust Belt. Pittsburgh began to establish its reputation as a steel city that survived by building economies based on service, technology, medical care, and education.

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    --Anna Maria Mihalega, July 2004