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Photo Essay: Pittsburgh’s Carrie Blast Furnace

18 June 2009 13 Comments

blastfurnace1

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a city built by steel. The belching smoke and fire from the great mills was an omnipresent reminder of the area’s dominant industry. Pittsburgh’s vast steel operations played a large role in building the nation’s infrastructure; at one point, half of the country’s steel came from the three rivers. The city’s mills were at the heart of a war machine that won two world wars and made America the manufacturing envy of the world.

rustytanks

However, a confluence of events in the 1950′s and 60′s exposed fatal chinks in the armor of Pittsburgh’s steel industry: overseas competition, inadequate capital investment, bad labor-management relations; and the exhaustion of local natural resources proved devastating. 

The late 1970′s marked the beginning of the end for Pittsburgh’s dominance in steel. Hundreds of thousands of steel workers would lose their jobs as the once mighty blast furnaces were silenced. The city and the region were plunged into a economic depression that challenged the area’s very future.

rustystairs

Today, Pittsburgh has largely reinvented itself as a center for robotics and emerging technology. Large scale urban renewal and the expansion of retail has erased much of historic Pittsburgh. The steel industry and the struggles of labor have often been forgotten, or downplayed. Most people now would probably be more apt to recognize the “steel mark” logo as belonging to a football team, instead of US Steel, who it was originally designed for.

pittsburghsteel

These photos I’ve taken are from the remains of U.S. Steel’s, Homestead Works. The Carrie Blast Furnace, abandoned in 1978, was once part of this sprawling industrial complex. Now, nature and the elements have begun to reclaim her. Though her mighty furnace is now quiet, this rusted hulk is a powerful reminder of the painful death of the region’s steel industry.

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This post was authored and photographed by Sean Posey, a documentarian and a graduate student in history at Youngstown State University.

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  • Special K

    These are very beautiful photos. Thank you so much for sharing them on our web site. -KG

  • Meg B

    Great photos and text, Sean. Thanks for finding them for us, Rustwire.

  • http://grossreport.blogspot.com Stephen Gross

    Great photos! Keep ‘em coming…

    How about a steel mill / condo conversion?

    –Steve

  • Richard Rezek

    This are very intersting photos and have a “beauty” that is unexpected. It reminds me of looking at photos of a ship wreck. Thanks for doing this work and posting the photos.

  • tonyg

    spend an afternoon once in 1974 at an live operating blast furnace in Buffalo, New York. When I say “live” it was. It breathed, smoked and had rivers of iron running about it’s clay tapping deck. One yelled at the workmen over the sounds of the hot blast, attempting to have a conversation about it’s operation. Believe me when these mountians of iron ore and coke where running they seemed so much larger. In the first years of Cariege Steel these furnaces were all named after women, and the labor gangs competed with each other to break production records. They were dangerous places to work. Those furnaces were dyanited down in 81′ or 82′ as part of the great de-industrialization. Look on the bright side: Hey, the air is better these days!

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  • http://eachlittleworld.typepad.com LINDA from Each Little World

    I thought at first these were pastel drawings; really beautiful. And yes, also very reminiscent of underwater shots of the Titanic. I was never in a steel mill but many times went by on the bus (in Buffalo) and you could see smoke and fire. It was always a scary but amazing moment. And the mills went on and on for blocks. I have clipped some interesting news stories (and there must be web sites) about industrial sites in Germany that have been turned into public parks with much of the buildings and infrastructure incorporated. Surprisingly lovely and a wonderful reuse and way to preserve history.

  • Sean

    I canoed past all of this from McKeesport to the Point this last weekend. It was amazing and more than a bit eerie to see the layers and layers of decaying infrastructure.

    Steve, three words: Super Fund Site. This is why it costs so much to put a new plant of any sort on a brownfield site. All owners of a parcel of land, past, present, and future are responsible for any EPA infractions. Thus it takes a lot to convince someone to develop on an inevitably polluted former mill site. Pittsburgh has had a few ‘successes’ with rehabilitating these sites; The Southside Works, the Waterfront, a few more, but it is still a massive undertaking.

  • Mike

    You can thank the government for high taxes and the EPA for “clean air and water” for the demise of the domestic steel industry. These people created a bad buisiness enviroment in the form of high operating costs and American steel can no longer compete with foreign steel which has no restrictions. Lets get the money grabbers out of Washington and turn this train around before it wrecks.

  • http://www.todengine.org Rick Rowlands

    Sean,

    Carrie furnaces are now the property of Allegheny County and are slated for inclusion in a future steel industry heritage center. The steelmark was created not for US Steel but for the American Iron and Steel Institute. It is an industry mark, meant to identify American made steel regardless of manufacturer. But you are right more people know it as the Steelers logo than as the steelmark.

    You should accompany me the next time I go down to Wheeling Pitt’s Steubenville blast furnace plant. There is some equipment there that we are pulling out for preservation, but haven’t been able to do it yet since the plant has been on shutdown. Contact me if interested.

  • David Nereson

    Have been meaning to seek out remains of steel mills in the rust belt for 20 years now but always had other priorities. It’s too late now for most of them, but are there places where one can still legally, without trespassing, poke around old blast furnaces and mills that are still standing, either in Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Cleveland, Baltimore, or anywhere else?

  • Special K

    David, this is the only one I know of. I believe the site is now owned by the county and you aren’t supposed to be on it without permission. There are old auto factories in Detroit, if you are interested in exploring that. Anyone else know of any other old blast furnaces?

  • Special K

    The Rivers of Steel heritage group will soon be offering tours of this amazing site:

    http://www.riversofsteel.com/things-to-do/event/carrie-furnace-hard-hat-tours/