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