Recently I had the opportunity to visit the city of steel, Pittsburgh, PA, where the industrial age of steel in America began. This was the city of men like Carnegie and Frick and Oliver, men who made steel not only their business but their lives.
It is also a place where the difference between rich and working class can so easily be seen. In the huge mansions that lined Fifth Avenue, and the smaller, modest homes crammed together in neighborhoods such as the South Side above the Duquesne Incline.
I ran through this city, through Homewood Cemetery with mausoleums the size of small homes; through Frick Park, one of the city’s most popular parks, donated by Henry Clay Frick and named after the coal and steel magnate; through Hazelwood and South Side and Allentown. Twenty miles I ran down her streets, through her parks, along her rivers. As I ran I tried to picture the city not as it is, but as it might have been a hundred years ago. When Pittsburgh was the center of the American industrial machine. Streets clogged with smoke from the furnaces that never stopped burning. Rivers choking with barges and boats as cargo was delivered and picked up at the steel plants on the banks. The mass of men who trudged daily to Pittsburgh’s factories to make the steel that would be made into products used by every American.
Iron ore from the Mesabi Range was brought here by whaleback and railroad, over water and land, delivered to the steel factories that lined the shores of the three rivers that meet at The Point, also known as the Golden Triangle: where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers form the Ohio River. The high grade hematite ore that Finnish and Swedish and Italian and German and Polish and Russian and Cornish and Slovenian and Slovakian and Czech immigrants dug out of the ground in northern Minnesota was sent here to be heated in ovens until the ore turned to molten liquid. Impurities were burned away and the resulting iron was formed into I-beams and railroad rails; ovens and ranges; pots and pans. All the things needed to build a nation.
Immigrants worked the steel mills here, just as they worked the mines in Minnesota. Immigrants who worked long days for little pay so that their children could earn an education, could do what Carnegie and Rockefeller did: rise from the ashes of the industrial machine and become great business leaders, great political leaders.
I’m now reading Meet You in Hell, the story of the partnership and feud between Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. It’s a fascinating story, one that takes place before, during, and after Mesabi Pioneers. I’ll give you my review when I’m done.