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Peculiarities of American Cities: Pittsburg

by Captain Willard Glazier -- 1885

illustration of Pittsburg circa 1885.

Pittsburg at Night
Fort Pitt Works
Knights of Labor
A Pittsburg Fog
Casting a Monster Gun
Opposed to Strikes
American Iron Works
Capital and Labor
Description of the City
Nail Works
Railroad Strike of 1877
The Oil Business
A City of Workers
Allegheny City
Ohio River
A True Democracy
Population of Pittsburg
Public Buildings, &tc
Braddock's Defeat
Glass Industry
Character of Workmen
Old Battle Ground
Iron Foundries.
Value of Organization
The Past & the Present

Willard Glazier. "Pittsburg." Chap. in Peculiarities of American Cities. Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, Publishers, 1885.

Pittsburg at Night.
By all means make your first approach to Pittsburg in the night time, and you will behold a spectacle which has not a parallel on this continent. Darkness gives the city and its surroundings a picturesqueness which they wholly lack by daylight. It lies low down in a hollow of encompassing hills, gleaming with a thousand points of light, which are reflected from the rivers, whose waters glimmer, it may be, in the faint moonlight, and catch and reflect the shadows as well. Around the city's edge, and on the sides of the hills which encircle it like a gloomy amphitheatre, their outlines rising dark against the sky, through numberless apertures, fiery lights stream forth, looking angrily and fiercely up toward the heavens, while over all these settles a heavy pall of smoke. It is as though one had reached the outer edge of the infernal regions, and saw before him the great furnace of Pandemonium with all the lids lifted. The scene is so strange and weird that it will live in the memory forever. One pictures, as he beholds it, the tortured spirits writhing in agony, their sinewy limbs convulsed, and the very air oppressive with pain and rage.

But the scene is illusive. This is the domain of Vulcan, not of Pluto. Here, in this gigantic workshop, in the midst of the materials of his labor, the god of fire, having left his ancient home on Olympus, and established himself in this newer world, stretches himself beside his forge, and sleeps the peaceful sleep which is the reward of honest industry. Right at his doorway are mountains of coal to keep a perpetual fire upon his altar; within the reach of his outstretched grasp are rivers of coal oil; and a little further away great stores of iron for him to forge and weld, and shape into a thousand forms; and at his feet is the shining river, an impetuous Mercury, ever ready to do his bidding. Grecian mythology never conceived of an abode so fitting for the son of Zeus as that which he has selected for himself on this western hemisphere. And his ancient tasks were child's play compared with the mighty ones he has undertaken today. Return to Topics.

A Pittsburg Fog.
Failing a night approach, the traveler should reach the Iron City on a dismal day in autumn, when the air is heavy with moisture, and the very atmosphere looks dark. All romance has disappeared. In this nineteenth century the gods of mythology find no place in daylight. There is only a very busy city shrouded in gloom. The buildings, whatever their original material and color, are smoked to a uniform, dirty drab; the smoke sinks, and mingling with the moisture in the air, becomes of a consistency which may almost be felt as well as seen. Under a drab sky a drab twilight hangs over the town, and the gas-lights, which are left burning at mid-day, shine out of the murkiness with a dull, reddish glare. This is Pittsburg herself. Such days as these are her especial boast, and in their frequency and dismalness, in all the world she has no rival, save London. Return to Topics.

In truth, Pittsburg is a smoky, dismal city, at her best. At her worst, nothing darker, dingier or more dispiriting can be imagined. The city is in the heart of the soft coal region; and the smoke from her dwellings, stores, factories, foundries and steamboats, uniting, settles in a cloud over the narrow valley in which she is built, until the very sun looks coppery through the sooty haze. According to a circular of the Pittsburg Board of Trade, about twenty per cent., or one-fifth, of all the coal used in the factories and dwellings of the city escapes into the air in the form of smoke, being the finer and lighter particles of carbon of the coal, which, set free by fire, escapes unconsumed with the gases. The consequences of several thousand bushels of coal in the air at one and the same time may be imagined. But her inhabitants do not seem to mind it; and the doctors hold that this smoke, from the carbon, sulphur and iodine contained in it, is highly favorable to lung and cutaneous diseases, and is the sure death of malaria and its attendant fevers. And certainly, whatever the cause may be, Pittsburg is one of the healthiest cities in the United States. Her inhabitants are all too busy to reflect upon the inconvenience or uncomeliness of this smoke. Work is the object of life with them. It occupies them from morning until night, from the cradle to the grave, only on Sundays, when, for the most part, the furnaces are idle, and forges are silent. For Pittsburg, settled by Irish-Scotch Presbyterians, is a great Sunday-keeping day. Save on this day her business men do not stop for rest or recreation, nor do they "retire" from business. They die with the harness on, and die, perhaps, all the sooner for having worn it so continuously and so long. Return to Topics.

Description of the City.
Pittsburg is not a beautiful city. That stands to reason, with the heavy pall of smoke which constantly overhangs her. But she lacks beauty in other respects. She is substantially and compactly built, and contains some handsome edifices; but she lacks the architectural magnificence of some of her sister cities; while her suburbs present all that is unsightly and forbidding in appearance, the original beauties of nature having been ruthlessly sacrificed to utility.

Pittsburg is situated in western Pennsylvania, in a a narrow valley at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, and at the head of the Ohio, and is surrounded by hills rising to the height of four or five hundred feet. These hills once possessed rounded outlines, with sufficient exceptional abruptness to lend them variety and picturesqueness. But they have been leveled down, cut into, sliced off, and ruthlessly marred and mutilated, until not a trace of their original outlines remain. Great black coal cars crawl up and down their sides, and plunge into unexpected and mysterious openings, their sudden disappearance lending, even in daylight, an air of mystery and diablerie to the region. Railroad tracks gridiron the ground everywhere, debris of all sorts lies in heaps, and is scattered over the earth, and huts and hovels are perched here and there, in every available spot. There is no verdure--nothing but mud and coal, the one yellow the other black. And on the edge of the city are the unpicturesque outlines of factories and foundries, their tall chimneys belching forth columns of inky blackness, which roll and whirl in fantastic shapes, and finally lose themselves in the general murkiness above. Return to Topics.

The Oil Business
The tranquil Monongahela comes up from the south, alive with barges and tug boats; while the swifter current of the Allegheny bears from the oil regions, at the north, slight-built barges with their freights of crude petroleum. Oil is not infrequently poured upon the troubled waters, when one of these barges sinks, and its freight, liberated from the open tanks, refuses to sink with it, and spreads itself out on the surface of the stream.

The oil fever was sorely felt in Pittsburg, and it was a form of malaria against which the smoke-laden atmosphere was no protection. During the early years of the great oil speculation the city was in a perpetual state of excitement. Men talked oil upon the streets, in the cars and counting-houses, and no doubt thought of oil in church. Wells and barrels of petroleum, and shares of oil stock were the things most often mentioned. And though that was nearly twenty years ago, and the oil speculation has settled into a safe and legitimate pursuit, Pittsburg is still the greatest oil mart in the world. By the means of Oil Creek and the Allegheny, the oil which is to supply all markets is first shipped to Pittsburg, passes through the refineries there, and is then exported. Return to Topics.

Ohio River.
The Ohio River makes its beginning here, and in all but the season of low water the wharves of the city are lined with boats, barges and tugs, destined for every mentionable point on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. The Ohio River is here, as all along its course, an uncertain and capricious stream. Sometimes, in spring, or early summer, it creeps up its banks and looks menacingly at the city. At other times it seems to become weary of bearing the boats, heavily laden with merchandise, to their destined ports, and so takes a nap, as it were. The last time we beheld this water-course its bed was lying nearly bare and dry, while a small, sluggish creek, a few feet, or at most, a few yards wide, crept along the bottom, small barges being towed down stream by horses, which waded in the water. The giant was resting. Return to Topics.

Public Buildings, &tc.
The public buildings and churches of Pittsburg are, some of them, of fine appearance, while the Mercantile Library is an institution to be proud of, being both handsome and spacious, and containing a fine library and well-supplied reading room. The city boasts of universities, colleges, hospitals, and asylums, and the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy is the oldest house of the Order in America. There are also two theatres, an Opera House, an Academy of Music, and several public halls. Return to Topics.

Glass Industry.
But it is not any of these which has made the city what she is, or to which she will point with the greatest pride. The crowning glory of Pittsburg is her monster iron and glass works. One-half the glass produced in all the United States comes from Pittsburg. This important business was first established here in 1787, by Albert Gallatin, and it has increased since then to giant proportions. Probably, not less than one hundred million bottles and vials are annually produced here, besides large quantities of window glass. The best wine bottles in America are made here, though they are inferior to those of French manufacture. A great number of flint-glass works turn out the best flint glass produced in the country. Return to Topics.

Iron Foundries.
In addition to these glass works--which, though they employ thousands of workmen, represent but a fraction of the city's industries--there are rolling mills, foundries, potteries, oil refineries, and factories of machinery. All these works are rendered possible by the coal which abounds in measureless quantities in the immediate neighborhood of the city. All the hills which rise from the river back of Pittsburg have a thick stratum of bituminous coal running through them, which can be mined without shafts, or any of the usual accessories of mining. All that is to be done is to shovel the coal out of the hill-side, convey it in cars or by means of an inclined plane to the factory or foundry door, and dump it, ready for use. In fact, these hills are but immense coal cellars, ready filled for the convenience of the Pittsburg manufacturers. True, in shoveling the coal out of the hill-side, the excavations finally become galleries, running one, two or three miles directly into the earth. But there is neither ascent nor descent; no lowering of miners or mules in great buckets down a deep and narrow shaft, no elevating of coal through the same means. It is all like a great cellar, divided into rooms, the ceilings supported by arches of the coal itself. Each miner works a separate room, and when the room is finished, and that part of the mine exhausted the arches are knocked away, pillars of large upright logs substituted, the coal removed, and the hill left to settle gradually down, until the logs are crushed and flattened.

The "Great Pittsburg Coal Seam" is from four to twelve feet thick, about three hundred feet above the water's edge, and about one hundred feet from the average summit of the hills. It is bituminous coal which has been pressed solid by the great mass of earth above it. The thicker the mass and the greater the pressure, the better the coal. It has been estimated as covering eight and a half millions of acres, and that it would take the entire product of the gold mines of California for one thousand years to buy this one seam. When we remember the numerous other coal mines, anthracite as well as bituminous, found within the limits of the State of Pennsylvania, we are fairly stupefied in trying to comprehend the mineral wealth of that State.

The coal mined in the rooms in these long galleries is conveyed in a mule-drawn car to the mouth of the gallery, and if to be used by the foundries at the foot of the hill, is simply sent to its destination down an inclined plane. Probably not less than ten thousand men are employed in these coal mines in and near Pittsburg, adding a population not far from fifty thousand to that region. Pittsburg herself consumes one-third of the coal produced, and a large proportion of the rest is shipped down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, some of it as far as New Orleans. Return to Topics.

Fort Pitt Works.
The monster iron works of Pittsburg consume large quantities of this coal, and it is the abundance and convenience of the latter material which have made the former possible. No other city begins to compare with Pittsburg in the number and variety of her factories. Down by the banks of the swift-flowing Allegheny most of the great foundries are to be discovered. The Fort Pitt Works are on a gigantic scale. Return to Topics.
Casting a Monster Gun. Here are cast those monsters of artillery known as the twenty-inch gun. Not by any means a gun twenty inches in length, but a gun with a bore twenty inches in diameter, so accurate that it does not vary one-hundredth part of an inch from the true line in its whole length. The ball for this gun weighs one thousand and eighty pounds, and costs a hundred and sixty-five dollars. The gun itself weighs sixty tons, and costs fifty thousand dollars, and yet one of these giants is cast every day, and the operation is performed with the utmost composure and absence of confusion. The mould is an enormous structure of iron and sand, weighing forty tons, and to adjust this properly is the most difficult and delicate work in the foundry. When it is all ready, three streams of molten iron, from as many furnaces, flow through curved troughs and pour their fiery cataracts into the mould. These streams run for twenty minutes, and then, the mould being full, the furnaces from which they flow are closed with a piece of clay. Left to itself, the gun would be thirty days in cooling, but this process is expedited to eighteen days, by means of cold water constantly flowing in and out of the bore. While it is still hot, the great gun is lifted out of the pit, swung across the foundry to the turning shop, the end shaven off, the outside turned smooth, and the inside hollowed out, with an almost miraculous precision. The weight of the gun is thus reduced twenty tons. Return to Topics.

American Iron Works.
The American Iron Works employ two thousand five hundred hands, and cover seventeen acres. They have a coal mine at their back door, and an iron mine on Lake Superior, and they make any and every difficult iron thing the country requires. Nothing is too ponderous, nothing too delicate and exact, to be produced. Return to Topics.
Nail Works. The nail works of the city are well worth seeing. In them a thousand nails a minute are manufactured, each nail being headed by a blow on cold iron. The noise arising from this work can only be described as deafening. In one nail factory two hundred different kinds of nails, tacks and brads are manufactured. The productions of these different factories and foundries amount in the aggregate to an almost incredible number and value, and embrace everything made of iron which can be used by man.

George F. Thurston, writing of Pittsburg, says, it has "thirty-five miles of factories in daily operation, twisted up into a compact tangle; all belching forth smoke; all glowing with fire; all swarming with workmen; all echoing with the clank of machinery. Actual measurement shows that there are, in the limits of what is known as Pittsburg, nearly thirty-five miles of manufactories of iron, of steel, of cotton, and of brass alone, not mentioning manufactories of other materials. In a distance of thirty-five and one-half miles of streets, there are four hundred and seventy-eight manufactories of iron, steel, cotton, brass, oil, glass, copper and wood, occupying less than four hundred feet each; for a measurement of the ground shows that these factories are so contiguous in their positions upon the various streets of the city, that if placed in a continuous row, they would reach thirty-five miles, and each factory have less than the average front stated. This is "manufacturing Pittsburg." In four years the sale and consumption of pig iron alone was one-fourth the whole immense production of the United States; and through the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and their tributaries, its people control the shipment of goods, without breaking bulk, over twelve thousand miles of water transportation, and are thus enabled to deliver the products of their thrift in nearly four hundred counties in the territory of fifteen States. There is no city of its size in the country which has so large a banking capital as Pittsburg. The Bank of Pittsburg, it is said, is the only bank in the Union that never suspended specie payments. Return to Topics.

A City of Workers.
Pittsburg is a city of workers. From the proprietors of these extensive works, down to the youngest apprentices, all are busy; and perhaps the higher up in the scale the harder the work and the greater the worry. A man who carries upon his shoulders the responsibility of an establishment whose business amounts to millions of dollars in a year; who must oversee all departments of labor; accurately adjust the buying of the crude materials and the scale of wages on the one hand, with the price of the manufactured article on the other, so that the profit shall be on the right side; and who at the same time shall keep himself posted as to all which bears any relation to his business, has no time for leisure or social pleasures, and must even stint his hours of necessary rest. Return to Topics.

A True Democracy.
Pittsburg illustrates more clearly than any other city in America the outcome of democratic institutions. There are no classes here except the industrious classes; and no ranks in society save those which have been created by industry. The mammoth establishments, some of them perhaps in the hands of the grandsons of their founders, have grown from small beginnings, fostered in their growth by industry and thrift. The great proprietor of to-day, it may have been, was the "boss" of yesterday, and the journeyman of a few years ago, having ascended the ladder from the lowest round of apprenticeship. Industry and sobriety are the main aids to success. Return to Topics.

The wages paid are good, for the most part, varying according to the quality of the employment, some of them being exceedingly liberal. Return to Topics.
Character of Workmen. The character of the workmen is gradually improving, though it has not yet reached the standard which it should attain. Many are intelligent, devoting their spare time to self-improvement, and especially to a comprehension of the relations of capital and labor, which so intimately concern them, and which they, more than any other class of citizens, except employers, need to understand, in order that they may not only maintain their own rights, but may avoid encroaching on the rights of others.

Too many workmen, however, have no comprehension of the dignity of their own position. They live only for present enjoyment, spend their money foolishly, not to say wickedly, and on every holiday give themselves up to that curse of the workingman--strong drink. While this class is such a considerable one, the entire ranks of working men must be the sufferers. And while ignorance as well as vice has been so prevalent among them, it is not to be wondered at that they have been constantly undervalued, and almost as constantly oppressed. Return to Topics.

Value of Organization.
The prosperity of the country depends upon the prosperity of the masses. With all the money in the hands of a few, there are only the personal wants of a few to be supplied. With wages high, work is always plentier, and everybody prospers. The gains of a large manufacturing establishment, divided, by means of fair profit and just wages, between employers and employed, instead of being hoarded up by one man, make one hundred persons to eat where there would otherwise be but one; one hundred people to buy the productions of the looms and forges of the country, instead of only one; one hundred people, each having a little which they spend at home, instead of one man, who hoards his wealth, or takes it to Europe to dispose of it. It means all the difference between good and bad times, between a prosperous country, where all are comfortable and happy, and a country of a few millionaires and many paupers. Return to Topics.

Knights of Labor.
No description of Pittsburg would be complete without a reference to the Knights of Labor, which has taken the place of the old trades unions and guilds. While the latter were in existence, that city was often the scene of violent and disastrous strikes. Return to Topics.
Railroad Strike of 1877. The great railroad strike of 1877, in which a number of lives were lost, and millions of dollars' worth of property destroyed, culminated at Pittsburg, and for days the city was stricken with panic. The cause of this strike was the decision of the railroad corporation to reduce to one dollar a day the wages of a certain class of its employees, which were already too low. The cause of these strikers was just, but their methods were reprehensible. Return to Topics.
Opposed to Strikes. The institution and spread of the Knights of Labor has rendered such another strike an impossibility, as that Order, which has a large membership among the workmen of Pittsburg, aims to settle, as far as possible, the difficulties between employers and employees by arbitration; Return to Topics.
Capital and Labor. and its spread will, we trust, if it does not pass under the control of demagogues, eventually result in a better understanding between capital and labor, and in a recognition of the fact that their real interests are identical. Return to Topics.

Allegheny City.
Pittsburg has no park or public pleasure ground. Its people are too busy to think about such things, or to use them if it had them. On Saturday nights its theatres and variety halls are crowded, to listen to entertainments which are not always of the best. When its people wish to visit a public park, they must cross to Allegheny City, on the west bank of the Allegheny River, where there is a park embracing a hundred acres, containing a monument to Humboldlt, and ornamented with small lakes. The Soldiers' Monument, erected to the memory of four thousand men of Allegheny County who lost their lives in the war of the Rebellion, is also in this latter city, on a lofty hill near the river, in the eastern part of the city. Many of the handsome residences of Pittsburg's merchants and manufacturers are to be seen in this city, which is also famous for its manufacturing interests, and is connected with Pittsburg by five bridges. Birmingham is a flourishing suburb on the opposite bank of the Monongahela River, containing important glass and iron manufactories. Return to Topics.

Population of Pittsburg.
The present population of Pittsburg is 156,381. The first settlement upon the site of the city was in 1754, when a French trading post was established and named Fort Duquesne. Return to Topics.
Braddock's Defeat. On July ninth, 1755, General Braddock, in command of two thousand British troops, accompanied by Colonel Washington with eight hundred Virginians, marched toward Fort Duquesne with the intention of capturing it. When within a few miles of the fort, they were surprised by a large party of French and Indians in ambush, and Braddock, who angrily disregarded Washington's advice, saw his troops slaughtered by an invisible enemy. The English and colonists lost seven hundred and seventy-seven men, killed and wounded, while the enemy's loss was scarcely fifty. Braddock himself was mortally wounded, and died upon the battle field, and in order that his remains might not be disturbed, Washington buried him in the road, and ordered the wagons in their retreat to drive over his grave. Washington himself escaped unhurt, though he had two horses shot under him, and had four bullets sent through his clothes. An Indian who was engaged in this battle afterwards said that he had seventeen fair fires at Washington during the engagement, but was unable to wound him.

In 1758, Fort Duquesne was abandoned by the French, and immediately occupied by the English, who changed its name to Fort Pitt, in honor of William Pitt. As a town its settlement dates to 1765. In 1804 it was incorporated as a borough, and in 1816 chartered as a city. Its population in 1840, was a little more than 20,000. In 1845 a great part of the city was destroyed by fire, but was quickly rebuilt, its prosperity remaining unchecked. Return to Topics.

Old Battle Ground.
A little less than ten miles from Pittsburg is the village called Braddock's Field, which, in the names of its streets, perpetuates the old historic associations. The ancient Indian trail which led to the river is still preserved, and the two shallow ravines in which the French and Indians lay concealed when they surprised Braddock's troops are still there, though denuded of the dense growth of hazel bushes which at that period served the purpose of an ambush. From an old oak in this neighborhood many bullets have been pried out by persevering relic hunters; while in the adjacent gardens the annual spring plowing invariably turns up mementoes of that historic event, in the shape of bullets, arrow heads, and even bayonets. A sword with a name engraved upon it has also been found. Return to Topics.

The Past & the Present.
The Pennsylvania Railroad now crosses the location of the thickest of the fight, and at the time of its construction a considerable number of human bones were dug up and reinterred, the place of the later interment being surrounded by a rough fence of common rails. Children now play where once the forces of their nations engaged in deadly warfare. The hillside, which was then pierced by bullets, is now perforated near its summit by large openings, through which emerge car-loads of coal. Thus the present and the past strike hands across the century, and modern civilization, with its implements of industry and its applicances of commerce, supersedes and obliterates the traces of savagery, and of the deadly enmity of man toward man. The sword is turned into the plowshare, and peace triumphs over bloodshed. Return to Topics.

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