Testaments to Better Times Still Stand Solid in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PA -- As a Washington sports fan, I've never had much nice to say about Pittsburgh, but on a recent visit to the city for the Winter Classic I was impressed by the solidness of it.  As I sat in Heinz Field watching the Caps handily dismantle the Pens 3-1 in front of 68,000 fans, I admired the city's surprisingly commanding skyline. Don't get me wrong, I'll never like Pittsburgh, but I gotta hand it to the Steel City -- it was built at a time when cities rose at strategic locations and prospered on raw industry. 


Pittsburgh was built on the foundations of Ft. Duquense (French) and Ft. Pitt (British).  In its heyday in the railroad age, the iron ore and coke of the Pennsylvania hills were baked in blast furnaces to produce the steel that built the Union Pacific Railway and Empire State Building.  In 1909, sociologist Paul Kellogg wrote in a report called "The Pittsburgh Survey," that "in coal and coke, tin plate, glass, cork, and sheet metal ... its output is a national asset" (h/t Bill Steigerwald).  Companies like U.S. Steel funded Mellon Bank and PNC Bank, and hotels with ornate masonry arose downtown. 

Today, of course, Pittsburgh is a gloomy place with a rough economy and a nearly bankrupt municipality. Yinzers leave in droves for greener pastures in Charlotte, Atlanta, and Northern Virginia.  Those places have humming economies but definitely lack the character.  Charlotte prospered thanks to the liberalization of state banking laws in the 1960s and '70s, and Northern Virginia boomed in the 1980s and '90s, thanks in part to Beltway Bandits capitalizing on government spending. 

Pittsburgh, for all its faults and horrible hockey teams, is a solid city full of people who know how to make things. Bruce Springsteen might as well been talking about Pittsburgh when he sang in "Youngstown," "These mills they built the tanks and bombs that won this county's wars."  The map below shows the increase in steel production from 1941-45, with Pittsburgh clearly leading, and the second map shows furnaces, rollings mills, and steel works in Pittsburgh in 1879:

Pittsburgh Steel
Pittsburgh Steel Map
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Patrick Ottenhoff has been writing The Electoral Map blog since 2007. A former staff writer for National Journal Group and project manager at New Media Strategies, he now attends Georgetown's McDonough School of Business. More

Patrick Ottenhoff attends Georgetown McDonough School of Business in the Class of 2012. He previously served as a project manager in the Public Affairs Practice of New Media Strategies and was a staff writer for National Journal Group. Patrick has been writing The Electoral Map blog since 2007. As the name implies, the blog covers news and commentary at the intersection of politics and geography, but it also analyzes the stories, people, culture, sports, and food behind the maps and the votes. Patrick is a native Virginian and graduate of Union College in New York. You can follow The Electoral Map on Twitter and Facebook, and follow Patrick on YouTube.

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