This year we are celebrating the fact that Pittsburgh is 250 years old. Festivities abound, but with advanced age comes also opportunity for reflection -- for taking stock of ourselves, who we are, where we have been and where we may be going. For better and for worse, it's time to look in the mirror.
We have a precedent. One hundred years ago, during the city's 150th birthday, our forbearers did just this.
In 1908, Pittsburgh was the fifth-largest city in the country. Its extraordinary industrial growth and the resultant massive immigration were straining the city's social fabric. It was ripe for examination.
Led by Paul Kellogg from the New York Charity Organization and funded by the newly created Russell Sage Foundation, dozens of social reformers embedded themselves in the life of our city in 1907 and 1908. The results of their investigations are described in the six volumes of "The Pittsburgh Survey" -- the first effort in America to use the new science of sociology to describe a city and promote social reform.
Kellogg's lyrical description of the Survey, the city and its people was published in January 1909 in the journal "Charities and the Commons." An excerpt is presented here. (The full text is available on the Carnegie Library's Web site: carnegielibrary.org/exhibit/stell30.html. Also, some volumes of the Survey are in the library system and published by University of Pittsburgh Press.)
Kellogg's Pittsburgh is a vibrant, international, industrial Mecca where people worked hard in hard circumstances and, in the process, took themselves for granted. They paid the price in "sorrow, death and misunderstanding." The volumes of the Survey document just how exploited and neglected many people were.
The powers that be did not appreciate this reflection in the mirror or the call for change. Many long struggles for a better life -- a better Pittsburgh -- were yet to come.
Now, 100 years later, we are no longer an industrial dynamo, but an insecure city/region trying to find a new role in the world. Our social fabric strains under the pressure. And the same question imposes itself. But what of the people? Or rather, what of ourselves?
Pittsburgh's possible future -- our promise -- lies even more in its people today than it did 100 years ago. We will make our mark in the new knowledge/technology economy. This time, however, perhaps we can pay attention to ourselves as we do it.
-- whosoever you will -- have draughted a mighty and irregular industrial community at the headwaters of the Ohio. Under the name of The Pittsburgh Survey, Charities Publication Committee has carried on a group of social investigations in this great steel district.
The survey deals with the city as a community of people. But Pittsburgh is usually defined in other terms.
First among American cities in the production of iron and steel, we are told that it ranks fifth as a general manufacturing center. There are 47 furnaces within 40 miles of the heart of the city, with an annual capacity of over 7 million tons of pig iron -- more than 25 percent of the production in the United States.
In coal and coke, tin plate, glass, cork, and sheet metal -- in products as varied as the 57 varieties of the pickles in which it excels -- its output is a national asset. Pittsburgh stands 10th in postal receipts and fifth in bank deposits. Its banking capital exceeds that of the banks of the North Sea empires and its payroll that of whole groups of American states.
Here is a town, then, big with its works.
Again, there is a temptation to define Pittsburgh in terms of the matrix in which the community is set, and the impress of this matrix on the soul of its people no less than on the senses of the visitor. Pipelines that carry oil and gas, waterways that float an acreage of coal barges, four track rails worn bright with weighty ore cars, wires surcharged with a ruthless voltage or delicately sensitive to speech and codes, bind here a district of vast natural resources into one organic whole.
The approaching traveler has ample warning. Hillsides and valleys are seamed with rows of coke ovens, gaunt tipples bend above mine mouths, derricks and bull-wheels stand over fuel wells, and low lying mill buildings, sided with corrugated iron, rear their clusters of stacks like the pipes of huge swarthy Pans.
Then comes the city with its half-conquered smoke cloud, with his high, bare hills and its hunch of imposing structures. The place to see Pittsburgh from is a much whittled little stand on the high bluff of Mount Washington, where votaries of the national game assemble on a clear afternoon and spy upon a patch of green in Allegheny City, hundreds of feet below them, and more than a mile away across the Ohio River.
rather than the product or the setting, concern us.
In December 1907, Pittsburgh and Allegheny were merged, and the Greater City entered the class of Baltimore, St. Louis and Boston. Last September, Pittsburgh celebrated its 150th anniversary, and a street pageant exhibited both the industrial vigor of the community, and the variety of its people.
There was a company of Corn Planter Indians, descendants of the aboriginal Pittsburghers; there were floats representing the early settlers; there were Scotchmen with kilts and bagpipes; nor were they all. A wagon load of Italians bore a transparency -- "Romans dig your sewers" -- and Polish, Slovak and other racial organizations marched in the costumes of their native countries. For the life of the city has become intricate and rich in the picturesque.
That old man you passed on the street was a Morgan raider, and behind him trudged a common soldier of the Japanese War. Here is an American whose Pittsburgh is the marble corridors of an office building, and the night desks of the men in shirt sleeves and green eye shades; and here, one whose Pittsburgh reaches back to a stately old parlor with gilt-framed mirrors and spindling Chippendale.
And here, the inventor who works with many men in a great laboratory and scraps a thousand dollars' worth of experimentation at the turn of a hand.
Here is a gallery of miners pounding their grimy fists at a speech by Haywood in the old town hall; and here a bunch of half-sobered Slavs in the Sunday morning police court.
You do not know the Pittsburgh District until you have heard the Italians twanging their mandolins round a construction campfire, and seen the mad whirling of a Slovak dance in a mill town lodge hall; until you have watched the mill hands burst out from the gates at closing time; or thrown confetti on Fifth Avenue on a Halloween.
Within a few blocks of the skyscrapers of the Point, I have seen a company of Syrians weaving almost unceasingly for four days a desert dance that celebrated the return of one of them to Jerusalem. (An Irishman thought it a wake.) A possum swings by the tail at Christmastide in front of that Negro store in Wylie Avenue; long bearded Old Believers play bottle pool in that Second Avenue barroom; a Yiddish father and five children lie sick on the floor of this tenement; this old Bohemian woman cleaned molds as a girl in the iron works of Prague; that itinerant cobbler made shoes last winter for the German children of the South Side, who were too poor to pay for them, and stuffed the soles with thick cardboard when he was too poor to buy leather.
Here is a Scotch Calvinist, and there a Slavic free thinker; here a peasant, and there a man who works from a blue print; engineers, drag outs, and furnacemen from the mill district; yeggs and floppers and '69ers from the lower reaches of the city; strippers and core makers and coffin buffers. There a Russian exile with a price on his head, and here a Shaker of old Pennsylvania stock!
You have heard of Shakespeare's London, of the port of Lisbon in the days of the Spanish Main, of the mixtures of caste and race and faith on the trade routes of the East. They are of the ilk of Pittsburgh. How to get orderly plans of social betterment out of the study of such a community is at first a staggering question.
But the clue to its answer is that same fact that stood out when we looked at Pittsburgh as a city of tonnage and incandescence. These people are here to work.
presents in a more clear-cut way than Pittsburgh the abrupt change from British and Teutonic immigration. Sociologists tell us that in the mid-eastern valleys of Europe, waves of broad-headed, long-headed, dark and fair peoples gathered force and swept westward to become Kelt and Saxon and Swiss and Scandinavian and Teuton. They were the bulwark which obstructed the march of Hun and Goth and Turk and Tartar, sweeping in from the East.
It is from Slavs and mixed people of this old midland, with racial and religious loves and hates seared deep, that the new immigration is coming to Pittsburgh to work out civilization under tense conditions. A vineyard blighted, a pogrom, torture, persecution, crime, poverty, dislodge them, and they come.
Further, the sociologists tell us that by mixed peoples the greatest advances have been made. It was in Amsterdam, Venice, London, and the Hanse towns, places of mart which brought together the blood and cultures of distant races -- it was here that democracy gathered head and the arts flourished.
But in Pittsburgh are the elements of a mixture yet more marvelous. A common fund of Slavic words, almost a Pittsburgh dialect, is finding currency. The Pole still speaks Polish, but he makes an adaptation of his words, and the Slovak understands. The Syrian and Arabian peddlers know these words and use them in selling their wares in the courts and settlements -- a contrast to the great gulfs that still separate the Slav and the English-speaking.
Furthermore, the city is the frontier of today. We have appropriated and parcelled out most of our free land. The edge of settlement is no longer open as a safety valve for foot-loose rebels against the fixity of things. They come to the cities. They swarm in new hives. To Pittsburgh especially, where men deal with devil-may-care risks and great stakes, come the adventurous and the unreckoning.
these people come is not the work of their fathers. The discipline of the mill is not the discipline of the field. Human nature is put to new and exacting tests. It works unremittingly as it has not worked before -- eight, 10, 12 hours a day, seven days in the week, with the chance of 24 hours once in the fortnight.
It works by artificial light and at night. It works in great plants and creates and puts together in fierce new ways. Of that growing share of the population of Pittsburgh which is continental born, a large proportion is from the country and small villages. This is no less true of the influx of southern Negroes -- a northbound movement here and in other cities, the final outcome of which we do not know.
Finally -- in our roster of dominating influences -- within the last 25 years, has come the invasion of women into industry. This is not a simple thing, nor a little one. It can directly affect half the population. Pittsburgh is not primarily a woman's town, yet 22,000 women engage in the trades, and each year they invade a new department. These women workers are affected by all the forces noted and in turn affect and complicate those forces.
give the town common cause and intercourse with the Atlantic coast ranges to the east, and the mid-continental bottom lands, north and south, to the west. Their waters carry the ores and fill the boilers and douse the hissing billets of the steel makers. They are not easy overlords, this triumvirate of rivers. They carry fever which scotches one town and the next. They rise a bit too far and the fires are out, the streets flooded. But grudgingly and inevitably, they yield mastery. They are dammed and sluiced and boiled and filtered to suit the demands of navigation and power and temperature and thirst.
The mastery they yield is to another current -- the eddying peoples which make up the community and all its works -- a current more powerful and mysterious than the bulk of brown waters.
But what of the people? They have largely taken themselves for granted. They have rarely taken the time to test their own needs or consciously gauge the destination of the currents that possess them. They are here -- the strong, the weak, the cowed, the ambitious, the well equipped and the pitiful. They jostle and work and breed. For the most part they run a splendid course. But they do not keep tally, and their ignorance means sorrow and death and misunderstanding.
Dr. Kenneth S. Thompson , an associate professor of psychiatry and public health at the University of Pittsburgh, is medical director at the Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ( Ken.Thompson@SAMHSA.hhs.gov ). Paul U. Kellogg (1879-1958), a journalist and social reformer, was director of The Pittsburgh Survey. For further reading: See the 1996 book " Pittsburgh Surveyed: Social Science and Social Reform in the Early Twentieth Century ," co-edited by University of Pittsburgh history professor Maurine Greenwald and Margo Anderson of the University of Wisconsin.