How Pittsburgh Became Known as the Steel City

Pittsburgh was one of the largest American cities up until the 1950s. It plays a significant role in early U.S. development, including battles in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Part of the reason why everyone came here involved the availability of raw materials.

Tremendous coal deposits were found all around Pittsburgh. Andrew Carnegie used that knowledge to build one of the largest companies in world history, beginning steel production in 1875. By 1901, Carnegie and his partner, Henry Clay Frick, merged several businesses together to create the United States Steel Corporation.

Up until the 1950s, almost half of America’s steel output came from Pittsburgh. Many of the city’s buildings and neighborhoods testify to the industrial work, wealth, and creativity that flowed through the town.

How Did the Steel City Stop Growing?

During the 1970s and 1980s, steel production collapsed by over 50%. In 1973, the U.S. produced 111.4 million tons. It wouldn’t be until 2000 when the industry would reach the 100 million ton production level again.

Imports hurt Pittsburgh’s place in the American economy. The U.S. went from importing 146,000 tons in 1946 to 24 million tons in 1978 because the international market was cheaper than domestic production.

After the recessions of the 1980s resolved, Pittsburgh had to reinvent itself. It is now a place for research, medical development, and education.

Although the steel mills along the riverfront are mostly gone, the money made from its production continues to put Pittsburgh on the map. Carnegie donated much of his wealth to establish libraries, an art collection, the Carnegie Museums, and Carnegie Mellon University.

Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams still pay homage to the city’s traditions from the past. Black and gold are the colors that represent the industrial past, with the Steelers in the NFL directly named for the productivity and innovation that brought economic growth to the region.