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Steel's Great Capital Pittsburgh

( Originally Published 1913 )

A MAN, traveling across the land for the very first time, slips into a strange town after dark. It is his first time in the strange town, of course. Other-wise it would not be strange. He finds his hotel with little difficulty, for a taxicab takes him to it. He immediately discovers that it is not more than two squares from the very station at which he has arrived. Still a friendly taxicab in a strange town is not an institution at which to scoff, and the man who is very tired is glad to get into his hotel room and to bed without delay.

He awakes the next morning very early at least it must be very early for it is still dark. It is dark indeed as he stumbles his way across the room to the electric switch. In the sudden radiance that follows, he sputters at himself for having arisen so early for he is a man fond of his lazy sleep in the morning. He fumbles in his pockets and finds his watch. Ten minutes to nine, it says to him.

" Stopped," says the man, half aloud. " That's an-other time I forgot to wind it."

But the watch has not stopped. Insecure in his own mind he lifts it to his ear. It is ticking briskly. The man is perplexed. He goes to the window and peeps out from it. A great office building across the way is gaily alight — a strange performance for before dawn of a September morning. He looks down into the street. Two long files of brightly lighted cars are passing through the street, one up, the other down. The glistening pavements are peopled, the stores are brightly lighted the man glances at his watch once again. Eight minutes of nine, it tells him this time.

He smiles as he gazes down into that busy street. " This is Pittsburgh," he says.

Later that day that same man stands in another window of a tall skyscraper this time and again gazes down. Suspended there below him is a seeming chaos. There are smoke and fog and dirt there, through these — showing ever and ever so faintly —tall, artificial cliffs, punctured with row upon row of windows, brightly lighted at midday. From the narrow gorges between these cliffs come the rustle and the rattle of much traffic. It comes to the man in waves of indefinite sound.

He lifts his gaze and sees beyond these artificial cliffs, mountains real mountains towering, with houses upon their crests, and steep, inclined railroads climbing their precipitous sides. In these houses, also, there are lights burning at midday. Below them are great stacks — row upon row upon row of them, like coarse-toothed combs turned upside down and the black smoke that pours up from them is pierced now and then and again by bright tongues of flame— the radiance of furnaces that glow throughout the night and day.

" We're mud and dirt up to our knees and money all the rest of the way," says the owner of that office. He is a native of the city. He comes to the window and points to one of the rivers — a yellow-brown mirrored surface, scarcely glistening under leaden clouds but bearing long tows by the dozen — coal barges, convoyed by dirty stern-wheeled steamboats.

" There is one of the busiest harbors in the world," says the Pittsburgh man. " A harbor which in tonnage is not so far back of your own blessed New York."

The New Yorker, for this man is a New Yorker, laughs at the very idea of calling that sluggish narrow river a harbor. They have a real harbor in his town and real rivers lead into it. This does not even seem a real river. It reminds him quite definitely of Newtown creek that slimy, busy waterway along which trains used to pass in the days when the Thirty-fourth street ferry was the gateway to Long Island.

" We have tonnage in this town," says the proud resident of Pittsburgh, " and if you won't believe what I tell you about the water traffic, how about our neat little railroad business? If you won't listen to our harbor-master here when I take you down to him, look at the lines of freight cars for forty miles out every trunk-line railroad that gets in here. This is the real gathering ground for all the freight rolling-stock of this land."

And then he falls to telling the native of Manhattan island how all that traffic has come to pass how a mere quarter of a century ago the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie railroad had offered itself to the historic Erie for a mere hundred thousand dollars and had been refused as not worth while. Today the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie is the pet child of the entire Vanderbilt family of aristocratic railroads, earning more clear profit to the mile than any other railroad in the world. The Pittsburgh man makes this all clear to his caller. But the man from New York only looks out again upon the city in semi-darkness at midday, and thinks of the towers of. his own Manhattan rising high into the clearest blue sky that one might imagine, and whispers incoherently :

" This Pittsburgh gets me."

Pittsburgh gets some others, too. It gets them from the back country, green country lads filled with ambition rather than anything else, and if they have the sticking qualities it makes them millionaires, if that so happens that such is the scheme of their ambitions. It has made some other millionaires, almost overnight, as we shall see in a few minutes. The picking for dollars seems good in the neighborhood of the confluence of the Monongahela and the Allegheny.

Consider for a moment that confluence the geography of Pittsburgh, if you please. In a general way the older part of the town has a situation not unlike that of the great metropolis of the continent. For New York's East river, substitute the Monongahela; for the Hudson, the Allegheny ; and let the Ohio, beginning its long course at the Point Pittsburgh's Battery represent the two harbors of New York. Then you will begin to get the rough resemblance. To the south of the Monongahela, Pittsburgh's Brooklyn is Birmingham, set under the half-day shadows of the towering cliffs of Mount Washington. Allegheny now a part of the city of Pittsburgh and beginning to be known semi officially as the North Side corresponds in location with Jersey City.

And the problems that have beset Pittsburgh in her growth have been almost the very problems that from the first have hampered the growth of metropolitan New York. If her rivers have been no such stupendous affairs as the Hudson or the East rivers, the overpowering hills and mountains that close in upon her on every side have presented barriers of equal magnitude. To conquer them has been the labor of many tunnels and of steep inclined railroads, the like of which are not to be seen in any great city in America. It has been no easy conquest.

As a result of all these things the growth of the city has been uneven and erratic. Down on the narrow spit of flat-land at the junction of the two rivers that go to make the Ohio — a location exactly corresponding with Manhattan island below the City Hall and of even less area is the business center of metropolitan Pittsburgh wholesale and retail stores, banks, office buildings, railroad passenger terminals, hotels, theaters and the like. The same causes that made the skyscraper a necessity in New York have worked a like necessity in the city at the head of the Ohio.

So it has come to pass that no one lives in Pittsburgh itself, unless under absolute compulsion. The suburbs present housing facilities for the better part of its folk — Sewickley and East Liberty vie for greatest favor with them and there are dozens of smaller communities that crowd close upon these two social successes. " We can never get a decent census figure," growls the Pittsburgh man, as he contemplates the size of these out lying boroughs that go to make the city strong in every-thing, save in that popular competitive feature of population. And that very reason made the merging of the old city of Allegheny a popular issue, indeed.

The fact that Pittsburgh men live outside of Pittsburgh goes to give her the fourth largest suburban train service in the country. Only New York, Boston and Philadelphia surpass her in this wise. Even San Francisco has less. One hundred and fifty miles to the northwest is Cleveland, the sixth city in the country and outranking Pittsburgh in population. There is not a single distinctive suburban train run in or out of Cleveland. From one single terminal in Pittsburgh four hundred passenger trains arrive and depart in the course of a single business day and ninety-five percent of these are for the sole benefit of the commuter.

So congested have even these railroad facilities become that the city cries bitterly all the while for a transit relief and experts have been at work months and years planning a subway to aid both the steam roads and the overworked trolley lines. At best it is no sinecure to operate the trolley cars of Pittsburgh. Combined with narrow streets, uptown and downtown, are the fearful slopes of the great hills. It takes big cars to climb those hills, let alone haul the trailers that are a feature of the Pittsburgh rush-hour traffic. When the New Yorker sees those cars for the first time he looks again. They are chariots of steel, hardly smaller than those that thread the subway in his daily trip to and from Harlem, and when they come toward him they make him think of locomotives. The heavy car gives a sense of strength and of hill capability. But the company staggers twice each day under a traffic that is far beyond its facilities — and it staggers under its political burdens.

For it is almost as much as your very life is worth to " talk back " to a street car conductor in Pittsburgh. The conductor is probably an arm of the big political machine that holds that western Pennsylvania town as in the hollow of its hand. The conductors get their jobs through their alderman, and they hold them through their alderman. So if a New York man forgets that he is four hundred and forty miles from Broadway, and gets to asserting his mind to the man who is in charge of the car let him look out for trouble. Chances are nine to one that he will be hauled up before a magistrate for breaking the peace, and that another arm of the political machine will come hard upon him.

A man, who was a life-long resident of Pittsburgh, once made a protest to the conductor of a car coming across from Allegheny. The passenger was in the right and the conductor knew it. But he answered that pro-test with a volley of profanity. If that thing had happened in a seaboard town, the conductor's job would not have been worth the formality of a resignation. In Pittsburgh a bystander warned the passenger and he saved himself arrest by keeping his mouth shut and getting off the car.

But the Pittsburgh man had not quite lost his sense of justice, and so he hurried to a certain high officer of the street railroad company. When he came to the company's offices he was ushered in in high state, for it so happened that the born Pittsburgh man was a director of that very corporation. It so happens that street railroad directors do not ride like their steam railroad brethren on passes, and the conductor did not know that he was playing flip-flap with his job.

" You'll have to fire that man," said the director, in ending his complaint. "If that had happened at the club I would have punched him in the head."

The big man who operated the street railroad looked at the director, and smiled what the lady novelists call a sweet, sad smile.

" Sorry, Ben," said he, "but I know that man. He's one of Alderman X's men, and if we fired him X— would hang us up on half a dozen things."

Do you wonder that in the face of such a state of things transit relief comes rather slowly to Pittsburgh?

Pittsburgh men have been trying to worm their way out of their difficulties for about a century and a half now, for it was 1758 that saw a permanent settlement started there at the junction of the three great rivers. Before that had been the memorable fight and defeat of Braddock not far from where more recently Mr. Frick and Mr. Carnegie have been engaged in a rivalry as to which could erect the higher skyscraper and most effectually block out the façade of the very beautiful Court House that the genius of H. H. Richardson designed more than a score of years ago. At Braddock's defeat George Washington fought and it was no less a prophetic mind than that of the Father of His Country which foresaw and prophesied that Pittsburgh, with proper transportation facilities, would become one of the master cities of the country.

Today, when Pittsburgh men grow nervous in one of their chronic fits of agitation —generally started by some talkative city, such as Chicago and Duluth, proclaiming herself as the future center of the steel industry — she gains comfort from the sayings of two Presidents ---General Washington, as just quoted, and the gentleman who sits at the head of the board of the United States Steel Corporation, who goes out there from time to time and tells them to be of good cheer, that the center of the steel business is irrevocably fixed within their town. Pittsburgh worries much more about the steel business than about the Richardson Court House, which has just been left high and dry upon a local Gibraltar because of the desire of the local aldermen to lower Fifth avenue some eight or ten feet. But who shall say that she should not be restive about a business that reaches an output in a single twelvemonth of something over 15o,000,000 tons? That is a jewel that is well worth the keeping.

Philadelphia stands at the east end of Pennsylvania ; Pittsburgh is the west gate of that Keystone common-wealth. Yet two peas in a pod were never half so different. Philadelphia stands for conservatism, Pitts-burgh for progress. While Philadelphia was climbing to the zenith of her power and influence through the first three-quarters of the last century and reaching her apotheosis in her great Centennial, Pittsburgh was quiet beneath her smoke umbrellas experimenting with that strange new metal, which man called steel. In the day dreams that Philadelphia enjoyed in 1876 Pittsburgh was forgotten.

" I suppose the Pennsylvania railroad must have some place to end at," said a lady from Rittenhouse square, when her attention was called to the city at the junction of the three rivers. And in the next year that lady and many other ladies of the staunch old Quaker town were holding up their hands in holy horror at the news from Pittsburgh. Great riots, the bloodiest that had ever been known, were marking the railroad strike there — why, in a single day the rioters had burned the great Union station, every other railroad structure, and every car in the place. That was bad advertising for a town that had none too many friends.

But Pittsburgh was finding herself — she is still in that fascinating process of development. For word was eking out from the rough mountains of western Pennsylvania that a little group of Scotchmen led by a shrewd ironmaster whom politic folk were already calling " Mr. Carnegie " had made steel an economic structural possibility. In this day when wood has become a luxury, steel is coming into its own and Pittsburgh is today the most metropolitan city between New York and Chicago. But she is still finding herself. The Survey, financed by Mrs. Russell Sage, and equipped with some of the ablest and fairest minded social workers in America, has called sharp attention to her shortcomings. The Survey did its work thoroughly and it was not the work of a minute or a day or a week or a month. When its report was ready, Pittsburgh smarted. It was the sort of smarting that goes before a cure.

Much has been done already. The man who went to Pittsburgh as recently as ten years ago carried away some pretty definite memories of neglected railroad stations and inferior hotel facilities. He remembered that in Liberty and Penn avenues — two of the chief shopping streets in the city — long trails of freight cars were constantly being shifted by dirty switch engines in among the trolley cars, while farther up these same avenues the Fort Wayne railroad tracks formed two of the nastiest grade crossings in America. When a fine new hotel was finally built away out Fifth avenue, he could sit on its porch and face Pittsburgh's famous farm. The Schenley farm stretched over the hill and far away. Its barns were sharply silhouetted upon the horizon, rail zigzag fences ran up and down the slopes and some-times one could see cattle outlined against the sky edge.

The farm was a sore spot in Pittsburgh development. It occupied a tract somewhat similar in location to that of Central Park in Manhattan, and the struggling, growing town crawled its way around the obstacle slowly — then grew many miles east once again. Resentment gathered against the farm, and finally a bill was slipped through at Harrisburg imposing double taxes on property held by persons residing out of the United States — a distinct slap at the Schenley estate. When the estate protested, word was carried oversea to it that if a good part of the farm were dedicated to the city as a park that bill would be withdrawn.

So Pittsburgh gained its splendid new park, and a site for one of the finest civic centers in America. The farm has begun to disappear — the University of Pitts-burgh is absorbing its last undeveloped slope for an American Acropolis that shall put Athens in the pale. The new Athletic Club, the development of the Hotel Schenley, the great Soldiers' Memorial Hall which Allegheny county has just finished, the even greater Carnegie Institute, the graceful twin-spired cathedral, all are going toward the making of this fine, new civic center, and Pittsburgh being Pittsburgh, and the Pirates social heroes, Forbes Field the finest baseball park in all this land— a wizardry of glass and steel and concrete — is a distinctive feature of this improvement.

The freight trains are gone from the downtown shopping streets and the two wicked grade crossings disappeared when the Pennsylvania built its splendid new Union Station. Other fine railroad terminals and new hotels have added to the comfort of the stranger. They are beginning in a faint way to give transfers on the trolley cars, and there is more than a promise that some day wayfarers will not be taxed a penny every time they walk across the bridges that bind the heart of the city. The bridge companies are private affairs, paying from fifteen to twenty percent in annual dividends, and they hang pretty tightly on to their bonanzas. But the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce is after them, and that Chamber is a fairly energetic body. It has already sought the devil in his lair and tried to abolish the smoke nuisance, with some definite results.

A New York girl who has been living in Pittsburgh for the last four years complained that she had never seen but two sunsets there. There is hope for that girl. If the Chamber of Commerce keeps hard at its anti smoke campaign, she may yet stand on the Point and down the muddy Ohio see something that dimly resembles the glorious dying of the day, as one sees it from the heights of New York city's Riverside Drive.

A keen-eyed man sat in an easy chair in the luxury of the Duquesne Club, and faced the New York man.

" Are we so bad? " he demanded. " You New York men like to paint us that way. You judge us falsely. You think that when you come out here you are going to see a sort of modern Sodom, bowing to all the gods of money and the gods of the high tariff. You think you are going to fairly revel in a wide open town, in the full significance of that phrase, and what do you see?

" You see a pretty solid sort of a Scotch Presbyterian town, where you cannot even get shaved in your hotel on Sunday, to say nothing of buying a drink. And as for shows, you can't buy your way into a concert here on Sunday. Why, some of the elders of my kirk have even looked askance at Mr. Carnegie for the free recitals that he gives Sabbath afternoons in that splendid hall of the Institute.

" There's your real Pittsburgher, and if some of the boys have chafed a bit under all the restraint that they have had here and gone to the wicked city after a little fling and a little advertising, is that any just reason why it all should be charged against Pittsburgh? Pittsburgh has enough troubles of her own without borrowing any additional ones.

" The trouble is we've been making too much money to notice much about the boys, or give proper attention to some pretty vital civic problems — that's why the rottenness cropped out in the City Councils. It's the taint of the almighty dollar, Mr. New Yorker ! Why, Mr. Carnegie made a couple of hundred of us millionaires within a single twenty-four hours. Can you think of any worse blow for an average town?

" He took some of us, who had been working for him a long time, and got us into the business — some for an eighth interest, others for a sixteenth or even a thirty-second. That was great, and we appreciated it, but it kept us fairly tight on ready money for a while, even though Frick and Mellen were standing pat with an offer of a hundred million dollars for the bonds of the steel company. I tell you I was short on ready money myself, and wondering if I could not cut down on my house rent $2,000 a year and get my wife to keep two hired girls instead of three. Then you know what happened. Carnegie himself took over the bonds at a cold two hundred million dollars. Within a week or so I was in New York talking with an architect about building a new) house for the missus, and getting passage tickets through to Europe."

The ironmaster called his automobile and bundled the New York man within it.

" We are going down into the slums," he said. " I can show you a single block where thirteen different languages are spoken. That is the new Pittsburgh taking up one another's burdens, or something of that sort, as they call it. It is queer until you get used to it, and when you get used to it, it makes you feel like going up on the roof and yelling that Pittsburgh is going to be the greatest city on earth, not just the greatest in tonnage or in dollars.

" That is why we are cottoning to that idea of a civic center out by Schenley Park; that's why we pat Andrew Carnegie on the back when we know that he is giving us the best in pictures and in music in America; that's why Frick is holding back with his horse pasture there in front of Carnegie Institute to build something bigger and better. Don't you get the idea now of the bigger and better Pittsburgh?"

The limousine stopped and the ironmaster beckoned a large, whiskered Russian to it. " Here's a real anarchist," he said, " but he is one of my protégés. He speaks down in a dirty hall in Liberty avenue, near the Wabash terminal, but he's for the new Pittsburgh, and he's for it strong— so we come together after a fashion."

The Russian, who was a teacher, came close to the big automobile and pointed to a woman of his own people — a woman wretchedly poor, who dwelt in one of the hovels which are today Pittsburgh's greatest shame.

" She's reading Byron," he said quietly, and she has been in America less than six months. She says there is a magnificent comparison between Byron and Tolstoy."

That reminded the ironmaster of an incident.

" After that bad time in 1907," he said, " I chanced into one of Mr. Carnegie's libraries, and the librarian complained to me of the way the books were being ruined. Their backs were being scratched and filled with rust and even shavings. I had an idea on that my-self. I went back to our own mill — it was pretty dull there and I was dodging the forlorn place as much as I could. But we were sifting out a gang from the men who were beating at our doors every morning for work, and even then we were carrying twice as many men as we really needed. I went around back of the furnaces and there were the library books the men were reading them in the long shifts."

" They weren't reading fiction?" asked the New Yorker.

" Not a bit of it," said the ironmaster. Then he added:

" One of them spoke to me. He was only getting three days a week. ` Mr. Carnegie can give the books,' was his quiet observation, ` and the money to buy them. But we need more than money. Can't he ever give us the leisure to read them without its costing us the money for our food?'

" That, New Yorker, from the mouth of one of those of the new Pittsburgh is the real answer to your question."

Personality Of American Cities:
Steel's Great Capital Pittsburgh

Cleveland The Sixth City

Chicago And The Chicagoans

Twin Cities St. Paul Minneapolis

Gateway Of The Southwest St. Louis

New Orleans The Old French Lady Of The Riverbank

San Antonio The City Of The Little Squares

Denver The American Paris

Portland - Seattle - Tacoma

San Francisco — The Newest Phoenix

Read More Articles About: Personality Of American Cities

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