National Geographic : 1949 Jul
Pittsburgh: Workshop of the Titans BY ALBERT W. ATWOOD With Illustrations by National Geographic Photographers B. Anthony Stewart, J. Baylor Roberts, and John E. Fletcher OF ALL great cities, probably none is so dependent upon natural resources, especially upon mineral resources, as Pittsburgh, world capital of coal and steel. As the throbbing heart of basic, heavy industry, and the very symbol of America's industrial power, there is something elemen tal about Pittsburgh. It is direct, natural, vibrant, and virile. It has restless, dynamic drive. It has fundamental strength, like steel, of which it is the world's No. 1 producer (page 123). To an unparalleled extent, Pittsburgh is a city of producers, and by contrast many other cities seem like mere market places. Underlying the greatness of Pittsburgh, both literally and figuratively, is the so-called Pittsburgh seam of bituminous coal, found throughout so much of western Pennsylvania and West Virginia. This is one of America's chief sources of energy and is generally con sidered the world's most valuable single min eral fuel deposit. Other seams of coal, both in the United States and abroad, are thicker and more ex tensive; but there are relatively few from which coke for steel manufacturing can be made, and an even more limited number whose loca tion so perfectly fits the needs of industry.* Set in a Circlet of Riches Pittsburgh's location, plus its nearness to coal, has made it a titan of industry. Within a 500-mile radius is more population and probably greater riches than in such a circle drawn around any other metropolis in North America. Like most big cities, Pittsburgh is located at a natural break or junction in transporta tion routes. With some cities it is the mouth ofariverortheendofalake;inthecase of Pittsburgh it is a junction of river valleys. Indeed, Pittsburgh exists because two great rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, come together at the "Point," or apex of the city, to form the Ohio. The result is a marvelous system for the collection and assembly of vast quantities of bulky raw materials, such as iron ore, lime stone, coal, and coke to make steel. Trans portation is supplied by fleets of barges on three rivers and trunk-line railroads along their banks. Like New York and San Francisco, Pitts burgh has a spectacular setting, a capacity for being seen with the eye in the large. Its location has great natural beauty as well as colossal utility. But alas, it is handicapped as well as blessed by topography, for it occupies one of the most irregular and uneven sites of any upon which a great city is built (page 126). "Pittsburgh is undoubtedly the cockeyedest city in the United States," wrote the late Ernie Pyle. "Physically, it is absolutely irra tional. It must have been laid out by a mountain goat." A Mountain and River Town Seriously, it is to all intents and purposes a mountain as well as a river town. A local geographer says that 10 percent of its surface is in slopes of 40 percent or more. The lowest elevation, at river level, is above 700 feet, and the hills with which the city abounds rise to more than 1,200 feet, many of them steep, barren, and unfit for habitation. Because of the mighty force exerted by the three rivers through the ages, the Appalachian plateau at this point is eroded and dissected into a maze of irregular hills and sharp valleys or ravines, some deep and narrow. One is amazed that human beings should build in such a place. It is a city of isolated settlements and communities, many of whose residents rarely visit other sections, for natural barriers make travel awkward, difficult, and circuitous. "You may have a friend who lives half a mile away," to quote columnist Ernie Pyle again. "But to get there you circle three miles around a mountain ridge, cross two bridges, go through a tunnel, follow a valley, skirt the edge of a cliff, and wind up at your friend's back door an hour after dark." However, because of its extraordinary to pography, the average visitor to Pittsburgh sees scarcely a dwelling in it, and probably the only steel mills he sees are before he reaches it or after he has left. The lack of level land has forced a large majority of the basic industries up the Alle *See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE: "Coal: Prodigious Worker for Man," May, 1944; and "Steel: Master of Them All," April, 1947, both by Albert W. Atwood.