Scenic USA - Pennsylvania

Homestead Smokestacks - Rivers of Steel

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Homestead Smokestacks - Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, Homestead, Pennsylvania

Photo by Theresa Kisha

     With the passage of the Pacific Railway Act of 1862 at the height of the Civil War, the South no longer had a vote for a southern rail route across the United States. The bill signaled the start of the Transcontinental Railway construction boom leading to one of the greatest technological achievements of the 19th century. Calling for more and more steel, in 1886 Andrew Carnegie envisioned a new business opportunity and bought a five year old steel mill located in Homestead, Pennsylvania.
     Here along the grimy banks of the Monongahela River, just a few miles south of Pittsburgh, stood a large cluster of buildings topped with towering smokestacks. Carnegie, a believer in cost control, sidestepped safety concerns and issued two 12 hour work shifts. Mill workers, kept on a seven day per week continuous operation, began to feel the stresses associated with the hurried pace. Steelworkers unionized, and a forthcoming confrontation with tough-minded management was inevitable. After a bloody battle between union workers and the private Pinkerton army, the Pennsylvania Governor called upon the state police to quell the riot, a historic first.
     Today, the area's large steel manufacturing plants have disappeared, along with their distinctive sooty atmosphere. Working with a few steel industry remnants, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area Group is hoping to establish a 38 acre national park. This stirring photograph of Homestead smokestacks posts a reminder of a historic past when roaring blast furnaces were heard for miles, and smokestacks filled the entire city with a smoky haze. United States Steel was once the largest steel mill in the country with the Homestead Steel Works covering 400 acres and stretching along the river's edge for three miles.

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