Driving the LH in 1919 ~ part 6, smoky Pittsburgh

LINCOLN HIGHWAY NEWS IS A BLOG BY BRIAN BUTKO

Continuing our look at Beatrice Massey’s memoir of a cross-country trip, It Might Have Been Worse:

“We had come 442 miles, from New York to Pittsburgh, over fine roads and through beautiful country. Approaching Pittsburgh, we came in on a boulevard overlooking the river and ‘valley of smoke.’ Great stacks were belching out soot and smoke, obliterating the city and even the sky and sun. They may have a smoke ordinance, but no one has ever heard of it. We arrived at the William Penn Hotel, in the heart of the business center of the city, a first-class, fine hotel in every regard. We found the prices reasonable for the excellent service afforded, which was equal to that of any New York hotel. The dining-room, on the top of the house, was filled with well-dressed people, and we were glad that we had unpacked our dinner clothes, and appeared less like the usual tourist, in suits and blouses.

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Downtown Pittsburgh in 1919. [University of Pittsburgh, City Photographer Collection, 715.1924A.CP.]

“It was frightfully hot during our two days’ stay. You go out to drive feeling clean and immaculate, and come in with smuts and soot on your face and clothes, looking like a foundry hand. The office buildings are magnificent, and out a bit in the parks and boulevards the homes are attractive, and many are very handsome, especially in Sewickley. But aside from the dirty atmosphere one is impressed mostly by the evidences of the outlay of immense wealth. An enthusiastic brother living there took us through a number of the business blocks, and told us of the millions each cost and the almost unbelievable amount of business carried on. I can only describe Pittsburgh as the proudest city I’ve visited. Not so much of the actual wealth represented, but of what the billions had accomplished in great industries.

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Mills lined Pittsburgh’s rivers in 1919. Photo by Hugh C. Torrance. [Carnegie Museum of Art, 83.21.25.]

“We went out in the evening and stood on one of the bridges to look over the river lined with monster furnaces. The air was filled with sparks, jets of flame bursting through the smoke. All you could think of was Dante’s Inferno visualized. And what of the men who spend their lives in that lurid atmosphere, never knowing if the sun shone, nor what clean, pure air was like in their working hours ? I shall never look at a steel structure again without giving more credit to the men who spend their waking hours in those hells of heat and smoke than to the men whose millions have made it possible.”

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