Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America

Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America

Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America

Beyond Rust: Metropolitan Pittsburgh and the Fate of Industrial America


Beyond Rust chronicles the rise, fall, and rebirth of metropolitan Pittsburgh, an industrial region that once formed the heart of the world's steel production and is now touted as a model for reviving other hard-hit cities of the Rust Belt. Writing in clear and engaging prose, historian and area native Allen Dieterich-Ward provides a new model for a truly metropolitan history that integrates the urban core with its regional hinterland of satellite cities, white-collar suburbs, mill towns, and rural mining areas.

Pittsburgh reached its industrial heyday between 1880 and 1920, as vertically integrated industrial corporations forged a regional community in the mountainous Upper Ohio River Valley. Over subsequent decades, metropolitan population growth slowed as mining and manufacturing employment declined. Faced with economic and environmental disaster in the 1930s, Pittsburgh's business elite and political leaders developed an ambitious program of pollution control and infrastructure development. The public-private partnership behind the "Pittsburgh Renaissance," as advocates called it, pursued nothing less than the selective erasure of the existing social and physical environment in favor of a modernist, functionally divided landscape: a goal that was widely copied by other aging cities and one that has important ramifications for the broader national story. Ultimately, the Renaissance vision of downtown skyscrapers, sleek suburban research campuses, and bucolic regional parks resulted in an uneven transformation that tore the urban fabric while leaving deindustrializing river valleys and impoverished coal towns isolated from areas of postwar growth.

Beyond Rust is among the first books of its kind to continue past the collapse of American manufacturing in the 1980s by exploring the diverse ways residents of an iconic industrial region sought places for themselves within a new economic order.


When I was a kid growing up on a southeastern Ohio farm, I remember most about the hour and a half drive to downtown Pittsburgh the moment when our family car burst from the darkness of the Fort Pitt Tunnel into the sunlight dazzling off the swath of skyscrapers suddenly spread before us near the point where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet. As I now travel west on the turnpike from my home in central Pennsylvania, the city reveals itself more gradually. the first billboards promoting “Pittsburgh and Its Countryside” begin to appear at about the point where the highway merges with Interstate 70 for the rugged journey through the Allegheny Mountains. If I am driving in winter, the forecast may well be “Seasonable with a 100% chance of fun,” a prediction highlighting the ski resorts of the Laurel Highlands just ahead. a little farther along, it’s “Exit 91 for Whitewater Fun!” at Ohiopyle State Park during the summer, while signs for the Carnegie Science Center roboworld™ exhibit assert the city’s status as a high-tech hub.

The route we are traveling is itself a lingering testament to Pittsburgh’s industrial power, originally blasted through the mountains by Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and Cornelius Vanderbilt in their war with the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad. Heading up the miles-long ascent to the Eastern Continental Divide, a roadside sign just before the entrance to the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel marks the boundary between the Chesapeake Bay and Ohio River watersheds. Shortly after this geographical transition, I know for certain I have arrived on the edge of metropolitan Pittsburgh when the six enormous wind turbines of the Somerset Wind Farm come into view along the southern ridge. As a symbol of the region’s vaunted economic transformation, however, this . . .

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