Carrie Furnace In Pittsburgh

Carrie Furnace

The Story of Carrie Furnace: A Symbol of Pittsburgh’s Industrial Heritage

Carrie Furnace, a historical blast furnace site located in Rankin and close to Swissvale, stands as a testament to the region’s rich industrial past. It is a symbol of Pittsburgh’s steel industry, which was once the backbone of America’s economic growth.

The Birth of Carrie Furnace

Carrie Furnace was conceived as part of the Homestead Steel Works, a sprawling industrial complex that opened its doors in 1881. The furnace itself came into existence three years later, in 1884.

The Homestead Steel Works was a major player in the steel industry, producing massive quantities of steel that fueled the nation’s growth. Over the years, the complex expanded, with the workforce reaching its peak at 15,000 employees.

The Carrie Furnace was a vital part of this industrial juggernaut. At its zenith, the site produced an astonishing 1,000 to 1,250 tons of iron daily.

Carrie Furnace

A Change in Ownership

In 1883, the Homestead Steel Works was acquired by the legendary industrialist Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie was a man with a vision, and he swiftly transformed the modest steel mill into one of the largest of its kind in the world.

In 1901, Carnegie sold the complex to U.S. Steel, marking another chapter in the site’s history. The furnaces remained operational, contributing significantly to U.S. Steel’s production capabilities.

Labor Struggles at Carrie Furnace

The working conditions and wage disparities at the Homestead Steel Works led to a series of labor disputes. Many of the mill’s workers were members of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers (AA).

Carnegie, despite publicly supporting labor unions, hired Henry Frick to manage his company. Frick’s mandate was to dismantle the AA, leading to tension and conflict.

In 1882, Frick attempted to insert a non-union clause into the workers’ contracts, sparking a strike that resulted in violence but ended in a victory for the union. However, as the end of the three-year agreement approached in 1889, the situation deteriorated again, culminating in the infamous Homestead Strike.

The Homestead Strike and its Aftermath

On June 29, 1892, Frick locked the plate mill and one of the furnaces, prompting the union to rise up. The workers formed picket lines, blocking access to the mill around the clock.

In the early hours of July 6, Frick attempted to smuggle an armed private security force into the mill by barge. The ensuing confrontation resulted in gunfire, with 16 people killed and many more injured.

The strike eventually lost public support, particularly after an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Frick by anarchist Alexander Berkman. The union conceded defeat, returning to work on Frick’s terms.

The Legacy of Carrie Furnace

Carrie Furnace

Despite the labor struggles, the Carrie Furnace continued its operations well into the 20th century. However, the downturn in the domestic steel industry led to its closure in 1982.

Today, the site is owned by Allegheny County and managed by the nonprofit Rivers of Steel Heritage Corporation. The remaining structures, furnaces #6 and #7, have been designated a National Historic Landmark.

Plans are currently underway to convert the site into a mixed-use development, including housing, office buildings, a hotel, a conference center, and a museum. In the meantime, the site is open for guided tours, offering visitors a glimpse into the industrial past that shaped Pittsburgh and its surrounding areas.

Carrie Furnace is a fascinating tale of industry, labor struggles, and resilience. It serves as a poignant reminder of the city’s industrial past, and its journey from a bustling steel mill to a historical landmark is a testament to Pittsburgh’s ability to adapt and evolve.

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