By Katharine McNulty
As I get off the bus I can imagine the smoke stacks active and the hustle and bustle of the workers running around shoveling coal and melting the steel. I am in Homestead, the old home of the Carnegie Steel Corporation. As I walk around, I can see how much change has occurred to create the open-air shopping and dining center now in the Waterfront. As shown by the picture below, the Waterfront used to look nothing like today. Back in the peak of the steel making days, the Waterfront was the focus of all the pride and glory that we in the “Steel City” have for our heritage.
Homestead was once home to the Carnegie Steel Corporation owned by Andrew Carnegie who hired Henry Clay Frick to run the business. These may be familiar names to you because of their well-known philanthropic work around the same time period, although they were enemies. Andrew Carnegie donated hundreds of libraries to communities all over the world and Henry Clay Frick was a large supporter of visual art and had an extensive collection that was also then donated. The lesser known facts about these titans of industry is that they were friends to begin with.
Andrew Carnegie hired Frick to run his operations of his steel mills. Carnegie was very happy with the way things were going until June of 1892. Carnegie owned several mills and none of them had worker’s unions as they were not very popular in the 1890’s among steel industry workers. None of them except Homestead Works, located at what we now call The Waterfront.
In 1892 the contract between the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers and Carnegie was expiring. Carnegie sent Frick to go negotiate the union out. He did not want his mills to have any unions. Carnegie was conveniently on his yearly trip to his home country, Scotland. To the public, Carnegie was very supportive to the workers and always advocated for workers’ rights. In private, he told Frick he refused to have a union in one of his mills.
The working conditions in these mills were subpar to say the least. It was a regular occurrence for a worker to be detrimentally injured or even killed. As talked about in “Out of This Furnace”
Frick did all he could but eventually the workers went on strike. Carnegie was livid. He told Frick to use any means necessary to stop the strike and get the mills back up and running. Frick did as he was told.
The morning of June 8 the Pinkerton men were sent on barges to stop the strike and that did not go as planned. The whole town came out to support the workers on strike and the men were defeated fairly quickly however there were casualties on both sides.
This put a strain on the business relationship of Carnegie and Frick. They were close friends but Carnegie played it to the public as if Frick was the only one to blame for the strike and therefore the death of both Pinkerton men and some of the mill’s workers. They parted ways and Carnegie eventually sold his company to United States Steel Corporation.
After Carnegie and Frick were no longer associates, they both took to philanthropy. Many say that Frick was trying to do penance for his sins but I like to believe he was just a big fan of visual arts. Carnegie also took to philanthropy. He donated money and supplies to hundreds of Carnegie libraries all over the world including the 19 still in operation here in Pittsburgh.
After a few years in U.S. Steel’s hands, the Homestead Works was eventually shut down for good. The picture above is an example of how some of the abandoned buildings were tagged or art was spray painted on them. Eventually a development company bought the property and flattened it out. They then built what is now The Waterfront. It took a long time and a lot of hard work.
The Waterfront being transformed breathed new life into the city of Pittsburgh. After the mills were closed down, the city struggled greatly to compete with other cities in the United States. Spirits were broken and everyone was in a slump because unemployment rates were at an all-time high. Transforming from a milling town was difficult for the “Steel City”. It is now home to dozens of business’ headquarters, multiple leading universities in the sciences and medicine and a leader in technological advancements among other U.S. cities.
Waterfront is now a beautiful outdoor space with acres of shopping, dining, entertainment and dining. There is everything from bike paths to historical sites to a movie theater to a costume store. It is located in a beautiful area, right along the river. With plenty to do and lots to see, it is easy to spend a full day just walking around and seeing everything.