For the time being, before I head back to W&J, my family is having a small "Stay-cation," and earlier in the week we had an interesting visit to the Carrie Furnaces in Homestead. Our tour was held by one of the board members of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, Ron Baraff. Ron was very nice in showing us around the two furnaces, and provided a wealth of information regarding what different parts of the furnaces were for, why they would do things in such a way, and some of the historical context behind the creation of the furnaces. The Carrie Furnaces were built in 1907 to produce iron for the Homestead Works from 1907 to 1978. Furnaces 6 and 7, the ones down in Homestead, hit peak production in the 1950s and 1960s, producing about 1000-1250 tons of iron a day. Why these two furnaces were so important, aside from their obvious uses, was that these are the only two non-operative blast furnaces that provide insight into pre-World War II iron-making technology. When I toured the furnaces earlier in the week, I was amazed by viewing the same furnaces that would become one of the most robust industries of its time, and would later become one of the key industries to aid the Allies in World War II. What I also took away from the visit was how important these furnaces were to the history of Pittsburgh, and how it shaped its community in the future.
I felt as though the furnaces were a fine testament to Pittsburgh's history and the relevance of Pittsburgh in America's history, a feat which is very difficult for many other cities to boast. Plus, because Pittsburgh would be home to the iron-making industry, it shaped much of our culture, both in the past and today. In the past, many of Pittsburgh and Homestead's buildings were constructed out of the iron from the furnaces. When the NFL was established and the major was being decided, Pittsburgh not only named their team "Steel," which would later be changed to "The Steelers," but also, the logo was to have colors correlated to the items needed to produce steel: yellow for coal, orange/red for iron ore, and blue for steel scrap. Primanti Brothers also started from Pittsburgh's relation with the iron industry. The steel workers, when constructing buildings and working in the furnaces, would only have short periods for lunch breaks, roughly 5-10 minutes, so to get the food they needed at once, the steel workers would pile all of their side dishes onto their sandwiches. So, when the founders of Primanti's opened, it is said that many of their customers would be these same steel workers who liked their sandwiches with these toppings, and that would become Primanti's signature way of making sandwiches.
Today, while Pittsburgh no longer houses that robust industry anymore, its past still holds some effect on Pittsburgh's culture today. At the Carrie Furnaces, Ron Baraff and some of the others at Rivers of Steel, want others in the community to provide some works of art to share what the furnaces mean to them, so long as the artists respect the furnaces, and speak with those in Rivers of Steel about any projects. One particular art piece was done by a guerilla artist that used items on-site to make a 3-D Deer Head. While this wasn't done officially, the managers of the furnace kept it to show artists their acceptance of pieces on the mill. The managers also allow different grafitti artists to do pieces on the furnace, but they must consult with the managers to know what places they are allowed to do their art. One example was on the far side of the furnaces, where there is a wall full of graffiti art, several I really enjoyed, and around the mill are pieces that an artist did in commemoration of a deceased artist named "Kidz." Wiz Khalifa, who become popular nationally due to his homage to Pittsburgh with "Black and Yellow," also had another song, "Work Hard, Play Hard," which features some shots from the Carrie Furnaces and also pays homage to the movie "Flash Dance."
Overall, my visit to the Furnaces was delightful, but also inspiring, because it felt like the furnaces really said something about the innovation of Pittsburgh and the effect Pittsburgh had on the U.S. in general. I can definitely say that many of those born in Pittsburgh should take pride in it, because behind your history is a long lineage of hard workers and a people proud of their city, who pushed themselves to be one of the most relevant cities in American History in the last century.
For more info on the furnaces, or if you'd like to set up a tour ,please visit this link: https://www.riversofsteel.com/