Westmoreland Museum of American Art

Greensburg, Pennsylvania





Valley of Work: Scenes of Industry

June 6, 1999 - Ongoing

From left to right: Emil Bott (1827-1908), Pittsburgh, PA, 1851, hand painted lithograph, 6 x 8 inches, WMAA 86.258; Johanna K. W. Hailman (1871-1958), Pittsburgh River Scene, 1929, oil on canvas, 21 x 29 1/2 inches, WMAA 95.3; Otto Kuhler (1894-1976), Ice on the Allegheny, WMAA 96.20


At the beginning of the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution made its dramatic entrance into the city of Pittsburgh. Due to the low cost of iron and coke and the abundance of coal in Western Pennsylvania, the iron industry was beginning to take shape. Early foundries were producing iron bars, nails, and farm implements in great abundance. The first rolling mill for iron powered by the steam engine was established in Pittsburgh in 1812. The number of steam mills increased rapidly, making Pittsburgh the largest urban area west of the Allegheny Mountains by 1815. In addition to its iron mills, the city soon boasted four glass factories, three breweries, two potteries, a grist mill, a steam engine factory, a nail mill, cotton and woolen factories, and four printing offices. By 1830, Pittsburgh's three rivers were crowded with steamboats transporting every type of iron manufactured. Pittsburgh had become a major "hub" of the Industrial Revolution with its plentiful raw materials, natural channels for transportation, and its abundance of laborers.

In the early days of Pittsburgh's industrial development, the city grew dramatically, but it was not the beautiful city we see today. Pittsburgh's streets were muddy, dirty, and poorly lit. The arrival of large numbers of immigrants and people relocating from rural areas and from the east led to overcrowding in the city. Pittsburgh's population tripled between 1810 and 1830. By 1860, there were more than 50,000 people living in the city, and another 100,000 living in the suburbs of Allegheny County. The poor living conditions and the almost non-existent sanitation methods led to widespread epidemics of cholera. Pitch fires were lit in the streets in hopes that the flames would kill the cause of the disease. These pitch fires combined with the smoke and filth from the factories resulted in a dirty, sooty environment for its inhabitants. Even through the first half of the twentieth century, Pittsburgh was known as the "smoky city." These conditions did not discourage the steady influx of immigrants from all over Europe, however, nor did it stop the steady growth of the steel industry in Pittsburgh.

By 1860, steelmaking had strong roots in the city because of its iron production. Pittsburgh's iron industry was valued at about $6.5 million dollars and employed more than 5,500 laborers. The future was set. The Bessemer process of producing steel, which was invented in the early 1870s, further solidified Pittsburgh's hold on the iron and steel industry. By the 1880s, Pittsburgh was an unrivaled industrial giant. The city was producing one-twelfth of the pig iron and one-fourth of the rolled iron in the country, while sixteen enormous steel works manufactured two-thirds of all the crucible steel. Today, steel still plays an important role in Pittsburgh's economy, and the city has more than earned its nickname "the steel city."

Artists have depicted the "steel city" in many ways for well over a century. The power and glory of the mills have been a source of visual fascination and inspiration to many individuals. In Valley of Work: Scenes of Industry, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art pays homage to the area's industrial heritage.

Read more about the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in the Resource Library

For further biographical information on selected artists cited in this article please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

rev. 10/18/10

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