Organized Session

SHOT Joint Session

From "Hell with the Lid Off" to Laboratory for Academic-Industry Research: Pittsburgh and its Research Universities, 1907-1950


Mark Samber

Carnegie Mellon University

Session Abstract

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, surged into a position as one of the most substantial manufacturing regions in the United States. Pittsburgh’s manufacturers exploited with abandon the region’s rich coal resources and strong national demand for iron, steel, glass, coke, and other intensive- energy products. They also adopted new capital-intensive process technologies (many of local origin), which, along with the successive waves of cheap immigrant labor from central and eastern Europe, they drove as hard as possible. In doing so, Pittsburgh’s manufacturers accumulated vast wealth. Indeed, Pittsburgh became the very embodiment of what Lewis Mumford, in his pioneering work in the history of technology, Technics and Civilization (1934), aptly called “carboniferous capitalism.” The region was the scene of two of the bloodiest conflicts between industrial capital and labor in American history—1. the 1877 Railroad Strike in which the city’s steel arteries were severed into twisted scrap; roundhouses, locomotives, and terminal facilities were burned to the ground; and dozens of strikers were killed, and 2. the famous brass-knuckled 1892 Homestead Strike, which cost precious lives, led to the military occupation of Carnegie Steel Company’s Homestead Works and its environs, ushered in the “non-union” era of big steel, and forever sullied Andrew Carnegie’s image as “friend of the working man.” Pittsburgh’s carboniferous capitalism vastly amplified its long-standing reputation as “the smoky city,” fouled the region’s three rivers, degraded its citizenry to embrace the motto “smoke means prosperity,” and secured its reputation as “hell with the lid off.” Although Carnegie and his mother could no longer tolerate the environment that his vast industrial plants helped to create, the iron and steel manufacturer believed that Pittsburgh had reached the highest stage of social evolution.

Presenter 1

Fellowships, Philanthropy, and Profit: How the Mellon Institute Fulfilled a Vision for Industrial Research, Academic Science, Public Benefit & Private Enterprise, 1907-1921

Mark Samber

Carnegie Mellon University

Presenter 2

Robert Kennedy Duncan’s Fraternity of Fellows: The Origins of Sponsored Industrial Research at Kansas and its Triumph in Pittsburgh, 1907-1915

David A. Hounshell

Carnegie Mellon University

Presenter 3

Science in the Steel City: Metallurgy at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1923-1940

Thomas Lassman

Office of the Secretary of Defense


Anna Guagnini

Independent scholar