There are few cities in America as proud or as historic as the modern-day community of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. With a rich history that predates America, the city has played critical roles in our nation’s military conflicts for centuries.
Recognizing the invaluable strategic advantage in controlling the land where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio (which leads to the Mississippi River), the British and French engaged in bloody battles for control of the real estate that would one day become the “Steel City” throughout the 1750s. Thousands of soldiers met their deaths on the land our unassuming streets and houses now rest upon.
Ultimately, the British Crown would prove victorious in what America would come to know as “The French and Indian War,” forever sealing the city’s fate as sovereign Anglo-American territory.
Following American independence in 1783, the village around Fort Pitt continued to grow – even temporarily rebelling against the Federal government it helped to create. Turns out that the people of Pittsburgh didn’t like paying taxes on their whiskey any more than the people of Boston liked paying taxes on their tea!
It wasn’t until the War of 1812, however, that the city would begin to realize its true life’s calling: producing metal.
With British materials no longer available due to a second war with the motherland, the infant American nation needed a homeland producer of large quantities of iron, brass, tin and glass.
Situated on the banks of three major rivers, Pittsburgh was perfectly positioned to assume this role — the south flowing rivers allowed the factories easy access to Dixie, while developing railway lines in the north provided access to the New England and New York markets.
By the 1850s, Pittsburgh had grown to one of the largest cities in the Appalachian Mountains with nearly 50,000 residents. A generation and a half later, the city was producing the nation’s steel.
By 1911, Pittsburgh was producing half the nation’s steel — a commodity that would prove invaluable during what would become the planet’s most critical military conflict – a war against Adolf Hitler and the Japanese Empire.
Interestingly, the day of the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the City of Pittsburgh was hosting an “America must stay neutral in this World War” rally, sponsored by the America First Committee.
North Dakota Senator Gerald Nye was slated as the event’s keynote speaker. Before Sen. Nye approached the stage, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette informed the Senator about the attack, but Nye was skeptical and did not mention the news to the audience. The reporter passed him a note during the speech stating that Japan had declared war; Nye read it but continued speaking. He only announced the attack at the end of his one-hour speech, stating that he had received “the worst news that I have encountered in the last 20 years.”
Though the city was reluctant to go to war, once war was inevitable, Pittsburgh’s residents rallied around the American flag, working to secure nothing short of absolute victory.
Coined as the “Arsenal of Democracy,” the city led the way in producing munitions for the Allied war effort as prosperity returned to the Steel City at the price of American blood.
With demand at an all-time high, the city’s mills operated 24-hours a day, producing more than 95 million tons of steel for the war effort. The increased production output created a workforce shortage, which resulted in a countless number of African-American families moving to the city in order to find work.
Their product would be used to build battleships, aircraft carriers, ammunition and a host of critical war-time products. Were it not for the city’s effort, recovering from the attack against Pearl Harbor would have been significantly delayed – possibly providing Japan and Germany an opportunity to launch a second and even more devastating attack upon American territory.
Today, the peninsula that forms the land that is simply known as “The Point” in the city, is lined with American flags — a reality that is only possible thanks to the blood and sweat of the Steel City.
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