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Pittsburgh Fifty Years Hence

A. L. Humphrey. Excerpt from Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Spirit, Chamber of Commerce of Pittsburgh, 1927.

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… To begin with, in our attempt to anticipate the character of our future development, it is my judgment that the first great event affecting the course of our program during the half century ahead will be the establishment of a greater city, whose area will be the same as that of the county. This event, as has been said, is now clearly within sight through the medium of the proposed constitutional amendment for the creation of a metropolitan government in Allegheny County.

In view of the fact that the consolidation of contiguous urban areas is under way, and view of the admitted waste and lack of efficient coordination inevitable resulting from the existence of 124 independent municipal governments in Allegheny county, the coming of a metropolitan government here sooner or later seems as certain as anything human can be.

What it will mean to every citizen of Allegheny County to be counted as a citizen of a city of 1,500,000 people every business man knows. The commercial, financial, and industrial prestige attaching to a city of that size is at least twice as great as the prestige attaching to a city of the much small population now credited to Pittsburgh. With the prestige bringing about an entirely new attitude on the part of the whole country to Pittsburgh there will unquestionably come new population, new trade, new industries, which can be secured in no other way. It is no species of day dreaming, but an exceedingly practical judgment acquired through a long business experience and acquaintance with the habits of men, which leads me to the belief that the new rank which will be conferred upon our city by the metropolitan legislation will benefit us far more in a material way than anything else that has happened for more than two generations.

It is not only as a tremendous stimulus to our growth that the metropolitan city will affect us. It will also operate as a beginning of great community improvements, of county-wide proportions, which could not hitherto be undertaken because there was no way of securing the necessary concerted action. I trust I shall not seem too bold if I predict that the success of the metropolitan plan, making us the fourth or fifth city of the United States with a population of 1,500,000 in 1930, will so speed up our development as to give us a population of over 2,000,000 in 1940.

The next great event playing a more than ordinary part n the molding of our future will be, I am bound to believe, a marked development of our water transportation facilities. It is a rather singular fact that while George Washington saw the strategic importance of our position at the point where the Monongahela and Allegheny unite to form the Ohio, we have never enjoyed full advantage of that position commercially. We are virtually at the head of the greatest waterway system on earth, for nowhere is there a greater industrial and commercial region than the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. We cannot but think that the slackwatering of the Ohio should have proceeded faster. However, we now have reason to expect that the completion of the Ohio river improvements, bringing dependable all-the-year-round river navigation from Pittsburgh to the Gulf, will be witnessed during the next two or three years.

The recent tour of nearly four score of Pittsburgh's financiers and industrialists to the leading cities of the lower rivers was a proper recognition of the enormous expansion of trade which will without doubt follow in all the river ports from Pittsburgh to New Orleans shortly after all-the-year-round navigation begins. The vast river-railroad terminals that some of these cities have already built clearly indicate what is coming.

Pittsburgh now has a railroad tonnage of 175,000,000 annually with a river traffic of more than 30,000,000 tons annually. Our railroads are energetically enlarging their facilities to meet the demands of our constantly increasing industrial output, but there is no question that it is in the direction of our waterways that we must look chiefly for greater power to compete in the markets with rival cities. The Carnegie Steel Company, the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, and others of our steel producers are already shipping considerable quantities of steel by river to the great southwestern markets. This traffic is only in its infancy. It is easily conceivable that within the next decade we shall have found outlets by rive for two or three times the tonnage now shipped in that way. The strengthening which will accrue to our steel industry from this more economic form of transportation cannot easily be overestimated.

Furthermore, we have within our reach the Great Lakes as well as the Gulf. Just as the river improvements will make Pittsburgh a Gulf port, so the proposed Ohio river and Lake Erie canal will make it a lake port, enabling us to bring iron ore from he lake superior mines at such a material reduction of cost as, added to the natural advantage of our incomparable coal, will make it possible for Pittsburgh to achieve a more decided supremacy in the basic iron and steel industry not many years hence than it has ever had before.

Just when the Ohio river and Lake Erie canal will be built it is not our purpose to undertake to say. Its feasibility from both the commercial and engineering points of view is unquestioned. Its bearing upon our economic future is vital. While, therefore, we cannot say when it will be built, its building seems inevitable. And from the moment when Pittsburgh is enabled not only to ship its finished products but also fetch its raw materials by water it will enter upon a growth and prosperity to which we would hesitate to set any limit.

This waterway development of which we speak will in no sense, in my judgment, be a displacement of railroad business. We men of business are all aware of the tremendous additions that the railroads of the United States have been making to all their facilities and equipment, and the magnificent service which they render. How many billions of new capital they have invested in late years the business world knows. They have never been spending larger sums or giving better service than now.

Within the next decade or two there will undoubtedly be railroad electrification on a large scale which will stimulate one of our most important Pittsburgh industries. The great electric locomotives produced by the Westinghouse electric & Manufacturing Company will be standard equipment on many thousands of miles of American railways in no distant future. We have every reason to suppose that railroad development in the United States will continue at an accelerated rather than a diminished rate. The great days of American trade and industry are not behind but ahead.

So enormous will be the distribution of products throughout our great national domain that the maximum development of which our railroads are capable will still not avail to meet traffic demands unless supplemented by some such system of national waterways as Secretary Hoover is earnestly advocating. Mr. Hoover's program, let us note, assumes that a major role in his great drama of water transportation will be played by the river system of which the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio are a part.

When Pittsburgh has become not only the head and center of the vast river commerce for which men of foresight are already equipping their industries, and when we have also diverted a large part of the commerce of the Great Lakes this way, we shall be ready for still another far-reaching stage of our evolution. This next phase, I confidently believe, will be an unparalleled diversification of our industries. I have already indicated reasons for my faith that our supremacy in iron and steel will remain unchallenged for a long time to come, as an editorial writer for the "Wall Street Journal" not long ago concluded. It is, in fact, within our power to increase our share of the country's iron and steel production by means of the waterway improvements to which we have just been giving our attention. But apart from iron, steel, coal, and glass, the industries which in a past generation were our staples and with which we were seemingly satisfied, an expansion of our productivity seems to be an inherent necessity of our geographical position and that expansion can hardly help taking the direction of very extensive diversification.

We shall diversify, not because of any mere resolution to diversity, but because we happen to have virtually unlimited manufacturing facilities and transportation potentialities along with a situation within twelve hours' railroad ride of a larger population than any other city of comparable size in America. To be specific, within a 500-mile radius of Pittsburgh there is a population not far short of 75,000,000 or more than sixty-six per cent of the population of the United States. It is the most highly industrialized and most prosperous region on the face of the globe. The population of this part of the United States within the 500-mile radius of Pittsburgh is nearly twice as large as that of all the rest of the United States. It includes more than 1,700, or nearly sixty per cent, of all the cities in the United States and Canada of a population in excess of 2,500.

We have the richest coal beds on the continent and an unlimited supply of electric power at lower rates than any other American community with few exceptions, so we must set all economic laws at defiance in order to doubt the development of an enormous diversification of industry within the next generation at this favored spot. Already the departure from the few great staple lines of production which contented us in the past has reached notable proportions.

Considering that the cost of distribution is a fundamental factor in the success or failure of enterprise and that Pittsburgh is closer than any other large center to the bulk of population, we should be astonished if this foreordained diversification of Pittsburgh industry has not already manifested itself.

Our railroad equipment, electrical machine, food, aluminum, refractory, by-product coke, chemical, oil-refining, and oil-field equipment, machine tool, cement, radium and vanadium industries are among the largest in the world. We have the largest steel plant, the largest air brake, railway signal and safety appliances manufacturing plants, the second largest electrical works, the largest aluminum plant, the largest cork works, and the largest food-packing plant, in the world. There are already in the Pittsburgh district no less than 300 lines of manufacture, most of them of a ferro-metallurgical character, but with scores entirely unrelated to the ferro-metallurgical industries.

Iron and steel are manufactured in 51 communities of the Pittsburgh district; glass products in 28; clay products in 16; chemicals in 14; machinery and tools in 12; enameled ware in 11; non-ferrous metals in 9; railroad equipment in 8; tin and tern plate in 7; electrical equipment in 5; and paint and varnish in 4 communities.]

 

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