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What Was The Pittsburgh Survey?


The Pittsburgh Survey

By Paul U. Kellogg in "Charities and the Commons," 2 January 1909.

Engineers have a simple process by which in half an hour's time they strike off a "blue print" from a drawing into which has gone the imagination of a procession of midnights, and the exacting work of a vast company of days.
God and man and nature,--whosoever you will,--have draughted a mighty and irregular industrial community at the headwaters of the Ohio; they have splashed, as Kipling puts it, at a ten league canvas with brushes of comet's hair. Under the name of the Pittsburgh Survey, Charities Publication Committee has carried on a group of social investigations in this great steel district. In a sense, we have been blue-printing Pittsburgh. Our findings will be published in a series of special numbers of which this is the first, covering in order: I.--The People; II.--The Place; III.--The Work.
Full reports are to be published later in a series of volumes by the Russell Sage Foundation and, throughout, the text will be reinforced with such photographs, pastels, maps, charts, diagrams and tables as will help give substance and reality to our presentations of fact.
In this sense, then, it is a blue print of Pittsburgh, that we attempt. At least the analogy of the draughting room may make it clear that the work, as we conceive it, lies, like the blue print, within modest outlay and reasonable human compass. Our presentation must frankly lack the mechanical fidelity and inclusiveness of the engineer's negative; but we can endeavor to bring out in relief the organic truth of the situation by giving body and living color, as we see them, to what would otherwise be but the thin white tracings of a town.
Occasional articles have been published during the year, but the results of the Survey are put forward for the first time as a consecutive whole in the pages that follow. Here is the place, then, for a simple statement of the drive and scope of the work as conceived by those who have carried it forward:

The Pittsburgh Survey has been a rapid, close range investigation of living conditions in the Pennsylvania steel district. It has been carried on by a special staff organized under the national publication committee which prints this magazine. It has been financed chiefly by three grants, of moderate amount, from the Russell Sage Foundation for the Improvement of Living Conditions. It has been made practicable by co-operation from two quarters,--from a remarkable group of leaders and organizations in social and sanitary movements in different parts of the United States, who entered upon the field work as a piece of national good citizenship; and from men, women and organizations in Pittsburgh who were large-minded enough to regard their local situation as not private and peculiar, but a part of the American problem of city building.

The outcome has been a spirited piece of inter-state co-operation in getting at the urban fact in a new way. For consider what has already been done in this field in America. We have counted our city populations regularly every ten years,--in some states every five. We have known that the country has grown and spread out stupendously within the century, and that within that period our cities have spread out and filled up with even greater resistlessness. How goes it with them? What more do we know? True, we have profited by incisive analyses of one factor or another which enters into social well-being,--tuberculosis, factory legislation, infant mortality, public education, to name examples; and we have heard the needs of particular neighborhoods described by those who know them. But there is something further, synthetic and clarifying, to be gained by a sizing up process that reckons at once with many factors in the life of a great civic area, not going deeply into all subjects, but offering a structural exhibit of the community as a going concern. This is what the examining physician demands before he accepts us as an insurance risk, what a modern farmer puts his soils and stock through before he plants his crops, what the consulting electrician performs as his first work when he is called in to overhaul a manufacturing plant. And this, in the large, has been the commission undertaken by the Pittsburgh Survey.

The main work was set under way in September, 1907, when a company of men and women of established reputation as students of social and industrial problems, spent the month in Pittsburgh. On the basis of their diagnosis, a series of specialized investigations was projected along a few of the lines which promised significant results. The staff has included not only trained investigators but also representatives of the different races who make up so large a share of the working population dealt with. Limitations of time and money set definite bounds to the work, which will become clear as the findings are presented. The experimental nature of the undertaking, and the unfavorable trade conditions which during the past year have reacted upon economic life in all its phases, have set other limits. Our inquiries have dealt with the wage-earners of Pittsburgh (a) in their relation to the community as a whole, and (b) in their relation to industry. Under the former we have studied the genesis and racial make-up of the population; its physical setting and its social institutions; under the latter we have studied the general labor situation; hours, wages, and labor control in the steel industry; child labor, industrial education, women in industry, the cost of living, and industrial accidents.

From the first, the work of the investigations has been directed to the service of local movements for improvement. For, as stated in a mid year announcement of the Survey, we have been studying the community at a time when nascent social forces are asserting themselves. Witness the election of an independent mayor three years ago, and Mr. Guthrie's present fight to clear councils of graft. Within the field of the Survey and within one year, the Pittsburgh Associated Charities has been organized; the force of tenement inspectors has been doubled and has carried out a first general housing census; and a scientific inquiry, under the name of the Pittsburgh Typhoid Commission, has been instituted into the disease which has been endemic in the district for over a quarter of a century. A civic improvement commission, representative in membership and perhaps broader in scope than any similar body in the country, is now in process of formation.

A display of wall maps, enlarged photographs, housing plans, and other graphic material was the chief feature of a civic exhibit held in Carnegie Institute in November and December, following the joint conventions in Pittsburgh of the American Civic Association and the National Municipal League. The local civic bearings of the Survey were the subject of the opening session of these conventions. Its economic aspects were brought forward at a joint session of the American Economic Association and the American Sociological Society at Atlantic City in December.

The present issue is frankly introductory. It deals with the city as a community of people. Pittsburgh is usually defined in other terms. First among American cities in the production of iron and steel, we are told that it ranks fifth as a general manufacturing center. There are forty-seven furnaces within forty miles of the heart of the city, with an annual capacity of over seven million tons of pig iron,--more than twenty-five per cent of the total production in the United States. Statistics of the American iron trade for 1907 show that Allegheny county produced a fourth of all Bessemer steel and a third of all open hearth steel, a fifth of all rails rolled in the United States, a third of all plates and sheets, and very nearly a half of all structural shapes. Pittsburgh proper ranked fourth in foundry and machine shop products, second in brick and tile, pottery and fire clay, and first in electrical apparatus and supplies. In coal and coke, tin plate, glass, cork, and sheet metal,--in products as varied as the fifty-seven varieties of the pickles in which it excels,--its output is a national asset. Pittsburgh stands tenth in postal receipts and fifth in bank deposits. Its banking capital exceeds that of the banks of the North Sea empires and its payroll that of whole groups of American states. Here is a town, then, big with its works.

Again, there is a temptation to define Pittsburgh in terms of the matrix in which the community is set, and the impress of this matrix on the soul of its people no less than on the senses of the visitor. Pipe lines that carry oil and gas, waterways that float an acreage of coal barges, four track rails worn bright with weighty ore cars, wires surcharged with a ruthless voltage or delicately sensitive to speech and codes, bind here a district of vast natural resources into one organic whole. The approaching traveler has ample warning. Hillsides and valleys are seamed with rows of coke ovens, gaunt tipples bend above mine mouths, derricks and bull-wheels stand over fuel wells, and low lying mill buildings, sided with corrugated iron, rear their clusters of stacks like the pipes of huge swarthy Pans. Then comes the city with its half-conquered smoke cloud, with his high, bare hills and its hunch of imposing structures. The place to see Pittsburgh from is a much whittled little stand on the high bluff of Mount Washington, where votaries of the national game assemble on a clear afternoon and spy upon a patch of green in Allegheny City, hundreds of feet below them, and more than a mile away across the Ohio River. Their business is with Honus Wagner and the three-bagger he is going to knock out. But yours can be with the great Y of the rivers, churned by stern-wheeled steamers and patched here and there with black fleets of coal barges. Below you to the right is the South Side; to the left across the rivers, is Allegheny City, and between them is a little trowel of land piled high with office buildings. This is the "Point," cut short as it is by the "Hump" and by higher hills behind; and flanked by narrow river banks, that grudge a foothold to the sounding workshops and lead up and down to the mill towns. You are looking at commercial Pittsburgh. From the Herron Hill reservoir, mid-way between the forks of the Y, you get a panorama of the other side of the community,--Schenley Park to the right of you, with the Carnegie buildings and the ample residences of the East End, and to the left, long swales of small, thickly built houses that make up Lawrenceville and the adjoining home areas.

But it is at night that the red and black of the Pittsburgh flag marks the town for its own. the lines of coke ovens seen from the car windows have become huge scythes, saw-edged with fire. The iron-sheathed mills are crated flame. Great fans of light and shadow wig-wag above furnaces and converters. From Cliff street, the lamps of Allegheny lie thick and clustered like a crushed sky, but from the bridges that span the Monongahela between the mills,--where choleric trains shuttle on either bank, and the rolls are at thumping war with the sliding, red billets,--the water welds the sparks and the yellow tumult, and you feel as if here were the forges of the sunrise, where beam and span and glowing plate are fabricating into the framework of dawns that shall "come up like thunder." Here,--if we doubted it before,--is a town that works; and that works in a big way.

But the people, rather than the product or the setting, concern us. In December, 1907, Pittsburgh and Allegheny were merged, and the Greater City entered the class of Baltimore, St. Louis and Boston. This is the half-million class. Last September, Pittsburgh celebrated its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, and a street pageant exhibited both the industrial vigor of the community, and the variety of its people. There was a company of Corn Planter Indians, descendants of the aboriginal Pittsburghers; there were floats representing the early settlers; there were Scotchmen with kilts and bagpipes; nor were they all. A wagon load of Italians bore a transparency,--"Romans dig your sewers," and Polish, Slovak and other racial organizations marched in the costumes of their native countries. For the life of the city has become intricate and rich in the picturesque. That old man you passed on the street was a Morgan raider, and behind him trudged a common soldier of the Japanese War. Here is an American whose Pittsburgh is the marble corridors of an office building, and the night desks of the men in shirt sleeves and green eye shades; and here, one whose Pittsburgh reaches back to a stately old parlor with gilt-framed mirrors and spindling Chippendale. Here is "Belle," who exchanges her winter in the workhouse for a summer in a jo-boat, which she reaches by a plank. Here is the gazda who ruined himself that his boarders might not starve. And here, the inventor who works with many men in a great laboratory and scraps a thousand dollars' worth of experimentation at the turn of a hand. Here is a gallery of miners pounding their grimy fists at a speech by Haywood in the old town hall; and here a bunch of half-sobered Slavs in the Sunday morning police court.

You do not know the Pittsburgh District until you have heard the Italians twanging their mandolins round a construction campfire, and seen the mad whirling of a Slovak dance in a mill town lodge hall; until you have watched the mill hands burst out from the gates at closing time; or thrown confetti on Fifth avenue on a Halloween. Within a few blocks of the skyscrapers of the Point, I have seen a company of Syrians weaving almost unceasingly for four days a desert dance that celebrated the return of one of them to Jerusalem. (An Irishman thought it a wake.) A possum swings by the tail at Christmastide in front of that Negro store in Wylie avenue; long bearded Old Believers play bottle pool in that Second avenue barroom; a Yiddish father and five children lie sick on the floor of this tenement; this old Bohemian woman cleaned molds as a girl in the iron works of Prague; that itinerant cobbler made shoes last winter for the German children of the South Side, who were too poor to pay for them, and stuffed the soles with thick cardboard when he was too poor to buy leather. Here is a Scotch Calvinist, and there a Slavic free thinker; here a peasant, and there a man who works from a blue print; engineers, drag outs, and furnacemen from the mill district; yeggs and floppers and '69ers from the lower reaches of the city; strippers and core makers and coffin buffers. There a Russian exile with a price on his head, and here a Shaker of old Pennsylvania stock! You have heard of Shakespeare's London, of the port of Lisbon in the days of the Spanish Main, of the mixtures of caste and race and faith on the trade routes of the East. They are of the ilk of Pittsburgh. How to get orderly plans of social betterment out of the study of such a community is at first sight a staggering question. But the clue to its answer is that same fact that stood out when we looked at Pittsburgh as a city of tonnage and incandescence. These people are here to work. This fact once grasped in its bearings and we get a foothold for estimating Pittsburgh. The wage earners become a fairly well-defined belt in the population. What the issues of life and labor mean to them will help us in understanding the trend of conditions in industrial communities generally.

First, you have the mere fact of aggregation. Pittsburgh has as many people as the whole state of Pennsylvania had at the opening of the last century; Allegheny county as many as at that time the commonwealths of Massachusetts and New York combined. The Greater City has twice as many as all the future cities of the United States had in 1800; as many as Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Louis, combined, in 1850. Here, then, is a community worthy of as serious statesmanship as that which has served whole commonwealths at critical periods in our national advance. Now in all history, cities have never reproduced themselves. They draw on the country districts to replace the stock that they burn out. But when one-third of the total population comes to live in cities, they can no longer do this. It becomes vitally important that city people live well, else the race lapses. At risk, then, of going over old ground, let us look at some of the dynamic influences that affect the life of this particular community.

No American city presents in a more clear-cut way than Pittsburgh the abrupt change from British and Teutonic immigration. Sociologists tell us that in the mid-eastern valleys of Europe successive waves of broad-headed, long-headed, dark and fair peoples gathered force and swept westward to become Kelt and Saxon and Swiss and Scandinavian and Teuton. They were the bulwark which obstructed the march of Hun and Goth and Turk and Tartar, sweeping in from the East. It is from Slavs and mixed people of this old midland, with racial and religious loves and hates seared deep, that the new immigration is coming to Pittsburgh to work out civilization under tense conditions. A vineyard blighted, a pogrom, torture, persecution, crime, poverty, dislodge them, and they come.
Further, the sociologists tell us that by mixed peoples the greatest advances have been made. It was in Amsterdam, Venice, London, and the Hanse towns, places of mart which brought together the blood and cultures of distant races,--it was here that democracy gathered head and the arts flourished. But in Pittsburgh are the elements of a mixture yet more marvelous. A common fund of Slavic words, almost a Pittsburgh dialect, is finding currency. The Pole still speaks Polish, but he makes an adaptation of his words, and the Slovak understands. The Syrian and Arabian peddlers know these words and use them in selling their wares in the courts and settlements,--a contrast to the great gulfs that still separate the Slav and the English-speaking.
Furthermore, the city is the frontier of today. We have appropriated and parcelled out most of our free land. The edge of settlement is no longer open as a safety valve for foot-loose rebels against the fixity of things. They come to the cities. They swarm in new hives. To Pittsburgh especially where men deal with devil-may-care risks and great stakes, come the adventurous and the unreckoning. A smack of the mining camp is in the air about the mill yards.

The life to which these people come is different from that known of any previous generations. We have seen how in Pittsburgh traction lines, tunnels, inclines, telephone wires, weave a city of a size and on a site which would have been impossible in the old days. The householder is far removed from the sources of his food supply. He lives two or three families deep and many to the acre. The very aggregation of people breeds disease, a complication which in turn may yet be balanced by those revolutions in medical science which have brought glad, new optimism to sanitarian and physician.

The work to which these people come is not the work of their fathers. The discipline of the mill is not the discipline of the field. Human nature is put to new and exacting tests. It works unremittingly as it has not worked before,--eight, ten, twelve hours a day, seven days in the week, with the chance of twenty-four hours once in the fortnight. It works by artificial light and at night. It works in great plants and creates and puts together in fierce new ways. Of that growing share of the population of Pittsburgh which is continental born, a large proportion is from the country and small villages. This is no less true of the influx of southern Negroes,--a northbound movement here and in other cities, the final outcome of which we do not know. The newcomers, it is true, may be groomed in passage. A railroad may open up a Hungarian back country and the peasant get his first training there; a Ruthenian may work on the plantations and sugar beet factories of Bessarabia before coming on; a southern Negro may hire out in the mills of Alabama before starting north; or a Slovak may work as a slate picker or miner's helper int he anthracite fields on his way westward. The drift through it all none the less is from field to mill.

New stock, then, a mixed people, venturesome, country-bred,--so much the sociologist has pointed out to us; the economist has other things to tell. He sees about him the potent aftermath of those great changes from household and domestic forms of production to the factory system. As each new peasantry leaves the soil, the history of the industrial revolution is repeated, but processes are accelerated and the experience of a generation is taken at a jump. With this has occurred a great lateral stratification of industry. There is no longer the feudal loyalty to a particular concern, but to the men of a particular trade. Unions have sprung up, and have grown or broken. The thing above all others which has tended in Pittsburgh to their undoing in certain great trades has been the subdivision of labor. The flea on the hair of the tail of the dog of the wild man of Borneo just come to town is an entity large and complete compared with the processes which occupy many men in the electrical works and car shops. This change has multiplied product, and set unskilled labor to busy itself at a thousand stints; but it has fore-shortened trade knowledge and ousted much craftsmanship. Along with it has come another physical change. The skilled men of the old time hammers and anvils work with electric cranes and at continuous processes that reach from the heat of great ovens and the jaws of soaking pits to the piled and finished product. An intricate dovetailing of flagmen, brakemen, engineers and train despatchers makes up a train to carry huge dynamos and steel structural shapes across the continent. This fact has a new and vital social significance. Its essence is team play. Its reactions upon the psychology of associated effort have yet to be explored. Once again, new and unheard of crafts are ushered in, to engage their quota of the time and strength of the working force, and to put it to new tests of adaptability. Take the implications of the steel industry itself, in the building trades. The old time carpenter and builder gives way to the housesmith and the structural steel worker.

In Pittsburgh, too, we have a stupendous example of the influence upon the wage earners' city of a mighty fiscal change in industry, combining in one corporation all processes from the ore to the completed bridge. Work is organized nationally. The steel center like the mill town is not a thing by itself. It is a step in a bigger process managed from without and owned by a multitude of non-resident stockholders. Pittsburgh must build up an active, native citizenship or be merely an industrial department. The community and the workshop are at issue.

Finally,--in our roster of dominating influences,--within the last twenty-five years, has come the invasion of women into industry. This is not a simple thing, nor a little one. It can directly affect half the population. Pittsburgh is not primarily a woman's town, yet 22,000 women engage in the trades, and each year they invade a new department. These women workers are affected by all the forces noted and in turn affect and complicate those forces.

These are some of the dominant influences that affect wage-earners in cities assembled. One element runs through their complications and brings us clear-seeing and hope. It is the element of change and flow. In the Royal Museum at Munich are the miniatures of a group of medieval towns carved out of wood. The spires of the churches, the walls and gates of the city, markets, houses, outbuildings and gardens are reproduced with a fidelity that has stood these centuries. They embody the old idea of a town, of the fixity of things. A man was his father's son. He worked as his father worked. He was burgher, or freeman, or serf as his father was burgher, or freeman, or serf. His looms and his spinning wheels and vats were as his fathers had contrived them. He lived in the house of his father as his father had lived and it served him well. Pittsburgh is the antithesis of such a town. It is all motion. The modern industrial city is a flow, not a tank. The important thing is not the capacity of a town, but the volume and currents of its life and, by gauging these, we can gauge the community. We must gauge at the intake,--the children, the immigrant, the countrymen who come in; gauge at the outlets; and gauge at the stages in the course of the working life. If there be unnecessary death, if strong field hands are crippled or diseased through their manner of living or working, if the twelve hour man sees everything gray before his eyes in the morning, if women work in new ways that cost their strength or the strength of their young, if school children are drafted off as laborers before they are fit; if boys grow into manhood without training for the trades of this generation,--then we have a problem in social hydraulics to deal with. We must put old social institutions and usages to the test of these changing tides. Herein lies the essence of constructive philanthropy. In this light, tenement house legislation is no more than an adaptation of domestic necessities and customs to the difficulties of living three stories deep, and factory acts no more than an effort to work out the law of skull crackers, freight yards, and electrically driven mines. We have to fashion a city not alone for the hereditary householder, but for the mobile and transient and half-assimilated, for workers with multiple tools, and above all for people on an upward trend.

Faced with its great task of production, Pittsburgh has not set itself to the thrift of self-knowledge. When half a thousand people were dying each year from typhoid fever, the movement to clear the water supply was blocked and exploited at every turn. Half a thousand workmen are now killed each year in the industries of Allegheny county, and yet the public has not taken the trouble to sift the accidents through and see which can be prevented. Nobody knows how many men are seriously injured every year; nobody knows how many men and women are beset with trade diseases. Nobody knows how much the community is paying for such wastes as these. Nobody knows how far the seeping off of human integers into hospitals, and jails, insane asylums, brothels, and orphanages, could be checked; the guesses of the town's best men are that much is needless. Pittsburgh is a town which does not know the number of its children of school age, nor the physical status of the children of its classes; it is a town which, for five years, did not so much as demand a report from its health department. In such an arraignment, we must bear in mind that there are notable exceptions in one phase of social concern or another to this lack in Pittsburgh's self-knowledge, and that Pittsburgh is not merely a scapegoat city. It is the capital of a district representative of untrammeled industrial development, but of a district which, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for vigor, waste and optimism, is rampantly American.

The Pittsburgh Survey has been carried out with such a working conception of the field it had before it. We have brought to one city people of special experience in others, to gauge its needs. We have measured its institutions against standards worked out in this city or in that, or in other local enterprises; and we have estimated civic and industrial conditions by their effect on groups of individual families. In the present issue we put forward the composite situation as reflected in the lives of two groups--the immigrant and the Negro. Later issues will go into the social bearings of courts and schools, hospitals, houses and factories. But such individual problems have no reality unless seen in their human relations and for this reason, this issue begins with an interpretation of the genesis of the community by a native Pittsburgher, who has become one of the civic leaders of New England. We have an estimate of new immigration by a Welshman from the Anthracite region, who is representative of the old, and an estimate of his fellows by one of the Slavs. The outlook of the steel mill worker is appraised by a man whose eyes have known the broad sweep of prairies of the American Northwest. A description of the working women whose hours and wages and conditions of employment will next concern us, and of the families into whose lives come the tragedies of industrial accidents, are included. And finally, the issues of life in a representative mill town are put forth, standing out more isolated and clear cut for the purposes of analysis than it is possible to find them in the more intricate operations of the Greater City.

One of my earliest recollections of a canvas covered geography is the prime fact which is Pittsburgh,--that here the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers unite to form the Ohio. Huge economic foundations buttress this fact (oil and gas and clay and iron and coal). History in the making has rolled it into new shapes and a changing significance. The junction is the great left fist of the Father of Waters. The three rivers give the town common cause and intercourse with the Atlantic coast ranges to the east, and the mid-continental bottom lands, north and south, to the west. Their waters carry the ores and fill the boilers and douse the hissing billets of the steel makers. They are not easy overlords, this triumvirate of rivers. They carry fever which scotches one town and the next. They rise a bit too far and the fires are out, the streets flooded. But grudgingly and inevitably, they yield mastery. They are dammed and sluiced and boiled and filtered to suit the demands of navigation and power and temperature and thirst.

The mastery they yield is to another current--the eddying peoples which make up the community and all its works--a current more powerful and mysterious than the bulk of brown waters. The War Department engineers can tell you the exact number of cubic feet which slide past either side of the Point every minute. The sanitarians can give you the number of bacteria, friendly or plague-besetting, which infect any cubic centimeter. The weather man in a high building can forecast the exact stage which the water will register hours hence. But what of the people?--they have largely taken themselves for granted. They have rarely taken the time to test their own needs or consciously gauge the destination of the currents that possess them. They are here--the strong, the weak, the cowed, the ambitious, the well equipped and the pitiful. They jostle and work and breed. For the most part they run a splendid course. But they do not keep tally, and their ignorance means sorrow and death and misunderstanding.

To give a little help to those who are trying to understand, and measure these currents, and deal with them as intelligently as the locks and channels of the rivers are dealt with, has been the purpose of the Pittsburgh Survey. Such chartings as we have attempted have been of these living waters.