Excerpts from the Pittsburgh Survey

Blast Furnace


In the early twentieth century Pittsburgh was America's prototypical industrial city. Immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe poured in seeking jobs and escape from poverty. Large corporations such as U.S. Steel dominated local governments. Life for most Pittsburgh citizens included long hours, short pay, and smog. Progressives and urban reformers viewed with alarm working-class and immigrant life, corporate industrialism, and the effects of industrialization on the urban environment.

The Pittsburgh Survey, a sociological examination of the city funded by the Russell Sage Foundation of New York in 1907, provided the earliest and most thorough analysis of urban conditions in the United States. The investigation became a landmark of the Progressive Era reform movement.  In a series of six books, first published in Collier’s Magazine, nearly seventy investigators studied the working and living conditions of working class Pittsburgh.  Their intent was to provide for the general public a glimpse of the harsh lives these individuals lived.

Survey director Paul Kellogg aimed to connect the reformist purpose with the latest methods of scientific inquiry. Trained investigators such as John R. Commons, Elizabeth Beardsley Butler, Edward Devine, and Crystal Eastman, as well as photographer Lewis Hine and artist Joseph Stella, began work in September 1907.  They hoped the results would alert the public about the social and environmental ills raging in industrial America and favorably influence policymaking, both corporate and government, in Pittsburgh and throughout the nation