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Jonathan Potts

Not to dwell on small details, but why should we open all city pools? How many people lived in Pittsburgh when those 32 pools were opened? How many live here now?


I don't know about tens of thousands either, but it seems that in a region that seems to put such a heavy emphasis on workers, there is a dearth of public monuments to the people who died in its cause. For example, you'd think that the Waterfront would have something commemorating the Homestead Strike, or there would be something in the Strip (other than the PHC plaque) commemorating the Railroad Strike of 1877.

Just a gripe though.

Fred Mullner

We should do nothing of the sort of thing that McCollester describes. If we want to stop being shackled by our history, then we need to make a clean break with it. Whether or not the "tens of thousands" figure is true, there is not a single person living in Pittsburgh today who was alive back then to experience it. McCollester's proposal is nothing but an attempt to reopen a healed wound and force those of us living in 21st Century Pittsburgh to beat our breast and perform our mea culpas for something we never did.

Put another way, if you were a modern industrialist who wanted to open a factory somewhere, would you do it in a city where they were still erecting memorials to labor bosses who have been dead for about 100 years?

Put still another way, in Georgia, they are not building monuments to King Cotton anymore. They are building new auto plants. In San Francisco, they aren't celebrating its railroading history. They are celebrating the obscene profits borne of the hottest real estate market in the US. That is not a coincidence.

C. Briem

short answer: yes! Occupational deaths in Pittsburgh have surely been far far higher than 80/year for the Pittsburgh region through most of it's industrial history. In fact I am sure that number would be almost 10 times higher per year in through much of the early part of the late 19th/ early 20th century. If you include mining in and near Pittsburgh, that 20K number would have to be far too low. Even today, with a fraction of the industrial workforce there were in the past, coupled with decades of vast improvement in injury rates and medical care, the number of occupation deaths in Pittsburgh has only recently come down below an average of 50/year.

I am not near any of my books but just to make sure I am not too far off base. Google helps me out a bit with this figure:


which shows that in JUST allegheny county in JUST one month (Jan 07) there were 60 occupational fatalities. Anyone want to argue that official statistics undercounted occupational injuries back then? Probably if you carried yourself, or were carried, home yet died there, you were not counted in these numbers back then. Deaths on the job meant just that. The more I think about it, that 20K must be low by large measure. Coking operations, zinc plants were all very toxic environments in and of themselves and we had our fair share of them.

Sam M


Well, then I'm convinced. Thanks for the startling info. (And boy am I glad that I admitted I didn't know what in the hell I was talking about.)

But now that I am in a better position to think about the numners, it is worth putting them in perspective. Try this:

The most dangerous job in America today is logging. Or it usually is. From year to year, the number of loggers killed wavers between 90 and 120 fatalities per 100,000 workers. Let's call it 100.

So now take a look at Pittsburgh. Let's take 500,000 as its population through the industrial boom. (Again, a nice round number.) Out of those 500,000, about half are women, or something close. Then there are kids. Old people. Bankers. The rest are what we might call the workers. How many? Say something close to 100,000?

For there to be substantially more than 80 fatalities a year among those 100,000, the AVERAGE industrial job would have to have been far more dangerous than the MOST DANGEROUS JOB in America today.

That is, the very "worst" job in America today would have seemed pretty cushy to Ye Olde Pittsburgher. That's a tired old cliche, I suppose. But one that might be a little more useful than we imagined. You know. Since it's true.

Although that does bring us to Fred's point. Does that mean we ought to celebrate those numbers? Or, more properly, honor the people behind them? I think something ought to be in place over in Homestead at the very least. Especially if it is going to be some sort of museum. Which it is. (I mean especially once the Carrie Furnace thing happens.)

But beyond that? Sure. I suggest a $1 million program. To be financed by taking back all of the millions in subsidies going to the PNC Skyscraper.

See? I am open to admitting errors AND developing creative funding options.

The numbers are obviously not scientific. But I think that the conclusion likely holds.

sean mcdaniel

Hey, here's a suggestion for renaming the Waterfront complex...the Great Shopping Shrine to the Pinkerton Massacre of the Downtrodden Steelworkers. ...oh wait, I think that's being saved for the Frick Museum in regent square...you know, can't wait for next year's Fridays at the Shrine to American Greed and Proletariat Oppression Music Series on the Lawn Nurtured by the Blood of the Working Class. (gee, the "frick" really does sound better). The only problem is that the entire series will feature Pete Seeger and Joan Baez singing "Joe Hill" and "We Will Overcome" the entire summer.

And this sort of thinking reminds me of the recent discussion (here? the conversation) that questioned whether we need to apologize for a grimy industrial past...could we re-brand pittsburgh as "The City of Fewer Worker Deaths"?

Even then...some will still be waiting for the Great Leap Forward.

Mark Rauterkus

Many of the plants and factories and mills had their own E.R.s (Emergency Rooms). Secrecy was and still is a norm. To say, "Occupational health has changed a great deal," is only like talking about the tip of the iceberg.

I think that the numbers in the orginal post could be more about truth than not. But, we'll never know.

By the way, I love the idea of opening all the city pools. And, the quote you put in your original posting was on the mark too. He should be nominated for Man of the Year!

A real discussion about 'all the swim pools' is needed to fully understand where and what I'm about. I do NOT advocate the opening of the swim pools -- as they have been operated. No way. The programming and all elements of the swim pools need an overhaul. And, that discussion should go on within the realm of a Pittsburgh Park District. But that opens up a new can of worms, perhaps a perfect first gift for a city turning 250.

sean mcdaniel

don't know about you guys, but when i ride by city pools on the n.side, s. side and bloomfield, they're not overflowing with people...even on the hottest days. with AC in homes, malls and elsewhere, maybe the city pools are really just relics that need to be put in a musuem or photographed for posterity...hell, why not re-open a boathouse on n. side's lake elizabeth. i wouldn't mind rowing around the pond with a date and watching the world go by.

C. Briem

the worst job today safer than the average industrial job of the past.. sounds right to me. The very existence of occupational safety laws has made almost all jobs safer. OSHA has not been around all that long and still not a universal concept around the world.

but a bit of sad trivia that relates to all of this. The occupational fatality numbers in Pittsburgh jumped up in 1994 which was the year the USAir flight 427 crashed outside the airport. Everyone who was on a business trip was by definition counted as an occupational fatality which was attributed to Pittsburgh because they died here. If you were on vacation you were.. well, just dead I suppose. It was an anomalous 150 or so occupational fatalities in Pittsburgh that year.

sean mcdaniel

okay, a little hyperbole is okay, i guess...but ask the coal miners of west virginia (and the families of those who died last year) if they'd rather be working in today's mines or a heinz pickle factory a hundred years ago...which you choose?

Mark Rauterkus

The city pools are relics, mostly, because the programming at these facilities is very old school, to say the least.

Yes, we should open up the smaller bodies of water to boats, such as on the North Side and Panther Hollow. I'd love to do that and have and will continue to make strides in those areas. Want to help?


Tens of thousands is probably accurate.


"In 1907‑1908 the Russell Sage Foundation sponsored a massive survey of living and working conditions in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, focusing on workers in the steel industry, though it included mining and railroading. Titled the "Pittsburgh Survey," it was well publicized and revealed an ugly side of industrializing America."

They found 526 deaths in that year alone. I see no reason to think it was a particularly bad year, and numbers from the 19th century were probably even worse.

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