Vanishing Steel: Abandoned Carrie Blast Furnaces - Pittsburgh, PA

Vanishing Steel: Abandoned Carrie Blast Furnaces

Carrie Blast Furnaces

Abandoned Carrie Blast Furnaces

If there is one thing that defines the Pittsburgh region, and history, it’s iron and steel, as evidenced by the nickname “Steel City”, and their football team, the Steelers.

Pittsburgh was the perfect setting for the growth of the iron industry in the United States. Waterways that were easy to maneuver and an abundance of natural resources, (coal, timber, natural gas, iron and limestone) helped Pittsburgh thrive and become the industrial center for a growing nation. For many reasons, Pittsburgh has played an important part in U.S. history. This includes The French and Indian War, The Revolutionary War, The famous Whiskey Rebellion, and the Civil War. Pittsburgh’s economy received a huge boost during the Civil War, due to an increase in demand for iron.

Steel Industry in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s rich history of ironwork began in the 1870’s, thanks in large part to Andrew Carnegie, a former railroad businessman. Carnegie helped shaped the future of steel and build his own wealth by controlling the most extensive integrated iron and steel operations ever owned by an individual in the United States. This was in part due to one of his best, and most well known inventions: a process to mass produce steel cheaper and more efficiently through a process called Bessemer process. This process allowed for “pig iron” to be burnt off much faster and in more controlled way, which led to a drop in steel prices.  With the drop in cost for steel, it was quickly adopted and used for building railroads. Much more of Carnegie’s history, and involvement with the iron industry can be found online.

The steel industry flourished in the Pittsburgh region. Through the 1950’s, Pittsburgh was the the 8th largest city in the United States, and was responsible for almost half of the country’s steel output. However, that would eventually come to an end, and the 70’s and 80’s saw a dramatic decline in the steel industry. Some suggest the beginning of the end started with a major workforce strike in the late 50’s. Over the next forty years after that strike almost 30 different companies in the steel industry would go bankrupt. By the late 1980’s, it’s estimated that about 75% of the city’s steel making business was closed, or non operational.  The major, massive sites such as the Carrie Blast Furnaces along the Monongahela and Ohio rivers were closed down, and the impact was felt across the region. While the footprint of the steel industry is still visible across the region today, including the makeup of its local communities and neighborhoods, it now mostly lies within the museums and history books.

History of Carrie Blast Furnaces

The Carrie Blast Furnaces were built in 1881, and saw on roughly 168 acres of land, a massive and sprawling complex. Standing about 92 feet tall, each furnace was constructed of 2.5” thick steel plates, and lined with refractory brick. 

Originally there were 7 furnaces on site, able to produce over 1,200 tons of iron per day. Today, only 2 remain (#6 and #7). These are also the only two non-operating blast furnaces that remain standing in the region.

Operations ran from 1907, and ceased at Carrie Furnaces in 1978, and it was officially shut down. It sat dormant and abandoned for almost 30 years. Today, the #6 and #7 Carrie Blast Furnaces are designated as National Historic Landmarks, and are taken care of by the Rivers of Steel Historical Society, aimed at preserving the history of the iron industry throughout the region.

The blast furnaces have also been featured in rap videos, a music festival with Wiz Khalifa, and the 2013 film Out of the Furnace with Christian Bale.

Photos of Abandoned Carrie Blast Furnaces

These are a collection of photos originally in 2014, as part of a tour of the Carrie Blast Furnaces in Pittsburgh. This is definitely one location I’d like to to return and reshoot.

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