In From the Steel City to the White City, Zachary Brodt explores Western Pennsylvania’s representation at Chicago’s Columbian Exposition, the first major step in demonstrating that Pittsburgh was more than simply America’s crucible—it was also a region of developing culture and innovation. The 1893 Columbian Exposition presented a chance for the United States to prove to the world that it was an industrial giant ready to become a global superpower. At the same time, Pittsburgh, a commercial center that formerly served as a starting point for western expansion, found itself serving as a major transportation, and increasingly industrial, hub during this period of extensive growth. Natural resources like petroleum and coal allowed Western Pennsylvania to become one of the largest iron- and steel-producing regions in the world. The Chicago fairgrounds provided a lucrative opportunity for area companies not only to provide construction materials but to display the region’s many products. While Pittsburgh’s most famous contributions to the 1893 World’s Fair—alternating current electricity and the Ferris wheel—had a lasting impact on the United States and the world, other exhibits provided a snapshot of the area’s industries, natural resources, and inventions. The success of these exhibits, Brodt reveals, launched local companies into the twentieth century, ensuring a steady flow of work, money, and prestige.
Zach Brodt weaves a fun and fascinating tale of two cities contributing to and learning from each other at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair. From the raucous Midway Plaisance with the first Ferris wheel to crowds beating a path to grab a Heinz pickle pin, Pittsburgh rallied the best of its industries and inventions while bringing back new ideas in architecture, urban planning, and leisure-time entertainment.
A marvelous example of placing regional history in a broader national context.
Zachary L. Brodt is the university archivist and records manager at the University of Pittsburgh Library System. He is currently a member of the Pennsylvania Historical Association, Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference, and Society of American Archivists.