Braddock is one of Pittsburgh's oldest industrial suburbs. This historic battlefield site was settled in the early 1800s and was chosen as the site of Carnegie's first Bessemer steel mill in 1872. The Bessemer process was a way of cheaply converting large quantities of brittle iron into ductile steel by blowing air through the molten metal. This process revolutionized steel manufacture as well as the manufacture of anything that benefitted from cheap high quality steel. The Edgar Thomson Works on the South East side of Braddock became a key part of Andrew Carnegie's steel empire and still operates as a part of US Steel. The plant employed thousands from the 1870s until the 1970s with the labor force reaching a peak of 5,000 during WWII. Today several hundreds (560 in 2010) still work there. Carnegie's Carrie furnace was immediately Northwest of Braddock. With massive steel mills on both sides and situated in a deep valley, the smoke and soot must have been appalling.
Braddock's population peaked in 1920 at 20,879. By the 1920s Braddock had become the commercial center for the surrounding industrialized area that included the huge Westinghouse works in East Pittsburgh and the towns of Rankin, Hawkins and North Braddock. Hemmed in by surrounding communities the population of Braddock plateaued and the commercial and residential built environment grew more dense.
Better paid mill workers began leaving the older housing stock in Braddock for further suburbs in the 60s. Tense race relations in the Pittsburgh area led to white flight from Braddock, Rankin and Hawkins in the 60s and 70s. In the 1970s and after, employment in the mills plummeted leaving Braddock and surrounding communities impoverished and isolated. The population of Braddock today is 2,159 an astounding 89.7% lower that it's 1920 population. Driving in and out of Braddock is challenging. The city is cut off by the Monongahela river to the West with only one connecting bridge. Steep hills to the Northeast and Turtle Creek to the South create geographic barriers around the rest of Braddock. The surrounding area is generally de-industrializing, shrinking and economically depressed. Rankin and North Braddock have both lost around 75% their 1930s populations.
Braddock was well along on it's transition from crime plagued ghetto to ghost town in 2001 when an interesting, dynamic, Harvard educated, progressive man named John Fetterman adopted Braddock and made turning the city around his life's work. Fetterman is currently in his second term as mayor. He has been very successful at drawing attention and publicity to the city. He is attempting with some success to attract new residents, artists and small businesses to the city and has embarked on several renovation and preservation projects in a city rich in at-risk historical buildings. Other than being generally impressed, I'm not quite sure what to think about his efforts. I wish him and Braddock luck.
Further reading: Braddock's official website
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