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Pittsburgh’s Contribution to World War II

by Larry Ciptak

from Out of This Kitchen: a History of the Ethnic Groups and Their Foods in the Steel Valley


Pittsburgh's Contribution to World War II


Modernization and patriotism were the themes propagandized to console the nearly one-half of Homestead's population who were forced to relocate when the U.S. government chose the Homestead Works for a $86 million wartime expansion in 1941.

Because of the expansion, the entire lower part of Homestead–unofficially called "the Ward" by residents–was demolished and most of its 8,000 uprooted citizens relocated to government housing units. While the mass expansion provided hundreds of jobs and pumped millions into upgrading the area's infrastructure, the destruction encompassed not only that of a physical neighborhood, but also of a community rich in culture and history.

Churches, businesses, ethnic fraternal organizations as well as homes in the Ward were casualties of the expansion. Though most of the residents felt that they had received a fair settlement price for their properties, they regretted leaving their deep-seated community roots.

"Such a term as patriotic sacrifice obscures the compulsory nature of this mass migration and the variety of reactions it caused. To many of the 1,566 families it uprooted, the expansion meant fear and confusion," wrote Curtis Miner and Paul Roberts in Engineering an Industrial Diaspora: Homestead, 1941.

During World War I Carnegie-Illinois Steel tried unsuccessfully to connect its Munhall and West Homestead mills by negotiating with residents of the Ward. Property owners rebuffed company suggestions to move, and those who were willing to negotiate demanded high prices for their property. The advent of World War II, the government contract and the salient principle of patriotism provided Carnegie-Illinois the connection they had sought over twenty years earlier, according to Miner and Roberts.

A number of housing projects in neighboring communities were built to accommodate the additional workers needed for the weapons industry; Terrace Village in Pittsburgh and other projects in West Mifflin, Munhall and Glen Hazel.

Where the U.S. war effort would have stood without the contribution of industrial Pittsburgh is a frightening thought. During the war years, the district produced 95 million tons of steel and $19 billion in ammunition. The manpower shortage caused by both men answering their calls to service and the enormous demand for wartime steel production was alleviated by recruiting of women in industry and a lengthening of the work week.

The war also resulted in the building of two shipbuilding plants on Neville Island. Hundreds of steel warships were constructed in Pittsburgh and joined the Atlantic war theater via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers and the Gulf of Mexico.