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Pittsburgh: 1941

January 1941. "Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." Medium-format nitrate negative by Jack Delano for the FSA. View full size.

January 1941. "Long stairway in mill district of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania." Medium-format nitrate negative by Jack Delano for the FSA. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

First Two Homes

Since the photo of first three homes still standing was submitted, the third one in is now gone also...along with pretty much everything in the 1940 photo...

Been there

I lived in the third house in from 1953/1960. Glad my house is still there.

This is still one of the most beat up areas in the 'burgh

When I return via Allegheny County airport in W. Mifflin, we always pass thru this area on our way to Oakland. It's pretty sad now but still very recognizable from this photo. My foreign born wife immediately recognized the neighborhood just from the lay of the land. Back in the early 70s I worked the last in-city blast furnaces at Jones & Laughlin steel just down the road towards Oakland. Very glad I had the chance to touch the history before it was gone.

First Three homes are still there

It looks as if the first 3 homes in the middle of the picture are still there. So cool to finally know where this photo was taken! many thanks to sinking_ship for solving that mystery!

It's Tullymet Street

These steps connect Sylvan Avenue and Chance Way in the city's Hazelwood neighborhood. The old wooden steps have been replaced with concrete. The house sitting just out of the frame is gone along with most of the homes on Sylvan.

[Thanks for the answer to a longstanding question! - Dave]


This is the Pittsburgh that artist Andy Warhol was born into in 1928.

When this picture was made, a 12-year-old Warhol was living with his family in a house on a soot-covered hillside in a neighborhood just like this.

Love Pittsburgh!

I have lived in Pittsburgh all 23 years of my life. I would never live anywhere else. It's sad we can't get this smoke-ridden image out of the minds of people. This is nothing like the city today. Pittsburgh is a beautiful, growing city that is leading the way in green technology. After the steel industry collapse, the city plummeted into debt. Now, we are a shining example. Anyways, that misconception will be shattered with the hosting of the G-20 Summit here in September! Pay attention to the news around that time.

Anyways, this is still a great image. You cannot deny this city's history, and the steel industry was vital to the US, especially during WWII. Pittsburgh has always been a pivotal cornerstone in American (and world) history. Does anybody know where this mill is located?

Paper Alley

"Paper streets" are common here in Pittsburgh and the suburbs, but most common are "paper alleys." There is one directly across the street from me that runs up the side, then in back of all of the houses. It's now covered in grass and woods (and I imagine it has been this way for at least 90 years). My parents used to fight the boro to let them take ownership of the "property," however they have not budged in 35 years. Funny how the local gov't doesn't want to take care of it, and after my parents stopped, the neighbor does on the other side.

"Paper Streets"

I live in this neighborhood. The term we use is "paper streets" because on the city map, they look like any other street, but that's only on paper. My girlfriend has called me in tears when her Garmin couldn't get her home because it wanted her car to take staircases. These sets of steps also all have street signs like any other city roadways.

Honore Sharrer

Yesterday's New York Times carried the obituary of Honore Sharrer, "a noted American artist of the 1940s and afterward whose bold, witty, incisive paintings documented the daily experiences of ordinary working people. Known for their jewel-like colors and painstaking attention to detail, her paintings were purposely flat, hyperrealistic and strongly narrative in their depiction of everyday life."

It doesn't have anything to do with this particular photograph, but I found this part of the obituary to be of interest to Shorpyites:

Ms. Sharrer’s masterwork, critics widely agree, is her painting “Tribute to the American Working People.” A five-image polyptych that recalls a medieval or Renaissance altarpiece, it is more than two yards long and a yard high and took five years to paint. Its central figure, a factory worker, is flanked by smaller scenes of ordinary people at a picnic, in a parlor, on a farm and in a schoolroom.

Completed in 1951, the painting was unveiled that year at Ms. Sharrer’s first solo exhibition, at the Knoedler Galleries in New York. Reviewing the exhibition in The New York Times, Stuart Preston called “Tribute” “a notable contemporary American painting” and “a bold, frank and fine achievement.”

“Tribute,” which is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Institution, was the subject of an exhibition there in 2007 devoted exclusively to it. Titled “Anatomy of a Painting: Honoré Sharrer’s ‘Tribute to the American Working People,’ ” the exhibition featured much of Ms. Sharrer’s source material, including Farm Security Administration photographs from the late 1930s.

Hats off to Jack Delano and all the FSA photographers.

Dig Sixteen Tons

Angular staircase, belching factory, grim lack of scenery: Makes me think of the bleak urban intro to Joe Versus the Volcano. Gotta hope someone in one of those houses has a hula lamp.

Those Steps...........

look like a heart attack waiting to happen. I'm surprised someone didn't rig up some type of trolley to get from one end to the other (both ways).

I Had No Idea

I had no idea that Pittsburgh was a city of steps. You learn something every day. Thanks for posting this beautiful picture. Photos of some of the city's steps here ( for those as ignorant as I of the wonders of Pittsburgh!

So inclined

My son delivers appliances in Pittsburgh, a challenge in that city. And watching a cable guy run a new wire is like having a front row seat a Cirque du Soleil.

One of our roofers lives on one of these "stairway streets". He says that there are 214 stair steps to reach his front door and that the number one rule in his household is that you never enter or leave empty-handed.

Epic Pic

This is an epic capture. Its like a frame from some Academy Award bait movie. This image is as fantastic to me as something from the new Star Trek movie - and I mean that as a compliment.

Three shirt town

They used to call Pittsburgh a three shirt town. You'd wear one in the morning until the sweat and soot mixture was turning your collar gray, then change into another at lunch, and then into a third at dinnertime.

Bisbee, Arizona

Another vertical metallurgical town where stairways take the place of streets.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes

My dad visited cousins in Pittsburgh around the same time this photo was taken. He spoke of sitting on the front porch and watching soot settle on the railing.

Hell with its hat off

I saw that caption on a picture of a Pittsburgh populated by stacks belching smoke in the bad old industrial days. My daughter is studying ballet there now. It's a different place, really an beautiful city. Not hard to find reminders of those days, though -- soot-blackened buildings and decrepit factory sites.

Smoke Control

Pittsburgh passed strict (for the time) environmental laws a year later, in 1941. What they called "smoke control" back then was delayed until after the war, but went into effect in 1946 and cleaned up the city's air well before the steel industry went south.

Led Zeppelin

I was raised in a small, very industrial Connecticut town in the 1940's which had a similar wooden staircase from Main Steet over the railroad tracks. When we had to attend church, it was necessary to ascend these many, many stairs, after which we were faced with a steep, almost straight up hill, to get to the level of tiers on which our church stood. It was so steep, the concrete was scored about every inch to give better footing and in icy, snowy weather, it was a real challenge. I used to think of it as a stairway to Heaven, and then the title above came out with their hit song. I thought of it first. The town was Seymour, for all you doubting Thomases. The chuch was St. Augustine's. Good day.

City Steps

A few years ago Bob Regan documented these stairways in a book called "The Steps of Pittsburgh." There are some 700 stairways all over the city.

From the publisher's website:

Many of Pittsburgh's steps are legal streets, and all of them reflect the city's unique topography and history. Together, these 712 sets of steps provide a vital link in the city's transportation system as well as unusual challenges for pedestrians, joggers, the bike police, and especially pizza delivery.
. . .
San Franciscans like to boast about their steps and consider them a top tourist attraction, but they "only" have 350 sets. Cincinnatians do the same, but claim a mere 400. Neither have steps that are legal streets. Pittsburgh is clearly King of the Steps and a place beloved by the self-propelled. Whether you're an active step trekker or an armchair climber, The Steps of Pittsburgh should be on your to-do list!

Every year there's an event called the Step Trek that takes participants all over the steps on the South Side Slopes. It's pretty cool and great exercise!

Thanks for the beautiful photograph.

The smell of money

Looks downright Dickensian. There is a pulp mill out in the bay near where I live. For decades it belched a foul smelling brew of toxins from the stacks until the owners were forced to install scrubbers to clean up the exhaust. Now you'd hardly know it was there. When someone would complain to my friend's dad, who worked there for decades, he would reply, "That's the smell of money."

When the mills closed

I moved to Pittsburgh (Ambridge) in 1980 and the sky was yellow. By 1984 when I left the sky was blue...most of the mills had closed.

This scene could be anywhere in the Pittsburgh area and is really representative of what it was like. Except for the vintage car, I've been in this scene.

Less smoggy, still cloudy

Well, the hills are still there! The mills, not so much.

I don't understand why I'm coughing...

...maybe it's the pollen???


Sad but yet beautiful photograph. You can hear the ice crunching under the woman's steps on the long stairway. Would love to see a picture today to see what remains.

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