Smoke Control Lantern Slides

What's online?

The collection contains images documenting the city of Pittsburgh in the 1940's and 1950's, before and after smoke control ordinances were passed regulating the burning of coal. The collection also includes slides documenting smoke control in St. Louis, the project on which the Pittsburgh smoke plan was based. Although the creator and exact date of the collection is not known for certain, it was created to showcase the smoke control legislation's remarkable results.

What's in the entire collection?

All photographs in the collection are online. The collection is held by the Archives Service Center the University of Pittsburgh.

About Smoke Control in Pittsburgh

For more than a century, Pittsburgh was marked as a smoky city. The earliest recorded discussion of smoke control in Pittsburgh dates from 1807, with periodic resurges in interest.

After the Civil War, Anthony Trollope, the noted British novelist, wrote, "Pittsburgh without exception is the blackest place which I ever saw, the site is picturesque, even the filth and wondrous blackness are picturesque.... I was never more in love with smoke and dirt than when I stood and watched the darkness of night close in upon the floating soot which hovered over the city."

Despite visitors' grimy reviews, the lack of alternative fuels led to the repeated failures of the smoke control movement in its early incarnations. The commonly held view that high smoke output indicated high productivity also discouraged the passing of strong legislation. In addition, many people felt that coal smoke was good for the lungs and helped crops grow.

Finally, in 1941 an effective smoke control ordinance was passed in the city of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the onset of World War II delayed the enactment of the legislation until 1946. Smoke control was not forgotten during the intervening years, however.

Immediately after the end of the war, lobbying began as a grassroots effort among citizens. The United Smoke Council was a major contributor, creating and disseminating pamphlets and mailings to the people of Pittsburgh explaining the changes that would need to be made. The legislation mainly targeted coal burned by locomotives, the steel industry, and individual citizens.

The idea of increased costs for a necessity like heat during Pittsburgh's cold winters was surprisingly well-received. People were willing to pay for clean air, and the improved efficiency of clean-burning furnaces actually made the net cost of heat about the same as before.

A county-wide ordinance was passed in Allegheny County in 1949, after the deadly Donora Fog blanketed a five-state area for five days in 1948. Allegheny County took over both the county and city programs in 1957 and formed the Bureau of Air Pollution Control, a division of the Allegheny County Health Department. Smoke had come to be regarded as a health issue rather than an industrial problem.

The program was such a success that the U.S. State Department made a motion picture documenting Pittsburgh's cleanup for showing in London; the film became an international standard, eventually being translated into French, Italian, Japanese, and Spanish.

Without the uncompromising support of individual Pittsburghers, success could never have been achieved. City-wide unity on the topic ensured observation of the law from every member of the community. Today, Pittsburgh is no longer ashen at noon, but shines as a testament to the power of a city to remake itself.

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