Making Iron and Steel
Independent Mills in Pittsburgh, 1820–1920
John N. InghamHistorical Perspectives on Business Enterprise
297 pp. 6x9
$29.95 paper 978-0-8142-5330-4
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$57.95 cloth 978-0-8142-0542-6
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“A valuable harbinger of future studies that will tell us what happened in other communities when national corporations absorbed local companies or set up new branch plants.” —Journal of Economic History
John Ingham’s in-depth examination of small and mid-sized Pittsburgh steel mills during the age of Carnegie challenges business historians’ traditional view that nineteenth-century industrial development followed a linear pattern, progressing from a handicraft stage to large-scale mass production. In the steel industry, this pattern was perhaps best exemplified by Andrew Carnegie, but while Carnegie’s pattern became the stereotype for the entire industry, Ingham argues that his case was actually unique.
In reality, Ingham says, Pittsburgh, the center of the iron and steel industries, was much different from the image presented in most accounts. Previous studies have suggested that the smaller iron and steel manufacturers faced the choice of either emulating Carnegie’s example or being run out of business, or of being swallowed up in giant consolidations at the turn of the century. But, says Ingham, most Pittsburgh firms never adopted Carnegie’s approaches, and few manufactured large amounts of undifferentiated products. Instead, they found specialized market niches and chose not to compete directly with the likes of Carnegie. These firms were not absorbed by U.S. Steel or any other company, and they continued to conduct their business profitably for decades after the turn of the century.
In Making Iron and Steel, John Ingham introduces the intricate, densely textured world of nineteenth-century entrepreneurs. He observes how those in Pittsburgh handled Carnegie’s challenge and the challenge of the mammoth, large-batch mass production techniques he pioneered. He also studies those few who competed directly with Carnegie, as well as the larger number who found quieter, more isolated corners of the market in which they practiced a slower, steadier, but highly successful form of market response.
Finally, Ingham shows that the owners of the small iron and steel companies exercised considerable social and cultural influence, constituting a large proportion of Pittsburgh’s social upper class and influencing the boards of directors of many major manufacturing and banking institutions. This, in turn, translated into political and cultural influence.
Making Iron and Steel is one of the few business history studies that looks at the masses of smaller and medium-sized businessmen and the world in which they worked.
John N. Ingham is Professor of History at the University of Toronto. His previous works include Contemporary American Business Leaders, The Biographical Dictionary of American Business Leaders, and The Iron Barons.