Birmingham: The Pittsburgh of the South

One of my new Twitter friends, the Birmingham Public Library, tweeted me a fun fact about the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

Page 1446

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

A century ago, one of Birmingham’s nicknames was “The Pittsburgh of the South.” The nickname is fitting given the two cities’ similar urban developments. Like “The Steel City,” the city of Birmingham saw an industrial boom after the Civil War in the late 19th century into the early 20th century. Birmingham’s iron and steel industries developed thanks to plentiful deposits of coal, iron ore and limestone found around the area. In addition, the city was also known within the railroading industry as a manufacturing center for rails and railroad cars.

Cover

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

As part of The Survey, a weekly journal of constructive philanthropy, the 1912 publication Birmingham smelting iron ore and civics touts Birmingham as an “industrial city in the making” and generally describes the “new industrial frontier of the South” as on the brink of distinguishing itself as a modern community. The rise of its iron and steel industries and development of Birmingham’s downtown area at the turn of the century parallel Pittsburgh’s own growth.

A page in the publication mentions that the publication follows in the footsteps of The Pittsburgh Survey (1907-1908) – a landmark sociological study of Pittsburgh conducted from 1907-1908 that reflected the urban conditions in the United States. The research collected from the survey was published in six volumes, copies of which can be found at the Senator John Heinz History Center Library and Archives. I had no idea that this study even existed, let alone its cultural and sociological significance, until I started browsing sources within the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections in search of references to Birmingham’s nickname in historical documents (no success yet).

Page 1448

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

  • Volume 1 Butler, Elizabeth Beardsley (1909, 1984). Women and the Trades.
  • Volume 2 Eastman, Crystal (1910). Work-Accidents and the Law.
  • Volume 3 Fitch, John A. (1910, 1989). The Steel Workers.
  • Volume 4 Byington, Margaret (1911, 1969). Homestead: The Households of a Mill Town.
  • Volume 5 Kellogg, Paul U., editor (1914). The Pittsburgh District: Civic Frontage.
  • Volume 6 Kellogg, Paul U., editor (1914). Wage-Earning Pittsburgh.

I am very Pittsburgh proud and always enjoy discovering unfamiliar research sources and learning new things about my city and its connections with and influences on people, places and things outside of the region.

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