- Eminent Pittsburghers: Profiles of the City's Founding Industrialists by William S. Dietrich II
How often in the history of writing history has a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist written about the lives of other wealthy industrialists-turned-philanthropists? That is precisely what we have in William Dietrich's Eminent Pittsburghers. It is estimated that the author of this book gave $265 million to Carnegie Mellon University and another $125 million to the University of Pittsburgh. It is fair to say that Dietrich knows his subject. Not surprisingly, the author harbors a celebratory attitude toward entrepreneurial industrialism and, of course, capitalism. To his credit, however, Dietrich does not hesitate to cite the obvious weaknesses of his fellow Pittsburghers, stories known to almost anyone who has studied American history. The biographical profiles presented are very readable. The writing might be described as breezy and chatty.
The first profile focuses on Andrew Carnegie, the feisty and energetic little Scotsman who rose to prominence with the help of Tom Scott of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Scott, incidentally, might be one of the most important Pennsylvanians not known to the general public. Carnegie is generally associated with the consolidation of not only the steel industry, but also the bridge-building industry that is a logical outgrowth of iron and steel production. His name will also always be associated with the lockout at Homestead in 1892, even though he was out of the country at the time.
Carnegie's charitable giving focused on the creation of Carnegie Tech and over 3,000 libraries that were also social centers. He donated 8,000 church organs and from time to time pontificated on stewardship. The steel baron also created the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace at The Hague. Noted biographer Joseph Wall, Dietrich, and others are all left with the same question: Did Carnegie's philanthropy outweigh the glitches and shortcomings of his prolific business career?
H. J. Heinz seems a bit out of place in this collection that obviously favors steel and heavy industry. However, Heinz keenly understood, as an aspiring businessman in the Gilded Age, the plight of the overworked housewife who had not yet been blessed with modern labor-saving devices. In addition to endless cleaning, washing, and sewing, there was laborious food preparation. Heinz grew up helping his father with a brick kiln and a large family garden. As early as the Civil War years, the family garnered a few thousand dollars annually selling their excess produce. As the business grew, the young entrepreneur [End Page 467] saw an opportunity to do more than simply can or preserve food; he envisioned processing fruits and vegetables in a factory. Heinz determined to guarantee high quality through contracts with growers provided with his own select seeds. His goal included spotless factories that would place fruits and vegetables in clear bottles so that consumers could plainly see the product. Accordingly, a cadre of small Heinz factories flourished in the 1870s and 1880s.
Heinz had a strong interest in advertising, beginning with horses and wagons bearing the company logo to make his products known. Over time the advertising grew more sophisticated and included renting hillsides and ultimately substantial space at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. "Heinz's 57 Varieties" would go on to become one of America's most-recognized slogans.
Heinz's intense commitment to quality and cleanliness made him a natural ally in the push to create the Pure Food and Drug Act shortly after the turn of the century. Heinz intuitively understood that the battle against adulterated food would be endless. He might also have appreciated the fact that federal legislation could obliterate some marginal competitors.
The food baron's charitable interests were essentially merged with his ally John Wanamaker in America's Sunday School movement, a crusade that initially grew out of the horrors of the Industrial Revolution and endeavored to provide moral guidance and a better life for children.
George Westinghouse is presented with an emphasis on his creative genius, and...