Tag Archives: IMLS

Iron & Steel – Part II

For three and a half years I have had the pleasure and privilege of working with many dedicated individuals in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as we’ve assembled and created the Pittsburgh Iron & Steel Heritage Collection.  At each step in the process, from writing and administering the grant, to selecting the materials, designing our own tracking software, to selecting a vendor to scan half a million pages, through packing and shipping and cataloging, and finally to the software ingestion that puts the imagery on the web; this effort has been challenging, rewarding and fun.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is proud to host the Iron & Steel Heritage Collection, to be able to present in full-text such a significant component of our collection, and to invite you to view, comment and contribute to our collective knowledge and memory using the Flickr component of the project and contributing what you may know about a person, place or event in the collection.

Please join us this Saturday, April 14th from 11:00 until 3:00 for the library’s Iron and Steel Community Day. See the calendar at the linked pages for the different events.   Finally, this is a resource for all; the student, the researcher, the genealogist, historian, and any user with the curiosity and interest in seeing what went into creating Pittsburgh’s legacy of Iron & Steel.
– Richard

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Iron & Steel – Part I

– THERE is a glamor about the making of steel.  (Fitch, The Steelworkers. 1910.)

It’s an inevitable word association.  It doesn’t matter that 30 – 40 years have passed since the collapse of the monolithic steel industry here; mention Pittsburgh and the reflexive response is going to be either “steel mills” or “Steelers.” Industrial production leaves the kind of physical, emotional and intellectual legacy that medical research just won’t capture.

In 2008, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh received an IMLS (Institute of Museum and Library Services) National Leadership Demonstration Grant. In this grant Carnegie Library undertook to scan, digitize and make available 500,000 pages of historic materials related to the iron and steel industry here.  Our goal was to bring together the varied materials in our collection, books, periodicals, photographs, catalogs and maps that both directly and indirectly touched the iron and steel industries in Pittsburgh and around the region.  The link is inescapable for us; no steel rails – no Carnegie Steel Corp. – No Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

In finding materials to scan we uncovered a treasure trove of distinct pieces of information, shelved in their respective parts of the library collection, that are now brought together digitally to tell a greater story; something harder to do when working with the physical shelving arrangements we use.  All told, we’ve prepared, arranged, recorded, boxed, tracked, cataloged, and determined metadata for 1280 items totaling 522,895 pages. Finding this material is pretty easy.  

Go to http://www.carnegielibrary.org/eCLP/ironsteel/ to read about it, or http://www.clpdigital.org/jspui/ to throw yourself into searching by keyword.  The other way to access these materials is to use the library catalog and conduct an Author Search for Pittsburgh Iron & Steel Heritage Collection, or to do a Keyword Search for IMLS.  Try Keyword searching some obvious names or phrases like IMLS and Carnegie Steel or IMLS and Mesta.  Mesta Machinery Co. was a Pittsburgh based manufacturer of the equipment and machinery that made steel.  Their products are what made all the noise and belched all the smoke.   The reason to include IMLS as part of the search is that there are still many materials we didn’t include in the project, because of condition, content or because they’re still under copyright and can’t be reproduced without permission.  

Not everything scanned has made it into the digital collection yet; the new “product,” usually a PDF, still needs to be cataloged and have its metadata completed, but it’s about 2/3rds finished.  Carnegie Library’s Catalog Librarians may have had the hardest jobs in this project.  

Keep in mind that Saturday, April 14th from 11 – 3 is an open Community Day at Main Library to officially launch the Iron & Steel Heritage Collection.  The library will feature book talks, story sharing, photographic displays, and at 11:30 and 1:30 a presentation with questions and answers by Mr. Tom Barnes, a librarian in Reference Services and a former steel worker.

To be continued…

– Richard

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Fifteen cents a word to read . . .

Western Union, The Five Americans, 1967 .

Most of us are familiar with Western Union as a way to send or transfer money, if regular banking or Paypal can’t be used. Before ATMs, a Western Union “Moneygram” was about the only way to get funds outside of a bank if you didn’t have a credit card.  Before they did money though, Western Union did telegrams.  If you can find one it will likely be yellowed and crinkly, complete with the word “stop” to emphatically designate a period. Like text messages, earning income from telegrams was piece work. The sender paid by a block of words – $1.95 for 15 words, a nickel per word over that in 1950.

photo of a Western Union telegram

The Telegram

More so than for personal use, the telegram was the most effective communications tool available for business. It was equally convenient for trans-continental communications and trans-oceanic. You need to be able to speak to your customers and suppliers, place orders, send instructions, and wire payment.  How do you do that without breaking the bank?  Western Union didn’t offer an unlimited word package the way AT&T (they used to be in the telegraph business too) does with text packages.

Catalogue No. 10. Hall & Brown Woodworking Machine Co.

I may have found the answer. I’m selecting Trade Catalogs for a digitization project we’re  undertaking. It’s a complementary program to the IMLS Iron & Steel project that will be completed this fall. While reviewing Catalogue No. 10 of the Hall & Brown Wood Working Machine Co., I came across – in  addition to a rich vein of all manner of machinery – their cable codes. It’s a true lesson in Twain’s dictum to not let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. How does it work? Well, if you’re a wood working machinery salesman, you might need to know “shall we ship by rail?” or “shall we ship by steamer?” That’s 10 words. In Hall & Brownese, it’s “Aberdeen” “Abernathy.”  The full example they cite in their instructions looks like this:

         HOW TO USE CODE

We have arranged this Cipher and Code for the use of our correspondents. As each machine or size of machine has its own independent word by which it is designated it will be seen at a glance the saving of both time and expense which may be affected by its use. For the benefit of those who are not familiar with codes, the following example as to use of same is given:

Code:  Anteros Firdonsi Amadeo Shreveport

Translation:  Telegraph lowest price and earliest delivery number one fifteen inch Mississippi Planer and Matcher.  What is the best rate of freight you can obtain from your place to Shreveport?

Concise and to the point, and money-saving for both seller and buyer. When you look at the code pages in the Hall & Brown Catalog, it’s easy to see the cipher pattern in each usage area. In some instances there are distinct tie-ins to biblical names and words. Much of it looks like ancient Hebrew or Aramaic, other codes are straightforward literary or place names.  Take a look at the two partial listing below:


  • Abaddon . . . Express at once
  • Aaron . . . Freight at once
  • Abba . . . Answer saying when you can ship
  • Abdalla . . . When will you ship order


  • Amram . . . Goods not received, send tracer
  • Amurath . . . Follow with tracer
  • Amsterdam . . . Send wire tracer after shipment
  • Anak . . . Will send tracer immediately
Under Miscellaneous codes they utilize Beatrix, Bedouin, Belfast and Belgrade as code words too. The alpha coding is easy to spot, but I’d like to have met the person or people who came up with it. I’ve since come across other catalogs with similar coding and abbreviations, but nothing as extensive as Hall & Brown. They have 7 pages of code for everything from percentage of discounts to letter salutations and closings.  This catalog and several hundred others will be digitally available next summer when we complete “American Marketplace.”

By the way, the Firdonsi (the No.1 15” Mississippi Planer and Matcher) weighs 9500 lbs., and no price is listed.



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