La Roche archivist aims to shed light on Pittsburgh during World War I
The contributions that Pittsburghers made to help propel the Allies to victory in World War 1 nearly 100 years ago still are impressive by today's standards.
Unfortunately, few people know about them, lamented Elizabeth Williams, college archivist at La Roche College in McCandless.
The aim of her new book, “Pittsburgh in World War I: Arsenal of the Allies,” is changing that.
“Through the book, I painted a portrait of what Pittsburgh was like during World War I because we did a lot of things, and nobody talks about it,” she said.
For instance, with more than 250 mills and factories, the Steel City and Allegheny County produced half of the steel and much of the munitions used by the Allies.
Westinghouse Electric Corp. — based then in downtown Pittsburgh and with plants throughout western Pennsylvania — produced turbines and coils for electricity prior to the war, Williams said. But when it became the first American company to get a war contract with the British in 1914, it was asked to make 3 million shells.
“It was a bit of a problem because Westinghouse wasn't a munitions company, Williams said. “Still, they were able to fill the order in just 45 days.”
But Pittsburghers did much more than manufacture weaponry, said Williams, 28, of Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood.
The Mellon Institute in Oakland developed one of the first gas masks used on the western front.
An early female war correspondent — Mary Roberts Rinehart — was born in Allegheny City, now Pittsburgh's North Side. Her war accounts from the Belgian front appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.
Pittsburgh also boasted the largest American Red Cross chapter in the country. Employees and volunteers assisted more than 20,000 local families affected by the war and worked with the draft board to review and make recommendations concerning draft exemptions, Williams said.
In all, 60,000 men from Allegheny County served in the war, and women flocked to the front lines as nurses; a total 1,527 of them never made it back.
A war monument honoring the casualties from Greenfield inspired Williams to write the book, which was published by The History Press, based in Charleston, S.C., and retails for $19.99. It is available online and in bookstores.
“I passed that monument a lot but never paid much attention to it. Then, one day, I stopped to look at it. I became curious over what Pittsburgh was like back then and went to find out more but couldn't find anything. That's when I decided to write a book,” said Williams, who earned a bachelor's degree in history from La Roche in 2007 and a master's in public history from Duquesne University in 2009.
“This is the first book I've come across that deals with local history during World War I,” said Darlene Veghts, assistant director of the John J. Wright Library at La Roche College.
“Elizabeth's style is clear and free of academic jargon, which makes the book an enjoyable, as well as an informative, read.”
Veghts' favorite chapter deals with Pittsburgh's immigrant neighborhoods during the conflict.
“I'd never thought about what it must have been like for families with German and Eastern European ties during that time,” she said.
In the book, Williams addresses how the large Polish community urged leaders to join the side of the Allies, while those in German neighborhoods supported the Central Powers.
“This led to tensions and sometimes even fistfights in the streets,” Williams explained.
“The stories about what happened to community relations when fear took over rational minds still resonate in today's world,” added Veghts, 50, of Glenshaw.
Williams researched and wrote the 142-page book in one year, while simultaneously planning her wedding.
“My fiancé knew up front that the book took priority,” she said. “I told him that our wedding day would only last 24 hours, but this book would be around forever.”
Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Photo Gallery: Superhero Day at McIntyre Elementary
- Longtime Ross building-code official fired by commissioners
- Ross 5K event, fun run to promote fitness for children
- Planning commission doesn’t favor updated plan
- Restaurant takes action with cracked West View sidewalk
- Preliminary Hampton school budget calls for tax hike
- Shaler approves $244K paving plan
- New location in Ross enables store to continue mission of helping women
- Ross teen has story to tell — and a magazine cover to prove it
- Photo Gallery: St. Sebastian School fifth-graders portray saints