Abstract: Research Networks in the Steel City: The Growth and Diversification of Industrial Research in Pittsburgh, 1930-1941

Thomas C. Lassman


Throughout most of the twentieth century, Pittsburgh was America's dominant steelmaker, and much of the city's history has been written within that context. Largely unknown to historians, however, is the extent to which Pittsburgh's industrial success depended on a regional network of industrial laboratories and universities. During the 1930s, Westinghouse Electric and the University of Pittsburgh became major centers for advanced research in modern theoretical physics. The cooperative efforts undertaken by the two institutions to broaden the scope of physics research in Pittsburgh anticipated a similar and more widespread shift toward basic science in industry after World War II. However, a costly disjunction between the accumulation of new knowledge and the corresponding development of commercial technologies often appeared in firms that increased their expenditures for academic-style research. Exploring the extent to which this type of research permeated Pittsburgh's research network and improved corporate performance before World War II may provide some clues to help explain the region's industrial decline in the 1980s and also offer some insights into the economic renewal that was driven by the growth of small, high-technology companies in the 1990s.