Sunday, August 30, 2015

sampling an unexplored side of Pittsburgh's steel works history

I love receiving mail from people who work with pneumatic tubes, or did so in the past.

The other day I received a wonderful email from an engineer who once worked in a district sales office for a pneumatic tube company in Pittsburgh, U.S. in the early-mid 1960s. His job as a sales engineer was to supervise the installation of the mechanical hardware of the systems. He describes some of the tinkering work required when architects of new buildings such as hospitals didn’t allow for the dimensions of the systems or when vertical lifts were filled with other hardware by the time his crews arrived on the scene meaning boring holes in thick concrete floors.
One of the installations that fascinated him most was that of the heavy duty systems required to carry hot metal samples from furnace floor to the metallurgic lab for analysis during steel making. He writes about this in the context of the history of steel production and coal mining in the Pittsburgh area, during the second half of the 19th century. I had heard of these systems in metal foundries but didn’t know much more about their installations and use so was intrigued to learn more.

The engineer wrote in exquisite detail about the materials used in these systems and carried by the systems. Hot samples were drawn at various stages of the metal making process, poured into moulds and inserted into carriers with special tongs. The carrier would whizz to the lab and a print out of the results returned to the foundry floor within 30 minutes (perhaps be cold carrier, perhaps by telephone (with written confirmation by tube to avoid errors)).

These wonderfully remembered details have inspired me to learn more about the uses of pneumatic tubes in metal foundries, and moreover to learn more from this engineer and others, about their experiences working with pneumatic tubes over the preceding decades. I know I would have a lot to learn from them.

Image credits: "The blast furnaces and rolling mills of the Homestead Steel Works, by H.C. White Co." by H.C. White Co. Photographer - Original source: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. / United States. / States / Pennsylvania. / Stereoscopic views of southwest Pennsylvania. This image is available from the New York Public Library's Digital Library under the digital ID G91F319_024F: → Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -,_by_H.C._White_Co..jpg#/media/File:The_blast_furnaces_and_rolling_mills_of_the_Homestead_Steel_Works,_by_H.C._White_Co..jpg

1 comment:

  1. Anna, excellent and fascinating post as always! Long Branch Mike