We’re moving!

The Detre Library & Archives Blog has a new home on the Heinz History Center’s redesigned website! To read our future posts, please visit us at http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/blog/category/detre-library-archives.  If you’d like to subscribe to our posts, you can do so via the following link: https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=DetreLA&loc=en_US.

The Heinz History Center’s new blog also features content about exhibits, our artifact collection, the Fort Pitt Museum, and Meadowcroft.  You can receive these posts, in addition to those about  Library & Archives collections, by subscribing via this link: https://feedburner.google.com/fb/a/mailverify?uri=heinzhistorycenter&loc=en_US.

So, please get on board and visit us at our new home!

Citizens East Liberty Streetcar No. 211, Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, MSP 285

Citizens East Liberty Streetcar No. 211, Allegheny Conference on Community Development Photographs, MSP 285

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Life on the Mississippi with Mark Twain: An Interactive Journey in the Archives


Portrait of steamboat pilot, William Y. Brown. This portrait is featured in the History Center's exhibition: Pittsburgh's Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia.

William Y. Brown, steamboat pilot. This portrait is featured in the History Center’s exhibition: Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia.

Before introducing the world to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, famed author Mark Twain labored on the waters of the Mississippi River as a steamboat pilot’s apprentice. While serving aboard the steamer Pennsylvania during the 1850s, Twain worked alongside several men from Western Pennsylvania. Three decades later, Twain immortalized some of them as characters in his book, Life on the Mississippi.

One of Twain’s fellow rivermen was a pilot by the name of William Y. Brown. Preserved in the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives is a collection of letters written by William and his family that provides a fascinating glimpse into their lives.

Letter written by William's wife, Olive Winebiddle Brown, to her sister, Rebecca.

Letter written by William’s wife, Olive Winebiddle Brown, to her sister, Rebecca, in 1855.

Join us for an interactive workshop to discover for yourself the astonishing ways in which William Brown and his family’s story intertwines with Mark Twain. Participants will act as detectives, investigating original documents and letters from the History Center’s Detre Library & Archives in order to unravel the dramatic conclusion of this beguiling tale.

This hands-on program will be held on Saturday, November 15 from 11am-1pm in the Detre Library & Archives Reading Room.

The program will be led by Leslie Przybylek, Lead Curator of Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat: Treasures of the Arabia, and Sierra Green, Archivist.

Admission to the History Center is free for the day, courtesy of the Jack G. Buncher Foundation.

As space is limited, please RSVP to sgreen@heinzhistorycenter.org or 412-454-6361.

Posted in History Center Events, Rivers, Steamboats | Leave a comment

Heinz History Center Begins New NHPRC Grant

Early broadcast on KDKA radio (from the Westinghouse Electric Company Photographs, MSP 424)

Early broadcast on KDKA radio (from the Westinghouse Electric Company Photographs, MSP 424)

This month marks the kickoff of the Heinz History Center’s new project to increase access to archival material from Pittsburgh-area companies, including Westinghouse, Heinz, Alcoa, Mellon Bank, US Steel, and Gulf Oil.  Funded by $96,710 grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission’s (NHPRC) Documenting Democracy program, the project will result in expanded finding aids for 13 collections, which will make it easier for the public to use the materials.  The grant will also entail the digitization of images from the several of the collections.

Women working on WearEver cookware at Alcoa's New Kensington Works, c. 1943 (from the Alcoa Photographs, MSP 282)

Women working on WearEver cookware at Alcoa’s New Kensington Works, c. 1943 (from the Alcoa Photographs, MSP 282)

These records, dating from the antebellum era to the late-1990s, document the beginning and evolution of the U.S.’s aluminum, glass, consumer electronics, steel, energy, food, and financial services industries. The material reveals diverse aspects of these companies, including research and development, public relations, interactions with employees and unions, management strategies, and philanthropic activities.


As the project progresses, updates and newly digitized content will be posted to this blog, so check back often!


Posted in Business and Industry | 1 Comment

Treasures in the Archives, October 11

Join the staff of the Detre Library and Archives in celebrating American Archives Month this Saturday, October 11, with a free program, Treasures in the Archives. Visitors will have the opportunity to see original documents, photographs and film as staff members share some of the stories they’ve discovered in our collections. Take a look at the program announcement below and RSVP to Sierra Green at sgreen@heinzhistorycenter.org or 412-454-6361.


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The J. W. Lynch Journals

A unique collection of unique voices, each archives exists to capture, preserve, and share firsthand accounts of history. Among the most iconic of these windows into the past is the daily journal. Constructed day by day, year after year, journals are to manuscripts as time-lapse images are to photography. Preserved amidst the many daily accounts at the History Center’s Detre Library and Archives are the J. W. Lynch Journals.

Born on April 19, 1862, John. W. Lynch began his lifelong career in the steamboat industry as a laborer for the Joseph Walton & Co. in Elizabeth, Pa. In 1898, Lynch began work at the Elizabeth Marine Ways, a company that specialized in steamboat construction and repair.

Illustrations of local foliage by J.W.Lynch, 1926.

Illustrations of local foliage by J.W.Lynch, 1926.

From 1898 to 1925, Lynch tirelessly wove a daily record of his work on various steamboats at the Elizabeth Marine Ways. Chronicling the names of the vessels as well as the men working alongside him, Lynch provides an insider’s look into the Western Pennsylvania steamboat industry at the turn of the 20th Century.

Beyond serving as a daily log of steamboat construction and repair, Lynch’s journal entries are also peppered with anecdotes that document labor history in the local steamboat industry. One intriguing example of this can be found in Lynch’s journals in November 1903. Upon returning to work after a severe chest cold, Lynch records the following: “Strike on at the Ways over an order issued by [Superintendent] Wm Wiegel that we could not wear gloves altho cold and windy. Down to 22° above and we are still out on Nov-14 1903.” Not a man to mince words, Lynch’s next entry definitively, yet triumphantly reveals the resolution of the labor dispute: “Back to work Monday Nov 23-1903 to wear anything we want.”

J. W. Lynch's journal entries concerning labor strike, November 1903.

J. W. Lynch’s journal entries concerning labor strike, November 1903.

Lynch also often took care to record the intersection of historical events with his daily life in Elizabeth. Lynch’s remarks affirm the far-reaching effects of the Johnstown Flood, Prohibition, the St. Patrick’s Day Flood, and both World Wars. As for the Pittsburgh innovation of Daylight Savings Time, Lynch had only this to say: “Sun. April 30- 33 . . . Has been a most lovely Day, and the first Day of so called Daylight savings, one of the worst impositions ever perpetuated on the working People. Turning the Clocks ahead one hour deprives us of the best hour of the Morning for sleep. The Pittsburgh Political gang have done this.”

Even following his retirement from the steamboat industry in 1925, Lynch’s journal entries continue in similar cadence. However, sprinkled in the journal entries are signs of Lynch’s new-found leisure.  In 1940, Lynch traveled to Forbes Field to catch a Pirates game. “I attended a game of Base Ball last Night. Pittsburgh and Cincinatta [sic]. I was in a new World, just Daylight at Night. Wonderful. Pitts 4- Cinci 2. Walters and Lombardi Butcher and Lopez. 35 thousand were there. A most wonderful sight[.] getting out took fully 1 hr. Home about 1 a.m. with John Cox. 42,254 were there.” It seems trying to make a quick getaway after attending a Pirates game has long been a challenge.

Forbes Field Night Game, 1949.  ACCD Photographs, MSP285

Forbes Field Night Game, 1949.
ACCD Photographs, MSP285

Taken together, the daily entries of J. W.Lynch’s journal preserve and reflect an array of personal and professional experiences that have a place in the social history of Western Pennsylvania. For more information on J. W. Lynch and his handwritten journals, we invite you to review the collection’s finding aid.

In addition, Jay Mohney (great-grandson of Lynch) has created a website based on the journals that further documents Lynch’s career in the steamboat industry. This website includes digital scans of the journals in this collection. In addition, this website also contains an inventory of names mentioned by Lynch in his journals. These names include fellow coworkers, steamboat owners, and local residents of Elizabeth, Pa. The URL to this website is http://freepages.history.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jmohney/index.htm

Posted in Business and Industry, Rivers, Steamboats | Leave a comment

Johnny Blood and the 1937 Pittsburgh Pirates (football team)

By Matthew Strauss and Pam Richter.  This article originally appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of Western Pennsylvania History.

There was a time when Pittsburgh’s sports teams shared more than just team colors. When Art Rooney established his professional football franchise in 1933, he borrowed the name of the city’s well-established baseball team, hoping the “Pirates” name would resonate with Western Pennsylvania residents[1]. With professional football a distant second to college football in popularity, Rooney’s new team would face tough competition from Pittsburgh’s three universities for the attention of fans and the local press.

The 1937 Pittsburgh Pirates football team (Taylor-Karcis Family Papers, MSS 437, Detre Library and Archives, Sen. John Heinz History Center)

The 1937 Pittsburgh Pirates football team (from the Taylor-Karcis Family Papers, MSS 437)

The team’s early years were marked by undistinguished players and a revolving door of head coaches. An image in the Taylor-Karcis family collection at the Detre Library and Archives at the Heinz History Center shows Rooney surrounded by his 1937 squad. The poster was donated by the family of John “Bull” Karcis (#64), the team’s leading rusher for the season. A native of Monaca, Pennsylvania, Karcis had previously played for Carnegie Tech and the Brooklyn Dodgers football team. Weighing in at 225 pounds, “Bull” Karcis likely owed part of his success to his considerable size, which rivaled that of linemen of the day[2]. Karcis later coached the Detroit Lions before returning to Western Pennsylvania to coach high school football.

Johnny McNally (#15), seated next to Karcis in the image, served as the team’s player-coach. McNally played football under the name “Johnny Blood,” a pseudonym he created when first trying out for a professional team, so he could retain his collegiate eligibility. He took inspiration from the Rudolph Valentino film Blood and Sand when devising his nom de guerre, which speaks to the dramatic flair he brought to life.[3]

Although the 33-year-old future Hall of Famer had put together a remarkable career, primarily as a halfback with Curly Lambeau’s Green Bay Packers, McNally’s off-the-field antics often overshadowed his accomplishments in the game. The unpredictable player (who inspired George Clooney’s character in the film Leatherheads[4]) was known for driving a car onto railroad tracks so he could stop a train he had missed and escaping a locked sixth-story hotel room by leaping out the window to a neighboring ledge. In fact, his behavior led to a brief stint in Pittsburgh when, in 1934, Curly Lambeau traded McNally to the lowly Pirates as punishment for attending a practice while inebriated.[5]

Already the fourth head coach in the team’s short history, McNally replaced Joe Bach, who brought the team to the verge of respectability in 1936 by introducing some much-needed discipline. Though he guided the team to a second place finish with a 6-6 record, Bach was relieved of his duties after clashing one too many times with Rooney.[6]

McNally’s approach to coaching was much different than Bach’s. He unburdened the team of curfews, made sure their train cars always had an ample supply of beer, and arranged the team’s travel schedule to allow for visits to the racetrack.[7] The intellectual McNally, who had a fondness for quoting Keats and Shakespeare, took a decidedly simplistic approach to coaching. Instead of studying the playbook, McNally’s strategy relied heavily on pep talks. Rooney recalled his former player-coach as having little appreciation for the fundamentals of the game and instead just “…created a lot of nice sayings and expressions.”[8] For example, McNally instructed players to respond to their names during roll call not with the customary “here” but with a loud “Pirates never quit!” Though the 1937 seasoned opened promisingly, with McNally returning a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, the team quickly faltered on its way to an unimpressive 4-7 record. [9]

Program from game on November 26th, 1939, the last to be played under the Pirates name (from the Sports Program collection, gift of Donald Lancaster and Faye Bradwick).

After the 1939 season, after eight years of failing to break .500 and losing more than $100,000[10], Rooney decided to rechristen the floundering franchise. Working with the Pittsburgh Press, Rooney held a contest to allow fans to choose a new name for the team. A number of entries, such as the Puddlers, the Ingots, and the Iron Masters, reflected the city’s industrial character. Twenty-one people—including a newspaper editor, a CCC camp worker, and the girlfriend of the team’s business manager—selected suggested the Steelers.[11]

Though they finally obtained a winning record in 1942, it would be 34 long years before the Steelers would take a home a championship.



[1] Rob Ruck, Margaret Jones Patterson, and Michael P. Weber, Rooney: a sporting life (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010), p. 97.

[2] Mike Tanier “The Giants History Countdown: Running Back Tandems,” The Fifth Down (blog), The New York Times, January 21, 2012, http://fifthdown.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/31/the-giants-history-countdown-running-back-tandems/ (accessed June 7, 2012)

[3] Ruck, Patterson, and Weber, p.104-105.

[4] Lew Freedman, Pittsburgh Steelers: The Complete Illustrated History, (Minneapolis: MBI Pub. Co., 2009), p.21.

[5] Art Rooney Jr. and Roy McHugh, Ruanaidh: the story of Art Rooney and his clan, (Pittsburgh: Geyer Printing Company, 2008), p.46-47.

[6] Ruck, Patterson, and Weber, p.115.

[7] Andrew O’Toole, Smiling Irish Eyes: Art Rooney and the Pittsburgh Steelers, (Haworth NJ: St. Johann Press, 2004), p. 80.

[8] Ibid., p.79.

[9] Ibid., p.79.

[10] Ibid., p.122.

[11] Ruck, Patterson, and Weber, p.175.

Posted in Sports | 1 Comment

Collection Spotlight: the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors Records

Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors Records, 1958-2003, MSS 995

Extent: 19 linear ft. [17 boxes]

History of the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors (PCIV)

The Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors (PCIV), also known as GlobalPittsburgh, is a community-based non-profit organization founded in 1959.  Its mission is to promote cultural, educational, and commercial ties between Western Pennsylvanians and other peoples of the world. The organization works with international visitors to facilitate a smooth transition to life in the Pittsburgh region.

In the decade following WWII, there was a marked growth of government and private programs designed to bring foreign visitors to the United States. By 1959, the year PCIV was established, organizations and community centers for international visitors existed in more than half of the fifty largest cities in the nation.  PCIV developed out of a proposal by the Office of Cultural and Educational Exchange of the University of Pittsburgh (OCEE). The OCEE advocated for the creation of a community organization that would coordinate planned hospitality, visits to industrial and cultural centers, as well as interviews and conferences for Pittsburgh’s international visitors. Such services had been previously lacking in the city.

PCIV participants tour KDKA studio, 1967.

PCIV participants tour KDKA studio, 1967.

An executive committee spearheaded by Shepherd Witman, the OCEE’s director, enlisted support for the organization from business, professional, and academic leaders in Pittsburgh. A professional staff was assembled consisting of an executive director, a program coordinator, a secretary and a volunteer coordinator, and together they recruited volunteers to act as guides, hosts, and office workers. Funding was primarily obtained through PCIV’s board of trustees, which was composed of representatives of business, education, government and civic organizations throughout Pittsburgh. Witman’s wife, Jeanne Witman, served as executive director of PCIV from its inception in 1959 until her retirement in 1971.

PCIV’s first program consisted of sightseeing tours for visitors and students who had been attracted to Pittsburgh by the excitement generated through the city’s first “Renaissance,” an urban renewal project that had been transforming Pittsburgh for over a decade.  Other early efforts focused primarily on short-term visitors, such as foreign leaders, scholars and executives touring selected cities in the U.S. In 1961, PCIV became a member organization of the National Council for International Visitors (NCIV) and the designated liaison for the IVLP in Western Pennsylvania.

Foreign Wive Program members participate in "What Country is this Article from?" activity, 1968.

Foreign Wive Program members participate in “What Country is this Article from?” activity, 1968.

The number of foreign businessmen, doctors, scholars and students of Pittsburgh area campuses increased rapidly in the 1960s.  The wives of these students and professionals were invited to participate in PCIV’s Overseas Wives Program, which primarily consisted of weekly gatherings for coffee and conversation with each other and with American volunteers. These “Coffee Mornings,” which began in 1967, provided an opportunity for international women from over 90 countries to share in solving problems of settling a family in a foreign country.  While many subjects were discussed at these meetings, the customs of child rearing and of food preparation were particularly popular, and recipes from food tastings were collected in the PCIV International Cookbook.

PCIV participants taking in view of Pittsburgh, c1970s.

PCIV participants taking in view of Pittsburgh, c1970s.

Later programs, such as Business for Russia and Community Connections in the 1990s, matched international professionals with local businesses and organizations for presentations, discussions and tours of local businesses and industrial facilities. In 1998, PCIV published Understanding Pittsburgh: A Guide for International Visitors and Residents, which was intended to serve as an introduction to Pittsburgh by offering information on such topics as renting a house or an apartment, opening a bank account, obtaining medical care, inquiring about visas and resident status, and enrolling children in the local school system.

In 2009, PCIV became GlobalPittsburgh, which is designed to improve the Pittsburgh region’s global competitiveness by promoting the region, attracting international leaders, business executives and students, and introducing them to regional companies, educational institutions, leaders and organizations.

PCIV participants touring United States Capitol, c1990s.

PCIV participants touring United States Capitol, c1990s.

Collection Summary

The Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors Records consist of the administrative records, photographs and audiovisual material of the PCIV.  The administrative records include reports, memos, meeting minutes, newsletters, and correspondence between staff, volunteers, visitors and affiliated organizations. The photographic and audiovisual material consists of photographs, slides, and VHS tapes that document private events between PCIV staff, volunteers and visitors, banquets and award ceremonies, the offices of PCIV, and visitors’ tours of Pittsburgh in the mid-1980s and throughout the 1990s.

Series I. Administrative records, 1958-2003

This series is comprised of administrative records pertaining to PCIV programming and communication between the organization, volunteers, visitors and other organizations affiliated with PCIV, particularly the National Council for International Visitors. The records in this series are primarily memos, reports, newsletters and correspondence to and from PCIV executive directors.

Series II: Program records, 1969-2000

This subseries is comprised of records such as correspondence, memos, reports, historical files, and other organizational information that documents various programs undertaken by PCIV. Featured prominently in this subseries are the following programs: Students for International Awareness (SIA), the Wives’ Program, the Business for Russia Program, the Community Connections Program, the Mid-Winter Community Seminar, and the Jefferson Fellows Mentor Program.

Series III. Awards and Recognition, 1968-2001

This series consists of awards, certificates of appreciation and local government proclamations honoring PCIV and its volunteers.

Series IV. Audiovisual Material, 1990-1999

This series consists of eight VHS tapes featuring award ceremonies, banquets and informational programs for international visitors and students.

Series V. Photographs and Slides, 1969-2001

This series consists of photograph albums, loose photographs, color slides and negatives that document a wide range of PCIV activities, including award ceremonies, banquets, seminars, conferences and PCIV programs.

Series VI. Oversized Material, 1960-2001

This series consists of oversized material relating to PCIV, including two scrapbooks, three enlarged screenshots of the Global Pittsburgh website, several copies of a PCIV poster, and official proclamations from Pittsburgh City Council.

This collection has been made accessible as part of an NHPRC-funded Basic Processing grant.  For more information on the Pittsburgh Council for International Visitors Records, please see the collection’s finding aid.

Posted in Community Organizations, Hidden collections | Leave a comment

Collection Spotlight: D. L. Clark Company Records

D. L. Clark Company Records, 1923-1992, MSS 640

Extent: 0.75 linear ft. (2 boxes)

History of the D. L. Clark Company

The D. L. Clark Company traces its roots to Pittsburgh’s North Side in 1886 when David L. Clark, an Irish immigrant, first began selling candies out of a horse-drawn wagon.  In 1911, the Clark Company considerably expanded their business by acquiring a candy and cracker company in the North Side.  During these years of development, the Clark Company quickly became renowned for their innovations in candy production.  In particular, the company is known for its addition of mint, peanut butter and coconut to chocolate candies.

Looking into the Candy Business, ca1940s

Looking into the Candy Business, ca1940s

By 1920, the Clark Company was producing close to 150 different kinds of candy.  The Clark Company also ventured into the market of chewing gum production at this time.  The most enduring evidence of this venture is the company’s production of Teaberry gum.  Over the next ten years, D. L. Clark recognized the growing market for candy bars and subsequently decided to concentrate production on five-cent chocolate bars.  Consequently, the company became internationally renowned for its production and sale of chocolate bars, including the Clark Bar and the Zagnut Bar.

All throughout these years of production, the Clark Company remained at the North Side location it acquired in 1911.  As a result, the oversized Clark sign atop the factory became a longstanding Pittsburgh landmark.  In 1983, the confectioner company, Leaf, Inc. acquired the D.L. Clark Company.  Although Leaf, Inc. closed the North Side factory in the spring of 1986, it chose to sustain Clark candy manufacturing in the Pittsburgh area by relocating production to a plant in O’Hara Township.  Leaf, Inc. then sold the rights to the Clark Bar to Pittsburgh Food and Beverage Company.  After years of financial instability, this company reconstituted itself under the name of Clark Bar America in June of 1995.  In May of 1999, this company was purchased by the New England Confectionary Company (NECCO).  Clark Company candy continues to be manufactured by NECCO today.

Annual Report of D. L. Clark Company, 1953

Annual Report of D. L. Clark Company, 1953

Collection Summary

The D. L. Clark Company Records consist of photographs, postcards, newspaper clippings, advertisements, correspondence, annual reports, stock exchange documents, and newsletters related to the D. L. Clark Company.  Photographs, advertisements, and promotional literature document the various candy products manufactured by the Clark Company, such as Zagnut Bars, Peanut Butter Logs, Yogurt Delights and Clark Bars.  A VHS tape contains recordings of Clark candy commercials. Numerous photographs capture Clark candy window and aisle displays, including a 1959 Clark Bar Halloween window display at Pittsburgh’s Dollar Savings Bank.  Other photographs record Clark candy cameos in films such as Poltergeist, Wiz Kid, and Open All Night.

Clark and Zagnut display, ca1960s.

Grocery Store Display of Clark and Zagnut bars, ca1960s.

Annual reports, correspondence, by-laws, stock exchange documents, and a spring 1977 issue of Sweet Talk, the Clark Company’s employee newsletter, shed light on Clark Company business practices.  Annual reports from 1929 to 1953 document the major financial transactions of the company. The correspondence in this collection dates to 1926 and revolves around the sampling stage of Teaberry gum production development.  Another material worthy of note is a 1967 procedure manual that contains detailed information regarding the composition and production of various Clark candies.  Clippings taken from Pittsburgh newspapers document both the debates surrounding the closing of the North Side Clark Company Factory and the plans surrounding the factory relocation to O’Hara Township.

Largest Clark Bar at Kennywood Park, 1981

Largest Clark Bar at Kennywood Park, 1981

This collection has been made accessible as part of an NHPRC-funded Basic Processing Grant. For more information on the D. L. Clark Company Records, please see the collection’s finding aid.

Largest Clark Candy Bar being distributed to guests at Kennywood Park, 1981.

Largest Clark Candy Bar being distributed to guests at Kennywood Park, 1981.

Posted in Business and Industry, Hidden collections | Leave a comment

A.M. Brown’s Union Executive Committee letter book.

(This blog post appeared originally as the “Library and Archives Treasures” column of the Fall 2013 issue of Western Pennsylvania History)

Though it seems unimaginable today, Abraham Lincoln faced considerable challenges on his path to winning a second term in the White House.  In the months preceding the 1864 election, the Union Army suffered major defeats at the Battle of the Crater and Battle of Cold Harbor, bolstering calls from the Copperhead wing of the Democratic Party for a peace settlement with the South.  From within his own party, Lincoln received criticism from radical Republicans who believed he had not done enough to end slavery.   Lincoln was also trying to buck the trend of single-term presidencies that had followed in the wake of Andrew Jackson.  In August of 1864, preparing for the possibility of defeat, Lincoln wrote a pledge, signed by the members of his cabinet, which stated “This morning, as for some days past, it  seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so co-operate with the President elect as to save the Union between the election and inauguration; as he will have secured his election on such ground that he cannot possibly save it afterwards.”[1]


Portrait of A.M. Brown from History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (1889).

Undaunted by these odds, Lincoln’s supporters swung into action on behalf of their candidate. The urgency of the 1864 election can be sensed from looking through the pages of a letter book from Union Executive Committee of Allegheny County, the local branch of nationwide organization that worked to re-elect Lincoln and pro-Union legislators to Congress. Recently cataloged as part of the History Center’s NHPRC Basic Processing grant, the book belonged to A.M. Brown, a Pittsburgh lawyer who served as chairman of the committee. Contained within its pages is a circular which reveals what the organization believed was at stake in the elections to be held later that year. “Pennsylvania and the Union must be saved from the vortex into which northern traitors and copperheads (acting in concert with Southern rebels) are endeavoring to precipitate them,” the circular reads. “Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson can and must be elected!”


Letter from Thaddeus Stevens, declining an invitation to an event due to poor health.

Just like campaign strategists today, Lincoln’s supporters realized that their cause would be advanced through grassroots mobilization. Within the letter book’s pages is a circular written by Simon Cameron, formerly Lincoln’s Secretary of War and governor of Pennsylvania, who was serving as chairman of the Pennsylvania Union State Central Committee. Addressing the county-level Union Executive Committee chairmen throughout the state, Cameron writes that “instead of the campaign being conducted as others of a like character have been, by the assembling of the people in mass meetings, by the appeals of enthusiastic and eloquent orators, it must be fought hand-to-hand, by those who have charge of our organization meeting the people individually face to face, and urging on each man the performance of such loyal duty as is essential to the maintenance of the Government and the preservation of the union.”

Lincoln’s Democratic opponent that year was Major General George B. McClellan, a Pennsylvania native who had served as general-in-chief of the Union Army.  Union military victories in Atlanta and the Shenandoah Valley in September seemed to bring the end of the war within sight, but Lincoln still anticipated a close race with McClellan, fearing he might lose both Pennsylvania and New York to his challenger.[2]


Letter to A.M. Brown requesting that taxes be paid for five Allegheny County soldiers recuperating in the Alexandria hospital.

Lincoln knew that winning the soldier vote would be the key to carrying the closely contested state.[3] The election of 1864 marked the first time that many states allowed soldiers to vote without returning to their home district. In Pennsylvania, those in military service could vote by proxy providing that their taxes had been assessed and paid within the last two years.  The correspondence in the letter book reveals that Brown, in the weeks preceding the election, worked to ensure that Allegheny County soldiers had their taxes paid and ballots to record their vote.   The efforts of Brown and the Union Executive Committee of Allegheny County, along with those of similar organizations throughout the state, helped Lincoln carry Pennsylvania on Election Day, on the way to a resounding defeat of McClellan.

[1] Doris Kearns Goodwin, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005), p. 648.

[2] Ibid., 662.

[3] Alexander Kelly McClure, Old Time Notes of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: The John C. Winston Company, 1905),p.153-154

Posted in Civil War, Government, Hidden collections | Leave a comment

Your Brother in Arms; Civil War Book Lecture and Signing

As the Civil War Sesquicentennial enters its fourth year, the anniversary continues to afford us opportunities to reflect on one of our nation’s most storied wars.

Next Thursday evening, May 15, 2014 from 6pm-8pm, the Detre Library & Archives will host a Lecture, Q&A, and Book Signing with Robert C. Plumb, author of Your Brother in Arms: A Union Soldier’s Odyssey.


Your Brother in Arms Cover

Cover of Your Brother in Arms: A Union Soldier’s Odyssey

Your Brother in Arms chronicles the wartime experiences of Pittsburgh native George P. McClelland during the course of his service with the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry. Mr. Plumb invites his readers to follow McClelland’s journey from the soldier’s enlistment in Pittsburgh to his place on the battlefield of Five Forks, Va. The core of Mr. Plumb’s sources for Your Brother in Arms is a collection of letters handwritten by McClelland and sent home to family throughout the Civil War. These letters organically reflect McClelland’s tour of service with the 155th Pennsylvania, including the battlefields of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Spotsylvania Court House, and Petersburg.

Never before published, McClelland’s letters contain fascinating and insightful glimpses into camp life, battlefield conditions, and other wartime reflections. With this book, Plumb explores the daily experiences of one soldier within the larger account of the Civil War. In so doing, Mr. Plumb has crafted a nuanced perspective on one of our nation’s most brutal conflicts.

Robert C. Plumb has spoken throughout the Washington, D.C. area about his book and has participated in related interviews and events in Maryland, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Prior to his work on Your Brother in Arms, Mr. Plumb was an executive with Fannie Mae and General Electric.

Admission to this program is free. Refreshments will be provided. Copies of Your Brother in Arms will be available for purchase at the event for $25.

Those interested in attending this program are asked to RSVP to library@heinzhistorycenter.org or 412-454-6364.


Posted in Civil War, History Center Events | Leave a comment