Bruce Dreisbach was born in Nescopeck, PA on October 8, 1881 and was the oldest of twelve children. He came to Donora in 1906, we think because of work. Dreisbach (pictured in the photo to the left) was an employee of the American Steel and Wire Company (AS&W) and was not only a quality control technician, but an American photographer. He took thousands of pictures in and around Donora related to the construction of the mill and town life, as well as numerous portraits of various people between the years of 1906 and the late 1950's. After retiring from AS&W, he worked as an x-ray technician at Magee Hospital in Pittsburgh. Dreisbach's wife Lulu (pictured in the photo below) was a popular red-headed photography model at the turn of the century and settled in Donora in 1914. It may have been in this capacity that she met her husband. Mr. Dreisbach died in Donora on September 2, 1959 at 77 years of age. He was a charter member of the Donora Historical Society that was founded in 1946. Lulu died in Donora in 1986 at the age of 104.
A portion of Dreisbach's glass plate negative collection was left in Lulu's apartment (just one block from our museum) when she died. The Donora Historical Society owes a huge debt of gratitude to Dreisbach in helping us understand the way things appeared during the early days of Donora. The Bruce Dreisbach glass plate negative collection contains well over 1,000 glass plates, which we are certain is only a fraction of the number of pictures that he took.
As shadows in some of his pictures attest, Dreisbach used the large and cumbersome tripod camera with hood to take his pictures around town, as well as other locations in Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia. The photos were taken on glass plates of various sizes using a process that was not only time consuming but labor intensive. While the camera setup was primitive by today's standards, the clarity of the negatives produced are some of the best of most modern day technologies. Once converted to photos, the opportunities to manipulate the images are endless.
In 2010, the Donora Historical Society was awarded the Washington County Community Foundation, Inc. McBride-McMaster Fund $1,000 grant -- which is awarded to fund projects that promote historic education or preservation. We used the grant to develop a portion (197 negatives) of our Bruce Dreisbach glass plate negative collection.
In 2012, the Donora Historical Society was fortunate to receive a generous donation in the name of the late Steven Acsai - a 1933 graduate of Donora High School and one of Jimmy Russell's boys who played football for the Dragons and earned a scholarship to North Carolina State. Mr. Acsai's son from North Carolina, also named Steven, never forgot where his father came from and took an interest in the Society and our Dreisbach collection and made the donation in his father's honor for further development of our glass plate negatives.
In 2013, we were able to take the Steven Acsai donation and double that through a matching grant from the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. We used both monies to continue to develop another portion of our Bruce Dreisbach glass plate negative collection (314 negatives) and completed that project in 2014.
In the December 2012 issue of The Shutterbug Magazine, an article featured our Bruce Dreisbach glass plate negative collection and project from 2010. The article was written by J. Michael Krivyanski and was titled, "Bruce Dreisbach's Photographic Record - A Treasure Of Images From A Pennsylvania Town".
In 2016, the Donora Historical Society was awarded the Washington County Community Foundation, Inc. Hart History Fund $1,000 grant -- which is awarded to fund projects related to the field of history. We used the grant to develop another portion (80 negatives) of our Bruce Dreisbach glass plate negative collection. The project was featured in an article in the Washington Observer-Reporter newspaper. Click on link Observer-Reporter WCCF Grant to read the article.
The work to develop the photos from the glass plate negatives is performed by Bernies Photo Center and
Photo Antiquities on the North Side of Pittsburgh. They are experts in handling vintage photos and negatives and we are lucky to have that expertise so close in proximity.
All four photos on this page were taken by Dreisbach. The man standing in a hat (pictured in the photo above left) is a worker on the Donora Southern Railroad. The steel mill scene (pictured in the photo above right) is the American Steel and Wire Mill.
Aside from the Dreisbach negatives, we also have negatives that show West Columbia - the town that existed before Donora was founded and was eventually dismantled to construct a portion of the steel mill on what is now South Donora. Some of these pictures were taken by August V. Siren. An example of one of his photos can be seen on our Home page of Watkins General Store.