Presentations

The Donora Historical Society has completed extensive research on the topics listed below and has them organized into formal presentations that have already been proven. Most of the presentations are Donora-centric, while others have a wider appeal outside of Donora, into Western Pennsylvania and beyond. These presentations are accompanied by PowerPoint slides that feature historic photographs, newspaper articles and slides of bullet-pointed descriptions and facts. More subjects and topics will be offered in the future once research has been completed. If you require a more in-depth description than what we have below, we can send you those descriptions via email or feel free to call the Donora Historical Society to discuss further.

IN-HOUSE - On occasion, the Donora Historical Society presents these topics during different times of the year at our Smog Museum or the Donora Public Library. Two of the topics related to Cement City and Eldora Park are presented during their respective Walking Tours. If you would like to get a custom presentation at the Smog Museum for your group or just yourself, please contact the Donora Historical Society to schedule in advance. It's not unusual for someone to walk into the museum during normal Saturday hours, and have a particular subject they would like to discuss. If we aren't overly busy, sometimes it's easier just to queue up the presentation that fits and spend the time to answer their questions. Presentations can also be scheduled during the week, but after 3:00 p.m. works best for us. More flexibility is available during June, July and August.

ROAD SHOWS - On occasion, we get requests from other historical societies, libraries or social groups to give these presentations at their facilities. The presentations are usually limited to 45 to 60 minutes with a Q&A, but can be tailored to your timeslot. Two presentations have also been combined during a single visit with a break in between. Our only requests to do a presentation at your location are a projector, table for the projector and a wall or screen to project the presentation. If you don't have a compatible projector, we can bring our own, but would also need advance notice. Stipends for local non-profits aren't necessary, providing you can reciprocate one day with a presentation of your own. If travelling a fair distance, stipends are much appreciated to offset the travel costs.

FOR STUDENTS - These presentations can also be geared for student groups. Formal descriptions, lists of objectives and lesson plans can also be provided to the teacher in advance.



PRESENTATION TOPICS

The 1948 Donora Smog Disaster
- The Donora Works of American Steel and Wire Company stretched nearly three miles along the Monongahela River thirty miles south of Pittsburgh. Within the industrial complex, that employed over eight thousand, were Blast Furnaces, Open Hearths, a Blooming Mill, Rod Mill, Wire Works, Nail Mill, Acid Plant and the largest Zinc Works in the world. The red, black, white and yellow smoke pouring from the Works frequently forced street lamps and headlights to burn twenty-four hours a day. As the week before Halloween 1948 began the people of Donora were focusing on a parade, a football game, "Trick or Treat" and a national election. No one could know that a severe temperature inversion had settled over the valley. By Wednesday visibility was as limited as anyone could remember, plus many people were having difficulty breathing. The effluent from the mill that was typically carried away by prevailing wind currents reached the ceiling of the inversion and fell back to earth in the stagnant atmosphere. The weekend was a nightmare.  Thousands were ill, hundreds needed medical attention, and by Monday morning twenty-seven were dead. The Donora Smog Disaster was a wakeup call to years of ignoring the deadly effects of industrial pollution. The incident sparked a conflict that continues to shape the political and economic debate, not only in the United States but, around the world, between industrial and economic interests and pioneers for the protection of the environment and public health.



Thomas Edison's Concrete Vision: Building Cement City, Donora, Pennsylvania, 1916-17
- Thomas Edison never accepted failure as an explanation, instead he would only concede he had learned "How not to do something" when an experiment did not meet his expectations. In our presentation, on Building Cement City, we explore the long, expensive and multi-faceted struggle of how Edison learned how NOT to build homes out of concrete. We will focus mostly on American Steel and Wire's efforts to use Edison's concrete vision to attempt to build work housing.



Stan "The Man" Musial - There was a time in America when it seemed as though even the most casual baseball fan knew that Stan Musial was from Donora, Pennsylvania. That's a testament to the personality and character of Stan Musial, who made it his business to intentionally tell people that his hometown was Donora. A few days after the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in the 1942 World Series, the twenty-one year-old Musial was back in Donora, clerking at Labash's Store on McKean Avenue. Even through Stan lived most of his life in St. Louis he never forgot his roots in Donora. Stan loved Donora and he remained connected to it throughout his life. This presentation is not so much a statistical review of Stan's career, but rather the arc of his life.



The Largest in the World: Building the Donora Zinc Works
- Andrew Carnegie structured his business philosophy around what eventually became known as "Vertical Integration" controlling all factors of production so they would never be at the mercy of someone else. Construction of the world's largest Zinc Works in 1916 was the last step in achieving vertical integration at American Steel and Wire Company's Donora plant. The Zinc Works became the life blood of the Donora community employing half of the eight thousand workers at the Donora complex. While the legacy of the Zinc Works may well be its role in the 1948 Donora Smog Disaster, the presentation will focus on the rapid construction and techniques and challenges of using the "Belgian Process" in producing zinc.



Donora's Photographer: The Glass Plates of Bruce Dreisbach
- Bruce Dreisbach came to Donora in 1905 to work as a quality control supervisor for the American Steel and Wire Company. Among his many skills was the passion and gift to take photographs using glass plate negatives. Quickly his job description also included, Official Photographer of the Donora Works of American Steel and Wire Company. With the company funding his art, Dreisbach began to record nearly every aspect of life in the growing industrial community of Donora. The legacy of his work is an exhaustive primary resource look at a time that few Americans are around to recall. The Donora Historical Society has thousands of Dreisbach glass plate negatives in its archives.



Industrial Boomtown: The Building of Donora, Pennsylvania
- At the turn of the 20th century, Donora became the last of the great steel towns built along the Monongahela River, and it all seemed to happen overnight. When William H. Donner moved his National Tin Plate Company to the newly built industrial town of Monessen, in 1898, the area that would be Donora in three short years was mostly farmland and a small village called West Columbia. Donner quickly impressed the industrial elite of Pittsburgh and in 1899 formed the Union Improvement Company along with the Mellon brothers, Henry Clay Frick and other with an eye toward creating another industrial complex across the river, one mile north of Monessen and about thirty miles south of Pittsburgh. As the mill and infrastructure of the town went up the population exploded with new arrivals; growing to nearly four thousand by 1901. Union Improvement thought of nearly every need of a new community except for housing for employees, creating a booming hotel and boarding house business. A large and diverse population poured into Donora to not only build and work at the mills but to also take part of the "American Dream" by starting their own business. Individual entrepreneurs opened everything and anything a new town might need or demand. The newcomers also built churches, a synagogue, ethnic and national social clubs, political and beneficial associations, and fraternal and civic associations. The community put a priority on education building schools that were a source of pride in the community. At the center of all this was the mill itself, the only the town existed. 



Eldora Park: The Mid-Mon Valley's Trolley Park Retreat, 1904-1946
- One of the many benefits of urbanization and industrialization was the development of leisure time for the laboring masses. What was once the exclusive domain of the "Idle Classes," wage laborers working timed shifts, found themselves with two things they never had before: free time and discretionary income. This newfound leisure did not go unnoticed by enterprising entrepreneurs. As the urban landscape expanded, mass transportation became a necessity in moving people from place to place. n an effort to increase ridership, provide a rural escape from urban living, and tap into discretionary income by selling entertainment, the trolley park was born. Located three miles north of Donora and opened in 1904, Eldora Park followed in the pattern of Kennywood Park, featured rides and pavilions, and attracted world renowned speakers and performers.



The African-American Community in Donora, Pennsylvania
- Prior to the Great Migration of southern African-American to the industrial centers of the North during WWI, Donora already had a viable, upwardly mobile African-American population in place. We trace the history of the African-American community in Donora by following the lives of several families and individuals as they assimilate into life in a typical mill town socially, economically, and politically. We will look at the more traditional south to north migration which was also a part of the Donora African-American experience. American Steel and Wire Company, at the Donora Works, unlike most of the mills along the Monongahela River, offered its African-American employed the opportunity to advance through skilled labor positions.



The First Toll Free Bridge across the Monongahela River: Building the Donora-Webster Bridge, 1908
- One of the staples of modern urban industrial infrastructure is the bridge. Bridges connect people and places geographically, but just as importantly, socially, politically and economically.  The Donora-Webster Bridge was the first toll free bridge built across the Monongahela River. The bridge enjoyed being a unique and vital link between communities in the Mid-Mon Valley until its razing in 2015.



Greetings from Donora, Pa.: The History, Influence and legacy of the Post Card on Donora, Pennsylvania. 1900-1950
- Post cards were the post-industrial age's equivalent of text messaging. At the turn of the Twentieth Century sending a post card was the fastest, least expensive and most efficient way of reliably communicating brief messages over great distances.



The Women of Donora, Pennsylvania: The Cultural Transition of Women in the Twentieth Century, 1900-1970
- When Donora was founded in 1901, women were usually identified by their relationship to a man. The perceptive identity of daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, aunts, grandmothers, widows, were all predicated on their relationship to a male member of the family. Women in the work force labored at, then considered, menial, subservient jobs: housekeeper, cook, seamstress, secretary, teacher, shop clerk, factory assembly line worker. The pay was low, hours were long, job security nonexistent, and marriage usually meant termination. As the Twentieth Century turned and advanced, women were building their most significant political capital in a way that had always been deemed "proper" and supported by the male dominated society. The Women's Club took many forms, all seemingly innocent and legitimately acceptable pursuits for women of the era. No matter the stated purpose in each group's charter, nearly all clubs took up the subject of suffrage and women's rights. The resulting network of subversive political activity paved the way for women to have a voice in the political process and personal choice. This presentation will follow the phenomena of this international and diverse movement by looking at the activities of the women of Donora, Pennsylvania.



The Veterans of Donora: From the American Revolution to the War on Terror
- One of the foundational concepts in the military history of the United States is the philosophy of the "Citizen Soldier." Ordinary men and women from every corner of America combining their individual talent, in extraordinary effort and sacrifice, for the good of the whole, to keep democracy alive. Using photos, letters and artifacts, of individual veterans from Donora, the presentation will travel the path from the American Revolution to the War on Terror.



Mid-Mon Valley Connections in The War of the Rebellion
- Our Mon Valley ancestors called it The War of the Rebellion. The American Civil War reached into every city, town and village in the nation, profoundly touching every citizen and defining the nation. We are drawn to the stories or ordinary people living through extraordinary events. Many of those stories are about men, women and children who lived here in the Mid-Mon Valley. In our examination of Mon Valley connections in the Civil War: we trace the origins of the names Ringgold and Starkweather, meet some members of the Ringgold Cavalry, follow ordinary soldiers into epic battles and then back to the Mon Valley to live out their lives.