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Historical Novel Captures the Smoke and Grit of Pittsburgh at Its Industrial Peak

Historical Novel Captures the Smoke and Grit of Pittsburgh at Its Industrial Peak

(NewsUSA) - This is not a gilded age novel. It’s a novel of the smoke and grit that were the pride of a booming city. It takes readers to another time and another world that is distant but familiar.

Steel City by William J. Miller Jr. takes readers to the cauldron of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the late nineteenth century. The steel business has made the city the industrial capital of not just the country but the world. And through the eyes of Jamie Dalton, readers witness the titanic events of that city in that age:

  • The Johnstown Flood that killed over 2,000 people, the country’s greatest natural disaster of the century.
  • The Homestead Steel Strike of 1892, in which Henry Clay Frick sent an army of Pinkertons to break the back of the labor movement.
  • An anarchist’s assassination attempt on Frick’s life in revenge for Homestead.
  • The fight to the death between Frick and Andrew Carnegie for control of the country’s predominant steel company.
  • The inside story of what is still the largest corporate buyout of all time.

At the time, Pittsburgh’s technological innovations and wealth creation made it the Silicon Valley of its day. It was first in steel, food processing, and electricity, and the leaders of those industries—Carnegie, Frick, Heinz, and Westinghouse—are names we still know today.

The author, William J. Miller Jr., grew up in Pittsburgh and was always fascinated by the living connections to its storied past: the Carnegie Library and Museum, the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and, in his own neighborhood, the Frick mansion, where Henry Frick’s daughter, Helen, still lived. Miller has spent his entire career in journalistic enterprises as reporter, publisher, blogger, and Time Inc. consumer marketing veteran. 


In this historical novel, Jamie, his father Richard, his mother Eleanor, and Pittsburgh society high and low navigate the social and economic issues of the late nineteenth century that still resonate today: corporate vs. individual responsibility, labor relations, suffrage, income inequality, substance abuse, media ethics. Steel City portrays the rich panoply of that era.

Jamie, a recent Yale graduate and son of a corporate lawyer, must decide whether to accede to his father’s wishes and pursue a career in law or the steel business, or follow his own instincts and become a newspaperman. The Johnstown Flood confirms his choice to be a journalist, and Jamie goes on to cover Pittsburgh’s business titans, labor strikes and assassination attempts.

While reporting on the unions of the era, he is exposed to a very different world, symbolized by his infatuation with a mysterious woman under the sway of an Eastern European anarchist. Jamie struggles with balancing the access he has to Pittsburgh’s business elite while maintaining the objectivity to tell the hard truths about those same people. Ultimately, he must thwart a terrorist plot that could disrupt the massive corporate merger that would restructure the nation’s largest industry: steel.

With deep research and a bibliography that shows an abiding respect for the facts and for the context of the lifestyle and the geopolitical environment of the time, readers leave Steel City with a sense of what life was like during this period. Purchase at

Revised 3/7/2023

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