After World War II, Pittsburgh finally enacted smoke control laws to curb the release of coal emissions into the city. But prior to citizens' grassroot environmental reform efforts, this industrial murk enveloped buildings and streets in darkness and transformed day into the inky evening.

Here's a collection of Pittsburgh street scenes from the 1940s and 1950s, during which the end of the world seems to be consistently unfolding every other afternoon.


As the University of Pittsburgh's Historic Pittsburgh lantern slide archive explains, the years prior to smoke control saw a haze regularly descend upon the city. This fog lifted only after citizens began lobbying for stricter smoke controls for trains, steel manufacturers, and furnaces in private households:

After the Civil War, Anthony Trollope, the noted British novelist, wrote, "Pittsburgh without exception is the blackest place which I ever saw, the site is picturesque, even the filth and wondrous blackness are picturesque.... I was never more in love with smoke and dirt than when I stood and watched the darkness of night close in upon the floating soot which hovered over the city."

Despite visitors' grimy reviews, the lack of alternative fuels led to the repeated failures of the smoke control movement in its early incarnations. The commonly held view that high smoke output indicated high productivity also discouraged the passing of strong legislation. In addition, many people felt that coal smoke was good for the lungs and helped crops grow.

Finally, in 1941 an effective smoke control ordinance was passed in the city of Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the onset of World War II delayed the enactment of the legislation until 1946. Smoke control was not forgotten during the intervening years, however.

And here are some scenes from St. Louis in the late 1930s. This city enacted the United States' first rigorous smoke control ordinances, which Pittsburgh took its cues from. As you can see, St. Louis resembled Gotham City on a particularly chiaroscuro day before these laws went into effect.

[The University of Pittsburgh via Retronaut]