Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Pitts­burgh’s Bridges: Architecture and Engineering

By Walter C. Kidney
Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, 1999 (235 pages, cloth, $49.95)

For many, it’s surprising to learn that Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County are linked together by a vast network of sixteen hundred bridges. These spans make places accessible that would otherwise remain inaccessible and result, in many cases, in ingenious engineering structures full of drama and color. The author’s insightful essays in one of two major sections simply entitled “On Bridges” reminds readers that in the earliest days of bridge building in Pittsburgh, “there were attempts to introduce some element of visual art to the structure of a bridge: not in every case to be sure, and in a good many other cases it appears that the builder or engineer had no real heart for the attempt.” Another chapter in this section, “Quotables,” includes a number of passages by writers, architects, and engineers. The author provides a friendly introduction and easy-to-understand explanation of the types of bridges abounding in Pittsburgh, accompanied by large format and beautifully reproduced vintage images. A special section of Pittsburgh’s Bridges is “The Photographer’s Art: An Album by Clyde Hare,” which features portraits of spans taken since 1950. “Bridges of the Pittsburgh Area: A Selection from the Present and Past” presents fifty specimens – some extant, some long-gone – possessing elegant or picturesque design, as well as bridges of raw power in conspicuous places. Each individual description is preceded by vital statistics such as location, engineer, designer, architect, builder, and dates of construction. Detail shots illustrate distinctive features, such as portals, sculpture, hinges, plaques, and decorative columns. Pittsburgh’s Bridges: Architecture and Engineering serves as a catalogue of what the author describes lyrically as “a poem of curves, a heroic essay in straight lines.”


Diners of Pennsylvania

By Brian Butko and Kevin Patrick
Stackpole Books, 1999 (250 pages, paper, $19.95)

Built of stainless steel in a factory and hauled to an ostensibly permanent site, the modern diner is a unique American form – and one that remains especially visible in Pennsylvania. For years, the diner has been taken for granted, assumed to exist everywhere, and not given much thought. Now, however, it’s become a staple of the American lexicon of landmarks, a tribute to innovative roadside marketing. Diners of Pennsylvania is the quintessential handbook for identifying styles and locating specimens in the Keystone State. First and foremost, the authors define a genuine diner as “a factory-built restaurant transported to its site of operation,” adding that this “criteria is not a value judgment about the restaurant, just a way of distinguishing diners from other eateries.” For an operator, one of the diner’s greatest draws was the ease of upgrading to a newer, larger, and more modern model. If not destroyed, an old diner could be sold and moved to a different location or trucked back to the manufacturer for reconditioning and resale. The authors begin their discussion of the history of the diner by refuting a widely held belief that it evolved from the railroad dining car. The diner, they contend, actually grew out of the “lowly lunch wagon.” In 1872, in Providence, Rhode Island, an enterprising Walter Scott pioneered the “night Lunch” business by loading up a horse-drawn wagon with sandwiches, hard-boiled eggs, and pies, and peddling them to the staffs of the community’s three daily newspapers, which toiled through the late night hours to publish the morning editions. Scott quickly learned that the streets at night were also filled with other customers. The concept spread throughout New England but before long wagon owners opted for permanent locations. The diner industry was aided by the endless possibilities of serving a mobile clientele of motorists and truck drivers along a rapidly expanding network of highways. As the diner trade matured in the opening decades of the twentieth century, its center of production shifted from southern New England to the Mid-Atlantic States. By 1937, six thousand diners in the United States were serving more than two million customers daily; within three years, more than one thousand new diners had opened. Pennsylvania’s share of surviving diners is two hundred and sixty, fifty-five percent of which are located in the suburban Philadelphia area. The book offers a number of interesting statistics, such as distribution rates of diner placement in the Commonwealth. Thirty-nine percent of extant diners are situated on highways on the edge of communities; eleven percent are located in suburban commercial strips; and nine percent can be found in isolated rural areas. Basically a guidebook, Diners of Pennsylvania includes brief narratives explaining the locales in which each example is located and a description of its original building style, construction, and subsequent remodeling. Probably the most important aspects of this book are sections identifying the manufacturers of diners and describing the evolution of architectural styles (complete with line drawings). Diners of Pennsylvania also contains more than one hundred and fifty vintage and contemporary photographs of exterior and interior views, maps, and an extensive index.


A Catholic New Deal: Religion and Reform in Depression Pittsburgh

By Kenneth J. Heineman
Penn State University Press, 1999 (287 pages; cloth, $60.00; paper, $22.50)

Popular images of the era of the Great Depression are bread lines, labor wars, and leftist firebrands. Absent from the picture, however, are religiously motivated social reformers, notably Catholic clergy and laity. A Catholic New Deal rethinks the religious roots of labor organizing and social reform in the United States in the 1930s. The book focuses on Pittsburgh, the leading industrial city of the time, a key center for the rise of American labor, and a critical Democratic power base, thanks in large part to Mayor (later Governor) David L. Lawrence (1889-1966) and the Catholic vote. Despite the fact that Catholics were the core of the American industrial working class in the thirties, histori­ans (and many contemporary observers) have underestimated or ignored the religious component of labor activism in this period. In fact, many labor historians have argued that workers could not have formed successful industrial unions without first severing their religious ties. The author disputes this contention, arguing that there would have been no steelworkers union without Pittsburgh Catholics such as James Cox, Patrick Fagan, Carl Hensler, Phil Murray, and Charles Owen Rice. He presents a complex portrait of American Catholicism in which a large number of activist priests and laypersons championed a distinctly Catholic vision of social justice. This vision was anti-communist, anti-fascist, and anti-laissez faire. These Catholics, in turn, helped to make the Committee of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and the Democratic Party powerful organizations. A Catholic New Deal shows conclusively the important role that religion played in the history of organized labor in the United States.


Fraktur: Folk Art and Family

By Corinne Earnest and Russell Earnest
Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 1999 (192 pages, cloth, $49.95)

The American fraktur tradition began about 1740 in south­eastern Pennsylvania, but quickly spread to other states, and remains popular even today. For centuries, these cherished, hand-written manuscripts have embodied a richness of tradition and culture, blending text with riotous color and “folky ‘Pennsylvania Dutch'” design. Rooted in medieval European decorated manuscript art, fraktur celebrate family events such as births, baptisms, and marriages of some of America’s earliest immigrants of German and Swiss heritage. Unlike their later immigrant relatives – Germans who immigrated during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth century – the Pennsylvania Germans from the southern part of present-day Germany and from the German-speaking regions of France and Switzer­land. The book opens with a chapter that defines American fraktur in basic, accessible terms: fraktur are hand-written (or partially printed) manuscripts that are hand-decorated with pen and ink and watercolors, usually vivid and sometimes garish. American fraktur, unlike their European counterparts, are personal family records. Most European decorated manuscripts are religious texts, secular stories with strong religious themes, or important official documents such as treaties or privileges. While American fraktur may include religious verses, the main text on most examples centers on intimate family events, particularly births and baptism. Because this body of fraktur are personal, rather than official, documents, they were decorated for enjoyment and were meant to be kept and displayed by family members. The fraktur tradition was strongest among rural families. Although printers in Pennsylvania cities such as Allentown, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Reading, and Philadelphia, printed the immensely popular baptism certificate (the most common type), fraktur was mostly associated with farm families living near these communities. The authors conclude this introductory chapter with an examination of the history, background, and make-up of the Pennsylvania German community during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Subsequent chapters explore the origins of fraktur in America, its purpose, and the spectrum of motifs and ornamentation, both “plain and fancy.” Collectors and owners will take special note of the final chapter, which discusses the care of fraktur. The copiously illustrated book features examples of fraktur in glorious full color by a number of Pennsylvania practitioners of this distinctive art form, among them Wilhem Antonius Faber, Reuben Sheirer, John F. Glick, Johann Conrad Trevits, David C. Hoke, J. S. Ellsworth, Johannes Bard, Christian Tester, David Cordier, Durs Rudy Sr., and Johann Henrich Otto. A goodly number of Penn­sylvania German family surnames, for whom these fraktur were made, are represented as well, including Brubacher, Miller, Leman, Levan, Spengler, Stauffer, Weber, Bentzinger, Siegrist, Fretz, and Dentlinger. The book concludes with a glossary, end­notes, and selected readings. Fraktur: Folk Art and Family will intrigue those interested in unusual Pennsylvania German art­forms, settlement patterns of German immigrants in Pennsylvania, and family histories.