Industrial Ball in Pittsburgh

Company sport became a national phenomenon in the 1920's, as most larger companies chose to sponsor some sort of recreation program. Pittsburgh was perhaps unique, however, in that companies had an especially strong need to develop their workers' sense of loyalty to companies, for Pittsburgh experienced an incredibly high turnover of employment among unskilled labor force, particularly the black labor force.

The Negro League champion Homestead Grays began as an industrial league team, located in the mill town of Homestead.

For more discussion on the unique elements of industry in Pittsburgh, refer to Pittsburgh's introductory discussion.

The steel and electric corporations, which dominated industry in the area, set the tone for recreation and sport. The earliest league, the Negro Industrial Baseball League, began in 1922. The Homestead Works of Carnegie-Illinois Steel and the Edgar Thomson (ET) Works had the two most extensive recreation programs in the area, although companies such as Westinghouse (WEMCO), Pittsburgh Railways, Gimbel Brothers, and the Philadelphia Company, plus at least a dozen others, sponsored sports teams, primarily baseball, for their black workers.

It is important to keep in mind that a good portion of many company welfare programs excluded blacks, particularly non-athletic organizations such as library clubs and swimming pools. In those recreational arenas where blacks were not excluded, strict racial segregation prevailed. In the mill towns, black employees worked and often even dined and shopped along their fellow workers who were white, but they could not play baseball with them in the company's recreation program.

Considering the times and circumstances, however, industry's development of sports, particularly baseball, in the black community was impressive. Sport in Pittsburgh had a strong community basis, being supported by various organizations including the YMCA, the Urban League, city recreation centers, and settlement houses. However, when Depression hit, almost all industries, as well as settlement houses and YMCA's, withdrew their financial support of black sports teams. This move was a serious blow to black sport in Pittsburgh, nearly ending the black community's informal black sports.

For more information about the sources in the black community which took over the sporting network following the financial withdrawal of industries and social welfare agencies, refer to the discussion of Pittsburgh's community basis of sports (LINK).