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Founded in 1895, Vandergrift was the first successful planned industrial town designed to be sold to its workers.
George McMurtry, president of the Apollo Iron & Steel Co., Apollo, Pa., needed to expand his successful galvanized steel operations. Beset with labor problems and unable to acquire additional land, he selected a 650-acre farm site a few miles downstream on the Kiskiminetas River, some forty miles from Pittsburgh. He then approached the designer of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, Frederick Law Olmsted, to design a town that would be "something better than the best." The result was Vandergrift, (named for Capt. J.J. Vandergrift, a director of the steel company) a town with gently curving streets that follow the natural slope of the hills. Everything was made ready in advance: The steel mill was built. The streets were graded, utilities were installed (including water, natural gas, electric lines, and sewer lines). Streets and sidewalks were paved, trees were planted, and street lights were erected. Finally, free lots and half the cost of construction were offered to the churches. Then, when everything was in readiness, the building lots were offered for sale to the workers so that they could build their own homes. In 1895, this was a unique idea in America--that a company would build a town entirely in advance and then turn over its control to the workers.
The town's success came swiftly. Soon the mill became the world's largest rolling mill, hundreds of private homes were built, the population swelled to 11,000, and a delegation from the British Parliament came to study its success. In 1904, when a model of the town was displayed at the St. Louis World's Fair, the town's design won two gold medals.
In 1915, Vandergrift merged with Vandergrift Heights, and in 1957 West Vandergrift was annexed. In 1988, the steel mill was purchased by Allegheny Ludlum Corporation, specialty steel makers, and is a "state of the art" mill today. Now more than a century after its founding, the town remains eighty to ninety percent intact, its Queen Ann & Victorian homes architectural treasures ideal for restoration, its awareness of its unique heritage growing, and its outlook for the second century optimistic. The town is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.