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A view of the town of Economy from across the river.

Ambridge History

The Borough of Ambridge may not have existed without the occurrence of two significant events — the formation of the American Bridge Company in 1900 and the dissolution of the Harmony Society in 1905. As a result, shortly after the turn of the 20th century, a sparsely populated area of land along the Ohio River, known as Economy Township, would be transformed from a quiet, rural, agricultural community into a bustling, industrial town.

The American Bridge Company was the result of a merger between twenty-eight small bridge and structural steel companies in 1900. After its formation, a search soon began for a location where the Company could build a large manufacturing complex and have easy access to water and rail transportation. The Company also wanted enough land to build housing for its workers and attract the large number of immigrants who were streaming into Pittsburgh. American Bridge found an ideal location when it purchased 2,500 acres from the Society in 1903.

Fourteen large manufacturing buildings soon changed the landscape along this peaceful section of the Ohio River. Affordable housing for the workers was built on the available land, and American Bridge formed a real estate company to buy up vacant lots in the old village and build more houses. American Bridge’s goal of over 4000 workers and a monthly payroll of $250,000 was achieved shortly after operations began. American Bridge, a division of U.S. Steel, was a pioneer in the construction of river barges and a leader in the fabrication of suspension bridges. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge in New York, the longest suspension bridge in the world, and the San-Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge were both fabricated in Ambridge.

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The Empire State Building in New York and the Sears Tower in Chicago were also the work of American Bridge. While American Bridge affected the skylines of cities all over the world, its impact was not lost locally; Three Rivers Stadium and the Civic Arena were fabricated and erected by American Bridge. In 1926, a unique partnership between American Bridge and Jones & Laughlin Steel in Aliquippa built the Ambridge-Aliquippa Bridge over the Ohio River to connect the two communities. The Borough of Ambridge was incorporated in 1905, named for the company that built it and brought it into the industrial age.

Ambridge prospered and by 1930 had a population of over 20,000 people. Unlike many company-built towns, the workers of Ambridge became property owners quickly. Over 60% of the population was foreign born; they worked hard and saved their money. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognized the residents of Ambridge for their thrift. For a borough of its size, it had the largest number of dollars per capita invested in savings and loans. American Bridge erected a large sign, calling itself and Ambridge the “Largest Bridge and Structural Steel Center in the World.” Its impact on the world cannot be denied, but its impact on the lives of thousands of people living in this small area of Beaver County is very important. Many first- and second-generation Americans were able to achieve the “American Dream” of financial security.

In 1983, the economic relationship between Ambridge and American Bridge ended when the company ceased operations in Ambridge. Like the Harmony Society before it, American Bridge did not disappear over night. The oil embargo of the 1970’s and the importation of foreign steel gradually eroded the profitability of the Ambridge plant. This devastating blow to the economy of Ambridge is still viewed with mixed feelings. Like many other towns along the rivers of Western Pennsylvania, Ambridge is building a new identity and diversifying its economic base.

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