Nuclear Suburbs

Cold War Technoscience and the Pittsburgh Renaissance

2021
Author:

Patrick Vitale

Nuclear Suburbs

From submarines to the suburbs—the remaking of Pittsburgh during the Cold War


Using oral histories, Patrick Vitale follows nuclear engineers and scientists throughout and beyond the Pittsburgh region to understand how the politics of technoscience and the Cold War were embedded in daily life. Offering lessons for the present day, Nuclear Suburbs explains how the “renewal” of industrial regions into centers of the tech economy is rooted in violence and injustice.

Forget Silicon Valley, Google buses, and loft living in San Francisco. As Patrick Vitale shows in his deeply researched and compellingly written book, postwar American high-tech begins in gritty Steel City, Pittsburgh. Its workers are not today’s multi-ethnic, collarless class making social media but white men wearing pressed white shirts, living in suburban tract housing, making the Bomb. High-tech becomes something quite different: politically conservative, socially exclusive, and rather sinister.

Trevor J. Barnes, University of British Columbia

During the early Cold War, research facilities became ubiquitous features of suburbs across the United States. Pittsburgh’s eastern and southern suburbs hosted a constellation of such facilities that became the world’s leading center for the development of nuclear reactors for naval vessels and power plants. The segregated communities that surrounded these laboratories housed one of the largest concentrations of nuclear engineers and scientists on earth. In Nuclear Suburbs, Patrick Vitale uncovers how the suburbs shaped the everyday lives of these technology workers.

Using oral histories, Vitale follows nuclear engineers and scientists throughout and beyond the Pittsburgh region to understand how the politics of technoscience and the Cold War were embedded in daily life. At the same time that research facilities moved to Pittsburgh’s suburbs, a coalition of business and political elites began an aggressive effort, called the Pittsburgh Renaissance, to renew the region. For Pittsburgh’s elite, laboratories and researchers became important symbols of the new Pittsburgh and its postindustrial economy. Nuclear Suburbs exposes how this coalition enrolled technology workers as allies in their remaking of the city.

Offering lessons for the present day, Nuclear Suburbs shows how race, class, gender, and the production of urban and suburban space are fundamental to technoscientific networks, and explains how the “renewal” of industrial regions into centers of the tech economy is rooted in violence and injustice.

Nuclear Suburbs

Patrick Vitale is assistant professor of geography in the Department of Political Science, Philosophy, and Geography at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Nuclear Suburbs

Forget Silicon Valley, Google buses, and loft living in San Francisco. As Patrick Vitale shows in his deeply researched and compellingly written book, postwar American high-tech begins in gritty Steel City, Pittsburgh. Its workers are not today’s multi-ethnic, collarless class making social media but white men wearing pressed white shirts, living in suburban tract housing, making the Bomb. High-tech becomes something quite different: politically conservative, socially exclusive, and rather sinister.

Trevor J. Barnes, University of British Columbia

Nuclear Suburbs offers a new and important insight into the complex relationship between the Cold War, suburbanization, and post-industrial capitalism. Patrick Vitale expertly reveals how deeply enmeshed scientists’ lives and work were in the economic and spatial restructuring of cities like Pittsburgh. It provides a powerful, important retort to anyone suggesting that science and knowledge workers are the solution to urban problems.

Lily Geismer, author of Don’t Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the Transformation of the Democratic Party

Nuclear Suburbs

Contents


Abbreviations


Introduction: Engineering the Bubble


Part I. Remaking Postwar Pittsburgh


1. Going Critical: Technoscience, the Cold War, and the Pittsburgh Renaissance


2. Research and Renaissance: Renewing the City for Scientists


Part II. Making Science Suburban


3. The Invention of Research Man


4. The Monroeville Doctrine: How the Suburbs Shaped Cold War Science


Part III. Cold War Community


5. Finding a Home in the Nuclear Suburbs


6. Invisibilities of Nuclear Engineering


7. Warplace/Workplace: Technoscientific Jobs during the Cold War


Epilogue: Did Science Save Pittsburgh?


Acknowledgments


Notes


Index