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Fort Pitt Foundry Known for ‘Monster’ Weapons

July 13, 2008

By Carl Prine, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 13–During the Civil War, the Fort Pitt Foundry and Artillery Proving Grounds, located near today’s Heinz History Center in the Strip District, cast what officers termed a “monster cannon.”

Twenty inches at the mouth, 20 feet in length, weighing nearly 117,000 pounds and able to hurl a half-ton projectile 5 miles, the U.S. Army piece was turned out in 1864. It remains one of the largest cannons ever forged in the United States and required 24 horses to haul it from the foundry.

“It’s all gone now. Even a lot of the original archives are missing. They’re in someone’s attic or someone has them and probably doesn’t know what they are,” said Arthur B. Fox, author of “Pittsburgh During the American Civil War, 1860-1865.”

Founded in 1804 by Scotsman Joseph McClurg at the present-day corner of Fifth Avenue and Smithfield Street, Downtown, the foundry soon moved to a stretch along the Allegheny River in the Strip District. Guns were tested by firing shot into the base of Mt. Washington, and later in East Liberty, Shaler and Tarentum. In 1831 the factory was bequeathed to McClurg’s sons and their new partner, a retired U.S. Army major, before it passed to a series of private investors.

On the eve of the Civil War, the factory was known as Knap, Rudd & Co. Before hostilities ended, the factory would account for 60 percent of the Union’s cannon manufacturing, including most of the guns arming iron-plated Monitor ships and millions of pounds of shells.

At its peak wartime production, the works had nearly 300 men and covered three acres, firing the skies with eight melting furnaces and clacking and whirling noisily with dozens of lathes, four cranes, 33 steam engines and six pairs of steam boilers.

Along with the 1864 Army “monster,” the foundry cast a 20-inch “Beelzebub” gun for the Navy and another pair of behemoths in 1866 nicknamed “Satan” and “Lucifer.” The last in the series of monumental pieces was “Moloch,” forged in 1867 for the Navy, and an unnamed Army giant in 1869.

Most of the foundry’s big cannons became scrap metal. None was fired in combat. In 1878, the foundry was bought by a rival, and the remaining ordnance was either junked or shipped to the nearby Allegheny Arsenal.

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