The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh
(page 6 of 11)
By richard cook
images courtesy MSA
John Ryan and George Deike, engineers for the U.S. Bureau of Mines, founded Mine Safety Appliances Company in 1914. Both had spent three years responding to one coal-mining disaster after another, saving some lives but unable to prevent the methane gas explosions that took so many others.
Among their first products was a flameless electric miners’ cap invented by Thomas Edison. A quarter-century later, the invention was credited with reducing the number of mine explosions by 75 percent. A century later, MSA’s product line includes self-contained breathing apparatuses for firefighters, hard hats for the construction industry, gas and flame detection equipment for the oil and natural-gas industries and a variety of other safety-related products for workers.
The company, headquartered in Cranberry Township, employs approximately 4,600 people worldwide and reported revenues of $1.1 billion in 2015.
Safety in hazardous occupations has grown far beyond the days of helpful reminders and checking the well-being of canaries (that’s MSA co-founder John Ryan holding the caged bird above). MSA has been developing products to improve worker safety for more than a century — including what is believed to be the first SCUBA device (photo at top of page).
- From a Downtown office occupying 800 square feet, MSA created its first products between 1914 and 1924. They included a flameless electric miners’ cap, first-aid packets, sterile compress bandages, battle-ready gas masks and carbon monoxide detectors.
- A strike by streetcar motormen in May 1924 resulted in a traffic jam inside the newly opened Liberty Tunnel. As the twin tubes filled with carbon monoxide, dozens of commuters were overcome. MSA employees provided first-aid treatments for the victims.
- That incident wouldn’t be the last time MSA stepped in during a Pittsburgh crisis. On March 17, 1936, MSA co-founder John Ryan directed rescue operations during the infamous St. Patrick’s Day Flood. The company provided emergency equipment to the Red Cross, municipal authorities and others.
- In 1950, MSA opened the John T. Ryan Memorial Laboratory, at the time the largest facility devoted exclusively to research and development of personal safety equipment and plant safety.
- The passage of the Occupational Safety and Health act in 1970 provided a boost to MSA products. Then-President Richard Nixon signed the act into law, mandating that companies provide safety equipment for employees. Demand for MSA products greatly increased.
- MSA sent $3 million worth of safety equipment to recovery efforts at Ground Zero in New York and the Pentagon following the 9/11 attacks.
“Mine Safety Appliances is truly a company built on innovation — starting with its relationship with Thomas Edison, which led to transformative safety breakthroughs in the mining industry. It has been very entrepreneurial even as it has grown into a significant global player ... Early on, its growing reputation in the mining industry allowed MSA to become a global player known for safety products. Today, it has grown from a product focus to a broader technology-solutions provider focused on safety. In my opinion as a marketer, it is very well known in certain vertical markets, though as a corporate brand, it is less well known to media and the public at large ... It is also interesting that the more common reference [to the company] is MSA, an acronym that many people don’t know what words it represents — not unlike PPG, PNC or GNC. However, most of those corporate brands are strongly associated with the industries they operate in ... We think the company has wonderful people in it and smart leadership — with nothing but significant growth potential in front of it. We like the fact that MSA is part of the Pittsburgh success story — and an integral part of our history.”
— Scott Morgan, partner-president, Brunner Advertising