Donora Zinc Works Sign


Our town of Donora was founded because of the creation of the Donora Steel Mill in 1901 and then the Donora Zinc Works in 1915.

In December of 2023, we were contacted by a guy, Jonathan “Jed” Miller from Meadville, Pennsylvania about our interest in a Donora Zinc Works sign that he had. Our response was, “Um, what? Please tell us more.”

Jed told us that he had a sign that read “DONORA ZINC WORKS” and he heard that we have a museum and wondered if he could donate it to us. Jed told us the sign was five feet long, weighed 45 pounds and was made of cast iron. Since he had it in Meadville, 120 miles from Donora, we wondered how it ended up there.


The story of the sign started with Dr. Robert J. Ralston, a dentist from Butler, Pennsylvania. whose father-in-law owned nearly an entire block of buildings in Meadville. Dr. Ralston was “managing” the rentals and repairs for these buildings when Jonathan “Jed” Miller met with him in 1982 to fix up the buildings. This started a 10-year project for Jed. Dr. Ralston was the kind of person who never threw away anything, so “his” buildings became a large depository for all of the stuff he kept. Among all of the things that ended up there was the Donora Zinc Works sign, 120 miles from Donora. Eventually Ralston decided to sell off the buildings and Jed was designated to clear them out. The sign ended up in Jed’s large barn, where it remained for over thirty years until he showed it to Mark Perrott, a noted Pittsburgh photographer. Perrott was aware of Andy McPhee’s book, “Donora Death Fog”, about the Donora’s smog disaster of 1948. (See our Facebook post from 11/24/23 that features McPhee’s book). Jed contacted McPhee about the sign and McPhee contacted us. After a phone call with Jed, he agreed to meet up with us at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh to deliver the sign from Meadville which we did in early January.

Since the Donora Zinc Works was constructed in 1915 and closed and dismantled in 1957, we assumed the sign was over 100 years old and had left Donora over 65 years ago. We are unsure exactly where it hung at the Zinc Works. Getting anything related to the steel or zinc mills is extremely rare for us, so this is a great addition.

When we brought it back to Donora on Route 837 onto Meldon Avenue earlier in the month and drove it past the site of the Donora Zinc Works, we knew the sign was where it was meant to be – at home in Donora. Thank you, Jed, for preserving the sign and making the effort to get it back to where it belonged.