In 1940, 19,041 people lived in Homestead. During the early 1940s half the population was displaced as the United States Government added on to the steel mills to have the capacity for armor plating for ships and tanks (preparing for WWII). After the end of World War II, a decline in the steel-making industry of the United States took place.
By 1980, it had become well-nigh impossible to obtain employment at the Homestead Works, which was not producing much steel at that time. In 1984, the mill closed and The Homestead Works was demolished, replaced in 1999 by The Waterfront shopping mall. As a direct result of the loss of mill employment, the number of people living in Homestead dwindled. By the time of the 2000 census, the borough population was 3,569. The borough began financially/economically recovering in 2002, with the enlarging retail tax base.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough has a total area of 0.6 square miles (1.6 km²), of which, 0.6 square miles (1.5 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.2 km²) of it (11.11%) is water.
There were 1,607 households out of which 24.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 23.3% were married couples living together, 24.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 47.5% were non-families. 42.5% of all households were made up of individuals and 19.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.16 and the average family size was 2.99.
In the borough the population was spread out with 24.2% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 25.1% from 25 to 44, 23.8% from 45 to 64, and 18.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 80.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 75.1 males.
The median income for a household in the borough was $16,603, and the median income for a family was $28,314. Males had a median income of $25,500 versus $21,559 for females. The per capita income for the borough was $12,690. About 23.0% of families and 26.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.0% of those under age 18 and 16.8% of those age 65 or over.
Homestead gained international notoriety in July 1892 as the site of a violent clash between locked-out steelworkers and hired Pinkerton guards. When Henry Clay Frick, manager for Andrew Carnegie, owner of the local Homestead Steel Works, announced in the spring of 1892 that skilled workers would receive a reduction in wages, the advisory committee of the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers refused to sign a new contract. Carnegie's management locked the workforce out, declaring that the union would no longer be recognized at the steel works.
To break the strike and secure the mill from the disgruntled workers, industrialist Henry Clay Frick hired hundreds of armed toughs from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. When barges carrying the Pinkertons arrived at the mill on the morning of July 6, workers and townspeople met them at the riverbanks. Though eyewitness accounts differed on which side first fired a shot, a day-long armed battle ensued which resulted in eleven deaths and dozens of injuries. The governor of Pennsylvania eventually called out the National Guard to restore order to the town and take control of the mill. Frick successfully destroyed the union in Homestead and, by extension, in most of his other steel mills through the nation. The "Battle of Homestead," as the event came to be known, represented a stunning setback for unionization in the highly-mechanized steel industry.
Homestead also played a role in the steel strike of 1919.
Much of Homestead and some of the surrounding communities are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Homestead Historic District. Many buildings: churches, commercial buildings, and homes date to the late 1800s or early 1900s and are of architectural and historic interest. Unfortunately, since the closing of the steel mills in the 1980s, the population and business district of Homestead have seriously declined, causing many older buildings to be abandoned. The final nail in the coffin of the formerly thriving business district, mainly along 8th Avenue, was the opening of many big box chain stores and restaurants in the new (1990s) Waterfront development.
The Carnegie Library of Homestead was opened to the public in 1898. This historic building, located at McClure and E.11th Avenue in the neighboring borough of Munhall, now houses, in addition to a public library, a music hall and athletic club open to the public. The impressive stone architecture of the building is set off by the surrounding park. The library is one of only three that Andrew Carnegie provided with an endowment. Some claim it was a peace offering to the community following the events of the steel strike in 1892, and that as such it was rejected by Homestead, which is why it's in Munhall instead. In fact, the plans were already in the works for the building of the library before the strike and the Borough of Munhall had not been incorporated when the Library was built.
Also not technically in Homestead proper, but located just west of the borough, is the popular waterpark, Sandcastle, with waterslides, pools and waterside nightclub adjacent to the Monongahela River. Sandcastle's sister location for summertime fun is Kennywood Park, located in West Mifflin, about 4 miles east of Homestead. This historic amusement park has been a family destination for generations of Pittsburghers. It is home to some of the best known and loved wooden roller coaster rides.
In 2000, Continental Realestate Companies opened The Waterfront. This large "LifeStyle" shopping center was built on the former site of the Carnegie Steel Works. Most of the structures associated with the steel mills on this site were demolished during construction. Still standing in the Waterfront development are some of the brick stacks from the Homestead Steel Works. In addition, near the river is a former mill structure known as the Pump House which was restored by the developer.
Homestead is served by three railroads: the Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation and the Union Railroad. All three used to have large operations when the Homestead steel mill was open. Now that the mill has closed only one company, WMELCo, is served by the railroad. The Union Railroad had a large yard to serve the plant, which is now Waterfront Drive.