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From an outpost at the frontier to the “hell with the lid taken off” to a bustling and modern metropolis



The History of Pittsburgh


  • About 19,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians lived in what is now Pittsburgh.  Evidence can still be seen at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter archaeological site west of Pittsburgh.
  • 1669 Area claimed for the French Empire by René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle.
  • 1681 King Charles claims the forks for Pennsylvania.
  • Approx. 1700: The Iroquois Confederacy was using the area as hunting grounds.
  • 1710s: first Europeans arrived.
  • 1717: English traders settle; border dispute between Virginia and Pennsylvania.
  • 1748: First systematic settlements by Europeans.
  • 1749: Celeron de Bienville claims region for France.
  • February 17, 1754: Captain William Trent starts building Fort Prince George at what is now downtown Pittsburgh.
  • April 1754: French troops push British troops out of half built fort, demolish it and rebuild it as Fort Duquesne.
  • May 28, 1754: Colonel Joshua Fry with his second-in-command, George Washington, led an expedition towards Fort Duquesne.  Outside Pittsburgh, Washington's unit clashed with the French in the Battle of Jumonville Glen, starting the French and Indian War.  George Washington surrendered after the Battle of Fort Necessity.
  • 1755: George Washington and British General Braddock lead an expedition against Fort Duquesne, but are defeated in the Battle of the Monongahela.
  • 1758: General John Forbes begins campaign to capture Fort Duquesne.  At the battle of Fort Duquesne, Major James Grant and his advance group was massacred at Grant’s Hill.  The hill was removed in 1912, but Grant Street in Pittsburgh is still where the hill was.  Forbes attacked the partially abandoned fort.  The French burned the fort and fled.
  • November 25, 1758: General Forbes occupies the fort and orders the construction of Fort Pitt, named after British Secretary of State William Pitt the Elder.  Forbes later names the settlement "Pittsborough".  Fort Pitt was never attacked by the French afterwards.

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Drawing of "Pittsburgh - hell with the lid taken off."
  • 1869: Westinghouse Air Brake Company founded.
  • 1870: Monongahela Incline starts operating.
  • 1872: H.J. Heinz Company founded by Henry J. Heinz, the son of a German immigrant.
  • August 22, 1875: Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock produces the first batch of liquid steel using the new Bessemer process. 
  • 1877: Pittsburgh most affected by Great Railroad Strike of 1877 which leads to Pittsburgh Railway Riots that are suppressed by militia and federal troops - more than 100 train engines and 1000 railcars destroyed.
  • 1881: Homestead Steel Works built.  Later, it will become the largest steel producer in the US.  1883 purchased by Andrew Carnegie and integrated into Carnegie Steel Company.  1901 sold to U.S. Steel.
  • 1885: Kaufmann's department store started business.
  • 1888: Pittsburg Reduction Co. (now: Alcoa) starts operating.
  • 1891: Spelling is changed to "Pittsburg" in an attempt to standardize place names by the United States Board on Geographic Names.  This name change was met with great resistance in the city.
  • 1892: Homestead Strike: Henry Clay Frick, with Andrew Carnegie’s support, breaks labor unions’ stronghold of the steel plant with the help of more than 4,000 Pennsylvania state militia. 
  • Steel Pittsburgh on the map as the “Steel City”, which will employ more than 90,000 workers at its peak.
  • 1890: Andrew Carnegie establishes the first Carnegie Library.
  • 1890: Pittsburgh’s trolleys begin operations.
  • 1895, Andrew Carnegie founds the Carnegie Institute which today operates four Carnegie museums in Pittsburgh.
  • 1900: Andrew Carnegie establishes the Carnegie Technical Schools which became the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1912 and in 1968 Carnegie Mellon University.
  • 1905: The first Nickelodeon (movie theater) opens.
  • 1907: Pittsburgh annexes Allegheny City, now known as the North Shore.
  • 1911: The US Geographic Board reverses the decision from 1891 and corrects the city's spelling to "Pittsburgh".
  • 1911: Pittsburgh generates 59% of structural steel shapes, 53% of all crucible steel, 44% of all “open hearth” steel, 34% of all Bessemer steel, 24% of all steel rails and 24% of all crude iron produced in the US.
  • Prohibition era 1920-1933: Pittsburgh is a hotbed of bootlegging and illicit alcohol consumption, controlled by the Pittsburgh Mafia (LaRocca crime family).  Federal agents conduct 15,000 raids, arrest more than18,000 people and close down more than 3,000 distilleries.  The term "Speakeasy" (=illegal drinking establishment) is coined in Pittsburgh.
  • Pollution is so bad that many wealthy lived in the Shadyside and East End neighborhoods.  Fifth Avenue is called "Millionaire's Row" because it is lined with mansions.  Oakland becomes the city's predominant cultural and educational center.
  • 1920: KDKA radio begins broadcasting.
  • 1924: Liberty Tunnel and 40th Street Bridge open.
  • 1926: Cathedral of Learning built.
  • 1933: Pittsburgh Pirates football team (as of 1940: Pittsburgh Steelers) formed.
  • 1933: Primanti Brothers is established in the Strip District.
  • March 17 and 18, 1936: Pittsburgh suffers the worst flood in its history.  Flood levels peak at 46ft and kill 69 people.
  • 1940s: Pittsburgh is at the center of Roosevelt’s "Arsenal of Democracy" and provides large amounts of steel, aluminum and ammunitions during World War II.  Labor shortage caused by the increased production output results in large numbers of African Americans moving from the South to Pittsburgh for work during the Second Great Migration.
  • 1946: With smog so thick that streetlights had to be burned during the day and rivers being more like open sewers, Pittsburgh mayor David L. Lawrence started "Renaissance I" with Title One of the Housing Act of 1949.  Buildings near the Point were demolished and Gateway Center was built. The Greater Pittsburgh Municipal Airport was built in 1953.  The lower Hill District was leveled and the Civic Arena was built in 1961.  Much of the East Liberty neighborhood was leveled and redesigned which lead to a failure of epic proportions that would doom East Liberty for generations to come.  1970: “Renaissance I” completed with the construction of the U.S. Steel Tower and the Three Rivers Stadium.
  • 1950: The population of Pittsburgh is now at 677,000.
  • 1958: The Gateway Clipper Fleet begins operating.
  • 1959: Fort Pitt Bridge opens.
  • 1959: Three Rivers Arts Festival begins.
  • 1960: Fort Pitt Tunnel opens.
  • 1974: The fountain at the tip of the Golden Triangle’s Point State Park was completed.
  • 1970s and 1980s: The US steel production is in huge crisis.  Foreign steel is cheaper and iron ore and coal deposits are depleted.  In and after the 1981–1982 recession, steel mills shut down and lay off 153,000 workers.  This impacted other sectors and Pittsburgh suffered a depression and high unemployment.
  • 1980s: Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr. and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation acquired historic landmarks and develops them for mixed use.  Good examples are Station Square and the Gateway Clipper docks.
  • 1980s: Dorothy Mae Richardson’s Neighborhood Housing Services became the model for the nationwide NeighborWorks America.
  • 1980s: "Renaissance II" creates Pittsburgh landmark buildings such as PPG Place.
  • 1991: Homestead Works is demolished.
  • Pittsburgh's economy shifts to services, medical services, higher education, banking, and high tech. 
  • 1992: Pittsburgh International Airport opens.
  • 2001: The iconic, but aging Three Rivers Stadium is replaced by Heinz Field and PNC Park.
  • 2001: Final episode of, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which is produced in Pittsburgh, airs.
  • 2010: PPG Paints Arena replaces the aging Civic Arena.
  • 2010: The population of Pittsburgh is now 307,000.
  • Today, there are approx. 1,600 high tech companies have headquarters or subsidiaries in Pittsburgh, including: Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM Watson, and Intel.

Pin these for later:

Pittsburgh Travel Guide showing the Roberto Clemente Statue which stands in front of PNC Park
Pittsburgh Travel Guide showing the Roberto Clemente Bridge over the Allegheny River
Pittsburgh Travel Guide showing a Covered Bridge in McConell's Mill State Park
Pittsburgh Travel Guide showing the "hell with the lid taken off", which means the Momongahela with ships and factories polluting the air.


June 22, 1763: The Odawa leader Pontiac’s forces attacks Fort Pitt in what is now known as Pontiac's War.  Captain Simeon Ecuyer, who was in command of the garrison, was warned ahead of time and prepared by destroying the houses outside the fort and giving shelter to all settlers inside the fort.  After two months, Colonel Bouquet’s relief army arrived and defeated Pontiac’s forces in the Battle of Bushy Run.

  • 1764: Colonel Bouquet adds the Fort Pitt Blockhouse, which is the oldest still standing building in Pittsburgh.
  • 1768: In the Fort Stanwix Treaty, the Iroquois cede the lands south of the Ohio to the British.
  • 1780: Virginia and Pennsylvania agree on their mutual borders by extending the Mason-Dixon Line west.  Pittsburgh is now part of Pennsylvania.
  • 1784: In the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois cede the land north of the Ohio to Pennsylvania.
  • Pittsburgh kept growing.  Boat building for explorers and traders was one of the early industries.
  • 1787: Pittsburgh Academy founded, which will become the University of Western Pennsylvania in 1819 and then in 1908 the University of Pittsburgh.
  • Another early industry was whiskey.  When the federal government imposed a tax on whiskey, the short lived Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 started, which was put down by militias from several states.
  • 1811: First steamboat built in Pittsburgh; increasing boat traffic up and down the rivers.
  • The Pittsburgh is rich in coal, iron ore, natural gas, and oil.  The War of 1812 accelerated Pittsburgh’s growth as the “Iron City” due to increased demand of iron for the war and the US industry because of the blockade of the British.  Pittsburgh’s pillars of success are: commerce and manufacturing.  Pollution increases and the city is covered by permanent clouds of coal dust.
  • March 18, 1816: Pittsburgh is incorporated as a city.
  • The road layout in the city has remained almost unchanged until today.
  • 1840: Original Pennsylvania Turnpike completed; it connects Pittsburgh with Philadelphia.
  • 1840s: Pittsburgh is one of the largest cities west of Allegheny Mountains.
  • April 10, 1845: The great fire burns out of control and destroys more than 1,000 buildings.
  • 1851: The Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad connects Cleveland and Allegheny City (today: North Side)
  • 1854: The Pennsylvania Railroad begins service between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
  • 1859: Coke-fire smelting introduced to the region with Clinton and Soho iron furnaces.
  • 1860: The population was at 49,000 compared to 1,500 in 1800.
  • 1861-1865: Increased demand for iron due to American Civil War.
  • Pittsburgh gives rise to industrialists like Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon, Charles Schwab and George Westinghouse.
  • 1862: Allegheny Arsenal explosion.
  • 1866: James Parton wrote about Pittsburgh in The Atlantic: “The town lies low, as at the bottom of an excavation, just visible through the mingled smoke and mist, and every object in it is black. Smoke, smoke, smoke, — everywhere smoke!” and “but if any one would enjoy a spectacle as striking as Niagara, he may do so by simply walking up a long hill to Cliff Street in Pittsburg, and looking over into—hell with the lid taken off.”
Outline of Fort Pitt

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