History of Pittsburgh since 1800
The site of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States, is at the confluence of the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River, forming the Ohio River. The history of Pittsburgh began with a struggle between Native Americans, the French and the British over the control of this strategic juncture. See * Pittsburgh, History to 1800
By 1815, Pittsburgh was producing significant quantities of iron, brass, tin and glass products. By the 1840s, Pittsburgh had grown to one of the largest cities west of the Allegheny Mountains. A great fire burned more than a thousand buildings in 1845, but the city rebuilt. By 1857, Pittsburgh had nearly 1,000 factories. The American Civil War boosted the city's economy still further, with increased production of iron and armaments. Production of steel began in 1875. By 1911, Pittsburgh was producing as much as half of the nation's steel. In the early 20th century, the city's population topped half a million, including many European immigrants. During World War II, Pittsburgh contributed more than 95 million tons of steel to the allied war effort.
Following World War II, the city launched a clean air and civic revitalization project known as the "Renaissance." The industrial base continued to expand through the 1960s. In the 1980s, however, the steel industry imploded, with massive layoffs and mill closures. Pittsburgh shifted its economic base to higher education, services, tourism, medicine and high technology. During this transition, the city population shrank to 330,000.
The Iron City (1800–1859)
Commerce continued to be an essential part of the economy of early Pittsburgh, but increasingly, manufacture began to grow in importance. Pittsburgh sat in the middle of one of the most productive coalfields in the country; the region was also rich in petroleum, natural gas, lumber and farm goods. Also, the early settlers were accustomed to manufacturing everything they needed. Blacksmiths forged iron implements, from horse shoes to nails. By 1800, the town, with a population of 1,565 persons, had over 60 shops, including general stores, bakeries, and hat and shoe shops.
The 1810s were a critical decade in Pittsburgh's growth. In 1811, the first steamboat was built in Pittsburgh. Increasingly, commerce would also flow upriver. The War of 1812 was catalytic in the growth of the Iron City. The war with Britain, the manufacturing center of the world, cut off the supply of British goods, stimulating American manufacture. Also, the British blockade of the American coast increased inland trade, so that goods flowed through Pittsburgh from all four directions. By 1815, Pittsburgh was producing $764K in iron; $249K in brass and tin, and $235K in glass products. When, on March 18, 1816, Pittsburgh was incorporated as a city, it had already taken on some of its defining characteristics: commerce, manufacture, and a constant cloud of coal dust. With a population of 6,000, Pittsburgh was already Pittsburgh.
Other emerging towns challenged Pittsburgh. In 1818, the first segment of the National Road was completed, from Baltimore to Wheeling, bypassing Pittsburgh. This threatened to render the town less essential in east-west commerce. In the coming decade, however, many improvements were made to the transportation infrastructure. In 1818, the region's first river bridge, the Smithfield Street Bridge, opened, the first step in building the city of bridges. In 1820, the original Pennsylvania Turnpike was completed, connecting Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. In 1829, the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal began operations. Now Pittsburgh was part of a transportation system that included rivers, roads and canals.
Manufacture continued to grow. In 1835, McClurg, Wade and Co. built the first locomotive west of the Alleghenies. Already, Pittsburgh was capable of manufacturing the most essential machines of its age. By the 1840s, Pittsburgh was not a town, but one of the largest cities west of the mountains. In 1841, the Second Court House, on Grant's Hill, was completed. Made from polished gray sandstone, the court house had a rotunda 60 feet in diameter and 80 feet high.
Like many burgeoning cities of its day, Pittsburgh's growth outstripped some of its necessary infrastructure, such as a water supply with dependable pressure. Because of this, on April 10 1845, a great fire burned out of control, destroying over a thousand buildings and causing $9M in damages. As the city rebuilt, the age of rails arrived. In 1851, the Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad began service between Cleveland and Allegheny City (present-day North Side). In 1854, the Pennsylvania Railroad began service between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.
Despite many challenges, Pittsburgh had grown into an industrial powerhouse. An 1857 article provided a snapshot of the Iron City:
- 939 factories in Pittsburgh and Allegheny City
- employing more than 10 K workers
- producing almost $12M in goods
- using 400 steam engines
- Total coal consumed - 22M bushels
- Total iron consumed - 127 K tons
- In steam tonnage, third busiest port in the nation, surpassed only by New York City and New Orleans.
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The Steel City (1859–1946)
During the mid-1800s, Pittsburgh witnessed a dramatic influx of German immigrants, including a brick mason whose son, Henry J. Heinz, founded the H.J. Heinz Company in 1872. Heinz was at the forefront of reform efforts to improve food purity, working conditions, hours and wages.
The iron industry in Pittsburgh was thriving. In 1859, the Clinton and Soho iron furnaces introduced coke-fire smelting to the region. The American Civil War boosted the city's economy with increased production of iron and armaments, especially at the Allegheny Arsenal and the Fort Pitt Foundry. Arms manufacture included iron-clad warships and the world's first 21" gun. By war's end, over one-half of the steel and more than one-third of all U.S. glass was produced in Pittsburgh. A milestone in steel production was achieved in 1875, when the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock began to make steel rail using the new Bessemer process.
Industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew W. Mellon, and Charles M. Schwab built their fortunes here. George Westinghouse, credited with such advancements as the air brake and alternating current, founded over 60 companies in Pittsburgh, including Westinghouse Air and Brake Company (1869), Union Switch & Signal (1883), and Westinghouse Electric Company (1886). Banks played a key role in Pittsburgh's development as these industrialists sought massive loans to upgrade plants, integrate industries and fund technological advances. For example, T. Mellon & Sons Bank, founded in 1869, helped finance an aluminum reduction company that became Alcoa.
As a manufacturing center, Pittsburgh also became an arena for intense labor strife. During the great railroad strike of 1877, Pittsburgh erupted into widespread rioting. Dozens died and over 40 buildings were burned down, including the Union Depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Fifteen years later, in 1892, another tragic episode in labor relations resulted in 10 deaths when Carnegie Steel Company's manager Henry Clay Frick sent in Pinkertons to break the Homestead Strike.
Andrew Carnegie, a former Pennsylvania Railroad executive turned steel magnate, founded the Carnegie Steel Company. He proceeded to play a key role in the development of the U.S. steel industry. In 1890, he established the first Carnegie Library, and in 1895, the Carnegie Institute. In 1901, as the U.S. Steel Corporation formed, he sold his mills to J.P. Morgan for $250 million, making him one of the world's richest men. Carnegie once wrote that a man who dies rich, dies disgraced. He devoted the rest of his life to public service, establishing libraries, trusts and foundations. In Pittsburgh, he founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.
In civic developments, in 1886, the third (and present) Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail was completed. In 1890, trolleys began operations. In 1907, the city had a major flood. Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny City.
By 1911, Pittsburgh had grown into an industrial and commercial powerhouse:
- Nexus of a vast railway system, with freight yards capable of handling 60 K cars
- 27.2 miles of harbor
- Yearly river traffic in excess of 9M tons
- Value of factory products more than $211M (with Allegheny City)
- Allegheny county produced, as percentage of national output, about:
- 24% of the pig-iron
- 34% of the Bessemer steel
- 44% of the open-hearth steel
- 53% of the crucible steel
- 24% of the steel rails
- 59% of the structural shapes
To escape the soot of the city, many of the wealthy lived in the Shadyside and East End neighborhoods, a few miles east of downtown. Fifth Avenue was dubbed "Millionaire's Row" because of the many mansions lining the street. Oakland became the city's predominant cultural and educational center, including four universities, multiple museums, a library, a music hall and a botanical conservatory. Oakland's University of Pittsburgh erected the world's second-tallest educational building, the 42-story Cathedral of Learning. It towered over Forbes Field, where the Pittsburgh Pirates played from 1909–1970.
Between 1870 and 1920, the population of Pittsburgh grew almost sevenfold. Many of the new residents were immigrants who sought employment in the factories and mills and introduced new traditions, languages and cultures to the city. Ethnic neighborhoods emerged on densely populated hillsides and valleys, such as Polish Hill, Bloomfield and Squirrel Hill, home to 28% of the city's almost 21,000 Jewish households. The Strip District, the city's produce distribution center, still boasts many restaurants and clubs that showcase these multicultural traditions of Pittsburghers.
The years 1916–1930 marked the largest migration of African-Americans to Pittsburgh. Known as the cultural nucleus of Black Pittsburgh, Wylie Avenue in the Hill District was an important jazz mecca. Jazz greats such as Duke Ellington and Pittsburgh natives Billy Strayhorn and Earl Hines played here. Two of the Negro League's greatest rivals, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays, often competed in the Hill District. The teams dominated the Negro National League in the 1930s and 1940s.
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Renaissance I (1946–1973)
Rich and productive, Pittsburgh was also the "Smoky City," with smog sometimes so thick that streetlights burned during the day. Civic leaders, notably Mayor David L. Lawrence, elected in 1945, and Richard K. Mellon, chairman of Mellon Bank, began smoke control and urban revitalization projects that transformed the city. Renaissance I began in 1946. By 1950, the first building project, the Gateway Center, was under construction. 1953 saw the opening of the (since demolished) Greater Pittsburgh Municipal Airport. Ninety-five acres of the lower Hill District were cleared, displacing 1,200 residents, most of them African-American, in order to make room for the Civic Arena, which opened in 1961.
The city's industrial base continued to grow. Jones and Laughlin Steel Company expanded its plant on the Southside. H.J. Heinz, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, Alcoa, Westinghouse, U.S. Steel and its new division, the Pittsburgh Chemical Company and many other companies also continued robust operations through the 1960s. 1970 marked the completion of the final building projects of Renaissance I, the U.S. Steel Tower and Three Rivers Stadium. In 1974, with the addition of the fountain at the tip of the Golden Triangle, Point State Park was completed. The city was revitalized. Air quality was dramatically improved. Pittsburgh's manufacturing base seemed solid. Pittsburgh, however, was about to undergo one of its most dramatic transformations.
During the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. steel industry came under increasing pressure from foreign competition. Manufacture in Germany and Japan was booming. Foreign mills and factories, built with the latest technology, benefited from lower labor costs and powerful government-corporate partnerships, allowing them to capture increasing market shares of steel and steel products. Separately, demand for steel softened due to recessions, the 1973 oil crisis, and increasing use of other materials. At this critical juncture, free market and anti-union policies, and deregulation, especially under President Reagan, came into play. These pressures only added to the U.S. steel industry's own internal problems, which included a now-outdated manufacturing base that had been over-expanded in the 1950s and 1960s, hostile management and labor relationships, the inflexibility of United Steelworkers regarding wage cuts and work-rule reforms, oligarchic management styles, and poor strategic planning by both union and management. In particular, Pittsburgh faced its own challenges. Local coke and ore deposits were depleted, raising material costs. The large mills in the Pittsburgh region also faced competition from newer, more profitable "mini-mills" and non-union mills with lower labor costs
Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the steel industry in Pittsburgh began to implode. Following the 1981–1982 recession, for example, the mills laid off 153,000 workers. The steel mills began to shut down. These closures caused a ripple effect, as railroads, mines, and other factories across the region lost business and closed. The local economy suffered a depression, marked by high unemployment and underemployment, as laid-off workers took lower-paying, non-union jobs. Pittsburgh suffered as elsewhere in the Rust Belt with a declining population, and like many other U.S. cities, it also saw white flight to the suburbs.
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Today there are no steel mills in Pittsburgh, although manufacture continues at regional mills, such as the Edgar Thomson Works in near-by Braddock. Beginning in the 1980s, Pittsburgh's economy shifted from heavy industry to services, medicine, higher education, tourism, banking, corporate headquarters and high technology. Today, the top two private employers in the city are the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (26,000 employees) and the University of Pittsburgh (10,700 employees).
Despite the economic turmoil, civic improvements continued. In 1985, the J & L Steel Southside site was cleared and a High Technology Center was built. In the 1980s, the Renaissance II urban revitalization created numerous new structures, such as PPG Place. In the 1990s, the former sites of the Homestead, Duquesne and South Side US Steel mills were cleared. In 1992, the new terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport opened. In 2001, Heinz Field and PNC Park opened.
Following these transformations, present-day Pittsburgh, with clean air, a diversified economy, a low cost of living, and a rich infrastructure for education and culture, has been ranked as one of the World's Most Livable Cities.
- Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
- List of Pittsburgh neighborhoods
- List of major corporations in Pittsburgh
- University of Pittsburgh
- "A History of the Point," Fort Pitt Museum
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- Historic Pittsburgh. Provides historic materials from the University of Pittsburgh's University Library System, the Library & Archives of the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania at the Senator John Heinz Pittsburgh Regional History Center, and the Carnegie Museum of Art.
- Pittsburgh History maintained by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh
- Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
- The History of Pittsburgh's Skyline