Thursday, October 2, 2008

Happy 250th Birthday Pittsburgh!

Pittsburgh's 250th birthday celebration kicks off this Saturday, October 4th and will be continued for the next two months. There will be all sorts of activities at Point State Park and on Pittsburgh's North Shore, including a Flotilla Cruise on the rivers, the Fort Pitt Museum Historical Experience, live music, fireworks, and much more. You can find all the details at theImagine Pittsburgh 250 website.


Birthdays are a great time to remember beginnings and so I will share with you the story of the birth of a great city and it's name. In November of 1758 the British attacked the French Fort Duquesne, which the French burned before they abandoned it. It was in this vicinity that the British constructed Fort Pitt, named for William Pitt, the British prime minister. The surrounding settlement was referred to as Pittsborough. I also found references which say it was referred to as Pittsbourgh. At any rate, the current spelling of Pittsburgh is found on a survey map made for the Penn family in 1769. This spelling was used in the official charter of the city in 1816, although printing errors on official copies have the name listed as Pittsburg - sans h. In 1891 the United States Board on Geographic Names was standardizing place names and the spelling of Pittsburg was used for the next twenty years. Stubborn Pittsburghers refused to make the change and the h was restored in 1911.

As an aside, on my recent trip to Central PA, I was noticing many towns with the -burg suffix and wondered of the origin. -borough is the English variant, -burgh is the Scottish, and -burg is German.

Fort Pitt was situated at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, forming the Ohio River. These are the three rivers of Pittsburgh and one of the reasons control of this area was important to the French and British.

In 1762 a coal seam was discovered. Many communities sprang up around coal mines in the Pittsburgh area. The age of industry began in earnest around 1812 with iron, rope and boat manufacturing. Pittsburgh's iron factories supplied the Union army during the Civil War with warships, armor plate, and other materials. After the war, glass factories flourished. In 1873, Andrew Carnegie opened his first steel mill and in 1888, ALCOA began producing a new metal - aluminum. In the 1980's, Pittsburgh had to redefine itself with the loss of the steel industry. Health care and high technology replaced the old steel industry. Today, Pittsburgh is still surviving and going strong. So help celebrate the past 250 years.

The John Heinz History Center is a great place to learn about the history, ethnicity and industry of Pittsburgh.

To conclude this birthday post on Pittsburgh, here are some famous firsts which occurred in Pittsburgh. These are from About.com.
  • First Heart, Liver, Kidney Transplant - December 3, 1989
    The first simultaneous heart, liver and kidney transplant was done at Presbyterian-University Hospital.
  • The First Internet Emoticon - 1982
    The Smiley :-) was the first Internet emoticon, created by Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Scott Fahlman.
  • First Robotics Institute - 1979
    The Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University was established to conduct basic and applied research in robotics technologies relevant to industrial and societal tasks.
  • First Mr Yuk Sticker - 1971
    Mr Yuk was created at the Poison Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh after research indicated that the skull and crossbones previously used to identify poisons had little meaning to children who equate the symbol with exciting things like pirates and adventure.
  • First Night World Series Game - 1971
    Game 4 of the 1971 World Series was the first night game in World Series history, a series that Pittsburgh went on to win, 4 games to 3.
  • First Big Mac - 1967
    Created by Jim Delligatti at his Uniontown McDonald's, the Big Mac debuted and was test marketed in three other Pittsburgh-area McDonald's restaurants in 1967. By 1968 it was a mainstay on McDonald's menus throughout the country.
  • First Pull-Tab on Cans - 1962
    The pull-tab was developed by Alcoa and was first used by Iron City Brewery in 1962. For many years, pull-tabs were only used in this area.
  • First Retractable Dome - September 1961
    Pittsburgh's Civic Arena boasts the world's first auditorium with a retractable roof.
  • First U.S. Public Television Station - April 1, 1954
    WQED, operated by the Metropolitan Pittsburgh Educational Station, was the first community-sponsored educational television station in America.
  • First Polio Vaccine - March 26, 1953
    The polio vaccine was developed by Dr. Jonas E. Salk, a 38-year-old University of Pittsburgh researcher and professor.
  • First All-Aluminum Building - ALCOA - August 1953
    The first aluminum-faced skyscraper was the Alcoa Building, a 30-story, 410 foot structure with thin stamped aluminum panels forming the exterior walls.
  • First Zippo Lighter - 1932
    George G. Blaisdell invented the Zippo lighter in 1932 in Bradford, Pennsylvania. The name Zippo was chosen by Blaisdell because he liked the sound of the word "zipper" - which was patented around the same time in nearby Meadville, PA.
  • First Bingo Game - early 1920's
    Hugh J. Ward first came up with the concept of bingo in Pittsburgh and began running the game at carnivals in the early 1920s, taking it nationwide in 1924. He secured a copyright on the game and wrote a book of Bingo rules in 1933.
  • First U.S. Commercial Radio Station - November 2, 1920
    Dr. Frank Conrad, assistant chief engineer of Westinghouse Electric, first constructed a transmitter and installed it in a garage near his home in Wilkinsburg in 1916. The station was licensed as 8KX. At 6 p.m. on Nov. 2, 1920, 8KX became KDKA Radio and began broadcasting at 100 watts from a make-shift shack atop one of the Westinghouse manufacturing buildings in East Pittsburgh.
  • Daylight Savings Time - March 18, 1919
    A Pittsburgh city councilman during the first World War, Robert Garland devised the nation's first daylight savings plan, instituted in 1918.
  • The First Gas Station - December, 1913
    In 1913 the first automobile service station, built by Gulf Refining Company, opened in Pittsburgh at Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street in East Liberty. Designed by J. H. Giesey.
  • The First Baseball Stadium in the U.S. - 1909
    In 1909 the first baseball stadium, Forbes Field, was built in Pittsburgh, followed soon by similar stadiums in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, and New York.
  • First Motion Picture Theatre - 1905
    The first theater in the world devoted to the exhibition of motion pictures was the "Nickelodeon," opened by Harry Davis on Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh.
  • First Banana Split - 1904
    Invented by Dr. David Strickler, a pharmacist, at Strickler's Drug Store in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
  • The First World Series - 1903
    The Boston Pilgrims defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three in baseball's first modern World Series in 1903.
  • First Ferris Wheel - 1892/1893
    Invented by Pittsburgh native and civil engineer, George Washington Gale Ferris (1859-1896), the first Ferris Wheel was in operation at the World's Fair in Chicago. It was over 264 feet high and was capable of carrying more than 2,000 passengers at a time.
  • Long-Distance Electricity - 1885
    Westinghouse Electric developed alternating current, allowing long-distance transmission of electricity for the first time.
  • First Air Brake - 1869
    The first practical air brake for railroads was invented by George Westinghouse in the 1860s and patented in 1869.



4 comments:

Alyson said...

Very cool! I've heard that Pittsburgh has really made a turn around in the last several years and is really becoming a cool city.

Happy birthday, Pittsburgh!

Bee said...

To my shame, I've never been to Pennsylvania -- and thus Pittsburgh. If you had to choose one Pittsburgh spot/landmark/restaurant, what would you choose?

Sarah Laurence said...

Happy Birthday to Pittsburgh with it’s H! Interesting word derivations. Funny about the emoticon. Pittsburgh has a lot firsts, and I hear a really good art museum too. I’ve been to Philadelphia several times and Amish country, but not to Pittsburgh. I can see why you like it there.

Cindy said...

Alyson ~ Pittsburgh still loses a lot of it's young people and I will never really think of it as a city but more of a town or rather, many neighborhoods, but they are doing some things to improve the cities fun image. And of course there are the new stadiums and soon to be new arena.

Bee ~ There's always time to change that and make a visit :)
If I could just choose one, hmmmm, it may have to be that art museum that Sarah alludes to. In fact, I'll just say the Carnegie which encompasses the art museum, the natural history museum, and the library (all in a series of connected buildings). I first visited the museums while going to school at nearby U. of Pgh. and have spent many hours doing genealogy research in their library.

Sarah ~ although I am not a native Pittsburgher, after spending my college years between here and the D.C. area and now living here for the past 12 years it does seem like home.