History + Heritage
- return to Things to Do
- History Museums
- Historical Sites
- Historical Markers
- Famous Pittsburghers
- Underground Railroad
- African American History Guide
- African American History Tour
Incorporated in 1816, the City of Pittsburgh is a relative newcomer to the history of southwestern Pennsylvania. Recorded history of the Pittsburgh area actually begins in nearby Washington County more than 16,000 years ago at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter; the oldest site of human habitation in North America. As a result, the greater Pittsburgh area is full of Native American history in addition to U.S. history and historical sites. Located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers and, the head of the Ohio River, Pittsburgh was referred to as the "Gateway to the West" from its early days as a frontier fort. Located along navigable waterways with an abundance of natural resources, (coal, timber, natural gas, iron and limestone), Pittsburgh was destined to become the industrial center for the growing nation.
Because of its strategic location, abundant resources and early settlement, the Pittsburgh area has played an important part in U.S. history from the early days of the French and Indian War, to the Revolutionary War, to the infamous Whiskey Rebellion and secretive Underground Railroad stops. Museums, restored villages like Old Economy Village, historic battlefields with authentic re-enactments like Ft. Ligonier, and 100s of Pennsylvania historical markers help visitors understand the importance of each location. An extensive summary of landmarks and historic sites in Pittsburgh can be found within the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. And, to relive proud moments in the area's broad sports history, look no further than the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum within the Senator John Heinz History Center.
If you only know one thing about Pittsburgh, you probably know it as an industrial hub for coal mining and steel production. The history of steel making in Pittsburgh is one of personal achievement, armed conflict and generosity. With his introduction of the Bessemer steel making process, Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie, completed his rise from obscurity as a cotton factory bobbin boy to become the richest man in the world. Henry Clay Frick, grandson of western Pennsylvania whiskey distillers, made his fortune building and operating beehive coking ovens where coal was turned into coke, a necessary raw material in the steel making process. Soon, the two men came together to form the Carnegie Steel Co, known today as United States Steel Corp. Along the way, the history of America's labor union movement added some dark days during the Homestead Steel Strike and subsequent armed conflict of the Battle of Homestead. While the riverfront steel mills of the Mon Valley are mostly gone now, the generosity of these two men lives on in a legacy of art, culture and education in Pittsburgh. Today, Pittsburgh enjoys public access to the Frick family home, known as Clayton, as well as their art collection housed at the Frick Art & Historical Center. Andrew Carnegie's generous public donations include: The Carnegie Library, the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, and the Carnegie Institute of Technology (known today as Carnegie Mellon University).
Before steel production took the spotlight in Pittsburgh, glass production was the primary industry. The first glasshouses in the area began operation as early as 1797. In 1883, the first commercially successful plate glass factory in the U.S., known as the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. (PPG Industries, today), became operational. By 1920, western Pennsylvania, and nearby Ohio Valley, was supplying 80 percent of the nation's glass. Today, the Senator John Heinz History Center houses, Glass: Shattering Notions, an exhibit documenting Pittsburgh's contribution to glass manufacturing.
Pittsburgh has its share of famous people from Jimmy Stewart and Gene Kelly to Dr. Jonas Salk , Andrew Carnegie, Andy Warhol and H.J. Heinz. While the list of famous Pittsburghers reads like a "Who's Who in America", the real strength of Pittsburgh is in the ethnic diversity of its population. Immigrants from all over the world settled in Pittsburgh to earn a living and raise their family. Today, Pittsburgh area residents are known for their strong work ethic, family values and a hearty embrace of everyday life. Integral to their family life are the traditions and celebrations of their individual ethnic heritage. Pittsburgh visitors and residents alike are invited to share this rich heritage by enjoying the eastern European folk music and dancing of the Duquesne University Tamburitzans, the international art work and décor of the University of Pittsburgh Nationality Rooms and various ethnic restaurants and food fairs.
Pittsburgh area residents greet visitors and new neighbors with a warm welcome and generous hospitality. So, plan to visit Pittsburgh soon. Use our Visit Pittsburgh Trip Planner to create a personalized Visit Pittsburgh itinerary filled with Pittsburgh's history and heritage.