Pittsburgh Trivia

Find fun facts and information on Pittsburgh's history, from the first newspaper to the first internet emoticon and everything in between.

-Pittsburgh Firsts-

First newspaper west of the Alleghenies (1786)

The paper began publication on July 29, 1786, as a four-page weekly, called The Gazette. As one of its first major articles, the Gazette published the newly adopted Constitution of the United States. In 1844, the paper became a morning daily paper. Following several mergers of newspapers in Pittsburgh, it became the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1927.

First Cable Suspension Bridge (1846)

The Great Fire of 1845 destroyed much of the city, including the wooden Monongahela Bridge. Pittsburgher John Roebling, who developed wire cable in 1840, used it for the first cable suspension bridge, the Monongahela Bridge, in 1846.

John Roebling continued building bridges throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Ohio, and designed what is now known as the Brooklyn Bridge, spanning the East River in New York.

First Oil Well (1859)

In 1859, Edwin Drake drilled the world's first oil well in Titusville, Pa. Almost overnight, the quiet farming region boomed in much the same manner as the gold rush towns of the Wild West. Dozens of wells were drilled and towns sprang up around them literally overnight. Early during the boom, Titusville pumped out 25 barrels a day, within the first year, some wells were producing as many as 3,000 barrels per day, a small number compared to the millions of barrels produced today. Pennsylvania was actually responsible for almost half of the world's oil production until the 1901 oil boom in Texas.

First Commercial Plate Glass Manufacturer (1883)

In 1883, the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company (PPG Industries) became the first commercially successful U.S. producer of high-quality, thick flat glass using the plate process. The company was also the world's first plate glass plant to fuel melting furnaces with local natural gas sources inspiring widespread industrial use of this clean-burning gas. In the 1990s, PPG introduced Transition lenses to the world of vision. These photo chromatic lenses provide UV eye protection by automatically changing from clear to dark in full sun. Completed in 1984, their downtown headquarters is a distinctive post-modern building with an exterior of reflective glass and aluminum.

First Ferris Wheel (1893)

Designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. the first Ferris Wheel was erected for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. This original wheel was manufactured in Pittsburgh by the Bethlehem Iron Company and had 36 cars, each able to accommodate 60 people, a total capacity of 2,160 people. The wheel took 20 minutes to complete two revolutions, which cost each rider 50 cents.

World's First Commercial Radio Station (1920)

The first commercial radio signal was transmitted on Nov. 2, 1920 from a shack atop a Westinghouse building in East Pittsburgh, signifying the birth of the first commercial radio station, KDKA, which continues to transmit a signal today. Listeners tuned in to hear the election results of the Harding-Cox presidential election hours before papers hit the streets

First Ice Capades (1940)

The first Ice Capades performance was in Pittsburgh in 1940. In the early days, Ice Capades shows were highly theatrical, with vaudeville elements, including scantily-clad showgirls. Ice Capades shows were extremely popular for several decades and shows would often feature former Olympic figure skaters who had retired from amateur competition.

First All-Aluminum Building (1953)

The Regional Enterprise Tower, formerly the ALCOA Building, was completed in 1953. This 410-foot-tall skyscraper was originally the headquarters for ALCOA. The unique aluminum walls of the building are 1/8 inch thick, which gives the building a light weight and economical design. It was the first skyscraper with an all-aluminum facade.

First Polio Vaccine (1954)

The first injectable polio vaccine was developed by Jonas Salk and his team at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1952, the vaccine was tested at Arsenal Elementary School and the D.T. Watson Home for Crippled Children in Pittsburgh. In 1954, Salk's vaccine was then used in a test called the Francis Field Trial, led by Thomas Francis, the largest medical experiment in history. On April 12, 1955, the results were announced; the vaccine was safe and effective. Salk's vaccine was instrumental in the beginning the eradication of polio, a once widely-feared disease. Polio cases dropped 90% in the first two years of the vaccine's use.

First U.S. Public Television Station (1954)

Established on April 1, 1954, it was the first community-sponsored television station in the United States as well as the fifth public television station. WQED also became the first station to telecast classes to elementary school classrooms when Pittsburgh launched the Metropolitan School Service in 1955. WQED has been the flagship station for Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

First Retractable Dome (1961)

Formerly the Civic Arena, it was originally designed for the Civic Light Opera and was home to the Pittsburgh Penguins between 1967 and 2010. The roof was divided into eight sections, six of the sections could fold underneath in two-and-a-half minutes, making the Civic Arena the world's first major indoor sports stadium with a retractable roof. The first roof opening was during a July 4, 1962 Carol Burnett show to which she exclaimed, "Ladies and Gentleman... I present the sky!" Even though it was designed and engineered as a retractable-roof dome, the hydraulic jacks never functioned consistently, thus keeping the roof permanently closed after 1994. The Civic Arena closed on June 26, 2010, and demolition was completed March 31, 2012.

First Nighttime World Series Game (1971)

Game 4 of the 1971 World Series, played in Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium, matched the defending champion Baltimore Orioles against the Pittsburgh Pirates. This was the first-ever World Series game scheduled to be played at night. The Pirates ended up winning the series in seven games. This series also named Roberto Clemente as the Series MVP, the first Latino player to earn this honor.

First Robotics Institute (1979)

The Robotics Institute, a division of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), was established in 1979, and was the first robotics department at any U.S. university. In 1988 CMU became the first university in the world offering a Ph.D. in Robotics.

First Internet emoticon, the smiley :-) (1982)

Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science research professor Scott Fahlman is credited with the invention of the smiley face emoticon. He suggested the emoticon on an electronic board in 1982 as a way for board readers to know when an author was joking. The text of Fahlman's original post was lost for nearly 20 years but was later recovered from backup tapes.

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