Pittsburgh is over 250 years old and our history of innovation and evolution is rich and plentiful. We are famous for everything from Heinz ketchup to being the birthplace of labor unions.
We continue to make history today with our emphasis on education, healthcare, technical innovation and entrepreneurship. Let's take a trip down memory lane and learn about some of the quirky but important impacts that Pittsburgh has had on the world as we evolve, adapt, and reinvent our city time and again.
The world's film industry started in Pittsburgh 100 years ago on Smithfield street in Pittsburgh. The Nickelodeon Theater introduced the motion picture industry in 1905 and during the first day of operation 450 people watched movies at the theater, with 1,500 standing in line to see a film the following day. A Hill District film distribution company got into the theater business, eventually becoming the Metro Film Co. and later Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer. Pittsburgh was the epicenter of the film world, and the Nickelodeon theater was the template for all other theaters built during that time period.
Westinghouse Electric was founded by George Westinghouse in Pittsburgh in 1886 and quickly became active in developing electric infrastructure throughout the United States. The company's largest factories were located in East Pittsburgh where they made turbines, generators, motors, as well as pioneering long-distance power transmission and high-voltage alternating-current transmission. In addition to George Westinghouse, engineers working for the company included Frank Conrad, Oliver B. Shallenberger, and Nikola Tesla. The company was historically the rival to Thomas Edison's electric company which was later merged into the even bigger competitor, General Electric.
Who doesn't love dessert? Well, did you know that the famed banana split has its roots right here in Latrobe? David Evans Strickler, a 23 year old apprentice pharmacist enjoyed inventing sundaes at the store's soda fountain and invented the banana-based triple ice cream sundae in 1904. It cost 10 cents – twice the price of other sundaes of that time – but still managed to catch on with the students of nearby Saint Vincent College. Strickler went on to buy the pharmacy where his treat originated, and the original soda fountain still remains.
Pittsburgh was the first city to have a professional football player! William "Pudge" Walter Heffelfinger is considered the first athlete to play football professionally, having been paid $500 (equivalent of $13,100 today) to play with the Allegheny Athletic Association against rival Pittsburgh Athletic Club in 1892. This game was held at Recreation Park, which was located on Pittsburgh's North Shore. He scored the game's only touchdown and the Allegheny Athletic Association won 4-0, as a touchdown was only worth four points at the time.
The famous reusable metal lighter was first manufactured in 1933 by Zippo Company is located right in Bradford Pennsylvania. Zippo lighters became popular during World War II when the company ceased production of lighters for consumers and dedicated all manufacturing to the US military. Zippos were originally made of brass but switched to steel during the war years because of metal shortages. Although the design and finish of Zippo lighters have evolved, the basic mechanism of the Zippo lighter has remained unchanged.
Created by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation in 1920, KDKA (AM) is the world's first commercial radio station. Employee Frank Conrad supervised the manufacturing of military receivers during WWI and was an amateur radio operator who broadcasted phonograph music and communicated with other radio enthusiasts. Conrad's boss saw the potential for widespread air programming and asked Conrad to build a 100-watt transmitter which broadcasted the US presidential election on November 2, 1920 from Turtle Creek. That first broadcast was heard as far away as Canada!
The original Ferris Wheel was manufactured in Pittsburgh by the Bethlehem Iron Company and was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. in 1893 for the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago Illinois. Ferris was a bridge-builder in Pittsburgh and later founded G.W.G. Ferris & Co., a firm that tested and inspected metals for railroads and bridges.
The American Austin Car Company was founded in 1929, in Butler and in 1940 in the height of the war the US Army asked 135 tractor and auto manufacturers to design a four-wheel drive, 40 horsepower, 1,300 pound reconnaissance car that could haul soldiers as well as heavy artillery. The challenge? The designer was expected to have a working prototype available for a test run within 49 days. Only two companies responded to the request and because Bantam promised to deliver the prototype in 45 days, they won contract. Bantam produced a total of 2,675 Jeeps and never produced another vehicle after that, but is the forerunner to the popular Jeep brand to this day. Jeeps throughout history are celebrated every year in Butler at the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival.