Pittsburgh History

Located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers at the head of the Ohio River, Pittsburgh was referred to as the "Gateway to the West" from its early days as a frontier village.

Introduction to Pittsburgh

Easily navigable waterways with an abundance of natural resources, (coal, timber, natural gas, iron and limestone) helped Pittsburgh become the industrial center for a growing nation. 

Most people recognize one thing about Pittsburgh's history, that it was known as an industrial hub for coal mining and steel production.  

Pittsburgh has played an important part in U.S. history from the early days of the French and Indian War (1758), to the Revolutionary War (1776), to the infamous Whiskey Rebellion (1791) and the American Civil War (1860s) with its secretive Underground Railroad stops.

The Civil War boosted the city's economy with increased iron and armament demand. With his introduction of the Bessemer steel making process, Scottish immigrant Andrew Carnegie, completed his rise from obscurity to become the richest man in the world. Carnegie began steel production in 1875. 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 steel making. Soon, the two men came together to form the Carnegie Steel Co. In 1901, Carnegie and Frick merged several companies into United States Steel Corp

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. From these dark days, though, grew modern labor practices and laws to protect workers. 

While the riverfront steel mills of the Mon Valley  are mostly gone now, the generosity of industrial giants like Carnegie and Frick, food manufacturer H.J. Heinz, and banker/financier Andrew Mellon lives on in a legacy of art, culture and education in Pittsburgh. What remained are the Frick family home, known as Clayton, as well as a masterful art collection. Andrew Carnegie's generous public donations included The Carnegie LibraryCarnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, and Carnegie Institute of Technology (known today as Carnegie Mellon University).

Up through the mid-1950s, Pittsburgh was the nation's eighth-largest city, accounting for nearly half of national steel output. The city's population swelled to over a half million with European immigration via Ellis Island. Pittsburgh's patchwork of neighborhoods still retains an ethnic character reflecting the city's immigrant history.

Even though Pittsburgh faced rough times in the 1970s and 80s when steel production all but disappeared from its landscape, it has since re-invented itself as a hub for educationmedicine, small manufacturing and research. Of course, having extremely successful sports teams has enhanced the city's reputation. The black and gold of all three of its professional teams, Steelers (NFL), Pirates (MLB) and Penguins (NHL) are synonymous with the pride local residents have in its sports teams and the city they represent.
Today Pittsburgh welcomes visitors from around the globe.  Its strengths lie in its authenticity as an all-American city, and its genuine, hard-working and welcoming sense of community that has transformed it into one of the most surprisingly beautiful and progressive cities in the USA. To fully relive Pittsburgh's past, visit the Senator John Heinz History Center for an immersive historical experience. 

Partner Spotlight
Plan your trip with the Visit Pittsburgh Visitor Guide
Get The Guide View Guide Online