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Pittsburgh City


Pittsburgh City Hall is located at 414 Grant Street, Pittsburgh PA 15219; phone: 412-255-2626.

sellers house, 1858, shady avenue,national register, pittsburgh, pa

Photo: Sellers House, ca. 1858, 400 Shady Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Photographed by user:Lee Paxton (own work), 2009, [cc-by-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed May, 2013.

Pittsburgh, as Described ca. 1940

Selected text, below, transcribed from Pennsylvania: A Guide to the Keystone State, 1940, Writer's Program of the Works Progress Administration.

PITTSBURGH (744 alt., 669,817 pop.), Pennsylvania's second city of importance and one of the great steel centers of the world, embraces the forks where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers unite to form the Ohio. Named for the great British statesman, the elder William Pitt, this city in western Pennsylvania had as its origin a cluster of log cabins and huts erected near Fort Pitt after 1758.

The triangle formed by the rivers is packed with smoke-grimed buildings; from the manufacturing establishments come clouds of devastating smoke that unite with the river fog to form Pittsburgh's traditional nuisance, 'smog.' Except for the Golden Triangle and a few outlying sections, the city stretches its length and breadth over hills. Dwellings on the South Side and East End heights look down upon mill stacks and skyscrapers. Streams of traffic pour through tunnels, over numerous bridges, and along highways skirting the cliffs.

Adjoining the Triangle on the east is the cramped Hill District, populated by scattered nationalities and by a large percentage of the city's 54,983 Negroes. Old Allegheny, or the North Side, with its time-worn red houses, public squares, and large German population, is more pleasant. The South Side teems with Serbian, Hungarian, Polish, Lithuanian, and Irish steelworkers. Residential Oakland contains the Carnegie Institute of Technology, the Mellon Institute, the Syria Mosque, the Carnegie Institute and Library, the Historical Society, the Stadium, and Forbes Field; here the Civic Center is dominated by the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning. East Liberty is like a town in itself, with small business houses, and a residential section terminating at the Allegheny River in Highland Park; towards the east, in the Larimer Avenue district, is a dense Negro and Italian population. Some of the city's larger mansions line Beechwood Boulevard and the outer reaches of Fifth Avenue. Within the city, Highland, Schenley, Riverview, West, and Frick Parks offer pleasant acres of trees, shrubs, streams, fountains, gardens, and secluded walks. South of Frick Park, across the curving Monongahela, lies the steel town of Homestead with its soot-coated buildings and toil-weary mill workers.

In normal times Pittsburgh has a daily pay roll of $2,000,000: it is the center of a district in which 62 glass factories, 350 coal mines, and 35 steel mills operate; in which 50 per cent of the country's coke is manufactured, with its hundreds of by-products. The city leads the country in the making of clay products and the world in manufacturing electrical devices, air brakes, vanadium and radium products, rolling mill machinery, cork, white lead, and pickles and preserves. One hundred and four establishments manufacture chemicals.

Eighty financial institutions serve Pittsburgh; its banking surplus is exceeded only by those of New York and Philadelphia, and it ranks sixth in bank clearings. With 40 miles of river front within the municipality and 250 in the county, the city ships and receives a total of 30,000,000 tons annually by water. More coal, steel, gravel, and other bulk tonnage is transported on the three rivers during an average month than through the Suez and Panama Canals combined.

Despite Pittsburgh's predominantly industrial character, such literary figures as Rebecca Harding Davis, Willa Cather, Margaret Deland, Hervey Allen, Malcolm Cowley, George and Gilbert Seldes, Marc Connelly, Robinson Jeffers, Haniel Long, Gertrude Stein, and Mary Roberts Rinehart have been associated with the city by birth or by residence and livelihood. To the list might be added the painters David Blythe, H.O.Tanner, John Alexander, John Kane, Mary Cassatt, the well known sculptress May Howard Jackson, and the musicians Stephen Collins Foster, Ethelbert Nevin, and Victor Herbert.

Significant work has been done and is being done by Pittsburgh's numerous institutions for medical research. The city has given the medical profession more than one noted figure, such as Dr. A. M. Pollack, the surgeon who as far back as 1860-70 was pioneering in the use of the wire loop as a substitute for the ligature in amputation. Today most of the individual names are associated with one or another of the great foundations-the Mellon Institute, the Institute of Pathology, the Western Pennsylvania Laboratories, the William H. Singer Memorial Laboratory, the Buhl Foundation or with hospitals such as the Allegheny General and the Mercy.

The history of Pittsburgh began in 1748 when George II of England granted a half-million acres in the upper Ohio region to the Ohio Land Company composed of 'gentlemen from Virginia and Maryland.' The French also claimed this territory; upon hearing of the grant they sent forces to establish forts and take formal possession. In 1753 Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia, who had become a proprietor under the 1748 grant, sent George Washington with a letter to the French commandant at Fort Le Boeuf (Waterford), notifying him that this land belonged to the English. Washington, then 21 and on his first commission, stated in his Journals: 'I spent some time viewing the rivers, and the land in the fork, which I think extremely well situated for a fort, as it has the absolute command of both rivers.'

The following February Captain William Trent and 70 men, under orders from Dinwiddie, began to erect a small fort on the site recommended by Washington, but the fort was captured before completion by a strong French force under the Sieur de Contrecceur. Contrecceur rebuilt the fort nearer the Point, christened it Fort Duquesne, and resisted all attacks until General John Forbes re-established British supremacy in 1758.

Although the city had been founded in the struggle between France and England to gain the Ohio Valley, it was not until Forbes had finally expelled the French and named the settlement Pittsburgh that the region was opened to settlers, and not until the Indian warriors of Pontiac had been decisively defeated in 1763 at Bushy Run, near Greensburg, was it safe for settlement. Successive waves of immigration soon swept into the region. English settlers came north from Virginia and Maryland by way of the Monongahela Valley; others arrived from New Jersey, Connecticut, and eastern Pennsylvania. From Europe came Scots, Scotch-Irish, Germans, and a few Huguenots. These pioneers sought freedom from debt, free land, and lower taxes. They sought territory where game from the forest and fish from many streams would supplement produce from garden and farm. The first cluster of log huts about Fort Pitt-the frontier trading post of 149 civilians who in 1760 had already subscribed £6o to pay a year's salary to a teacher for their 48 children-was torn down in 1763. The inhabitants, forced to take refuge in the fort when attacked by Pontiac's warriors, destroyed their homes in order to deprive the Indians of shelter. The following year Colonel John Campbell laid out four new blocks bounded by Water, 2nd, Market, and Ferry Streets. After the Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1768, civil courts were set up by Virginia, which claimed the land about the Forks. The controversy between Pennsylvania and Virginia continued until 1780, when the Continental Congress decided in favor of the former.

During the years immediately preceding the Revolutionary War there was little need for political organization among a people employed mainly as artisans and farmers. But as conflict with the mother country grew imminent, Pittsburgh settlers prepared for it. On May 16, 1775, they met 'to oppose the invaders of American rights and privileges to the utmost extreme.' During the war, in addition to furnishing the Eighth Pennsylvania Regiment, they guarded the frontier and kept watch on Tory intrigue in the region. The march of the half-clad, half-starving Pittsburgh regiment through knee-deep snows over the Allegheny Mountains is as heroic a story as that of Valley Forge.

In 1783, when making the first trip westward by wagon, a feat regarded as impossible up to that time, Dr.Johann Schoepf described Pittsburgh as a town of 'perhaps sixty wooden houses and cabins in which live something more than one hundred families. The first stone house was built this summer, but soon many good buildings may be seen because the place reasonably expects to grow large and considerable with the passage of time.' The next year Tench Francis, agent for the Penns, who still held the manor of Pittsburgh, engaged George Woods to survey land between the rivers, bounded by Grant Street and Washington (now 11th) Street, so that it could be sold in lots.

In 1786 John Scull and Joseph Hall brought a little wooden Ramage press from Philadelphia to the frontier settlement, and on July 29 published the Gazette, the first newspaper west of the Alleghenies. The coonskin culture of the frontier village established the Pittsburgh Academy in a log building in Samuel Ewalt's field. In 1787 a market house was erected, and regular market days were fixed. Allegheny Town was laid out across the Allegheny River, and in 1788 Allegheny County was organized.

Seven out of nine representatives from the Pittsburgh district opposed the adoption of the Federal Constitution, feeling that the document favored the mercantile and industrial interests for which Alexander Hamilton spoke rather than the interests of the plain people-the artisans, small merchants, and poor farmers--for whom Thomas Jefferson was the spokesman.

In 1794, with 400 houses, a fire brigade, a packet-line providing biweekly sailings between the town and Cincinnati, a regular post route to Philadelphia in operation, a post office in John Scull's log house, half a dozen taverns, and courthouse, stocks, and pillory, the settlement was incorporated as a borough.

Already it was engaged in ropemaking, carpentering, saddlery and harnessmaking, breechesmaking, storekeeping, weaving, salt mining, flourmilling, blacksmithing, cabinetmaking, upholstering, shoemaking, and hatmaking. One of the earliest industries was that of boatbuilding, which had been established in 1760. Nine years later Jonathan Plummer erected a distillery and made 'excellent whisky,' according to George Washington, who sampled it while visiting Fort Pitt in 1770. In 1788 the artisans of the city formed a Mechanical Society to which both employers and employees were admitted. Production remained on a handicraft basis, performed largely at home or in small shops.

In 1804, on his arrival from Philadelphia to engage in the banking business, John Thaw noted Pittsburgh as a 'fine Country Town' with 'tolerable good & cheap markets, dear stores & bad society . . .' In his opinion it was 'a place by no means so enticing as Philadelphia & a person coming from thence should do it under the conviction of making money & bettering his circumstances, but not of Enjoying the pleasure either of a country or city life. As for speculation there is no chance, landed property being already monopolized by monied men & held at very high prices . . .'

By 1809 the town had 44 cotton-weaving establishments, a glass works, a large brewery, and several tanyards. A tin factory employed 28 persons, a nail factory 30, and a cotton factory 12; 30 workmen were employed in shipbuilding, about 50 in boatbuilding, and 30 in the ropewalks. Power-driven machinery was introduced west of the Allegheny Mountains in 1809 when Oliver Evans put a steam engine to work in the gristmill run by his son. In 1811 the New Orleans, built in Pittsburgh, the first steamboat on western waters, steamed down the rivers to Louisiana, opening a new era of transportation. At the same time turnpikes were built to connect the town with Washington, Greensburg, Wheeling, Butler, and neighboring communities. The Pittsburgh-Harrisburg turnpike was opened in 1817, and during the next 10 years hard-surfaced pikes were laid out along routes followed today. In 1816 the town was incorporated as a city, with Ebenezer Denny as its first mayor.

By the 1820's the population had grown to 10,600. Suburbs such as Northern Liberties, Kensington, Birmingham, and Allegheny were flourishing. A bridge had been built over the Allegheny River and another over the Monongahela. Thirty-two attorneys and 16 physicians practiced in the city; the Western University of Pennsylvania developed from Pittsburgh Academy, and a high school met in the Unitarian Church. By 1829, with the opening of the western division of the Pennsylvania Canal, Philadelphia was brought within three days' travel of Pittsburgh at a passenger rate of 2¢ a mile; freight was carried between the cities in six or seven days for 1¢ a pound.

Important from the beginning as a center for Indian trade, Pittsburgh now became a busy river port and jumping-off place for immigrants moving to the unsettled regions beyond. Arks, keelboats, and flat-bottomed paddle-wheelers plied the rivers. As settlement pushed westward, the need for manufactured products stimulated industry about the Forks. To the production of shoes, saddlery, and cotton goods was added the manufacture of such pioneer necessities as frying pans, knives, nails, axes, and shovels. Foundries and rolling mills grew in size and number as new markets opened up. Such was the grime from industry that visitors commented on the women's practice of wearing black with a white cap or a white frill, which had constantly to be changed. Population figures showed an increase in the number of foreign born, particularly Germans. Freed Negroes from Maryland and Virginia became more numerous.

By the fourth decade of the century the city had 4 daily and 11 weekly newspapers, with 10 other periodicals; 18 printing offices and 7 binderies were in operation. The number of church congregations grew from 15 to 76, including four Negro churches. Tract and Bible societies sprang up; young men's and young ladies' temperance societies took mass pledges and scattered leaflets and tracts. The first high school was erected in 1845; the elder Booth, Charlotte Cushman, and Jenny Lind performed in the local theaters. The Nightingale Ethiopian Opera Company and the Sable Harmonists were organized to satisfy the desire for Negro minstrelsy; an academy of music was founded. Freed Negroes had organized the Theban Literary Society in 1831 and the American Reformed Society in 1837.

Such was the city of which, on April 12, 1845, a minister a few miles down the river wrote in his journal: 'Heard that a tremendous fire occurred in Pittsburgh on Thursday, the 10th, by which about 1,000 houses were consumed and an immense amount of property.' The great fire raged over 36 acres, destroying 20 blocks of buildings. The property loss amounted to more than $5,000,000 and made 2,000 persons homeless, but only two lives were lost.

The use of steam power increased the transportation of coal on the three rivers; coke ovens were built; crude petroleum from Lewis Peterson's salt well at Tarentum was sent to the Hope cotton factory in Allegheny to grease its spindles. B.F.Jones sold a profitable canal business and staked his fortunes on a small puddling works on the south bank of the Monongahela. Today the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company is the largest independent producer of steel in the United States. The Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad entered the old Allegheny section of the city in 1851. In 1854 the Pennsylvania Railroad completed a line from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The subsequent multiplication of railroads speeded the growth of manufacturing establishments, which drew workers in increasing numbers from farms and canal towns.

In 1853 and 1854, after a year of hard times, unions were organized among blacksmiths, bootmakers, bricklayers, cabinetmakers, carpenters, coachmakers, coppersmiths, engineers, machinists, marblecutters, masons, painters, paperhangers, patternmakers, printers, saddlers, tailors, tinners, waiters, and watchmakers. At that time, too, a sojourner in Pittsburgh wrote: 'There is a perfect mania here for improvements. Every day somebody commences to tear down an old house and put up a new one with an iron front . . . One interest, however, is at a standstill, namely steamboating. Ten boats were burnt up and their wrecks lay at the wharf for a month, showing how little demand there is for wharf room.'

On February 22, 1856, a meeting of the Free Soil Party was held in the city to cement scattered groups from all the Northern States into a national party. During the discussions the party declared that 'slavery is a sin against God and a crime against man.' A plea was made also for a high protective tariff as 'the only permanent guarantee of the life of manufacturing interests and safety from panics.' At this convention the formal organization of the Republican party took place. In 1858 the United Sons of Vulcan, parent body of the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers, was organized. The iron business was booming, the quantity of coal mined was increasing every year, and large companies were gradually buying out smaller ones.

During the Civil War Pittsburgh's foundries and factories worked at capacity in producing ammunition, ordnance, and equipment for the Union Army. The Civil War years released the full energies of financiers and industrialists. The volume of business grew so large, and such huge amounts of money were handled, that in 1865 a clearing house was established. At the end of the war Pittsburgh was producing half of the steel manufactured in the country, and one third of the glass. Panic and crisis struck in 1873, but expansion of business followed. Population increased and 14 wards were added to the city. Gas came into use as a domestic and industrial fuel. This was the period marked with the rise of such steel magnates and captains of industry as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and Charles M. Schwab. It was an era of amalgamation in industry and finance and of organization of workers in the great basic industries: of the United Mine Workers of America in the coal fields and the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel, and Tin Workers in the steel mills.

By 1875 there were a dozen blast furnaces at Pittsburgh, and coal and steel interests were merging with mutual profit. Labor, on the other hand, was having its troubles. In the tumultuous railroad strike of 1877, Philadelphia troops, sent to Pittsburgh when local militia refused to interfere with the strikers, shot into a crowd, killing or injuring about 50 persons. In this and later decades many Negroes were brought in during strikes, and by 1901 their number had increased six-fold.

In 1881 eight national trade unions, under the chairmanship of Samuel Gompers, met in Pittsburgh to form the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions of the United States and Canada. The organization pledged itself 'to work for the benefit of all industrial classes.' Six years later it was renamed the American Federation of Labor. During the 1880's efforts were made to correct architectural formlessness, to abate the smoke nuisance, and to improve housing and traffic conditions. The municipality acquired its first park in 1890, when Mary E. Schenley donated to the city the tract that bears her name.

In the early years of the twentieth century numerous suburbs developed and traction lines were extended. In 1907 Allegheny, the third largest city in the State, was added to Pittsburgh, bringing with it a population of 150,000. A new filtration plant did much to reduce typhoid fever heretofore prevalent. By 1910 the city's population had reached 534,000, with 80 per cent of the foreign born coming from Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia, Poland, and the Balkan countries.

During the World War, Pittsburgh industries experienced a boom similar to that of Civil War days, and the peace years that followed likewise were accompanied by prosperity-until the crash of 20 banks between January 28 and October 31, 1929. After 1931, with the deepening of the depression, bank failures increased and unemployment mounted. Production of pig iron in the Pittsburgh area fell from 8,975,000 gross tons in 1929 to a low of 1,505,000 in 1932. Bituminous coal production fell from 143,516,000 net tons in 1929 to 74,776,000 in 1931. Plate glass dropped from the 1929 figure of 72,143,000 square feet to 21,600,000 in 1932. Department store sales in 1933 had dropped off to 54 per cent of normal volume, and the general business activity index, based on a 1923-5 average, had declined by 1932 to 49.9 per cent.

During the 1930's changes occurred in the character of Pittsburgh's industrial production. Steel shifted from the exclusive production of heavy capital goods to sheet and rolled steel for the automobile and tin can industries. The demand for shatter-proof glass and a new type of rolled glass caused an increase in employment and output in that field, and repeal of prohibition stimulated the manufacture of cans and bottles. In the autumn of 1939, with much of Europe at war, business in general soared almost to the 1929 level. Steel operations showed a sharp increase as more blast furnaces were lighted, and coal production began to climb rapidly.

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