History

What is Pittsburgh?

Before Pittsburgh became a place, before it was an idea, before its stories, its heroes, its villains, its tales of exploration, adventure, discovery and struggle became part of the popular imagination and American life, it was a space defined only by the movement of water through mountains, valleys, forests and…

The Wright Way to Fly

A top Kill Devil Hill on North Carolina’s windswept Outer Banks stands a massive granite monument that reads: “In commemoration of the conquest of the air by the brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright. Conceived by genius; achieved by dauntless resolution and incomparable faith.“

The Short, Happy Life of the WASP ascendancy

Once upon a time in America, when the going was good, there emerged what looked like a ruling class. We’ll call it the WASP Ascendancy. Standing for White Anglo-​Saxon Protestant, WASP was coined by University of Pennsylvania sociologist E. Digby Baltzell (19161996).

Mike Benedum: A Character portrait in Oil

Pittsburgh and steel are virtually synonymous. Less well known is Pittsburgh’s rich heritage in the oil business. In 1854, inventor and businessman Samuel L. Kier built the nation’s first oil refinery as a crude, five-​barrel still 100 feet from today’s U.S. Steel Building.

Against All Odds

Until the spring of 1944, Hungary’s pre-​war population of 700,000 Jews remained largely unscathed. Hungarian Regent Nicholas Horthy had resisted Hitler’s calls for the deportation of Hungarian Jews into the killing maw at Auschwitz/​Birkenau, 175 miles north of Budapest.

Henry Clay Frick: Blood Pact

Among the great fortunes of Pittsburgh’s Golden Age (18701910), that of Henry Clay Frick stands third, bested only by Andrew Carnegie and the Mellons. But the extraordinary aspect of the Frick fortune was not its size. Carnegie, Heinz, Mellon and Westinghouse were all entrepreneurs who exercised ultimate control in their…

A Very Short History of Pittsburgh

Geography comes first. Close upon the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, one gets a sense of westward flowing waters, but a map of Western Pennsylvania shows the Allegheny flowing south and the Monongahela north, almost at right angles to the Ohio.

H.J. Heinz: Relish Success

In the second half of the 19th century, as Pittsburgh emerged as one of America’s great cities, it did so on the back of heavy industry; steel predominantly, but also glass, oil and all manner of heavy machinery. Indeed, four of the five men novelist Edith Wharton dubbed the “Lords…

Standing the Test of Time

Never before has the nation been presented with the distinct possibility that a woman or a man of color could be elected president. Yet here it is: the two front runners for the Democratic nomination are New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

George C. Marshall: True soldier

On Sept. 1, 1939, as German troops thundered across the Polish border, Gen. George C. Marshall succeeded Malin Craig as the U.S. Army Chief of Staff. One week later, Marshall returned to his birthplace and childhood home in Uniontown, 46 miles southeast of Pittsburgh for a homecoming celebration.

Friends in Unfriendly Times

Adena Johnson Davis remembers marching up to the front desk at the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Nursing, plunking down her test scores, report cards and transcripts. She was a slight, young woman and had been an ‘A’ student at Peabody High School.

Andrew W. Mellon: Building a Banking Empire

The year was 1866. With monotonous regularity, an older man and a little boy boarded the train in East Liberty for the short run downtown. The older man, attired in a long-​tailed frock coat and a high-​starched wing collar, spoke to the boy about matters of consequence; he spoke to…

Andrew Carnegie: The Black and the white

Andrew Carnegie was America’s first great industrialist, the nation’s quintessential philanthropist, and, closer to home, Pittsburgh’s favorite son. He was also, however, a man of startling ethical and moral contrasts, and those paradoxes threaten his reputation.

The Real George

The blood splatters on the lawn would wash away with the next rain, but Mary and I knew the crimson stains on the tree trunk would be there a long time. The most jarring moments came when we encountered the body on the floor, head half shot away. His name…
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