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History

Molded Tooth Staggered Gear and Worker, 1913

The Mesta Machine Company churned and smoked on more than 20 acres of land along the Monongahela River. Though its central product was steelmaking equipment—supplying some 500 mills around the globe—Americans had Mesta’s 3,000 employees to thank for their working cars and refrigerators, ship hulls and power plant turbines. During the Depression, then-president Lorenz Iversen …

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Once Upon A Tunnel

The calamity began at the stroke of midnight on May 10, 1924, when Pittsburgh Street Railway Company employees walked off the job. The streetcar strike threw commuters into a tizzy, and the following morning South Hills commuters jumped into their cars and headed for the recently opened Liberty Tunnels. Between 7:30 and 8 a.m., a …

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Oakmont Camping, circa 1910

For Pittsburghers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Oakmont offered the next best thing to paradise. During the summer months, while the city baked in heat and soot, visitors set up camp on the banks of the Allegheny River, relaxing in the fresh air and making merry on the water. Oakmont boasted a …

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What Happened at Thompson’s Island?

Were you to launch a canoe at the U.S. Forest Service Buckaloons boat ramp, where Brokenstraw Creek enters the Allegheny River, then float down toward the borough of Tidioute, the setting would appear much as it must have to a party of Seneca Indians paddling the same route in the late summer of 1779. Carried …

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Elie Wiesel and the One Indestructible Human Quality

In each issue of Pittsburgh Quarterly, I write obituaries of notable Pittsburghers, and over the past 10-plus years, the percentage of those whom I knew in life – some very well – has been growing. Last week came the news of the death of Elie Wiesel, who steadfastly bore witness to the Holocaust for more …

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Exploring the Maridon

Most people do not associate Asian art with Butler, Pa. However, the only museum dedicated to ancient and contemporary Chinese and Japanese art and culture in western Pennsylvania is tucked away on a residential street in this city of around 14,000 — epitomizing the concept of “hidden gem.” The Maridon Museum is home to the …

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Mount Oliver Incline, Circa 1895

When the mount oliver inclined railway was built in 1872, it was Allegheny County’s second incline, and an average one-way ride cost six cents. Its cars traveled from 12th Street, South Side, to its eponymous height— from which this photo was taken—gaining 377 feet of elevation over 1,600 feet of track and depositing riders at …

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Light in Darkness

I can’t really say if I found Ernie, or if Ernie found me. When I volunteered for a writing project at the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center in 1992, he was the first person I met. An engaging, bespectacled gentleman in his early 70s, Ernie was one of about 200 Holocaust survivors living here at the time. …

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Wabash Park ice skating, 1917

On the wintry afternoon of Jan. 20, 1917, pittsburghers of all ages enjoyed ice skating at Wabash Park in Pittsburgh’s West End. Regularly a grassy swath, it was apparently flooded and frozen for the season. The park is still there, as are a number of the park-facing homes along Wabash Street. An icy Sawmill Run …

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Home Library Group

Coke oven smokestacks loom as members of a boys’ reading club pose in an what is likely a factory slum along the Monongahela where workers lived to be near their jobs at the Jones & Laughlin Steel Mill in Hazelwood. Six years earlier, steel titan Andrew Carnegie, himself a self-educated working boy who found inspiration …

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Heinz, 1903

The H.J. Heinz company was founded in 1888, and by the turn of the century had a vast processing plant on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Known for progressive employee benefits—especially those for women—Heinz offered free medical care, a swimming pool and gymnasium, weekly manicures, a reading room, classes and lectures. Occasionally, workers enjoyed carriage rides through …

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The Little Block House That Could

The first question a visitor usually asks is: “So… what was this place?” As curator of the 250-year-old Fort Pitt Block House, sometimes I feel that I have the most interesting job in the world. I get to take care of the only structure left of Fort Pitt and the oldest building in Pittsburgh. The …

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Vox Humana

I met the great oral historian and journalist Studs Terkel when I was 18 years old. I didn’t know much about Studs back then, only that he was a writer and a pretty famous one, and since I wanted to be a writer, too, it was probably a good idea to go see him. I …

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Clan Carnegie

The fact that the Carnegie Museum complex in Oakland happens to be located on Forbes Avenue wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy except that Andrew Carnegie and Brigadier General John Forbes both hail from the small town of Dunfermline, Scotland. Forbes named our city, Carnegie put it on the map, and both longed to return to Scotland. …

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The Watery Part of the World

The standing watch was sent below for wet- weather gear, and the clattering of their feet on the ladder awakened me. I headed above deck, blinking in the light and trying to align the fair skies behind us and the gentle roll of two-foot waves with the urgency of the crew laying out the line—called …

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The Search for the Lost Archives

A lifeguard’s strong dark arms buoy his young, light-skinned pupil, as other children in the pool cheer their friend’s attempts to swim. The undated, black-and-white photo from the archives of the Pittsburgh Courier is part of a century-long storyline about the lives of African Americans that the newspaper chronicled. It is also part of a …

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Money, Power & Purpose

Harvard played its final game of the 1911 baseball season the day after graduation. With Harvard up 4-1 and one out to go, team captain and star pitcher Charles B. “Chick” McLaughlin called time, for a substitution at first base. A lanky redhead came off the Harvard bench. He had failed to make the team …

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Taking Wing

Not all the thousands of people who regularly pass beneath her glance up, but occasionally, one will stop for a better look. She hangs from the ceiling of the Landside Terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport with her name, Miss Pittsburgh, written on her nose. Further back, on the fuselage of this very old airplane, are …

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The Business of Politics

The year was 1955, the place the long bar at the Carlton House Hotel. Standing as bookends were Pirates sportscaster, Bob “the Gunner” Prince and KDKA newscaster, curly-haired Bill Burns. Both men were serious drinkers, but the Gunner, resplendent in a canary yellow blazer with an ever-present screwdriver in hand and another waiting in the …

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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.” Wilbur Wright would have had a problem with the word genius, it …

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Smilin’ Charlie Schwab

The Christmas season was in full flush Dec. 12 1900 at the University Club in New York, where the city’s financial and industrial elite gathered to honor Charles Michael Schwab, the president of Carnegie Steel. A youthful 38, Schwab already had held the position for three years. Attendees included railroaders William Vanderbilt, Chauncey Depew and …

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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 (1916–1996). This WASP Ascendancy traces a soft 20th century parabola reaching its apogee in …

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