Pittsburgh through the years

Celebrating centuries of tradition

Shweta Suresh Oct 6, 2008

The city of Pittsburgh celebrates its 250th birthday this year. The ’Burgh was born Nov. 25, 1758, when a piece of land at the junction of the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny rivers received its name. Since then, Pittsburgh has grown and expanded, and risen out of the smoke of steel factories to become the place we know and love today.

The glory of Pittsburgh’s past can be traced through its previous grand birthday celebrations: the 100th, the 150th, and the 200th year anniversary commemorations. Each birthday signifies a different phase in the city’s growth, and provides a different view of Pittsburgh’s origins.

The Pittsburgh at 250 exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center records a timeline depicting Pittsburgh’s transition every 50 years and fleshes it out with interesting pictures, souvenirs, medals, and keepsakes from the respective times.

Each of the birthdays has its own glass window, decorated with panoramic views of Pittsburgh from that time, along with keepsakes and souvenirs from the celebration.

Pittsburgh at 100

In 1858, on Pittsburgh’s 100th birthday, Mayor Henry A. Weaver and Andrew W. Loomis organized a solemn remembrance, which included a ceremony and a moving speech by Loomis that was very well received by the residents. For the occasion, a keepsake booklet titled The Evacuation of Fort Duquesne was published by W. S. Haven. The contents of the booklet concentrated on examining the military history of the region and the importance of the forts sited at the Point. This emphasis on the Point and on architectural landmarks of the city would be a recurring theme in later celebrations.

This section in the exhibit features artistic paintings of Pittsburgh’s landscape at that time. It also displays a picture of Weaver, the mayor during the centennial birthday, and the historical booklet about the evacuation of Fort Duquesne.

Pittsburgh at 150

Pittsburgh celebrated its sesquicentennial birthday with much pomp and show at various events all over the city: the laying of cornerstones for the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and University of Pittsburgh’s School of Mines, religious services, musical concerts conducted by Pittsburgh’s composers, races, and demonstrations at the Schenley Oval, tours of the newly built Carnegie Technical Schools, and a river parade that was attended by 300,000 spectators. The celebration was planned by Pittsburgh’s chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who did a great job of decorating the city, especially Fifth Avenue, which was compared to a “fairyland” as it was covered with bright lights and lamps.

The exhibit showcased photographs displaying the laying of the cornerstones at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall, the crowd overlooking the river parade at the Monongahela Wharf, and an aerial demonstration of a Toledo passenger airship at the Schenley Oval. Also displayed were the sesquicentennial birthday program, commemorative medals, pins, mugs, and other souvenirs.

Pittsburgh at 200

The bicentennial birthday of Pittsburgh fell during the city’s renaissance period and heralded the call for change in the city. With the official slogan of “Gateway of the Future,” the city’s residents united in 1958 to emphasize the theme of renewal and the idea of developing a new look and identity for Pittsburgh. The main focal point of the celebration was to transition from the “smoky city” to a clean and green environment, and to usher this along, proposals for a greener Point and a new multi-recreation civic center were put forward. The celebration also included games at the Pitt stadium, the Gateway Festival, Phipps Conservatory’s “City of Flowers,” and a historical pageant.

The Gateway Festival emphasized the newly renovated Point, which was now complete with a wide green space and a fountain. It also had a floating stage where Kermit Hunter’s pageant “The Golden Crucible” was staged. Blending in with the futuristic theme were the plans for the Civic Auditorium (soon known as the Civic Arena), which included a revolutionary roof structure that allowed five large roof panels to close underneath a sixth in just two and a half minutes. This design was built to shelter the people inside from Pittsburgh’s fickle weather.

Keepsakes on display from this age include commemorative Pilsner, highball, and cordial glasses, a souvenir ashtray, glass tray, T-shirt, and plate. The main program is also on display, and in relation to the theme of creating a new Pittsburgh, the cover art depicts a iron ball breaking down a brick wall, and through the gaping hole, a bright and brilliant new Pittsburgh is visible.

Pittsburgh at 250

This year, Pittsburgh celebrates its 250th birthday, and just like the preceding birthdays, there are many events commemorating this occasion, including, as it now seems to be tradition, a new look for Point State Park, the place where the city began. The slogan this year is “Imagine What You Can Do Here” and points out what and whom Pittsburgh is famous for and its accomplishments to date. Many organizations have come together under the banner of Pittsburgh 250 to try and reflect on the past and look toward the future.

Souvenirs from this year’s celebration include T-shirts, Iron City beer cans, Snyder potato chips made for this occasion, and a Pittsburgh 250 thermal cup. The book *Pittsburgh Born, Pittsburgh Bred is also an excellent addition to the celebration as it takes pride in the accomplishments of Pittsburghers.

Although the exhibit is very small, consisting of only a single glass case with different windows for the different birthdays, the collection of information and artifacts, and the rich look back into time that it provides is worth viewing. The way the face of Pittsburgh has changed over the years is inspiring, and the pictures tell a story of a city with great determination to change and develop for the better, leaving everyone with a feeling of joy that Pittsburgh has made it thus far.