Many visitors to Pittsburgh are surprised to find a city reinvented.  Today Pittsburgh is a modern day cultural arts Mecca and home to a huge banking industry. Residents take pride in their beautiful city, relishing the outdoors, and they take pride in each other by celebrating their differences. Many visitors are forced to ask themselves, “Just how was the Iron City able to transform itself from a steel mill town to a city that is voted as one of the best places in the Northeast to raise a family?” Although Pittsburgh was incorporated as a city on March 18, 1816, its history starts over 100 years earlier, playing the most significant role in how the United States was settled.

A Role in the French & Indian War-

In 1710 the city which was yet to be formally named, saw its first influx of settlers who were primarily British and French traders. In 1749, the French settled near Logstown and sent out a formal expedition to expand their claim to the region. The English who were anxious to claim the area as their own sent out Major George Washington to warn the French to withdraw their expansion. The French ignored the British request. Another expedition was sent out and on May 28, 1754 Major Washington’s officers clashed with the French in the battle of Jumonville Glen. Numerous French soldiers were killed or taken prisoner.

This escalated the feud between the two countries and the French forced Major Washington and his troops to surrender on July 3, 1754. This was the start of the French and Indian War. In the battle of the Monongahela the French inflicted heavy casualties on the British and won the right to settle the Ohio Valley. The British took over Fort Duquesne, a French fort and renamed it Fort Pitt after the British Secretary of State, William the Pitt Elder. It was later renamed, Pittsborough.

In 1760 Fort Pitt began to see an influx of traders. European settlements began to increase rapidly and Fort Pitt grew from a settlement of roughly 300 to a settlement of over 5000 people living in western Pennsylvania. Many of these European immigrants were English, Scots/Irish, and German.

With a population explosion a charter was granted on February 28, 1787 to give Pittsburgh its first university, the University of Pittsburgh, which still operates today.

A Manufacturing City-

The rivers were a way of life in Pittsborough so boatbuilding became the most popular trade. Boatbuilding was the first manufacturing trade in a city that is still thought of by some, as a manufacturing town. Boatbuilding tied in with the other manufacturing trades because boats were built in Pittsburgh and other goods manufactured in the city were then loaded on the new boats and sent up or down the river.

In 1762 coal was discovered near what is today Mt. Washington, and in 1797 Pittsburgh began to manufacture glass. At one time Pittsburgh had over 70 glass factories within the city limits and was the world’s largest supplier of glass. Farming, textile making and blacksmithing were also popular trades. By the 1800’s Pittsburgh earned the nickname of “The Smoky City”, due to its manufacturing trade.

The Iron City-

In the later part of the 19th century Pittsburgh’s reputation began to be forever changed. The invention of the Bessemer converter gave laborers the ability to mass produce steel in a factory quickly and cheaply. Andrew Carnegie opened up the Edgar Thomson Works and from then on Pittsburgh became known as “The Iron City” and the blacksmith started to become obsolete.


From the late 1890’s through 1910 Pittsburgh’s population nearly doubled to one million residents. The banking industry was quickly emerging as a new trade within the city itself as the factories moved to the outskirts of town.

During the first half of the 20th century, just as Pittsburgh was becoming a modern city with the banking industry slowly bringing modernization to a strictly blue collar town, Pittsburgh became a victim of several unforeseen events that proved to be disastrous for the city. The Johnstown flood devastated nearby Johnstown in 1936 and claimed the lives of a lot of residents. Pittsburgh was also hit hard by the Great Depression and the collapse of the banking industry. WWI and WWII also took their tolls on the city.

After WWII, the United States found itself in a period of tremendous growth and Pittsburgh was no exception. Pittsburgh strived to make a comeback. Called Renaissance I, Pittsburgh was given a much needed face lift. Shopping malls, sports stadiums (including Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium), and business complexes were built. Another concern that came to the forefront of officials agendas was air quality. For so long Pittsburgh was the East coast Mecca of manufacturing and had the poor air quality to prove it. Vast efforts were made to clean up the dirty air that hung thick over the city on most any given day.

End of an Era-

In the early 1980’s Pittsburgh’s reign over US steel manufacturing came to an abrupt halt. All at once unemployment in Pittsburgh grew to an all time high. The population of Pittsburgh plummeted. Renaissance II was born. The Mellon Center and the USX building were built. The city began to make its transition from a manufacturing giant to a banking giant.

Looking Into the Future-

The city has changed a lot over the past 200 years but has survived each and every time it has been forced to reinvent itself. Pittsburgh remains a city rich in history and culture. The people of Pittsburgh are proud of their city and the struggles of those who lived there before them. With the drive of their ancestors inside of the people of Pittsburgh it is safe to say that Pittsburgh will live to reinvent itself again and again.