The Big Mac, The Banana Split & Other Pittsburgh Firsts :-)


On Sunday night, Pittsburghers poured into the streets to celebrate the Steelers' latest championship. The franchise is the first to win six Super Bowl trophies, but being first is nothing new to the Steel City. For decades, Pittsburgh has been a place where things happen before they happen anywhere else. In honor of the six championships, here are six examples.

1. The First Polio Vaccine

In 1947, Jonas Salk arrived at the University of Pittsburgh to work on a flu vaccine. The March of Dimes offered Salk an opportunity to type strains of polio. He took the tedious assignment that experienced researchers passed over because he hoped it would lead to a better understanding of the virus. After John Enders discovered a way to grow polio cells on non-nerve tissue at Harvard, Salk and his research partner Julius Youngner decided to pursue a vaccine. The two found a way to kill the poliovirus—a dead virus increased by the amount of antibodies the immune system produces. Most researchers doubted that a killed-virus vaccine would be effective, yet Salk continued. By 1952, Salk had a vaccine that he used to inoculate his family and lab staff. Soon Pittsburgh school children at Arsenal Elementary School (still operating and within walking distance from my house) lined up to receive vaccinations. By 1955, Salk knew his vaccine was effective and he announced it to the world, and by 1994, polio was eradicated in the Americas. Today fewer than 2,000 cases exist in rural locations in Nigeria, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

2. The First Big Mac

More than 50 years ago, Pittsburgh businessman Jim Delligatti opened the first McDonald's franchise in the region. For years, he lost customers to the local Big Boy's restaurant, which offered its Big Boy burger, two patties on a special bun with Thousand Island dressing. In 1967, Delligatti created the Big Attraction—two hamburgers on a specially cut bun with a secret sauce. A year later, the McDonald's Corporation released the burger nationwide and it has remained popular ever since. A 1975 ad campaign helped the world remember the Big Mac and its ingredients: "two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame-seed bun." In the documentary Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock found more people who knew the Big Mac jingle than the national anthem. Every year, McDonalds sells 560 million Big Macs served in 13,700 locations in more than 100 countries worldwide. If you're ever in Pittsburgh to visit Heinz Field, take a trip to the world's most tasteful attraction, the Big Mac Museum, and take a picture with the world's largest Big Mac.

3. The First :-)

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In the early 1980s, Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists communicated with one another using b-boards, a precursor to chat rooms. But they found that their online jokes fell flat. Refusing to believe that everything they wrote wasn't funny or amusing, Scott E. Fahlman believed readers didn't understand when someone was using sarcasm and wit. He thought if there were some kind of signal, people would LOL when reading the b-board jokes. On September 19, 1982, Fahlman posted a message on the b-boards suggesting :-). Little did he know that his brief message would change how we chat.

4. The First Banana Split

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a pharmacy degree, 23-year-old David "Doc" Strickler worked behind the counter of Tassell Pharmacy in Latrobe, a town 30 miles east of Pittsburgh. In 1904, Doc created a new ice cream dessert that guys could buy their gals instead of an ice cream cone. He spooned a scoop each of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream into a dish. He topped the ice cream with pineapple, strawberry, and chocolate sauces and put the halves of a banana on each side of the ice cream. He finished it off with whipped cream, cherries, and nuts. When he had a tough time fitting the bananas and ice cream in a regular bowl, he commissioned a local glass company to make special dishes to hold what he dubbed a banana split. Pittsburgh long enjoyed being the birthplace of the banana split and celebrated the 100th anniversary in 2004, but someone forgot to tell the folks in Wilmington, Ohio. In June 2007, the Ohio town held a celebration for the 100th anniversary of the banana split, claiming one of its residents was the treat's creator. However, most sundae experts believe that Strickler is the true founder of the dessert. It could be that a Wilmington resident created the same dish without knowing the banana split existed.

5. Commercial Radio

In the early days of radio, Ham operators used radios to chat with one another. Frank Conrad had a huge network of Ham radio friends and he often played records over the airwaves for them. Conrad gained fans and regularly played records on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. When he ran out of his own records to play, the Hamilton Music Store gave him records in exchange for on-air promotion. Conrad's boss at Westinghouse, a company that made radio tubes, approached Conrad with an idea—he should play records for a large audience. Westinghouse was just hoping it would sell more radios, not knowing that the experiment would launch a mass communication revolution. Conrad debuted his first commercial broadcast on November 2, 1920, which was Election Day. In addition to playing records on KDKA, Leo Rosenberg announced the results on the Harding-Cox election. Feared his equipment would fail, Conrad spent the first broadcast monitoring the equipment in his garage. Other companies soon followed, and within four years, there were 600 commercial radio stations.

6. The First NFL Cheerleaders

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