25 Things You Should Know About Pittsburgh
By Brooks Hays
There's more to this city of 306,000 than steel and football. Read on to learn more about Pennsylvania's second-largest town—including why some consider it Venice's rival.
1. Pittsburgh is the most populous (and the northernmost) city in the interstate region known as Appalachia. Though the term mostly brings to mind the overall-wearing farmers of the American South, three-quarters of Pennsylvania lies within the boundaries set by the federal Appalachian Regional Commission.
2. Pittsburgh is called the “City of Bridges” for good reason. With 446, it has more bridges than any other city in the world—three more than previous record-holder Venice, Italy.
When Pittsburghers aren’t crossing bridges, they’re climbing stairs. The city boasts 712 sets of public steps, more than other hilly cities like San Francisco (350) and Cincinnati (400).
4. In order to help maintain all those stairs, one neighborhood association hosts an annual StepTrek. If you're interested in participating, this year's event takes place October 3. But you better start training now, because you'll be climbing the equivalent of nearby Mount Washington, that famously hilly 'hood overlooking downtown.
5. Pittsburghers can always use a good stair climb to burn off the calories of the city’s official-unofficial sandwich. The specialty at famed Primanti Bros. features coleslaw and fries … on the sandwich.
Would you rather chow down on two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, and onions on a sesame seed bun? That fast food staple known as the Big Mac was invented in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area by McDonald's franchise owner Jim Delligatti in 1967. There's even a museum devoted to the sandwich, located in the 'burgh's burbs.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
You'll probably want fries with that Big Mac and, naturally, some ketchup. That condiment was most likely made and bottled by the world's most famous condiment producer, the Pittsburgh-based Heinz. You can thank founder Henry Heinz for the "ketchup" tag, by the way—he figured it would help his brand stand out from its catsup-hawking competitors.
8. After all that fast food, hit the Great Allegheny Passage, a 334.5-mile car-free trail for hikers, runners, and cyclists. It'll take you all the way from Pittsburgh to just outside Washington, D.C.
9. Though proudly rough around the edges, Pittsburgh residents are exceedingly friendly; that may be the legacy of one of its most famous sons, Mister Fred Rogers. The host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was a longtime Pittsburgh resident.
10. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood
was filmed and produced in Pittsburgh at PBS member television station WQED, the first community-sponsored television station in the U.S. and the fifth public TV station.
11. Despite what the sweet Mister Rogers told you, it isn’t always a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Pittsburgh is wetter than Seattle. It rains or snows an average of 151 days per year—that's two more than in the Emerald City.
12. Southerners say “y’all.” Philly residents say “yous guys.” Pittsburghers say “yinz.” As in, “Yinz want to get a pizza and watch a movie later?” Or: “Where yinz going with all those balloon animals?”
13. The City of Bridges is more commonly called the “Steel City”—and for good reason. In the late 19th century, the combination of the Bessemer steel production process and lots of cheap coal turned the city’s iron industry into a highly profitable steel industry.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
The golden age of the U.S. steel industry ran from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, and Pittsburgh was its epicenter. By 1911, the city produced half the nation’s steel. Pittsburgh steel was used to build the Empire State Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and other major infrastructure projects throughout the United States.
15. Pittsburgh was a key player in WWII. In total, the city delivered 95 million tons of steel to the war effort [PDF].
16. The city’s population peaked in 1950, at 676,806, but the collapse of the U.S. steel industry in the 1970s and '80s precipitated a mass exodus of workers and corporate headquarters from Pittsburgh. By 1990, its population was just 369,879.
17. Those star-like shapes on the Steelers' logo aren't stars at all, but an homage to—you guessed it—the steel industry. The Steelers' adopted the three hypocycloids used by the American Steel and Iron Institute in 1962.
Pittsburgh is a sports town, first and foremost. The city ranks second on the all-time championships list—and that’s without a pro basketball team.
19. The metropolis is home to plenty of learning and high-mindedness—really high mindedness. The University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning is the tallest academic building in the U.S. at 535 feet.
20. Dr. Jonas Salk created the world’s first polio vaccine while working at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in the 1950s.
21. Pittsburgh isn’t just a combination of manufacturing, laboratories, and libraries. It’s also hip. Pop art icon Andy Warhol was born, raised and schooled in the city’s Oakland neighborhood.
Pittsburgh never hosted Warhol’s “Factory.” But plenty of celebrities hail from the area, including Batman himself, Michael Keaton, as well as Charles Bronson, Jeff Goldblum, Demi Moore and Christina Aguilera, to name a few.
23. Speaking of pop art, the first digital emoticons—smiley and sad faces composed using a parenthesis, dash and colon—were created by Carnegie Mellon computer science student Scott Fahlman in the early '80s.
24. Before there was the smiley face, there was the stern face of “Rosie the Riveter." The famous wartime poster—part propaganda, part female empowerment—was painted by J. Howard Miller, an art student at Carnegie Tech.
Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
The first drive-in gas station was built on Baum Boulevard in 1913. Just something to think about on your next road trip—hopefully up to Pittsburgh.