Origins of Steel City: Pittsburgh at a Glance

Many refer to it simply as “the Burgh” but Pittsburgh has an eclectic personality.  With over 90 neighborhoods to explore, it makes it difficult to decide where to begin. In order to make that decision easier, start in chronological order. Discover the city’s industrial roots, then understand why it became the country’s preferred commercial trade city, and finally, learn how it revived itself to become one of the most livable cities in the United States  today.

Pittsburgh the Steel City: Pre-Industrial Revolution Sites

Pittsburgh the Steel City: Fort Pitt Exhibit
Fort Pitt Exhibit (Image: Heinz History Center)

Before it was known as Pittsburgh the Steel City, its was a humble town recognized mostly for boats and glass production. Pay a visit to the museum at Fort Pitt and learn about the history of Pittsburgh. Find out about its role in the Whisky Rebellion and how the city became the ideal arsenal production capital during the Civil War. If you want to learn about glass art and production the way Pittsburghers did centuries ago, sign-up for one of the classes at the Pittsburgh Glass Center, a nonprofit school, gallery, and studio in the Friendship/Garfield neighborhood in the East End.

Location, Location, Location

Pittsburgh the Steel City: A View of Downtown Pittsburgh
A View of Downtown Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh sits right at meeting point of three important rivers: Allegheny, Ohio, and Monongahela. In addition to its prime river route location, the city and its surrounding areas also have plenty of natural resources. It was the country’s gateway to the Midwest. From here, you can easily rent a car at Pittsburgh Airport and drive west towards the Ohio Valley or head north to Lake Eerie. To understand the strategic importance of the city, catch a ride on the Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines and see for yourself why the French, the British, and the Native American Indians fought hard to take control of this city.

Steeler Nation

Pittsburgh the Steel City: The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Tour Exhibits
The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Tour Exhibits (Image: National Park Service)

The end of the 19th century marked the beginning of Pittsburgh’s Golden Age and Steel City was born. It was the country’s leading steel manufacturer and provided the materials for iconic construction projects like the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal locks. To experience Pittsburgh at its peak, consider taking a factory tour offered by The Rivers of Steel National Heritage group. The tour will take you within the confines of an old steel mill and blast furnace to understand how steel was made during the early days. There are also bodegas converted into public art facilities featuring intricate iron works.

The Legacy of Old Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh the Steel City: Jurassic Atrium at Carnegie Museum of Natural History
Jurassic Atrium at Carnegie Museum of Natural History (Image: Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh)

Some of the most famous names in big business and manufacturing made their fortunes in Pittsburgh during the turn of the 20th century including Andrew Carnegie, founder of Carnegie Steel Company. His contribution to the economical sustainability of Pittsburgh remains through various philanthropic bequests that include The Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The former is a collection of world-class museums dedicated to the arts and sciences and a popular spot for locals and visitors alike. The latter is a renowned research university.

The New Breed

Nowadays, Pittsburgh is one of the country’s most attractive metropolises, thanks to the city’s initiative to create a more livable city. The pollution has reduced drastically and neighborhoods like Lawrenceville and Mount Washington are hip again. Cheap hotels in Pittsburgh neighborhoods like North Shore and South Side are also helping to attract more visitors looking to experience the city’s revitalization.

As you can see, there is more it than just being Pittsburgh the Steel City. It has an intriguing history, beautiful scenery, and artistic culture worth discovering. For more information on accommodation check out this site for where to stay in Pittsburgh.

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About Iris A


Born in the Philippines, but grew up in Texas, Iris has been traveling and writing about her experiences for well over a decade. Her work has been published on well-known travel sites like Hipmunk (#hipmunkcitylove) and D Magazine Online Travel Club. She has been all over Europe, the US, and has recently started exploring Latin America. She loves trying local cuisine and visiting UNESCO deemed World Heritage sites. Her favourite city is New York, with London, following a close 2nd. You can follow her on Twitter @sundeeiris or through her travel blog, Traveling With Iris.

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