Settled in 1795 and named in honor of John McKee, its founder, McKeesport remained a village until 1830 when coal mining began in the district. Large deposits of bituminous coal existed.
McKeesport was incorporated as a borough in 1842 and as a city in 1891. Population in 1900, 34,227; in 1910, 42,694; in 1914 (US estimate), 45,965; and in 1920, 45,975. 55,355 people lived in McKeesport in 1940. The decrease in the population is attributable to the general economic malaise which descended onto the region when the steel-making industry moved elsewhere. The major employer was the National Tube Works, which fashioned iron pipes, and which once employed 10,000 men. McKeesport is the site of the first G. C. Murphy 5 and 10 cents store.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.4 square miles (13.9 km²), of which, 5.0 square miles (12.9 km²) of it is land and 0.4 square miles (1.0 km²) of it (7.06%) is water.
Around the time of the French and Indian Wars, George Washington often came to McKeesport to visit his friend, Queen Alliquippa, a Seneca Indian ruler. After being settled by the McKee family in 1795, McKeesport began to grow in 1830 when coal mining began. The first schoolhouse was built in 1832, with James E. Huey as its schoolmaster (Huey Street in McKeesport is named for him). The city's first steel mill was established in 1851.
The National Tube Company opened in 1872 and became part of U.S. Steel. In the years directly following the opening of the National Tube Company, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, McKeesport was the fastest-growing municipality in the nation. Families arrived from other parts of the eastern United States, Italy, Germany, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary, with most working at the National Tube Company. The city's population reached a peak of 55,355 in 1940.
Households: There were 9,655 households out of which 28.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.7% were married couples living together, 21.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.1% were non-families. 33.9% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.35 and the average family size was 3.01.
Age Distribution: The population was well distributed by age, with 25.4% under 18, 7.5% from 18 to 24, 24.8% from 25 to 44, 21.3% from 45 to 64, and 20.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40. For every 100 females, there were 84.8 males; for every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 76.8 males.
Income: The median income for a household in the city was $23,715, and the median income for a family was $31,577. Males had a median income of $27,412 versus $21,977 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,242. About 18.1% of families and 23.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.9% of those under age 18 and 12.1% of those age 65 or over.