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History of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

For more than 10,000 years, Native Americans populated what is today the Pittsburgh region. Nearby Meadowcroft Rockshelter provides possible evidence of the oldest inhabitation of the Americas. The modern history of Pittsburgh began with a struggle between Native Americans, the French, and the British over the strategic juncture where the Allegheny River meets the Monongahela River to form the Ohio. The control of the forks of the Ohio River would determine dominion over the entire Ohio valley.

From the 1669 expedition of French explorer Robert LaSalle, the forks of the Ohio were recognized as the key to the interior of the continent, and according to LaSalle, possibly the key to the "western passage" to Asia. Starting in the early 1700s, European traders began to settle the area. In 1754, the French built Fort Duquesne to enforce LaSalle's territorial claims. This attempt to unite French Quebec with French Louisiana via the rivers led the alarmed British to act, resulting in the French and Indian War. After British General John Forbes seized Fort Duquesne from the French, he ordered the construction of Fort Pitt and named the settlement between the rivers "Pittsborough." This fortification was besieged for two months by Ohio Valley and Great Lakes tribes in a conflict known as Pontiac's Rebellion. Colonel Bouquet lifted the siege by defeating Pontiac's forces in the Battle of Bushy Run.

Following the American Revolution, the village around the fort continued to grow. One of its earliest industries was building boats for settlers to enter the Ohio Country. The year 1794 saw the short-lived Whiskey Rebellion, when farmers rebelled against federal taxes on whiskey. The War of 1812 cut off the supply of British goods, stimulating American manufacture and by 1815, Pittsburgh was producing significant quantities of iron, brass, tin, and glass products. By the 1840s, Pittsburgh had grown to one of the largest cities west of the Allegheny Mountains, although this expansion was stalled by a widespread fire in 1845, which burned more than a thousand buildings. The city recovered from this fire and by 1857, Pittsburgh had nearly 1,000 factories. The American Civil War boosted the city's economy still further, with increased demand for iron and armaments. Production of steel began in 1875, and by 1911, Pittsburgh was producing as much as half of the nation's steel. In the early 20th century, the city's population topped half a million, including many European immigrants. During World War II, Pittsburgh produced 95 million tons of steel.

Following World War II, the city launched a clean air and civic revitalization project known as the "Renaissance." The industrial base continued to expand through the 1960s, but in the 1980s, the steel industry imploded, with massive layoffs and mill closures. Pittsburgh shifted its economic base to education, services, tourism, medicine, and high technology. In 2000, the population had dropped to 330,000, because of the loss of jobs.

Native American era

For thousands of years, Native Americans inhabited the region where the Allegheny and the Monongahela join to form the Ohio. Paleo-Indians conducted a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in the region perhaps as early as 19,000 years ago. Meadowcroft Rockshelter, an archaeological site west of Pittsburgh, provides evidence that these first Americans lived in the region from that date. During the Adena culture that followed, Mound Builders erected a large Indian Mound at the future site of McKees Rocks, about three miles (5 km) from the head of the Ohio. The Indian Mound, a burial site, was augmented in later years by members of the Hopewell culture.

In the early 18th century, the Iroquois held dominion over the upper Ohio valley from their homelands in present-day New York State. Other Native American tribes in the upper Ohio valley included the Lenape, or Delawares, who had been displaced from eastern Pennsylvania by European settlement, and the Shawnees, who had migrated up from the south. Prior to the arrival of European explorers, these tribes and others had been devastated by European diseases, such as smallpox, measles, influenza, and malaria.

In 1748, when Conrad Weiser visited Logstown, downriver from Pittsburgh, he counted 789 warriors from different tribes:

Iroquois, or Six Nation:

Allies of Iroquois:


Shannopin's Town, a Seneca tribe village on the east bank of the Allegheny, was the home village of Queen Aliquippa, but was deserted after 1749. Sawcunk, on the mouth of the Beaver River, was a Lenape (Delaware) settlement and the principal residence of Shingas, a chief of the Lenapes. Chartier's Town was a Shawnee town and Kittanning was a Lenape and Shawnee village on the Allegheny with an estimated 300–400 residents.

Struggle for control of the forks of the Ohio (1747–1763)

The first Europeans arrived in the 1710s as traders. Michael Bezallion was the first to describe the forks of the Ohio in a manuscript in 1717, and later that year European traders established posts and settlements in the area. Europeans first began to settle in the region in 1748, when the first Ohio Company, an English land speculation company, won a grant of 200,000 acres (800 km²) in the upper Ohio Valley. From a post at present-day Cumberland, Maryland, the company began to construct an wagon road to the Monongahela River.

The French had built nearby Logstown for the Native Americans as a trade and council center to increase their influence in the Ohio valley. Between 1749-06-15 and 1749-11-10, an expedition headed by Celeron de Bienville, a French officer, traveled down the Allegheny and Ohio to bolster the French claim to the region. De Bienville warned away English traders and posted markers claiming the territory.

In 1753, Marquis Duquesne, the Governor of New France, sent another, larger expedition. At present-day Erie, Pennsylvania, an advance party built Fort Presque Isle. They also cut a road through the woods and built Fort Le Boeuf on French Creek, from which it was possible at high water to float to the Allegheny. By summer, an expedition of 1,500 French and Native American men descended the Allegheny. Some wintered at the confluence of French Creek and the Allegheny, where, the following year, they built Fort Machault.

Alarmed at these French incursions in the Ohio Valley, Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia sent Major George Washington to warn the French to withdraw. Accompanied by Christopher Gist, Washington arrived at the Forks of the Ohio on 1753-11-25, recording his impressions in his journal:

As I got down before the Canoe, I spent some Time in viewing the Rivers, & the Land in the Fork, which I think extreamly well situated for a Fort; as it has the absolute Command of both Rivers. The Land at the Point is 20 or

Proceeding up the Allegheny, Washington presented Dinwiddie's letter to the French commanders first at Venango, and then Fort Le Boeuf. The French officers received Washington with wine and courtesy, but did not withdraw.

Governor Dinwiddie then sent Captain William Trent to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio. On 1754-02-17 Trent began construction of the fort, the first European habitation at the site of present-day Pittsburgh. The fort, named Fort Prince George, was only half-built by April 1754, when over 500 French forces arrived and ordered the 40-some colonials back to Virginia. The French then tore down the British fortification and built Fort Duquesne.

Governor Dinwiddie then launched another expedition. Colonel Joshua Fry commanded the regiment which his second-in-command, George Washington, leading an advance column. On 1754-05-28, Washington's unit clashed with the French in the Battle of Jumonville Glen during which 13 French soldiers were killed and 21 were taken prisoner. After the battle, Washington's ally, Seneca chief Tanaghrisson, unexpectedly executed the French commanding officer, Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. The French pursued Washington and on 1754-07-03, George Washington surrendered following the Battle of Fort Necessity. These actions sparked the French and Indian War (1754–1763), or, the Seven Years' War, an imperial confrontation between England and France fought in both hemispheres.

In 1755, George Washington accompanied British General Braddock's expedition. Two regiments marched from Fort Cumberland across the Allegheny Mountains and into western Pennsylvania. Following a path Washington surveyed, over 3,000 men built a wagon road wide, that when complete, was the first road to cross the Appalachian Mountains. Braddock's Road, as it was known, blazed the way for the future National Road. The expedition crossed the Monongahela River on July 9, 1755. French troops from Fort Duquesne ambushed Braddock's expedition at Braddock's Field, nine miles (14 km) from Fort Duquesne. In the Battle of the Monongahela, the French inflicted heavy losses on the British, and Braddock was mortally wounded. The surviving British and colonial forces retreated. This left the French and their Native American allies with dominion over the upper Ohio valley.

On September 8, 1756, an expedition of 300 militiamen destroyed the Shawnee and Lenape village of Kittanning, and in the summer of 1758, British General John Forbes began a campaign to capture Fort Duquesne. At the head of 7,000 regular and colonial troops, Forbes built Fort Ligonier and Fort Bedford, from where he cut a wagon road over the Allegheny Mountains, later known as Forbes’ Road. On the night of September 13–14, 1758, an advance column under Major James Grant was massacred in the Battle of Fort Duquesne. The battleground, the high hill east of the Point, was named Grant's Hill in the memory of Major Grant. With this defeat, Forbes decided to wait until spring. But when he heard that the French had lost Fort Frontenac and largely evacuated Fort Duquesne, he planned an immediate attack. Now hopelessly outnumbered, the French abandoned and razed Fort Duquesne. Forbes occupied the burned fort on November 25, 1758 and ordered the construction of Fort Pitt, named after British Secretary of State William Pitt the Elder. He also named the settlement between the rivers, "Pittsborough." The British garrison at Fort Pitt made substantial improvements to its fortification. The French never attacked Fort Pitt. The French and Indian War ended with the Treaty of Paris (1763).

Gateway to the West (1763–1799)

In 1760, the first considerable settlement around Fort Pitt began to grow. Traders and settlers built two groups of houses and cabins, the "lower town," near the fort's ramparts, and the "upper town," along the Monongahela as far as present-day Market Street. In April 1761, a census ordered by Colonel Henry Bouquet counted 332 people and 104 houses.

In a final attempt to drive out the British, Pontiac's Rebellion began with an assault on British forts in May 1763. Ohio Valley and Great Lakes tribes overran many forts; one of their most important targets was Fort Pitt. Receiving warning of the coming attack, Captain Simeon Ecuyer, the Swiss officer in command of the garrison, prepared for a siege. He leveled the houses outside the ramparts and ordered all settlers into the fort: 330 men, 104 women, and 196 children sought refuge inside its ramparts. Captain Ecuyer also gathered stores which included hundreds of barrels of pork and beef. Pontiac's forces attacked the fort on June 22, 1763. The siege of Fort Pitt lasted for two months. Pontiac's warriors kept up a continuous, though ineffective, fire on it from July 27 through August 1, 1763. Then they drew off to meet the relieving party under Colonel Bouquet, which defeated them in the Battle of Bushy Run. This victory sealed British dominion over the forks of the Ohio, if not the entire Ohio valley. In 1764 Colonel Bouquet added a redoubt, the \"Block House,\" which still stands, the sole remaining structure from Fort Pitt and the oldest authenticated building west of the Allegheny Mountains.

The Iroquois signed the Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1768, ceding the lands south of the Ohio to the British. European expansion into the upper Ohio valley increased. An estimated 4,000 to 5,000 families settled in western Pennsylvania between 1768 and 1770. Of these settlers, about a third were English, a third were Scottish-Irish, and the rest were Welsh, German and others. These groups tended to settle together in small farming communities, but often their households were not within hailing distance. The life of a settler family was one of relentless hard work: clearing the forest, stumping the fields, building cabins and barns, planting, weeding, and harvesting. In addition, almost everything had to be manufactured by hand, including furniture, tools, candles, buttons, and needles. Settlers had to deal with harsh winters, and with snakes, black bears, mountain lions, and timber wolves. Because of the fear of raids by Native Americans, the settlers often built their cabins near, or even on top of, springs. They also built blockhouses, where neighbors would rally during conflicts.

Increasing violence with especially the Shawnee, Miami, and Wyandot tribes lead to Dunmore's War in 1774, and conflict with Native Americans continued throughout the American Revolution. In 1777, Fort Pitt became a United States fort, when Brigadier General Edward Hand took command. In 1779, Colonel Daniel Brodhead led 600 men from Fort Pitt to destroy Seneca villages along the upper Allegheny.

With the war still ongoing, in 1780 Virginia and Pennsylvania came to an agreement on their mutual borders, creating the state lines known today and determining finally that the Pittsburgh region was Pennsylvanian. In 1783, the Revolutionary War ended, which also brought at least a temporary cessation of border warfare. In the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the Iroquois ceded the land north of the Purchase Line to Pennsylvania.

After the Revolution, the village of Pittsburgh continued to grow. One of its earliest industries was boat building. With its strategic location at the mouth of the Ohio, and plentiful timber close by, Pittsburgh was well-situated for the building of flatboats, used by settlers to reach the Ohio country, and for farmers to send their products down river, sometimes as far as New Orleans. Often these boats would be broken up at their destination and used for construction materials. Prior to steam power, the up-river journey, by poling, rowing and pulling, was slow and expensive, but long, narrow keelboats were built for the purpose.

The village began to develop vital institutions. Hugh Henry Brackenridge, a Pittsburgh resident and state legislator, introduced a bill that resulted in a gift deed of land and a charter for the Pittsburgh Academy in February 28, 1787. The Academy later became the University of Western Pennsylvania (1819) and the University of Pittsburgh (1908).

Many farmers distilled their corn harvest into whiskey, increasing its value while lowering its transportation costs. At that time, whiskey was used as a form of currency on the frontier. When the federal government imposed an excise tax on whiskey, Western Pennsylvania farmers felt victimized, leading to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794. Farmers from the region rallied at Braddock's Field and marched on Pittsburgh. The short-lived rebellion was put down, however, when President George Washington sent in militias from several states.

The town continued to grow in manufacturing capability. In 1792, the boatyards in Pittsburgh built a sloop, Western Experiment. During the next decades, the yards produced other large boats. By the 1800s, they were building ocean-going vessels that shipped goods as far as Europe. In 1794, the town's first courthouse, a wooden structure on Market Square, was built. In 1797, the manufacture of glass began.

Year City Population
1761 332
1796 1,395
1800 1,565

Iron City (1800–1859)

Commerce continued to be an essential part of the economy of early Pittsburgh, but increasingly, manufacture began to grow in importance. Pittsburgh sat in the middle of one of the most productive coalfields in the country; the region was also rich in petroleum, natural gas, lumber, and farm goods. Blacksmiths forged iron implements, from horse shoes to nails. By 1800, the town, with a population of 1,565 persons, had over 60 shops, including general stores, bakeries, and hat and shoe shops.

The 1810s were a critical decade in Pittsburgh's growth. In 1811, the first steamboat was built in Pittsburgh. Increasingly, commerce would also flow upriver. The War of 1812 was catalytic in the growth of the Iron City. The war with Britain, the manufacturing center of the world, cut off the supply of British goods, stimulating American manufacture. Also, the British blockade of the American coast increased inland trade, so that goods flowed through Pittsburgh from all four directions. By 1815, Pittsburgh was producing $764K in iron; $249K in brass and tin, and $235K in glass products. When, on March 18, 1816, Pittsburgh was incorporated as a city, it had already taken on some of its defining characteristics: commerce, manufacture, and a constant cloud of coal dust. With a population of 6,000, Pittsburgh was already Pittsburgh.

Other emerging towns challenged Pittsburgh. In 1818, the first segment of the National Road was completed, from Baltimore to Wheeling, bypassing Pittsburgh. This threatened to render the town less essential in east-west commerce. In the coming decade, however, many improvements were made to the transportation infrastructure. In 1818, the region's first river bridge, the Smithfield Street Bridge, opened, the first step in building the city of bridges. In 1820, the original Pennsylvania Turnpike was completed, connecting Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. In 1834, the Pennsylvania Main Line Canal was completed. Now Pittsburgh was part of a transportation system that included rivers, roads, and canals.

Manufacture continued to grow. In 1835, McClurg, Wade and Co. built the first locomotive west of the Alleghenies. Already, Pittsburgh was capable of manufacturing the most essential machines of its age. By the 1840s, Pittsburgh was not a town, but one of the largest cities west of the mountains. In 1841, the Second Court House, on Grant's Hill, was completed. Made from polished gray sandstone, the court house had a rotunda in diameter and high.

Like many burgeoning cities of its day, Pittsburgh's growth outstripped some of its necessary infrastructure, such as a water supply with dependable pressure. Because of this, on April 10, 1845, a great fire burned out of control, destroying over a thousand buildings and causing $9M in damages. As the city rebuilt, the age of rails arrived. In 1851, the Ohio and Pennsylvania Railroad began service between Cleveland and Allegheny City (present-day North Side). In 1854, the Pennsylvania Railroad began service between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Despite many challenges, Pittsburgh had grown into an industrial powerhouse. An 1857 article provided a snapshot of the Iron City:

  • 939 factories in Pittsburgh and Allegheny City
    • employing more than 10K workers
    • producing almost $12M in goods
    • using 400 steam engines
  • Total coal consumed — 22M bushels
  • Total iron consumed — 127K tons
  • In steam tonnage, third busiest port in the nation, surpassed only by New York City and New Orleans.

Year City Population City Rank
1800 1,565 NA
1810 4,768 31
1820 7,248 23
1830 12,568 17
1840 21,115 17
1850 46,601 13
1860 49,221 17

Steel City (1859–1946)

During the mid 1800s, Pittsburgh witnessed a dramatic influx of German immigrants, including a brick mason whose son, Henry J. Heinz, founded the H.J. Heinz Company in 1872. Heinz was at the forefront of reform efforts to improve food purity, working conditions, hours, and wages, but the company bitterly opposed the formation of an independent labor union.

The iron industry in Pittsburgh was thriving. In 1859, the Clinton and Soho iron furnaces introduced coke-fire smelting to the region. The American Civil War boosted the city's economy with increased production of iron and armaments, especially at the Allegheny Arsenal and the Fort Pitt Foundry. Arms manufacture included iron-clad warships and the world's first 21" gun. By war's end, over one-half of the steel and more than one-third of all U.S. glass was produced in Pittsburgh. A milestone in steel production was achieved in 1875, when the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock began to make steel rail using the new Bessemer process.

Industrialists such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, Andrew W. Mellon, and Charles M. Schwab built their fortunes in Pittsburgh. George Westinghouse, credited with such advancements as the air brake and alternating current, founded over 60 companies, including Westinghouse Air and Brake Company (1869), Union Switch & Signal (1881), and Westinghouse Electric Company (1886). Banks played a key role in Pittsburgh's development as these industrialists sought massive loans to upgrade plants, integrate industries and fund technological advances. For example, T. Mellon & Sons Bank, founded in 1869, helped to finance an aluminum reduction company that became Alcoa.

As a manufacturing center, Pittsburgh also became an arena for intense labor strife. During the great railroad strike of 1877, Pittsburgh erupted into widespread rioting. Dozens died and over 40 buildings were burned down, including the Union Depot of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Fifteen years later, in 1892, another tragic episode in labor relations resulted in 10 deaths when Carnegie Steel Company's manager Henry Clay Frick sent in Pinkertons to break the Homestead Strike. Labor strife continued into the years of the Great Depression, with further organization of H.J. Heinz workers, with the assistance of the Catholic Radical Alliance.

Andrew Carnegie, a former Pennsylvania Railroad executive turned steel magnate, founded the Carnegie Steel Company. He proceeded to play a key role in the development of the U.S. steel industry. In 1890, he established the first Carnegie Library, and in 1895, the Carnegie Institute. In 1901, as the U.S. Steel Corporation formed, he sold his mills to J.P. Morgan for $250 million, making him one of the world's richest men. Carnegie once wrote that a man who dies rich, dies disgraced. He devoted the rest of his life to public service, establishing libraries, trusts, and foundations. In Pittsburgh, he founded the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) and the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.

The third (and present) Allegheny County Courthouse and Jail was completed in 1886. In 1890, trolleys began operations. In 1907, Pittsburgh annexed Allegheny City, which is now known as the North Shore.

By 1911, Pittsburgh had grown into an industrial and commercial powerhouse:

  • Nexus of a vast railway system, with freight yards capable of handling 60K cars
  • of harbor
  • Yearly river traffic in excess of 9M tons
  • Value of factory products more than $211M (with Allegheny City)
  • Allegheny county produced, as percentage of national output, about:

To escape the soot of the city, many of the wealthy lived in the Shadyside and East End neighborhoods, a few miles east of downtown. Fifth Avenue was dubbed "Millionaire's Row" because of the many mansions lining the street. Oakland became the city's predominant cultural and educational center, including four universities, multiple museums, a library, a music hall, and a botanical conservatory. Oakland's University of Pittsburgh erected the world's second-tallest educational building, the 42-story Cathedral of Learning. It towered over Forbes Field, where the Pittsburgh Pirates played from 1909–1970.

Between 1870 and 1920, the population of Pittsburgh grew almost sevenfold. Many of the new residents were immigrants who sought employment in the factories and mills and introduced new traditions, languages, and cultures to the city. Ethnic neighborhoods emerged on densely populated hillsides and valleys, such as Polish Hill, Bloomfield, and Squirrel Hill, home to 28% of the city's almost 21,000 Jewish households. The Strip District, the city's produce distribution center, still boasts many restaurants and clubs that showcase these multicultural traditions of Pittsburghers.

The years 1916–1930 marked the largest migration of African-Americans to Pittsburgh. Known as the cultural nucleus of Black Pittsburgh, Wylie Avenue in the Hill District was an important jazz mecca. Jazz greats such as Duke Ellington and Pittsburgh natives Billy Strayhorn and Earl Hines played there. Two of the Negro League's greatest rivals, the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Homestead Grays, often competed in the Hill District. The teams dominated the Negro National League in the 1930s and 1940s.

During World War II, Pittsburgh's mills contributed 95 million tons of steel to the Allied war effort.

Year City Population City Rank
1860 49,221 17
1870 86,076 16
1880 156,389 12
1890 238,617 13
1900 321,616 11
1910 533,905 8
1920 588,343 9
1930 669,817 10
1940 671,659 10
1950 676,806 12

Renaissance I (1946–1973)

Rich and productive, Pittsburgh was also the "Smoky City," with smog sometimes so thick that streetlights burned during the day as well as rivers that resembled open sewers. Civic leaders, notably Mayor David L. Lawrence, elected in 1945, and Richard K. Mellon, chairman of Mellon Bank, began smoke control and urban revitalization, also known as Urban Renewal projects that transformed the city in unforeseen ways.

"Renaissance I" began in 1946. Title One of the Housing Act of 1949 provided the means in which to begin. By 1950, vast swaths of buildings and land near the Point were demolished for Gateway Center. 1953 saw the opening of the (since demolished) Greater Pittsburgh Municipal Airport.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the lower Hill District, an area inhabited predominantly by people of African descent, was completely destroyed. Ninety-five acres of the lower Hill District were cleared using eminent domain, forcibly displacing hundreds of small businesses and over 1,200 residents, to make room for a cultural center that included the Civic Arena, which opened in 1961. Other than one apartment building, none of the other buildings planned for the cultural center were ever built.

In the early 1960s, the neighborhood of East Liberty was also included in Renaissance I Urban Renewal plans, with over of the neighborhood being demolished and replaced with garden apartments, three 20-story public housing apartments, and a convoluted road-way system that circled a pedestrianized shopping district. In the span of just a few years during the mid-1960s, East Liberty became a blighted neighborhood. There were some 575 businesses in East Liberty in 1959, but only 292 in 1970, and just 98 in 1979. The businesses that remained tended not to serve the majority of nearby Pittsburghers, but only the captive audience that remained in what was now an urban ghetto.

Urban Renewal plans for the North Shore included demolition of all structures from and including East Street to the Ohio River Boulevard.

In reaction to the massive demolition campaigns and the imminent threat to the Pittsburgh's North Side, Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr. and James Van Trump created the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, which advocated community development and revitalization through preservation instead of dislocation and demolition. This marked the birth of the national preservation movement that continues to this day.

Preservation efforts by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, along with community neighborhood groups, resisted the demolition plans. The neighborhoods containing rich architectural heritage, including the Mexican War Streets, Allegheny West, and Manchester, were spared. The center of Allegheny City with its culturally and socially important buildings were not as lucky. All of the buildings, with the exception of the Old U.S. Post Office, the Carnegie Library, and Buhl Planetarium were destroyed and replaced with the "pedestrianized" Allegheny Center mall and apartments.

Despite this faux pas, the city's industrial base continued to grow. Jones and Laughlin Steel Company expanded its plant on the Southside. H.J. Heinz, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, Alcoa, Westinghouse, U.S. Steel and its new division, the Pittsburgh Chemical Company and many other companies also continued robust operations through the 1960s. 1970 marked the completion of the final building projects of Renaissance I: the U.S. Steel Tower and Three Rivers Stadium. In 1974, with the addition of the fountain at the tip of the Golden Triangle, Point State Park was completed. Although air quality was dramatically improved, and Pittsburgh's manufacturing base seemed solid, questions abound about the negative effects Urban Renewal continues to have on the social fabric of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, however, was about to undergo one of its most dramatic transformations.

Reinvention (1973–present)

During the 1970s and 1980s, the U.S. steel industry came under increasing pressure from foreign competition. Manufacture in Germany and Japan was booming. Foreign mills and factories, built with the latest technology, benefited from lower labor costs and powerful government-corporate partnerships, allowing them to capture increasing market shares of steel and steel products. Separately, demand for steel softened due to recessions, the 1973 oil crisis, and increasing use of other materials. At this critical juncture, free market, anti-union policies, and deregulation, especially under President Ronald Reagan, came into play. Free market pressures exposed the U.S. steel industry's own internal problems, which included a now-outdated manufacturing base that had been over-expanded in the 1950s and 1960s, hostile management and labor relationships, the inflexibility of United Steelworkers regarding wage cuts and work-rule reforms, oligarchic management styles, and poor strategic planning by both union and management. In particular, Pittsburgh faced its own challenges. Local coke and iron ore deposits were depleted, raising material costs. The large mills in the Pittsburgh region also faced competition from newer, more profitable "mini-mills" and non-union mills with lower labor costs.

Beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the steel industry in Pittsburgh began to implode. Following the 1981–1982 recession, for example, the mills laid off 153,000 workers. The steel mills began to shut down. These closures caused a ripple effect, as railroads, mines, and other factories across the region lost business and closed. The local economy suffered a depression, marked by high unemployment and underemployment, as laid-off workers took lower-paying, non-union jobs. Pittsburgh suffered as elsewhere in the Rust Belt with a declining population, and like many other U.S. cities, it also saw white flight to the suburbs. The region, and the city in particular, were further impaired by high taxes relative to other cities and regions, as the city and county governments continued to increase spending despite a declining population. This situation eventually led to the city's bankruptcy.

Year City Population City Rank Population of the Urbanized Area
1950 676,806 12 1,533,000
1960 604,332 16 1,804,000
1970 540,025 24 1,846,000
1980 423,938 30 1,810,000
1990 369,879 40 1,678,000
2000 334,563 51 1,753,000
The Pittsburgh Urban Area remains the 22nd largest in the U.S., between those of Cleveland, Ohio and Portland, Oregon.

Today, there are no steel mills within the city limits of Pittsburgh, although manufacture continues at regional mills, such as the Edgar Thomson Works in nearby Braddock. Beginning in the 1980s, Pittsburgh's economy shifted from heavy industry to services, medicine, higher education, tourism, banking, corporate headquarters, and high technology. Today, the top two private employers in the city are the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (26,000 employees) and the University of Pittsburgh (10,700 employees).

Despite the economic turmoil, civic improvements continued. In the mid-1970s, Arthur P. Ziegler, Jr. and the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation (Landmarks) wanted to demonstrate that historic preservation could be used to drive economic development without the use of eminent domain or public subsidies. Landmarks acquired the former terminal buildings and yards of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad, a long property at the base of Mt. Washington facing the City of Pittsburgh. In 1976, Landmarks developed the site as a mixed-use historic adaptive reuse development that gave the foundation the opportunity to put its urban planning principles into practice. Aided by an initial generous gift from the Allegheny Foundation in 1976, Landmarks adapted five historic Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad buildings for new uses and added a hotel, a dock for the Gateway Clipper fleet, and parking areas. Now shops, offices, restaurants, and entertainment anchor the historic riverfront site on the south shore of the Monongahela River, opposite the Golden Triangle (Pittsburgh). Station Square is Pittsburgh’s premiere attraction generating over 3,500,000 visitors a year. It reflects a $100 million investment from all sources, with the lowest public cost and highest taxpayer return of any major renewal project in the Pittsburgh region since the 1950s. In 1994, Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation sold Station Square in to Forest City Enterprises which created an endowment to help support its restoration efforts and educational programs. Each year the staff and docents of Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation introduce more than 10,000 people — teachers, students, adults, and visitors — to the architectural heritage of the Pittsburgh region and to the value of historic preservation.

In 1985, the J & L Steel site on the north side of the Monongahela river was cleared and a publicly subsidized High Technology Center was built. The Pittsburgh Technology Center, home to many major technology companies, is planning major expansion in the area soon. In the 1980s, the "Renaissance II" urban revitalization created numerous new structures, such as PPG Place. In the 1990s, the former sites of the Homestead, Duquesne and South Side J&L mills were cleared. In 1992, the new terminal at Pittsburgh International Airport opened. In 2001, the aging Three Rivers Stadium was replaced by Heinz Field and PNC Park, despite being rejected by voter referendum.

Present-day Pittsburgh, with a diversified economy, a low cost of living, and a rich infrastructure for education and culture, has been ranked as one of the World's Most Livable Cities.

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