The 50 Greatest Pittsburghers of All Time
These are the people who, throughout the past 200-plus years, helped put Pittsburgh on the map. From familiar names to unexpected choices, these 50 made contributions both locally and nationally to fields ranging from business and government to culture and sports –– all of which put the spotlight on Pittsburgh.
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11. Dr. Thomas Starzl
Dr. Thomas E. Starzl became the lifeblood of Pittsburgh’s burgeoning medical community after performing the world’s first successful liver transplant in 1967 and subsequently joining the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He became chief of transplantation services at Presbyterian University Hospital (now UPMC Presbyterian) and worked in Pittsburgh until his death in 2017.
Starzl was born in 1926 in Iowa. He planned to become a priest until his mother died from breast cancer when he was 21. His undergraduate degree was in biology, and he attended Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago and trained in surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. His breakthrough organ transplant took place at the University of Colorado, where he worked until moving to Pittsburgh in 1981.
Starzl served as president of both The Transplantation Society and the American Society of Transplant Surgeons as well as founding president of the Transplant Recipients International Organization, committed to education, support and awareness for transplant recipients and donors and their families. He was awarded more than 200 honors during his career and became known as the “Father of Transplantation.” —LD
12. Roberto Clemente
In March 1973, the National Baseball Hall of Fame waived, for just the second time in its history, its eligibility requirements for entry. Roberto Clemente’s iconic status prompted the organization to eliminate its mandatory five-year waiting period in favor of what now is known as the “Roberto Clemente rule,” which allows for a player to be inducted six months after their death.
He played his entire professional career, 18 seasons, for the Pittsburgh Pirates, finishing with 3,000 hits, a lifetime batting average of .317, 12 Gold Gloves and the 1966 Most Valuable Player award. Clemente’s heroism transcended his notable feats on the baseball diamond — he dedicated his off-seasons to humanitarian work.
It ended up costing him his life: in 1972, on the way to bring food and supplies to survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua, the plane carrying Clemente crashed off the coast of Puerto Rico. He was 38. In Pittsburgh, the 6th Street Bridge, which connects Downtown to PNC Park, is known as the Roberto Clemente Bridge; a statue by Susan Wagner sits at the terminus of the bridge outside the park. The right field wall at the ballpark is 21 feet — a tribute to the number Clemente wore while playing for the Pirates. —HBK
13. George Westinghouse
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that George Westinghouse, who was born on Oct. 6, 1846, was the greatest engineer of his era who changed history through his inventions and by promoting the use of electricity for power and transportation.
Over the course of his life, he founded Westinghouse Electric and 59 other companies and received 361 patents. His first major breakthrough was the invention of the air brake, which replaced dangerous manual braking on trains and led to the founding of the Westinghouse Air Brake Co. in 1869. Continued work with the railroads evolved into the Union Switch and Signal Co. in 1881.
He promoted the use of natural gas when he drilled wells in the yard of his home in what is now North Point Breeze, where he also experimented with the alternating current system. That led to the founding of Westinghouse Electric, which employed Nikola Tesla. During the Panic of 1907, a nationwide financial crisis, Westinghouse lost control of the many companies he founded. He died on March 12, 1914. —BH
14. Andrew Mellon
Andrew W. Mellon, who was born on March 24, 1855, was not only noteworthy as a banker and businessman but also as a public servant, art collector and philanthropist.
In 1874, he joined the family bank, T. Mellon and Sons. Andrew Mellon became the financial backer for many Pittsburgh companies, including Alcoa and Gulf Oil, which made him one of the richest men in the United States by 1914.
In 1909, he and his brother Richard co-founded the Mellon Institute and School of Specific Industries at the University of Pittsburgh, which eventually helped to form Carnegie Mellon University. In 1921, he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by President Warren Harding and continued to serve in the Coolidge and Hoover administrations. The Great Depression cost Mellon his job in 1932.
He went on to serve as ambassador to Great Britain for a year. In his private life, Mellon amassed a significant art collection, which formed the basis of his gift that established the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Mellon died Aug. 26, 1937. —BH
15. Henry Clay Frick
Henry Clay Frick was born on Dec. 19, 1849, in West Overton, near Connellsville. In March 1871, Frick, in partnership with a cousin, acquired coking fields and built 50 coke ovens.
Within a decade, H.C. Frick Coke Co. would operate some thousand working ovens and produce almost 80 percent of the coke used by Pittsburgh’s iron and steel industries.
He and his wife bought Clayton, their home in Point Breeze, in 1882 and expanded it in 1891. It now houses The Frick Pittsburgh. Also in 1882, Frick entered into a profitable partnership with steel manufacturer Andrew Carnegie.
Frick’s reputation was tarnished when his refusal to negotiate with union workers led to the infamous and deadly Homestead strike of July 1892. The same month, Frick was attacked in a failed murder attempt.
Frick and Carnegie had a falling out that resulted in a settlement in 1900 in which Frick received $30 million in securities. In 1901, having moved from Pittsburgh to New York, Frick became one of the directors of J.P. Morgan’s newly incorporated United States Steel Corp. As was the fashion, Frick became a devoted art collector, and upon his death on Dec. 2, 1919, he left his New York home and artwork to become a gallery called The Frick Collection. He also gave 150 acres to create Frick Park in Pittsburgh. —BH
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