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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21. Dan Rooney
The Steelers’ name and iconography may have been forged by team founder Art “The Chief” Rooney. But the team’s hard-nosed, tenacious tradition of scrapping — and winning — against all odds was forged by Art’s eldest son, longtime team president, owner and chairman Dan Rooney.
As the architect of the Steelers’ era-defining dominance in the 1970s, Dan made the franchise into a perennial powerhouse and established a bond between town and team unrivaled in American sports.
His charitable work with the Ireland Funds led to an appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland under Barack Obama, and he remained active in philanthropic endeavors until his death in 2017 at the age of 84. —SC
22. Arnold Palmer
An Arnold Palmer is a mixture of lemonade and iced tea — the man the drink is named after was a professional golfer, business executive, pilot, golf course designer and more.
Born in Latrobe in 1929, Palmer is credited with helping the game of golf become more accessible and is known as one of the best golfers and most popular sports figures in history.
Palmer won 92 championships, including the Masters four times, the British Open twice and the U.S. Open, and received a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2009 before his death in 2016. — JM
23. Hugh Henry Brackenridge
Considered by scholars to be an almost — but not quite — Founding Father for his close ties with the creators of American democracy, Hugh Henry Brackenridge lived a storied life as a writer, lawyer and publisher.
Born in Scotland in 1748, Brackenridge moved to the frontier town of Pittsburgh in 1781 to practice law. In 1786, he founded a local newspaper, The Pittsburgh Gazette, which lives on today as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
A year later, he worked to obtain an endowment to establish the University of Pittsburgh. Brackenridge’s account of the Whiskey Rebellion, “Incidents of the Insurrection in the Western Parts of Pennsylvania in the Year 1794,” is the finest first-hand recollection of that moment in history, and his novel, “Modern Chivalry,” is considered a masterpiece of its time. As a final feather in his cap, Brackenridge served as a justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court from 1799 until his death in 1816. —HBK
24. Frank Conrad
The next time you turn on the radio, thank Frank Conrad (1874-1941). One of the pioneers of commercial radio, whose experiments helped pave the way for modern television viewing, Conrad was assistant chief engineer at Westinghouse’s East Pittsburgh plant.
In 1919, from a modest brick garage in Wilkinsburg, Conrad sent the world’s first wireless voice broadcast, a two-hour music concert listened to by amateur radio buffs that continued to grow in popularity. Westinghouse soon took notice.
In 1920, Conrad, who had dropped out of school and went to work at Westinghouse at age 16, was asked to work on a new station owned by the company, which later became KDKA — America’s first commercial radio station. During his 37 years at Westinghouse, Conrad held more than 200 patents. —JS
25. David McCullough
There’s no doubt Pittsburgh has a lot of bridges, but you still have to do something pretty incredible to get one named for you.
David McCullough is an author, historian and lecturer with two Pulitzers, two National Book Awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom under his belt — and the 16th Street Bridge bears his name.
McCullough was born in 1933 in Pittsburgh and grew up in Point Breeze. He attended Yale University, got a job working for Sports Illustrated, then quickly earned fame and prestige with his first book, “The Johnstown Flood,” in 1968.
More narrative histories followed, notably “Truman,” “John Adams” (which won him the Pulitzer and was subsequently made into an acclaimed HBO series) and “1776.” He’s currently at work on “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West,” set to be published in May. —LD
The behind-the-scenes debates over the 50 Greatest Pittsburghers.
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