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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41. John Forbes
John Forbes (1710-1759) is our titleholder for “Greatest Pittsburgher Who Spent the Least Amount of Time in Pittsburgh.”
The British general captured Fort Duquesne in what is now Point State Park on Nov. 25, 1758, and was on his way back to Philadelphia on Dec. 3; he died three months later.
Although his time here was short, his legacy has long legs. The approximately 300-mile road he built to reach the frontier fort from British-held territory on the other side of the Allegheny Mountains later was improved into stretches of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Lincoln Highway and Route 22, as well as his eponymous thoroughfare that runs the length of modern-day Pittsburgh.
Plus, we wouldn’t be Pittsburgh without him; before General Forbes left the area he made plans for a new fort, Fort Pitt, named in honor of William Pitt the Elder, to be erected. For good measure, Forbes also decided to call the small settlement built on land at the confluence of the three rivers “Pittsburgh.” —HBK
42. Antoine Fuqua
Pittsburgh native Antoine Fuqua, born in 1966, made his name directing music videos back when MTV, and thus the culture at large, got its visual style from that medium.
After his clip for the massive mid-’90s hit “Gangsta’s Paradise” and his feature debut, “The Replacement Killers,” he helmed the lauded “Training Day,” which earned Denzel Washington a Best Actor Oscar.
Fuqua has since collaborated three more times with Washington on global hits (the two “Equalizer” films and the remake of “The Magnificent Seven”) which, along with his other blockbusters, have helped keep the action genre afloat amid a changing cinema landscape — and, in 2014, he came home to film the boxing drama “Southpaw.” —SC
43. Henry Mancini
While some speculate Henry Mancini was referring to the mighty Ohio when he composed his famous “Moon River,” lyricist Johnny Mercer was actually referencing the waterways of his Savannah home.
But Mancini, who was born in Cleveland in 1924 and raised in West Aliquippa, did indeed leave a legacy in western Pennsylvania in his 70 years. The Henry Mancini Arts Academy, a division of the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Beaver County, is named for him, as is the tri-county Henry Mancini Musical Theatre Awards for high school musicals, and a Beaver County bridge. Mancini’s musical legacy is vast: he was nominated for 72 Grammys, winning 20, and nominated for 18 Academy Awards, winning four; “Moon River” was 1961’s Best Original Song for “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
You’ll also recognize his work from numerous television shows, including the themes for “The Pink Panther” and “Peter Gunn.” —LD
44. Michael Chabon
The words “cloud factory” and an appreciation for the mystique of the Carrie Furnace are forever embedded into our DNA as both tangible places and fantastical ideologies thanks to author Michael Chabon.
Born outside of Washington, D.C., Chabon spent a portion of his adolescence in Pittsburgh and attended the University of Pittsburgh. He completed his debut novel, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” which features Carrie Furnace as well as the smoke stacks between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh as important plot devices, in his early 20s.
His second novel, “Wonder Boys,” also was set in Pittsburgh, and both have been made into feature films. He’s written several other acclaimed fiction and nonfiction works and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001. Chabon, 55, lives in Berkeley, Calif., with his wife and four children. —LD
45. Elsie Hillman
You can’t talk about charitable work in Pittsburgh without mentioning Elsie Hillman. The political activist and philanthropist was an advocate for women and minorities and served on many local government boards, commissions and tasks forces, including acting as chair of the Elsie H. Hillman Foundation and serving as a board member of WQED and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
Among many other organizations, the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and Hillman Cancer Center, Shadyside Hospital Foundation and the Urban League of Pittsburgh have all benefited from her and her billionaire husband, Henry’s, contributions.
Before her death in 2015 at age 89, Hillman became the recipient of eight honorary degrees and was named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania. —JM
The behind-the-scenes debates over the 50 Greatest Pittsburghers.
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