The 10 Brands That Built Pittsburgh
(page 11 of 11)
The Brands That Battled for Pittsburgh
Three of the city’s most storied brands don’t manufacture materials — they manufacture championships.
Among the three sports teams that made Pittsburgh the City of Champions, only one has maintained a single brand through its entire history.
When the Pittsburgh Penguins were born in 1967, the choice of a nickname was a natural fit; the already-standing Civic Arena routinely was called the Igloo, so a cold-weather creature was a necessity. (Sure, igloos are found in the Northern Hemisphere and penguins are found in the Southern Hemisphere, but let’s not quibble.) While an earlier, unrelated Pittsburgh NHL franchise used a different nickname — the Pirates, as a matter of fact — the current team has been the Penguins since game one.
That’s not the case for Pittsburgh’s oldest professional franchise. When the city fielded its first National League team in 1887, it was dubbed the Pittsburgh Alleghenies (a name left over from several earlier, non-big league incarnations). The name didn’t last long; the team has been called the Pirates since 1891, when the disputed signing of second baseman Louis Bierbauer (believed by some to have been bound to the Philadelphia Athletics) was described by a baseball bigwig as “piratical.”
Not long after those ice-skating Pirates left in 1930, the same name was adopted by Art Rooney Sr. as his football team entered the NFL in 1933; for the remainder of the ’30s, there were two sets of Pirates prowling Pittsburgh fields. That wasn’t even the first name for the Steel City football team; in its semi-pro days, it was known as the Hope Harveys, the James P. Rooneys and briefly (in an early nod to corporate sponsorship) as the Majestic Radios.
There’s a good bit of the city’s tale tied up in its team’s rising fortunes. The Pirates were the preferred team during the city’s steel heyday, the Steelers lifted the spirits of a city with a wave of championships as the mills closed and the Penguins established themselves as nearly perennial contenders as the city rebuilt and diversified. And Pittsburgh’s old-school looks are icons in their own right; go to a game, and you’re likely to spot more than a handful of ’70s “We Are Family” pillbox hats, light-blue Pens sweaters or bumblebee-striped Steelers jerseys in the stands.
A uniformity of style has helped these teams to solidify their brands. Other than the Penguins’ dalliances with shades of blue, black and gold has come to define Pittsburgh’s teams. The Steelers’ logo, borrowed from a design created by U.S. Steel (see page 68), represents more than a football team; it signifies the industrial lifeblood that built Pittsburgh. The triangle on which variations of Penguin characters have appeared was chosen to represent the Golden Triangle of Downtown. And the single-letter “P” that adorns Pirates caps has done so for a century.
The best way to build a brand, of course, is success. With six Super Bowl victories, five World Series titles and a quartet of Stanley Cups, Pittsburgh’s teams never have been far from a victory parade.
What better way to make a name?
— Sean Collier
PITTSBURGH: THE BRAND
In a city of iconic names, what images are evoked by the title of the town itself?
There once was a time, not too long ago, when a national publication running a story on Pittsburgh almost inevitably would use the word “hardscrabble.”
While Pittsburgh likely will always be associated with steel — and that tough-as-nails work ethic of immigrants who toiled in mills and factories will continue to be passed down through generations — the city’s image has changed rapidly in the past decade.
But let’s go back. In the 1800s, Pittsburgh was inundated with innovators who showed up at the confluence of three rivers and started making things.
“It was that reputation that started drawing people like George Westinghouse here in the mid-1800s — because they knew they could realize their dreams in Pittsburgh,” says Andrew Masich, president and CEO of the Sen. John Heinz History Center.
Those innovations — and the investors who funded them and the hardworking immigrants who forged them — sustained Pittsburgh’s image. But heavy industry came at a cost. After World War II, the world started viewing Pittsburgh differently, Masich says. It was no longer “a place where things are made and things get done.” It was a dirty city, an unhealthy city.
“I think that brand — the smoky city brand — persists even after the time when Pittsburgh was the smoky city,” Masich says. While the “hell with the lid off” image is hard to erase, the perception of Pittsburgh’s exports is changing.
“People knew about Pittsburgh through the products. Now they know about Pittsburgh through the people. We’ve exported so much talent,” Masich says.
He insists it’s no brain drain. While Pittsburgh might be molding physicians, inventors and engineers at its medical institutions, universities and research centers, only some are leaving.
Those who stay recognize all Pittsburgh has to offer: affordable historic housing, an ever-improving restaurant scene, great sports teams and a “cultural infrastructure” — including educational institutions, museums, libraries, symphonies, parks and theaters — “that far exceeds our population,” Masich says.
Brian O’Neill — a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist and author of “The Paris of Appalachia,” a must-read for all Pittsburghers who want to understand the heart and soul of this city — says he never anticipated the reality that is Pittsburgh in 2016.
“When I wrote the book in ... 2008, I was more optimistic, I think, than most people about Pittsburgh — more bullish on Pittsburgh. And it turns out, I wasn’t nearly optimistic enough,” he says. “It was somewhat brave of me to be writing a positive book about Pittsburgh back when nobody wanted to hear it.”
These days, national publications don’t call us “hardscrabble.” Our Rust Belt reputation, however proud, is fading. Now, when someone writes something about Pittsburgh, it’s a “most livable city.” The food scene is incredible. The views are gorgeous. The parks and rivers are clean and numerous. The housing stock makes New Yorkers reconsider a 600-square-foot apartment.
Despite all of these changes, if there’s one thing you’ve always been able to count on in Pittsburgh, it’s kindness. We’ve been upholding Mister Rogers’ values for 50 years. We hold doors. We offer help. We loan cake pans and lawnmowers to our neighbors.
This was on display on a warm evening in August outside the Modern Cafe in Allegheny West. There was a Steelers preseason game that night, and as two men got out of their car and headed toward Heinz Field, O’Neill abandoned his beer, asked if they were going to the game and warned them of the $120 fine for parking there on game days.
This type of kindness is not unique to Pittsburgh. But it is persistent, and it doesn’t discriminate. Want evidence? One of the men was wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey.
— Annie Siebert
The Future Brands of Pittsburgh
Which names will come to define Pittsburgh over the next century?
If you asked people in 1916 to name the brands that would be synonymous with Pittsburgh a century hence, they might have guessed a few correctly. Westinghouse was a household name by then, and plenty of people already owned Heinz pickle pins. But even the word “robot” wouldn’t exist for another four years. So how could they have imagined Google or Uber?
Vivek Wadhwa says it’s almost futile to try to make predictions further than a decade down the road. Lots of big brands won’t last even that long, according to the high-tech entrepreneur and thinker, who held faculty positions at Stanford and the futurist Singularity University before joining Carnegie Mellon University’s campus in Silicon Valley this summer.
“The concept of brand loyalty has changed,” says Wadhwa. “Companies are now terrified of their consumers because they can go online anytime and complain about a problem … That’s the new brand: what people think about you on social media.”
Wadhwa’s latest book on the future of technology, “Driver in the Driverless Car,” will be out this winter. The way Uber roared into Pittsburgh last year and recruited 40 CMU researchers to staff a new hub points toward how companies will make a name for themselves here in the future, he says — by mining what he calls “virgin territory.”
“Silicon Valley is building the same stupid photo-sharing apps. I’m talking about solving big problems with artificial intelligence, nanotech, robotics — R2-D2 being born in Pittsburgh,” Wadhwa says. “Think of science fiction now. There’s no reason why those couldn’t be built in Pittsburgh because you’ve got the scientific knowledge and you’ve got the entrepreneurial strength, and it’s dirt cheap. Here in Silicon Valley, it’s crazy expensive.”
“I think we will have a Henry Ford of robotics in Pittsburgh,” says John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic — a brand which, Thornton hopes, could be as iconic as Westinghouse or Heinz a century hence. The small Strip District-based company has a staff of 19 working on a plan to fly a robot-controlled lander to the moon, and if it manages to do so by the end of next year, it can win the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize. But Thornton also cares about leaving a trademark on history.
“We are planning the long game,” he says. “I think 100 years from now, we will have a human base on the moon that’s routine. Kids in that generation will be like, ‘Oh, we’ve always had a base on the moon.’ People will look back at Astrobotic and think of us as the very beginnings of that.” By that time, Thornton says, he imagines his company could be sending robotic probes to explore the galaxy.
Brands and even whole industries that don’t make it to 2116 still might be experienced anyway in advanced virtual-reality simulations of the past that people will play with and explore, says Jason Swanson, director of strategic foresight for the nonprofit organization KnowledgeWorks. A member of both the Association of Professional Futurists and the World Future Society, Swanson says his adopted city — he moved to Pittsburgh from Westchester, Pa., four years ago — lends some hometown brands an advantage in the contest for longevity.
“That myth and metaphor that we tell each other about what makes a city — that lasts longer than products and brands,” he says. “To have a long-lasting brand, it has to tie very strongly into a myth or metaphor. Heinz intrinsically ties into the city. As an outsider, I’ve always heard that. You think of Pittsburgh, you think of Heinz, Primanti’s and the Steelers.”
Thornton concurs: “I think Heinz will be around forever.”
— Mark Houser