A History of Pittsburgh, in 50 Artifacts

For a city only two centuries old, Pittsburgh has amassed a surprising amount of history. To assemble this collection of 50 of the region’s most fascinating historical artifacts, we hunted through museums, archives and private collections. We also looked for things many of us might pass each day without appreciating their significance. History, at its core, is a story. Each of these objects is a part of a bigger story — of a confluence of three rivers flowing down through the ages, and of the people who came to live by those rivers, and what they made and said and did.


Heinz pickle sizer  (ca. 1900)
Salesmen for the H.J. Heinz Co. would bring this case with sample models of various pickle sizes when they went on sales calls. The company regulated the size of pickles in their barrels, allowing salesmen to tell grocers how many each barrel held and helping them to calculate profits more accurately.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

First Gateway Clipper propeller (1958)
As the city’s first major pollution-control efforts began to improve the rivers, local marketing maven John Connelly bought the Bridget Ann, a Lake Erie fishing-excursion boat, and brought it to Pittsburgh via the Great Lakes and the Mississippi and Ohio rivers. The first vessel in the Gateway Clipper fleet berthed at the Mon Wharf and sometimes at Point State Park, which  then was under construction.  (MH)
~ Office of Gateway Clipper Fleet President Terry Wirginis​​

Roberto Clemente’s bat & Three Rivers Stadium home plate  (1971)
The legendary Puerto Rican outfielder capped his 17th season with the Pittsburgh Pirates with an MVP performance in the World Series against the defending champion Baltimore Orioles. Clemente batted .414 in the series, with 12 hits and two home runs, and he hit safely in all seven games to duplicate his feat from his first World Series in 1960. Slightly more than a year later, Clemente died in a plane crash while trying to deliver earthquake-relief supplies to Nicaragua.  (MH)
~ Roberto Clemente Museum

Miller Point  (ca. 10,000 B.C.E.)
Unearthed by Pitt archaeologists in the 1970s at a creekside cliff now known as Meadowcroft Rockshelter, this lance point upended theories about when and how people first came to the Americas. It and other artifacts found at the site were the first evidence that humans inhabited North America several millennia before the Bering land bridge was passable. The Miller point is named for Albert Miller, the farmer, conservationist and amateur historian who was first to discover ancient stone tools at the cliff on his land in Washington County.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center


White House water decanters  (1818-1819)
The Pittsburgh glass house Bakewell, Page and Bakewell crafted these elaborately engraved vessels for U.S. President James Monroe; they are the only known remaining objects from a set that once contained 340 pieces. Considered to be among the finest service-set glassware of the era, they are notable for their remarkable clarity.  (HBK)
~ Carnegie Museum of Art


Last I-beam rolled at Homestead Works  (1986)
This segment of the last steel beam produced at the massive mill was treasured by steelworker Neil Murray, though not by his wife, who reportedly used it as a doorstop. Murray was reportedly in tears when he donated it to the steel museum in 2001. For a century, U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works, which stretched for 3 miles and more than 400 acres along the Mon, rolled out rails like this, plus beams, tubes and plate. At its peak during World War II, it had 20,000 employees on the payroll.  (MH)
~ Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area Museum

Duquesne Incline drive gear  (1877)
This original drive gear, with its replaceable wooden teeth, has been pulling Duquesne Incline cars up and down Mount Washington since it was called Coal Hill. Celebrating its 140th birthday this year, the iconic incline almost didn’t make it to the century mark. A citizens’ group saved it in 1963 after it had closed, seemingly for good.  (MH)
~ Duquesne Incline

Alcoa’s “crown jewels”  (1886)
Experimenting in his backyard woodshed in Ohio, 22-year-old Oberlin College student Charles Martin Hall discovered a new and far cheaper way to make aluminum. With these button-sized ingots, Hall won the backing of Pittsburgh financiers, creating the company that would become Alcoa. The company eventually commissioned a velvet-lined aluminum display case for them.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Uniform of 155th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment  (1864)
The regiment was formed in 1862 and wore the standard Union togs until 1864, when it was rewarded for excellence in drills with a uniform based on the fashionable French “Zouave” costume that originated in North Africa. A teenage private in the 155th, William Montgomery, was the last soldier in the Army of the Potomac to be killed in the war, shot by a Rebel cannon an hour before Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  (MH)
~ Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum

Rifle cartridge  (ca. 1862)
To load their rifles, Civil War troops tore open a paper cartridge, poured the gunpowder and ball it contained into the barrel, tamped it down, aimed and fired. Many of those cartridges were rolled and folded by hand by young women and girls at the Allegheny Arsenal in Lawrenceville. On Sept. 17, 1862 — the same day as the Battle of Antietam — a horrific explosion killed 78 workers and injured 150 more. War’s demand was unrelenting, and soon more girls were assembling cartridges in temporary buildings there.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Surveyor’s transit for Liberty Tunnels project  (1919)
Burrowing a mile through Mount Washington to clear a passageway for cars — and horse-drawn  carriages too, at first — led to a South Hills housing boom when the Liberty Tunnels opened in 1924. The project’s chief engineer Amos Neeld used this tool; he had just three years to brag that he built the world’s longest road tunnel before the Holland Tunnel opened in New York. (MH)
~ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland

Early published work by Rachel Carson  (1922)
Four decades before the publication of her groundbreaking environmentalist work “Silent Spring,” in which she asked readers to imagine a world in which pesticides had killed off all songbirds, 14-year-old Springdale native Rachel Carson submitted an essay to St. Nicholas, a literary magazine for children, entitled “My Favorite Recreation” — naturally, about birdwatching.  (MH)
~ Rachel Carson Homestead

Milkshake mixer  (1950s)
Klavon’s, the Strip District ice-cream parlor that opened in 1923, keeps things decidedly old-school with its decor. It get seriously modern with its milkshakes, though. Those shakes — chocolate, cookies ‘n’ cream and peanut butter are popular flavors — are blended in an original 1950s Jadeite green porcelain Hamilton Beach triple-milkshake mixer.  (HBK)
~ Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor

Mellon mansion marble  (1909)
Among the grand touches in Richard B. Mellon’s Squirrel Hill mansion, completed in 1909 on land that now is Mellon Park, was an archway of French marble. The mansion was demolished in 1941. Decades later, pieces of the marble were discovered in storage in Minneapolis and now are part of the decor at BLEND Cigar Bar, Downtown.  (SC)
~ BLEND Cigar Bar

Erroll Garner’s microphone  (1958)
This vintage condenser microphone was used by Wilkinsburg-born pianist Erroll Garner, whose many popular compositions include the 1954 romantic jazz standard “Misty.” But it wouldn’t have recorded any nonsense about helpless kittens in trees; Garner played “Misty” for you, he didn’t sing it. The lyrics were added later for a Johnny Mathis recording.  (KP)
~ University of Pittsburgh

Resusci Anne  (1960)
Dr. Peter Safar was an Austrian-born pioneer of cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other emergency medicine as well as a longtime faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh. Inspired by a Safar lecture on CPR at a 1958 conference in Norway, a Norwegian doctor worked with a local dollmaker to design a mannequin for CPR training, which they presented to Safar. Trainees learned to ask, “Annie, are you OK?” — including Michael Jackson, who then used the phrase in his hit “Smooth Criminal.”  (KP)
~ University of Pittsburgh

Noah’s Ark monkey  (1936)
This monkey is one of several animals carved by James McDonough, an art professor at Florida State University, for the original 1936 Noah’s Ark
attraction at Kennywood Park. McDonough was a relative of the McSwigan family, who along with the Henninger family owned and operated the park
for more than a century.  (SC)
~ Kennywood Park Archives



Brick wall from Duquesne Gardens  (1899)
Originally a trolley barn, this Oakland venue on North Craig Street was converted into an indoor ice rink that for years was touted as the largest in North America. It lured many Canadian players to Pittsburgh in hockey’s early years as a spectator sport, at first for the semi-pro Yellow Jackets. With the Pirates, formed in 1925, Pittsburgh became the third U.S. city (after Boston and New York) with an NHL team, but the team wouldn’t survive the Great Depression.  (SC)
~ PPG Paints Arena

Olympic hockey silver medal  (1924)
A star center for early Pittsburgh hockey teams the Yellow Jackets and the Pirates, Ontario transplant Herb Drury won a silver medal with the U.S. Olympic team in 1920 and was chosen as his adopted country’s flag-bearer for the 1924 Winter Games. He scored 21 goals in the first four matches but only one in the final, which Canada won 6-1, consigning Drury and his teammates
to another silver.  (MH)
~ Western Pa. Sports Museum, Sen. John Heinz History Center

“The Gospel of Wealth” by Andrew Carnegie  (1889)
The author inscribed his name in his personal copy of his essay on the responsibilities of wealthy industrialists such as himself. The year it was published, Carnegie’s first library in America opened in Braddock across the river from his Homestead Works. “The man who dies rich dies disgraced,” he wrote, urging other tycoons to spend their fortunes on projects that benefit society.  (MH)
~ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Oakland

Pitt Rose Bowl uniform  (1928)
The coaches were well acquainted when Jock Sutherland took Pitt to its first bowl game to face Pop Warner’s Stanford — Sutherland had made All-American playing guard for Warner’s undefeated 1915, 1916 and 1917 Pitt teams. Stanford won 7-6 on a missed extra point in a game in which both touchdowns were scored on fumble recoveries.  (MH)
~ Petersen Events Center, University of Pittsburgh

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup can stencil (“Campbell’s Condensed Soup”), 1962–63, The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Andy Warhol’s stencil  (1962)
Already established in New York as a commercial artist, Warhol traced and cut this stencil from a friend’s photo of a Campbell’s soup can to make serial silkscreens. That summer, the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles exhibited 32 cans on canvas, priced at $200 each, for Warhol’s first solo pop-art gallery show. A neighboring gallery mocked the conceptual paintings, offering actual cans of Campbell’s soup at two for 33 cents, and a new debate began: “Is it art?” The 32 originals now hang in the Museum of Modern Art.  (MH)
~ The Andy Warhol Museum

“The Crowning of Labor”  (1905-08)
It’s hard to miss John White Alexander’s majestic three-story mural in the grand staircase lobby of the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland. It’s easy, however, to miss the several dark, uncleaned squares deliberately left by Chief Conservator Ellen Baxter and her team as a reminder of the besmutted condition of the mural before its 1995 restoration. Can you find them?  (HBK)
~ Carnegie Museum of Art


Photograph of Frank Conrad’s garage  (1920)
Tinkering on the second floor of his brick garage, Westinghouse engineer Frank Conrad built a transmitter, played records and developed a following that gave birth to KDKA radio in 1920, the year this photo was taken. When the garage was threatened with demolition, volunteers took the building apart brick by brick, storing them until funds can be raised to rebuild the structure as part of a broadcasting museum.  (RC)
~ National Museum of Broadcasting

Cast of Abbey of St. Gilles west portal (orig. 12th century)
Made for the then-new Carnegie Museum’s Hall of Architecture in 1907, at nearly 40 feet tall and 90 feet wide this is one of the biggest plaster-façade castings ever produced. It took three ships to bring the pieces from southern France. Casts allowed museumgoers to experience historical architecture without traveling to Europe.  (MH)
~ Carnegie Museum of Art

Apatosaurus louisae (discovered 1909)
The remains of the diplodocus popularly known as “Dippy” get a lot of attention, but perhaps it’s time to give some love to one of its roommates in the Hall of Dinosaurs. The apatosaurus is the most complete fossil specimen of its kind, and its bones were the first fossils unearthed by Earl Douglass and his team at the Carnegie Quarry on the border between Colorado and Utah — now known as Dinosaur National Monument. At the benefactor’s request, the species was named after his wife, Louise.  (HBK)
~ Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh “diploma”  (1989)
When August Wilson dropped out of school after a teacher accused him of plagiarism, he continued his education at the great library in Oakland. The library later awarded Wilson its only diploma; this copy hangs in the Hill District branch. In a speech at that library, the award-winning playwright said, “Andrew Carnegie will forever be for me that man who made it possible for me to stand here today.”  (MH)
~ Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Hill District branch

Roebling cable machine (1849)
Prussian immigrant John Roebling tried a farmer’s life in Saxonburg, a town he founded, but he soon returned to his training as an engineer. He invented this machine for twisting wire into cables and soon became a celebrated bridge builder, spanning the Allegheny and Monongahela before designing the Brooklyn Bridge.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Pittsburgh Renaissance magazine (1970)
In the summer of 1969, a new publication debuted in Pittsburgh, one of the first of a new breed of magazines to chronicle and celebrate local landscapes and lifestyles. A year later, WQED took over Pittsburgh Renaissance, renamed it and published what would become Pittsburgh Magazine until 2009, when WiesnerMedia acquired it. Pittsburgh Magazine, which is among the most senior city magazines in the nation, marks its 48th birthday this year.  (CL)
~ Archives of Pittsburgh Magazine

Westinghouse light bulb  (1893)
The fierce rivalry between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse over DC vs. AC power made the battles of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs look almost tender. Westinghouse bulbs like this one lit up the dazzling “White City” of the Chicago World’s Fair, where the Pittsburgh inventor beat out Edison for the contract to supply electricity.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Christopher Gist statue  (1917)
Gist was a frontiersman who mapped the Ohio country from the Point to what now is Cincinnati. He guided George Washington on a journey to tell the French to stop building forts on British land and saved the future president from drowning when he fell off a raft. This bronze sculpture adorned the former Manchester Bridge.  (MH)
~ Public monument, North Shore

Powder horn  (ca. 1765)
Unlike the more common white powder receptacles made from a cow’s horn, this rare black one comes from a bison. It features a carving of Fort Pitt and is believed to have been carved by John Small, an Irish immigrant gunsmith who served in the militia at the fort before lighting out for the Indiana territory.  (MH)
~ Fort Pitt Museum, Sen. John Heinz History Center

Pittsburgh Petroleum medicine bottle  (ca. 1850)
Before people figured out how to refine the sticky, dark goo seeping up from the ground into a practical fuel, petroleum was bottled as a patent medicine. A typical Pittsburgh newspaper ad in 1849 claimed this “rock oil,” taken orally, could treat bronchitis, asthma, back pain and nervousness and could be applied to cuts and burns to help them heal.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Polio vaccine autographed by Jonas Salk (1955)
Few medical advancements have offered such a sudden and profound relief to society as the one developed by Dr. Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh — and tested voluntarily on himself, his staff and his wife and children. The toll of this potentially crippling disease dropped from as many as 50,000 victims annually to 1,000 within a decade.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Revolver taken from Pinkertons  (1892)
Carnegie Steel Chairman Henry Clay Frick hired 300 Pinkerton guards to seize the Homestead Works back from strikers. But when the Pinkertons were discovered sneaking up on the plant aboard two barges, a gun battle ensued, lasting for several hours until the hired guns surrendered. A striker looted this Colt six-shooter from the Pinkertons’ barge.  (MH)
~ Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area Museum

Anarchist’s dagger  (1892)
Aroused by news of the Homestead Strike, Russian immigrant Alexander Berkman tried to trigger an anti-capitalist revolt by assassinating Henry Clay Frick. Bursting into Frick’s office, he shot him twice, then stabbed Frick three times with this dagger. Frick survived, and Berkman went to prison for 14 years. After release, he remained an outspoken anarchist until he was deported to Russia in 1917. Hearing news of Frick’s death at a farewell dinner, Berkman said the capitalist had been “deported by God.”  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

“Stand firm” telegram from Carnegie (1892)
Hearing of the chaos at his Homestead Works from his vacation manor in Scotland, the namesake of Carnegie Steel cabled his strong support to Henry Clay Frick. “Never employ one (of) these rioters,” he wrote; “Let grass grow over works.” Carnegie later blamed Frick for the strike’s violent end, and the two remained bitter enemies for the rest of their lives.  (MH)
~ University of Pittsburgh

Hitler’s pillowcase  (1945)
Judge Michael Musmanno, a native of Stowe Township, joined the Navy during World War II and was a judge in the U.S. war crimes tribunals at Nuremberg after the war. He also wrote the book, “Ten Days to Die,” describing Hitler in his Berlin bunker based on interviews with people who had been there; one gave him a monogrammed pillowcase.  (KP)
~ Duquesne University

Zip guns  (1966)
Six inmates broke out of the Allegheny County Jail armed with these zip guns they made in their cells from electrical conduit, wood, and cloth strips, with ground matchstick tips for gunpowder and rolled-up lead from a toothpaste tube for bullets. Three of those men already were on trial for previously escaping from Western Penitentiary, using zip guns and homemade grenades. All six were quickly recaptured, but Richard Mayberry, Herbert Langes and Dominick Codispoti did not go quietly. Mayberry handled the trio’s defense and rained threats and abuse on the judge, calling him a “dirty, tyrannical old dog” and “a hatchet man for the state.” At one point he was gagged, straitjacketed and removed from the courtroom; on top of the eventual 40-year sentence for the escape, the judge tacked on another 22 years for contempt. The U.S. Supreme Court threw out the contempt charges and granted Mayberry a retrial in 1975, which he lost.  (KP)
~ Personal collection, Pittsburgh Police Cmdr. Ronald B. Freeman  (retired)

Penn 30 Touring Car  (1911)
This automobile was built by the short-lived Penn Motor Car Co. in a factory in North Point Breeze, not far from the Frick Art & Historical Center where it now is parked. Advertising boasted it was “the best at any price,” which at the time was slightly more than $1,000. The company folded the next year.  (KP)
~ Frick Art & Historical Center

Cappuccino machine from Poli’s  (ca. 1950)
Through eight-plus decades and three generations of family ownership, the Squirrel Hill sandwich shop opened by Italian immigrant Joseph Poli evolved into an upscale seafood restaurant. This elaborate contraption once found in the main dining room was a functional reminder of the owners’ heritage.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Miner’s lamp  (ca. 1880)
A coal miner would hook this kerosene-burning lamp, made by J. Anton & Sons of Monongahela, into his cap to light his way underground more brightly and conveniently than with a lantern candle. The smoky and sooty flame it produced also could set off an explosion.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Stephen Foster’s last note  (1864)
Born in Lawrenceville, Foster was America’s first hit songwriter, penning more than 200 popular melodies including “Oh! Susanna,” “Camptown Races” and “Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair.” He died almost penniless in New York City. This note found in his wallet, inscribed “Dear friends and gentle hearts,” was the final thing he wrote.  (KP)
~ University of Pittsburgh 

Parker pen  (1930)
Prolific Pittsburgh mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart, sometimes known as the American Agatha Christie, is credited both with the phrase “The butler did it” and with inspiring the eventual creation of Batman with her 1920 Broadway hit “The Bat.” An executive at the Parker Pen Company learned of her dissatisfaction with fountain pens and sent her this model, which she treasured for years.  (KP)
~ University of Pittsburgh

Wooden organ pipes from St. Nicholas croatian catholic Church  (1901)
When their congregation outgrew the building on the North Side in which they worshipped, Croatian immigrants split over what to do next. One group built a new church in 1901 at the foot of Troy Hill on East Ohio Street, the first new church built for their faith in America; the others relocated to Millvale and built another St. Nicholas, keeping their pastor and therefore title as the oldest Croatian church in America. The former group lifted its building on jacks 20 years later and moved it to enable the widening of East Ohio Street, but not far enough; it was demolished in order to improve Route 28 in 2013.  (MH)
~ Private collection of Chuck Beard


Jewish refugee family’s mezuzah (early 1900s)
The Nazis arrested German store owner Erwin Weikersheimer in 1938 after Kristallnacht and held him at Dachau for three months. He left the country after his release and was joined by his wife and 8-year-old son, Norbert. This silver mezuzah, which affixes a tiny prayer scroll to the doorpost of Jewish homes, was one of the few possessions they brought with them to Pittsburgh. Norbert Weikers grew up to be a prosperous Squirrel Hill neurologist.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Last Supper table fragment  (trad. 33 A.D.)
The Rev. Suitbert Mollinger, a Belgian missionary from a wealthy family, founded Most Holy Name Parish on Troy Hill in 1868. The Catholic priest spent his inheritance building St. Anthony Chapel so the faithful could venerate his collection of thousands of sacred relics, including this reliquary containing a purported sliver from the table at which Jesus broke bread with his apostles for the final time. (MH)
~ St. Anthony Chapel

Brashear lens and iron mold  (ca. 1890)
When 9-year-old John Brashear first gazed upon Saturn through a telescope, it spurred a lifelong fascination. Brashear became a renowned astronomer and manufacturer of precision lenses and mirrors, and he gave popular talks on the heavenly bodies.
He led efforts to raise money to build Allegheny Observatory in present-day Riverview Park and
insisted it be available to the public; his ashes are interred under a telescope there.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Bottle of Old Overholt  (late 1960s)
Named for the Mennonite founder who first fired up his still in 1810 in Westmoreland County, Old Overholt set the standard for Monongahela rye for 150 years. Prohibition couldn’t kill it — the government permitted its production for medicinal use. (Completely unrelated fact: major shareholder Andrew Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury.) But tastes changed, rye fell from fashion, and since 1987, Old Overholt has been made in Kentucky with — the founder would be appalled — corn in the mash bill.  (MH)
~ West Overton Village and Museums

Mister Rogers’ puppets (1968-2001)
Beginning with his 1953 debut voicing Daniel Striped Tiger on WQED’s “The Children’s Corner,” Fred Rogers used puppets to enchant his young viewers and encourage them to use their imagination. The cast of puppet characters in “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” showcased his own imagination, including rocking chair-factory proprietor Cornflake S. Pecially, Eiffel Tower resident Grandpere Tiger and Dr. Bill and Mrs. Elsie Jean Platypus, all pictured here.  (MH)
~ Sen. John Heinz History Center

Mark Houser is the director of news and information at Robert Morris University and a frequent contributor to Pittsburgh Magazine. Sean Collier, Richard Cook and Hal B. Klein are Pittsburgh Magazine editors; Kimberly Palmiero is a Pittsburgh Magazine contributing editor. Cindi Lash also contributed.

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