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.
1. Fred Rogers
By Morgan Neville
Fred Rogers, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Peabody Award and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy, produced 895 episodes of the iconic television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” for PBS. Born in 1928 in Latrobe, he created his Neighborhood of Make Believe in WQED’s Oakland studios. He died in 2003.
I think we’re just catching up to where Fred Rogers always was. I think it’s a testament to the fact that his show transcends nostalgia; he was dealing in timeless issues. In certain ways, his shows and his ideas feel as current as ever. I’ve often said that Fred wasn’t ahead of his time — he was out of time. He was somebody who was utterly unique. Because of that, he never ages.
I’ve had scores of people come up and tell me stories about encounters with Fred Rogers or letters or moments that changed their lives. There are so many things that we don’t even mention in the film — for example, his commitment to writing letters to every child that wrote to him. The depth of his faith, his daily prayer time and his study of the Bible and of all religion. His deep relationship with theologians — the way he really looked at the big questions we should all be looking at.
I think it’s very easy to get caught up in the superficiality of everyday life, but Fred was excellent at always thinking about what was most important.
Joanne showed us a letter Fred had written her, right after they were engaged; he was working at NBC in New York, learning how television works. The letter said something to the effect of, “Everybody here is so busy. But I’m not sure they know what it all means. I’d like to do something meaningful, but I’m not sure if I’m good enough.” That kind of doubt makes him human and relatable; if ever there was a character who is easily sanctified, it’s Fred Rogers. But [to sanctify him] does him a disservice, because it doesn’t acknowledge the human struggle he put into his work.
He spent his life trying to translate the complexity of the world to children. His job was to distill the essence of what was important to kids who were trying to figure out how the world works. Fred was also childish in the best sense of the word — he had the honesty and the simplicity of a child, and his sincerity was immense and complete. He always said what he was thinking and asked what he wanted to know, like a child does. As adults, we lose touch with that. To be that sincere is to be vulnerable; as adults, we don’t like to be vulnerable. But Fred was never afraid to be vulnerable.
Fred was somebody who held up a mirror. He allowed us to look at ourselves. That’s a gift. That’s something that’s timeless. It’s something I wanted to do with the movie; the film makes you think about yourself and the people in your life. We ended the film … with this idea that the question is not, “What would Fred Rogers do?” It’s, “What are you going to do?” We all have to share responsibility for making this world a better place, and we can’t just wait for other people like Fred Rogers to come along.
There are so many things that he was doing that we’re now just coming to terms with; we talk about mindfulness and emotional maturity today, but he was working on those things decades ago. As our culture gets faster and more abrasive, we come to see his wisdom in greater relief — especially the idea that our neighborhoods, which also means our community and our society, are things that have to be nurtured and cared for. Part of why I wanted to make the film was that I couldn’t think of another voice that I wanted to hear more today, in our cultural dialogue, than Fred Rogers.
Academy Award-winning documentarian Morgan Neville is the director of “Wont You Be My Neighbor?,” the lauded look at the life and impact of Fred Rogers. Neville's film, “20 Feet from Stardom,” won an Oscar in 2014.
2. August Wilson
By Todd Kreidler
August Wilson (1945-2005) was born Frederick August Kittel Jr. in the Hill District; he later adopted his mother’s maiden name. His childhood home, 1727 Bedford Ave., is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Wilson is well-regarded for his portrayal of the black experience in America through his Century Cycle of plays, also known as the Pittsburgh Cycle; each of the 10 works is set in a different decade of the 20th Century. After his death, the Virginia Theatre on Broadway was renamed the August Wilson Theatre; it was the first Broadway theater named for an African-American. His plays are performed regularly today, and one of his two Pulitzer Prize winners, “Fences,” was made into an Academy Award-nominated film directed by Denzel Washington.
A few months ago, I was having breakfast with my son at Eat’n Park. “Look at the ketchup bottle on the table,” I told him. “I don’t like ketchup,” my 6-year-old responded. “But look at the back,” I said. What’s on the back of a ketchup bottle? “H.J. Heinz Co., Pittsburgh, PA.”
While working with August Wilson in the last years of his life, we’d often meet at “our spot” for breakfast; it changed depending on what city we were in. In Seattle, it was the Mecca Cafe. In New Haven, Atticus Bookstore. In Chicago, Cartons. In Los Angeles, the Original Pantry Cafe. In New York, the Cafe Edison. Most often, it was a diner, which meant that most often, there was ketchup on the table. August would always say, no matter where we were, we had Pittsburgh on the table.
Pittsburgh was at August’s heart, the setting for nine of the 10 plays in his groundbreaking American Century Cycle, his hometown, where his legacy arguably lives most visibly today. I love taking my son to events at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture Downtown, to the playground at the August Wilson Park in the Hill District, and I can’t wait for us to visit his childhood home, currently being restored at 1727 Bedford Ave. in the Hill District. As August’s name literally becomes part of the architecture of the city, the Winston Churchill quote he turned me on to comes to mind: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” Pittsburgh shaped August; thereafter his work shapes us.
His work shapes other cities too; we’re not the only place to consider August Wilson its own — particularly those spots with theaters where he developed some of his plays. Walk into Seattle Rep, Yale Rep, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, the Huntington Theatre in Boston, the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles or even the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway, they’ll all rightly say: “This is August Wilson’s home. He sat at our table.”
But claiming the name “August Wilson” does more than celebrate a connection to a famous author. All of the actors, directors, designers, stage crew, producers, theater administrators, fundraisers, academics, journalists and audiences who continue to champion and support his work are also hoisting a flag to defend the values, insights and struggles embodied by his life and art. August’s name demands that art be born from necessity, inspires all who encounter it to live and maintain a life of high purpose and honor, and challenges everybody to stand up against the brutalities of our history, especially as that brutality continues to plague our current events. From his masterpiece set in 1904, “Gem Of The Ocean”:
My mama named me Citizen after freedom came. She wouldn’t like it if I changed my name.
SOLLY TWO KINGS
Your mama’s trying to tell you something. She put a heavy load on you. It’s hard to be a citizen. You gonna have to fight to get that. And time you get it you be surprised how heavy it is.
Out for breakfast with my son again, a few weeks ago, he was thrilled to spot another ketchup bottle. “Dad, look, look! We have Pittsburgh on the table! August would love that!,” said Evan August Kreidler. Yes, I do hope he would.
Pittsburgh native Todd Kreidler is a writer and director who worked as August Wilson’s dramaturg in the last years of his life and co-founded the national August Wilson Monologue Competition.
3. Andrew Carnegie
By Mary Frances Cooper
Steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie ranks as one of the richest people of all time, but he was also one of the most philanthropic, and Pittsburgh reaped the benefits. The Scottish immigrant born in 1835 worked, and invested in, the railroads in his early 20s and quickly became known as a shrewd businessman before making his fortune in steel. He formed the Carnegie Steel Company, which comprised many of the former mills still standing in the region today, and in 1901 sold it to J.P. Morgan, for $480 million, which would be more than $370 billion today. It became the United States Steel Corporation. Carnegie was also a well-regarded author and in 1889 wrote “The Gospel of Wealth,” which argued a wealthy industrialist’s life should include not only accumulating wealth but also distributing it to worthy causes. He died in 1919.
If a legacy can be defined as your name and your work living on long after you are gone, then consider that more than 20 major cultural, educational and civic entities founded by Andrew Carnegie are still in existence today, still bear his name and are still dedicated to their founding principles. One hundred years after his passing, we continue to look to him as an example of an immigrant who came to this country, worked hard, achieved astounding wealth and gave back to his community.
Long before Bill Gates and Warren Buffett pledged to give away the bulk of their fortunes to causes that benefit humanity, Andrew Carnegie defined philanthropy. The robber baron turned robin hood once argued that it is the moral obligation of the wealthy to use their money to promote the welfare and happiness of others — and to do so before their deaths. “The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced,” he wrote in a famed 1889 essay “The Gospel of Wealth.”
Making good on his promise, Carnegie gave away nearly 90 percent of his fortune — more than $350 million — for what he considered to be the improvement of all humankind. Throughout his lifetime, he worked to foster peace and donated pipe organs to churches without regard to denomination. In Pittsburgh, he established Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Carnegie Museums, Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, which bestows medals to citizens who sacrificed to help others.
Carnegie, who was mostly self-educated, believed that with access to books and reading and self-directed learning, a person could be anything he or she wants to be. He coined the idea that knowledge should be “free to the people” and spurred a worldwide movement that resulted in his personal funding of more than 2,500 public libraries.
For more than 120 years, our library has embraced our founder’s vision, welcoming newcomers to our community, whether they arrive from across town or across the globe. They come to our library to get oriented, find community, start a job search, support their children’s schoolwork and much more. In the past few years, we have been fortunate to host naturalization ceremonies at our libraries. Each time several people nod and smile when I talk about the library, and on occasion someone will pull out their library card to show me, and it grabs my heart.
Andrew Carnegie’s true legacy is how his particular brand of philanthropy reflects a fundamental faith in people and in our individual and collective desire to do the right thing. Through the institutions and causes he chose to fund, we see evidence of his belief that, if given the right support, people will work hard, study and learn, become better versions of themselves, value science, arts and culture, aspire to world peace, and risk, or even sacrifice, their own lives to save others.
As the President and Director of Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Mary Frances Cooper champions the changing and increasingly important role of libraries in society.
4. Rachel Carson
By Robert K. Musil
Rachel Carson is a product of the culture, the land, the times and the influence of her family in western Pennsylvania. The roots of who Carson is are in Springdale, where she was born in 1907. The smokestacks were starting to creep out from nearby Pittsburgh, and she watched the process of pollution and the industrialization of the city, leading to her life’s work.
Rachel was brought up in what at the time was called the Nature Study Movement, and Rachel’s mother used the curriculum to teach what would now be called experiential learning. By the time she was 11, Rachel won her first literary prize; she later graduated from Pennsylvania College for Women (now Chatham University).
Of course she’s best known for “Silent Spring,” for her exposé of chemical companies and their spraying of harmful pesticides, as well as for her love of the sea. She was dying of breast cancer while writing “Silent Spring,” and she said she wanted a group to carry on her work. That became the Rachel Carson Council, and the early part of our work did focus on pesticides. But her important legacy is what we call her environmental ethic. She wrote many times about how she had a reverence for all life, in that all creatures were creatures of god and of evolution. We had to love, understand, respect and feel for all of them with awe, imagination wonder and empathy, just like in the childhood stories she wrote in Springdale about the wrens, when she said animals are her friends.
For example, RCC has a project concerned with factory farms. Rachel wrote the first introduction to a book called “Animal Machines,” where she writes beautifully and movingly about the horrors that happen to the animals in confined feeding operations. This is long before anyone understood the problems of how meat is produced in places like this. Rachel didn’t call it this, but she was an early proponent of what we now call environmental justice. She understood there were lots of people who through no fault of their own were harmed by the environmental pollution of large corporations.
So her legacy goes quite a bit beyond just the problem of pesticides and chemicals. Her great gift was to be able to reach the public. You have to have impeccable science but you can’t simply publish scholarly articles that only a few experts will read. Every one of her books is a best seller. She’s influenced millions of people over the years.
With her politics, she early on was seen as a saint or a nun of the environmental movement. She was single, not terribly social and shy. So a lot of what is said about her is that when “Silent Spring” came out it created the early environmental movement. And that single book did cause a major stir — if we had social media back then it would have gone viral. But she wasn’t just a lone writer who wrote a book that started off the movement. She was engaged, corresponding and working her whole life. Rachel died in 1964.
What’s going to happen as a result of her legacy? The Rachel Carson Council has a network of more than 50 college campuses, and we’re continuing to build that. We try to get students and academics who are interested in the environment into the advocacy and policy-making process. Voting matters. Getting involved matters. Working to get pro-environmentalist folk into all levels of the government is necessary. We need a platform that goes beyond educating the same people who have already bought in.
Rachel Carson said over and over again that she will not remain silent. We cannot sit back and watch the thing we love, the planet, be destroyed. Now we are seeing a broader, more diverse environmental movement. Despite the dark times we’re living in, people can take hope and take action and see that we can make a change.
Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., MPH, is the President and CEO of the Rachel Carson Council, the legacy organization envisioned by Rachel Carson and founded in 1965 by her closest friends and colleagues.
5. Jonas Salk
By Peter l. Salk, M.D.
In 1947, Jonas Salk became director of the Virus Research Laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where he began to develop a vaccine that could immunize against polio, a dreaded disease that affected more than 40,000 people in the U.S. each year. On April 12, 1955, the results of his testing were announced: the vaccine was safe and effective and by 1962, the number of polio cases had dropped to 910. Salk never patented the vaccine or earned any money from his discovery, preferring it be distributed as widely as possible. He died on June 23, 1995, at the age of 80 in La Jolla, Calif., where he founded the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
Jonas Salk was once asked why he had come to Pittsburgh in 1947 to continue his research on prevention of viral diseases. His answer was “I guess I fell in love”.
His love for the city and the University of Pittsburgh led to the development by his team of the first successful vaccine against polio. In the seven years after the vaccine was introduced in 1955, the number of cases of polio in the United States, which had averaged around 40,000 in each of the prior four years, fell by 97 percent. The world breathed a collective sigh of relief as the prospect now existed to bring epidemics of the feared paralytic disease under control. Today, with the global use of this and a second polio vaccine, both developed through the support of the March of Dimes, the number of reported cases worldwide each year is hovering around 100 — down from over half a million estimated cases a year prior to 1955.
Jonas Salk did not stop there. He went on to found the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., in 1960, which has become one of the world’s leading biological research institutes. He carried out studies in his own lab and with collaborators on cancer, multiple sclerosis and, towards the end of his life, a vaccine against HIV/AIDS. In addition, he devoted a great deal of attention towards understanding the nature of the challenges and opportunities confronting humanity in the present era, and the steps we might take as a species to improve the prospects of moving into a sustainable and thriving phase. One of his four books was titled “The Survival of the Wisest”, reflecting his own preoccupation with the importance of cultivating wisdom in our society. Another, coauthored with the youngest of his three sons, Jonathan, has recently been republished in an updated and revised version titled “A New Reality: Human Evolution for a Sustainable Future.” When presented in 1977 with the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding, the title of his acceptance address was a question: “Are We Being Good Ancestors?”.
Jonas Salk’s legacy is alive and well in Pittsburgh. With every visit I make to this city, which had contributed so much to the polio vaccine effort through the support of its philanthropies and the participation of its parents, children and other citizens in the early trials of the vaccine, I reexperience the love that flows in both directions in the expressions of gratitude from those I meet. And in ongoing interactions with the University of Pittsburgh, with its breadth of strength in the health sciences and its drive to contribute in all dimensions to improving our lives, our wellbeing and our spirits, and with recognition of the wealth and depth of other educational and civic organizations in this vibrant town, I am confident that the forces that led to the world-changing event in the health arena, in which my father took part more than 70 years ago, are still operative and flourishing, and that Pittsburgh will continue to make an uplifting mark for generations to come.
Peter L. Salk, M.D., is the director of The Jonas Salk Legacy Foundation and a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. He is a son of Jonas Salk.
The behind-the-scenes debates over the 50 Greatest Pittsburghers.
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6. Andy Warhol
By Burton Morris
Born Andrew Warhola on Aug. 6, 1928, Andy Warhol was a leading figure in the Pop Art movement throughout the 20th Century. He grew up in South Oakland in a Byzantine Catholic Austrian-Hungarian family and began to draw when diagnosed with Sydenham’s chorea and confined to bed. He graduated from Schenley High School and the Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University, before moving to New York City and beginning his career, first in commercial art and later in more creative mediums. Upon his death in 1987, he was buried in St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in Bethel Park, where fans lay Campbell’s soup cans on his grave. Pittsburgh’s Seventh Street Bridge and a museum on the North Side bear his name.
Icon. Global Celebrity. Pop Artist. Innovator. Painter. Filmmaker. Writer. Photographer. Creative Genius. Visionary. Superstar. Cultural Phenomenon. Futurist.
These are but a few words that I can use to describe the most influential American artist of the 20th Century, Andy Warhol.
As one of the primary founders of the Pop Art movement, Andy Warhol brought the concept of consumerism to the art world. In 1961, he debuted the concept of “pop art” — paintings that focused on mass-produced commercial goods: Coca Cola bottles and Brillo Boxes, to name a few. In 1962, he exhibited the now-iconic paintings of Campbell’s soup cans, which created a major stir in the art world, bringing both Warhol and pop art into the national spotlight for the first time.
As a post-Pop Artist, I thank Andy Warhol for opening up the doors at the way we look at and consider what is art. I think of him practically every day whether looking at my own iconic paintings or his for inspiration. When I first learned of Warhol’s background, I was initially struck at how many similarities we shared. We both grew up in Pittsburgh, took art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art as children, attended Carnegie Mellon University and started our early careers as illustrators before delving into the fine art world as Pop artists. Andy was one of the true trailblazers of the Pop Art Movement, and I, knowingly, had the groundwork laid for me by those founders.
Being at the forefront of an emerging art movement and carving out your own style in an already existing one have their own set of hardships/difficulties, but similarities can be found. For one, the expectation to answer for and explain your artwork by critics is something that all artists must endure. What is your statement? What does this mean to the world? And why should the viewer/critic care? Andy’s notorious responses and reactions to the critics spoke to me. He would answer a question with a question, always keeping the audience wondering, or maybe he did not really know himself.
One question that I get a lot is, “How much will this painting be worth?” The true answer is that nobody really knows. I don’t think that Andy himself would have imagined that his work would still be skyrocketing for hundreds of millions of dollars at auction today. But, what I find most inspirational about Andy Warhol as a living, working artist, is not just knowing the auction results and the success, but the journey that led him to that first Campbell’s soup exhibition in 1962, and I can’t help but wonder how he would have evolved as an artist in this day and age had his life not been cut short.
I will end with my favorite quote by Andy, “Once you ‘got’ Pop, you could never see a sign the same way again. And once you ‘thought’ Pop, you could never see America the same way again.”
Thank you Andy for making us all “get” and “think” Pop.
Pittsburgh native and Pop Artist Burton Morris, best known for his colorful and energetic paintings of popular culture, has been exhibiting his artwork worldwide in galleries and museums for more than 25 years.
7. Josh Gibson
By Bob Kendrick
Josh Gibson (1911-1947), the second African-American ballplayer inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, played the majority of his career with either the Pittsburgh Crawfords or Homestead Grays. Considered one of the finest hitters of all time, Gibson is said to have hit more than 1,000 home runs during his career. The Georgia native died of a stroke at age 35; he is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.
You can make a legitimate case that Josh Gibson may have been the greatest baseball player of all time. Most of the time, that recognition goes to a five-tool center fielder; for me, to dominate the game the way that Josh dominated the game as a catcher is absolutely amazing. It’s easy to get lost in power, for justifiable reasons. But he was a great hitter; most power hitters are good hitters. He was a great hitter, and he was a great catcher. In the most physically demanding position on the field, he dominated. He impacted the game with both his arm and his bat. There are not enough accolades for Josh Gibson.
There are three names that come to mind when you talk about the Negro Leagues: Satchel Paige, Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson. They would’ve been stars in any era. Josh was a jolly giant of a man, who walked tall and carried a big stick. They all had their own personas, but Buck O’Neil would say that Gibson packed the ballpark for batting practice — it would be comparable to that epic home-run battle between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. People were just enamored with his power. When they would describe where Josh Gibson hit home runs, they didn’t look at sections of the ballparks, they looked at local landmarks. “Josh hit it over that tree.” “Josh hit it over that barn, over there.”
He hit one in the Polo Grounds that they estimated had traveled over 600 feet. Most people have heard the story that he hit a ball completely out of Yankee Stadium; he’s the only person to ever hit one all the way out. Now, Mickey Mantle hit a ball that hit the light post, that could’ve gone out. And you know what I find interesting? When I tell people that Josh hit one out of Yankee Stadium, they give me a look of pure skepticism. But when I tell them that Mantle hit one that almost got out, they accept that as possible. Now, if it’s possible for Mantle to hit one that hit the light post, why isn’t it possible for Josh to have hit one completely out?
That’s the skepticism that comes with the Negro Leagues among baseball fans. They adhere to the mindset that the best players played in the Major Leagues — and we know that’s not true. There were two professional baseball leagues operating at the same time. The superstars in the Negro Leagues would’ve been superstars in the Major Leagues — and how good would these guys have been, had they played under normal circumstances? If they hadn’t had to worry about where they could get something to eat, or where they could use the restroom? Sometimes playing in ballparks where they couldn’t use the showers. There was nothing normal to what was happening to these guys on the way to these ballparks. The only level of normalcy was when they hit the field.
Gibson was beloved. To hear Buck O’Neil and the other guys who played against him talk about Josh, he was a star amongst stars. Josh was at the very top; there was always this level of admiration. He was a very likable guy that just happened to be a big star — and those things don’t always go hand in hand. So he was revered even among his peers, and I think even when he went to Latin America, that personality of his seemed to always shine through. In whatever language, it was always understood and embraced.
Bob Kendrick has since 2011 served as the director of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, the nations only museum fully dedicated to Negro League baseball.
8. Mary E. Schenley
By Susan M. Rademacher
Although Mary Schenley did not spend many years in Pittsburgh, her family roots run deep in Pittsburgh. The vast acreage accumulated by her maternal grandfather, James O'Hara, eventually passed to her, and she became one of the city’s most influential philanthropists, giving to a wide variety of causes. Land she gave away became home to West Penn Hospital, the Western Pennsylvania Institute for the Blind and the Fort Pitt Blockhouse. Most noteworthy is the land she donated that became Schenley Park.
Were it not for Mary E. Schenley’s philanthropy, Pittsburgh’s great “civic park” and many other treasures would not exist as we know them. The tale of how this Victorian-era woman came to play such a large role in shaping our city begins with her grandfather, the industrial pioneer Gen. James O’Hara (1753-1819). O’Hara amassed vast tracts of land in the Pittsburgh area, and Schenley inherited one-third of the acreage. But she very nearly lost that inheritance through a romantic escapade that was a national scandal.
Mary Elizabeth was born on April 27, 1826, in Louisville, Ky., to Mary O’Hara and William Croghan Jr. After the steamboat allowed passage upriver, Pittsburgh became a favored destination of Louisvillians. It was on such an outing that Croghan met the prosperous O’Hara family, marrying daughter Mary O’Hara in 1821. After the death of his wife and infant son, Croghan passed the bar in Allegheny County and relocated the family to Pittsburgh.
He built a fine 22-room home in the Greek Revival style, called Picnic House, on extensive grounds near Stanton Avenue and Allegheny Cemetery. His daughter, Mary, was enrolled at age 15 in an exclusive boarding school on Staten Island, N.Y. Not quite a year later, Mary eloped with the 43-year-old British Capt. Edward W. H. Schenley. The newlyweds settled in London, and Mary was promptly disinherited by her broken-hearted father. Yet he couldn’t bear the break for long, visiting the couple and the first of many grandchildren in London a year later in 1843. Croghan reinstated her inheritance and built an addition to Picnic House in hopes that she would return. While his daughter made at least five trans-Atlantic voyages home, her asthma kept her from remaining in smoky Pittsburgh.
Mary Schenley’s inheritance made her the largest property owner in Allegheny County, and her gifts to several important institutions helped shape the cultural, social and physical landscape of Pittsburgh that we know today. These included acreage for West Penn Hospital, the Western Penn Institute for the Blind and the Newsboys Home; $10,000 toward the purchase of land for Riverview Park; and, most important, her gift of the Old Block House at the original Fort Duquesne to the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Among Schenley’s Pittsburgh holdings were more than 300 acres in a prime development zone — the city’s emerging cultural center of Oakland. The City of Pittsburgh first sought after the tract in 1869, when civic leaders realized the need to provide a healthy place of relaxation and recreation for its burgeoning masses of workers. At the same time, a magnificent park would signify the dirty industrial city’s ambition to reposition itself as a beacon of culture and beauty. These park acquisition efforts were frustrated for two decades by the absentee ownership of Schenley and resistance of her husband.
It wasn’t until 1889, some years after Capt. Schenley had died, that the land for Schenley Park was finally acquired thanks to a high-stakes risk. The city’s new director of Public Works, Edward Manning Bigelow, had envisioned a park system. When he heard that Schenley’s real estate agent was heading to London to broker a deal for the Oakland property, Bigelow promptly dispatched an attorney to get there first. Schenley was persuaded to donate 300 acres, plus an option to buy another 100 acres for much less than its tax value. She had just two conditions: that the land be used for a park named after her and that it could never be sold. Schenley Park has more than fulfilled that early vision. Schenley died in 1903 in London.
Susan M. Rademacher is Parks Curator for the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, a nonprofit that has worked with the City of Pittsburgh since 1998 for the betterment of the city's parks.
9. Robert L. Vann
By Tony Norman
For 30 years, Robert Lee Vann served as the publisher and editor of the Pittsburgh Courier. During that time, he transformed the paper into a chronicle and voice not just for African Americans in Pittsburgh, but across the nation, reaching a peak circulation of more than a quarter-million people, coast to coast. As the paper’s editor and guiding voice, he used the platform to push for civil rights, seeking to “abolish every vestige of Jim Crowism in Pittsburgh.”
Through no fault of your own, you’ve been tapped to assemble the ultimate Pittsburgh dinner party. You have only a few minutes to nominate a quartet of Pittsburghers — living or dead — capable of holding even the most jaded East End sophisticates spellbound for hours.
While you’re trying to come up with three names that can summon the wit, worldly import and conversational brio the ultimate Pittsburgh dinner party requires, there’s only one name that can go on the list without risking pushback from the other guests: the fearless and irascible publisher/editor of the Pittsburgh Courier, Robert Lee Vann.
Robert Vann was a Pittsburgher by way of Ahoskie, N.C., where he was born to a single mom on Aug. 27, 1879. It was a birth of humble circumstances for a man who would develop a taste for the finer things early on, a predilection that grew alongside an otherworldly ambition to become a “man of distinction” in law and commerce. Becoming respected was easier said than done for those born “colored” less than a generation after slavery ended.
After a stint at Virginia Union University from 1901 to 1903, Robert Vann transferred to the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh) to finish his undergraduate studies; he graduated from its law school in 1909. Vann was admitted to the Pennsylvania bar later that year and took his place among five black lawyers in western Pennsylvania.
Vann began doing legal work for the Pittsburgh Courier, a struggling black newspaper founded by Edwin Nathaniel Harleston who, after creative differences with the combative lawyer, left after it was incorporated in 1910.
Vann took over as publisher and editor and proved himself an equal opportunity hard-ass to everyone, regardless of race, culture or creed. Though he engaged in journalistic conflicts of interest that would be shocking by today’s standards, Vann was also an irrepressible crusader for racial justice at a time when there was a resurgence of racial violence towards blacks across the country.
Vann turned his debt-burdened newspaper into the largest and most essential black weekly in the country, with a circulation of 250,000 at its height. He did it by upgrading the paper’s facilities and making an effort to cover the social climbing of the upper-and-middle class blacks of the Hill District, as well as their peers at similar communities across the country. Vann also editorialized against evils like lynching and Jim Crow segregation in every area of American life.
Vann also hired first rate talent, including photographer Teenie “One Shot” Harris and conservative black columnist George Schuyler (whose satire both scandalized and amused the Courier’s readers). Because the Hill District had such a lively cultural scene, there was never a shortage of big names in black entertainment passing through town. Their presence provided a never-ending stream of stories for the Courier, which seamlessly blended hard news with balanced local coverage and celebrity puffery. Black people across the country lived vicariously through the Courier.
Vann could also be petty, as nonsensical public spats with the NAACP and the preeminent black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois proved over the years. The feuds were never permanent, but they distracted from his paper’s serious campaigns.
Robert Vann will be remembered for famously advising his readers to abandon their historic commitment to the Republican Party and vote for the Democrats. “My friends, go home and turn Lincoln’s picture to the wall,” he wrote when he endorsed FDR in 1932. In exchange for his endorsement, Vann was named a Special Assistant to U.S. Attorney General Homer Cummings from 1933 to 1935, though he is not believed to have ever actually met his “boss.”
By the time he died in 1940, Vann was a genuine powerbroker in journalism and the publisher of one of the nation’s most influential newspapers. Dapper and vainglorious his entire life, Robert Vann was also smart enough to grow a newspaper from obscurity in 1910 into a national brand by 1940. Every day he earned his reputation as the most interesting person in any room he cared to be in. The Courier reflected both his sobriety and his ambition.
Tony Norman is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In 2018, he was awarded the Trailblazer Award at the Pittsburgh Black Media Federations Robert L. Vann Media Awards.
10. H.J. Heinz
By Andrew F. Smith
Henry John “H.J.” Heinz was born in Pittsburgh in 1844. He founded his first company in Sharpsburg when he was 16 and in 1876 organized what would become H.J. Heinz Company, Inc. Heinz built his reputation on the quality and purity of his product, going as far as to lobby for the passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act, which was nearly universally opposed by large-scale food manufacturing companies. Heinz died in Pittsburgh in 1919.
Children of immigrant families can make a big difference in the way we eat. Heinz started off as a teenager selling stuff that he grew in his garden. He started his business in a small kitchen making a few products, especially horseradish. He failed early on with his first business, but he kept at it.
When Heinz rebooted he produced a number of products, but the main source visibility in a highly competitive market became the ketchup. He produced ketchup. What else is there in life?
It was the right time and the right product that led to his big success, and the timing was perfect for ketchup. America was changing the way it ate; hot dogs, hamburgers and french fries were becoming popular, and ketchup was the perfect condiment for all three. It still is, too. Heinz’s ketchup was extremely thick, which meant you could dip a fry in it and the ketchup would stay on the fry. When you put it on a burger or hot dog, you could consume it without utensils.
I cannot think of any other condiment that is as successful as Heinz ketchup, or any other product that has lasted as number one in its category for that long. It’s an incredible story from the beginning to the end. Heinz was the person that led the company and led it in a way that made sense at the time.
Heinz figured out early that the purity food is important, so he removed additives and impurities and sold what he produced as a “pure” product. Early on, people made ketchup with tomatoes but also a lot of other things, even squash. His using tomatoes was a smart choice, because not only were they less expensive than some of the other ingredients, they have a consistent flavor. The problem is how to keep tomato ketchup fresh once it’s opened without putting preservatives in it. Well, salt, sugar and vinegar (all are ingredients in ketchup) would do the trick. But all the other companies wanted to keep their cost down, so they cut corners. Heinz decided that quality was more important than cost, and that’s still the case.
It was a good tasting ketchup based on all the accounts of people at the time. Most of the products at the time were watery, so people were willing to pay more for a product that tasted good, looked good and was high quality. We’re only talking pennies more, so it was a little luxury that most people can afford.
There were no national laws that helped with food safety. There were state laws, but they often weren’t enforced; plus you could ship shoddy products made in one state to another state. There was at the time a huge movement for pure food, not just ketchup, and Heinz wanted to be on the side of purity. They tried for three decades to pass the law. He lobbied all over the country for the food safety act and took the next step to promote his product not by arguing for ketchup but arguing for pure food and against additives.
He’s a fascinating man. I’m an academic. I was looking for critical comments, you do all you can to do that so you don’t publish a book that’s all promotion, but I didn’t find anything when it came to unions, workers, strikes, etc. I love his story.
Have you tried to make ketchup? Go get tomatoes and try. I’ve tried for years, and I haven’t made one I’m proud of. You need a tomato without water or to find a way to get the juice out. They turn brown as soon as you start cooking them. That’s crucial in terms of making the product and why, historically, other companies had trouble making their product. When a chef decides to make it at a restaurant, it’s never as good. We have identified Heinz as the ideal, and when it differs from that, we don’t like it.
Andrew F. Smith is a culinary historian who has written and edited scores of books, among them, “Pure Ketchup: The History of America’s National Condiment.”
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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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16. Nellie Bly
It takes a lot of courage to voluntarily become a patient in a mental institution for a newspaper story. It took a lot more courage to do so as a woman in the late 1800s when the asylum is suspected of inhumane conditions and practices. Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman, known by her pen name Nellie Bly (taken from a Stephen Foster song), was born to a mill worker and his wife in 1864 in Cochran’s Mills, Armstrong County. Her father died when she was 6; in her teens, her mother moved the family to Pittsburgh, where Bly began writing “radical” editorials for the Pittsburgh Dispatch on inequalities women faced: topics such as divorce law reform and factory workers’ rights. At age 21, she went to Mexico to work as a foreign correspondent, but her criticism of the country’s dictator forced her to flee the country; her criticism continued from America. At the age of 23, she left Pittsburgh for New York City, where she got a job at the New York World, Joseph Pulitzer’s newspaper. There, she took an undercover assignment to investigate an insane asylum on Blackwell’s Island. After 10 days, during which she ate spoiled food, drank dirty water, witnessed the beating of patients and infestation of rats and spoke with women who seemed as sane as she was, The World requested her release; she later published the book “Ten Days in a Mad-House,” which has become a model for in-depth, first-person reporting. She dabbled in inventing before becoming a foreign correspondent during World War I. She died of pneumonia on Jan. 27, 1922 in New York City. —LD
17. Mary Cassatt
Mary Cassatt was born in Pittsburgh on May 22, 1844, although she spent most of her life in Europe where she became a celebrated Impressionist — the only American to exhibit with that group of artists in Paris.
Under the mentorship of Edgar Degas, she honed her skills, and by the late 1870s she was noted for works that focused on family (often her sister Lydia) and the theater. Later, she became famous for specializing in paintings with a mother and child theme, including “The Child’s Bath” (1893). In 1886, she was part of the first major exhibition of Impressionist art in the United States held in New York City.
Failing eyesight forced her to abandon her work in the early 1900s. In 1904, the French government awarded Cassatt the order of Chevalier of the Legion d’honneur. She died on June 14, 1926. —BH
18. David L. Lawrence
David L. Lawrence, who was born on June 18, 1889, is perhaps the most accomplished mayor Pittsburgh has ever seen. Not only did he serve four terms, from 1946 to 1959, but he oversaw the Pittsburgh Renaissance, which cleared up the air in the smoky city.
Lawrence’s political career began in 1919, when he returned home from serving in the Army and was elected chairman of the Allegheny County Democratic Party, which was then the minority party in the county. In 1934, he campaigned on behalf of George Earle for governor, and when Earle won he appointed Lawrence the Secretary of the Commonwealth. That same year, Lawrence became state chairman of the Democratic Party.
In 1945, Lawrence was elected mayor of Pittsburgh and reached across the aisle to work with staunch Republican businessman Richard Mellon to launch the Pittsburgh Renaissance. He followed his success as mayor with a run for governor. As Pennsylvania’s first Catholic governor, he is noted for passing anti-discrimination, fair housing and environmental protection laws and expanding Pennsylvania’s library system.
After leaving office, he served the administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson as chairman of the President's Committee on Equal Opportunities in Housing. Lawrence died on Nov. 21, 1966. —BH
19. Billy Strayhorn
Pittsburgh has produced no small list of great jazz musicians in its history but perhaps none as talented as Billy Strayhorn.
Born in 1915 in Dayton, Ohio, Strayhorn moved between Pittsburgh and elsewhere throughout his childhood before returning here in his teenage years; he graduated from Westinghouse High School, where he became accomplished in composing music and writing lyrics. Some of his most-famous songs: “Life Is Lonely” (later renamed “Lush Life”), “My Little Brown Book” and “Something to Live For,” were composed in his teens.
He made connections to the Crawford Grill in the Hill District, and through them he met Duke Ellington backstage after a concert at the Stanley Theater (now the Benedum Center) at age 23. So the story goes, Strayhorn sat down at a piano and improved upon one of the songs Ellington had just performed. Ellington encouraged Strayhorn to visit him in Harlem; the directions inspired Strayhorn to write one of the duo’s most famous works: “Take the ‘A’ Train.”
He collaborated with singer Lena Horne, who lived with her father in the Hill District for a time, and was a Civil Rights activist who composed music dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. In 1967, he died of esophageal cancer in the company of his partner, Bill Grove. In 2000, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty was named for him and fellow Pittsburgh-bred entertainer Gene Kelly. —LD
20. Mario Lemieux
Le Magnifique remains a contender for the greatest-of-all-time tag, even as his playing days recede farther into the past. The purists will cry Gretzky and the old-timers might tell you about Rocket Richard, but there will always be an argument that Lemieux’s uncanny shooting and franchise-defining leadership — not to mention being the undisputed face of a dynasty — make him a possible GOAT.
But his achievements as a player, remarkable as they are — seriously, five goals five ways in one game — would not in and of themselves land him quite so high on this list.
Lemieux, born in 1965, may have made his name on the ice, but he established his legacy in the team’s offices, saving the team from bankruptcy and becoming the owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1999. Faced with a NHL-free future in Pittsburgh, Lemieux performed board-room maneuvers as elegant as those he was famous for on the ice, solidifying the team’s place in the city — one that now seems permanent. (He would save the team again, leading to the construction of PPG Paints Arena, a decade later.)
Were that not enough, Lemieux also remains a vigilant crusader in the fight against cancer; the Mario Lemieux Foundation just celebrated its 25th anniversary by donating $5 million for the establishment of a new immunotherapy center with UPMC. Ever since Lemieux’s own cancer diagnosis in 1993, he’s quietly and doggedly tried to make the lives of patients, especially children, easier — and pressed for a cancer-free future. — SC
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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
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26. Martha Graham
Allegheny City native Martha Graham, non-conformist and artistic revolutionary, pioneered the way for American modern dance.
Discarding the conventional techniques of her time, she developed a grounded style that employed the body to express emotions. With her unique vocabulary founded on principles of contraction/release and fall/recovery, accentuated with sharp, angular movements, she choreographed 181 works delving into the human experience and collaborated with A-list composers, visual artists and designers.
The first dancer to perform at the White House, she earned numerous awards and honors during her lifetime, 1894-1991. Her New York-based troupe, the Martha Graham Dance Company, continues to perpetuate her artistic legacy. —KD
27. Stephen Foster
Considered by many to be the father of American music, Stephen Collins Foster — born in Lawrenceville on the Fourth of July, 1826 — wrote melodies that seem to be imbued in the mind from birth. “Camptown Races,” “Oh! Susanna,” “My Old Kentucky Home,” “The Old Folks at Home” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” among more than 200 others, were nationwide hits well before the advent of popular music.
While Foster’s chosen genre (he wrote many of his songs for minstrel shows) are problematic in retrospect, the quality of his compositions is unparalleled — as is Foster’s influence on every songwriter that followed. He died in 1864. —SC
28. George Romero
Few people can say they invented a genre. The landmark 1968 horror classic “Night of the Living Dead” gave birth — sorry, gave rise? — to the modern notion of the zombie, establishing the tropes and terrors of a horror movement that would come to dominate movies, television, video games, comics and more.
George Romero, born in 1940, enjoyed a career featuring more zombies (“Dawn of the Dead”), other iconic works of horror (“Creepshow,” “The Crazies”) and cult favorites (“Martin,” “Knightriders”), most of which were made in southwestern Pennsylvania.
It’s his original masterpiece, however, that stands as the region’s most impactful and lasting work of cinema. He died in 2017. —SC
29. Charles “Teenie” Harris
You need only to walk past the black-and-white photographs taken by Teenie Harris in the Carnegie Museum of Art to understand the immense talent and incredible technique of the Hill District-born photographer.
In his 40 years as a photographer, Harris documented the local African-American community in a way that was honest and artful, with pictures of famous people who passed through town — JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Armstrong — as well as the daily lives of average citizens, making his contribution to Pittsburgh’s history unrivaled.
The museum purchased Harris’ full archive of nearly 80,000 photographic negatives and has shown numerous exhibitions of his work since his death in 1998 at age 89. —LD
30. George S. Kaufman
One thing you can take with you is a legacy. George S. Kaufman, born in 1889 in Pittsburgh, was the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the play “You Can’t Take It with You,” and the musical “Of Thee I Sing” (he also won a Tony Award for directing the original run of “Guys and Dolls”.)
He became known for his comedies and collaborated with artists such as the Marx brothers, the Gershwin brothers and Irving Berlin on stage and screen endeavors.
From 1921-1958, there was a play in Broadway every season Kaufman either wrote or directed. He died in 1961. —LD
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31. Father Charles Owen Rice
For 71 years, Father Charles Owen Rice advocated for and ministered to those who fought for workers’ rights in Pittsburgh and beyond.
“The Labor Priest,” as he was known, was moved by the Depression-era plight of the millworkers in his first parish, St. Agnes in Oakland. Rice helped organize the Catholic Radical Alliance, an organization that lent its support to organized labor and, later, to the homeless.
Undeterred by pressure from other clergy members, Rice increasingly found himself at the center of the labor- and civil-rights movements, delivering the invocation at the first-ever convention of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in New York City, speaking out against the Vietnam War, ministering to Pittsburgh during the decline of the steel industry and joining picket lines through the 1990s.
Rice died in 2005, eight days short of his 97th birthday. —HBK
32. Madalyn Murray O’Hair
Madalyn Murray O’Hair, born in Beechview in 1919, was one of the founders of the modern atheist movement in the United States and worked tirelessly throughout her life to ensure the Constitutional right to the separation of church and state.
Through her organization, American Atheists, Murray filed numerous lawsuits to ensure that one set of religious beliefs would not be imposed on others in the public space.
Her most notable court case, Murray v. Curlett (which later was consolidated with Abington School District v. Schempp) enshrined the notion that mandatory Bible readings in public schools was unconstitutional. She was murdered, along with her son Garth Murray and granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair, in 1995. —HBK
33. Honus Wagner
Honus Wagner (1874-1955) gained lasting pop-culture fame because of a hyper-valuable baseball card; two of the 57 authentic prints of his T206 1909-11 are valued at more than $2 million.
Wagner is more than just the face of a rare collectible, however — he is one of the greatest baseball players of all time, ranking 7th on the all-time hits list.
The shortstop, nicknamed “The Flying Dutchman” for his speed on the bases, played for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1900-17, leading the team to its first World Series championship in 1909. In 1936, Wagner was one of the initial five players inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The Flying Dutchman retired in 1917 but returned to the Pirates to work as the team’s hitting coach from 1933-52. —HBK
34. Dan Marino
Is Dan Marino the greatest quarterback of all time?
He led the NFL in pass attempts for five seasons and in completions for six. In the Miami Dolphins’ storied 1984 season, he threw for two or more touchdowns in a staggering 15 games. That was also the year Marino, born in Oakland, recorded the first-ever 5,000-yard season.
He’s bested in career passing yards only by Brady, Favre, Manning and Brees — despite the fact that all those guys played dozens more games than him.
In an era of dominant quarterbacks, Marino, 57, was the most reliable and accomplished; in a region known for producing more legendary arms than any other part of the country, Marino edges out the competition. The Dolphins legend is the king of the Cradle of Quarterbacks. —SC
35. Gene Kelly
Long before he was dancin’ and singin’ in the rain, Gene Kelly (1912-1996) was a Pittsburgh boy with dreams of playing shortstop for the Pirates.
The son of a traveling salesman father and an arts-loving mother, Kelly graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and spent years teaching at his family’s dance studio in Squirrel Hill before heading to New York City to search for work on Broadway.
After his breakout role in the musical “Pal Joey,” he landed in Hollywood, where he went on to star in hits such as “Anchors Aweigh” in 1945, “An American in Paris” in 1951 and, of course, “Singin’ in the Rain” in 1952.
Noted for his accessible, athletic dance style, Kelly was awarded an honorary Oscar in 1951 “in appreciation of his versatility as an actor, singer, director and dancer, and specifically for his brilliant achievements in the art of choreography on film.” —JS
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36. William “Red” Whittaker
Considered to be the “Father of Field Robotics,” Carnegie Mellon University researcher William “Red” Whittaker, 70, has developed autonomous vehicles as well as robots designed to work in unpredictable environments, such as outer space, mines and notably one that helped to clean up radioactive material at the Three Mile Island nuclear plant.
Whittaker is the Fredkin Professor of Robotics, director of the Field Robotics Center and founder of the National Robotics Engineering Consortium, all at CMU, and chief Scientist of RedZone Robotics.
A former Marine who got his master’s and doctorate from CMU, Whittaker has been often recognized for his work, including winning first place in the DARPA Grand Challenge Urban Challenge in 2007 for driverless cars. —BH
37. Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin
After a childhood in Reading, Pa., Daisy Elizabeth Adams Lampkin moved to Pittsburgh where she became involved with the suffrage movement.
She joined the New Negro Women’s Equal Franchise Federation, which would become the Lucy Stone League, and served as president for 40 years. She also established the first Red Cross chapter among black women, organized local chapters of the Urban League and NAACP and became a writer, editor and vice president of the Pittsburgh Courier.
In 1924, Lampkin was invited to meet with President Calvin Coolidge and other black leaders on racial equality; she was the only woman in attendance. Among many other accomplishments, she’s credited with organizing the NAACP’s 1931 National Convention in Pittsburgh and recruiting a young attorney named Thurgood Marshall to become a member of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Committee, where he led the organization to win Brown vs. the Board of Education and subsequently became a Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
She died at age 81 in 1965. —LD
38. Annie Dillard
There are few authors who can impart so much meaning in a single sentence as Annie Dillard, which is likely why her first nonfiction work, “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” won her a Pulitzer at age 29 and her other work also has been widely lauded.
Dillard, born Meta Ann “Annie” Doak in 1945, lived in Point Breeze growing up and based her memoir, “An American Childhood,” on her youth here; she’s also well-known for her novels, “The Living” and “The Maytrees.”
Dillard, 73, left Pittsburgh to attend college in Virginia and since has spent time teaching in Washington state and at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. —LD
39. Myron Cope
Each of Pittsburgh’s professional franchises has a singular voice: Bob Prince for the Pirates, Mike Lange for the Penguins. But Myron Cope (1929-2008), the voice of the Steelers for 35 years, left the team and the city a greater legacy in the form of a twirling, yellow towel.
One of the most identifiable pieces of sports merchandise in the world (and beyond — it has been to space), the Terrible Towel begat the concept of the “rally towel,” which has spread far and wide; at Cope’s insistence, all proceeds from the towel benefit Allegheny Valley School, a home for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities where his son once resided.
Writer, broadcaster, humanitarian — yoi and double yoi! —SC
40. Chuck Noll
During a news conference following a frustrating Steelers’ loss in 1970, coach Chuck Noll was asked how did he feel? “The same way I always do,” Noll replied. “With my fingers.”
Armed with a dry-as-the-desert wit and a mind that engaged in much more than football, Noll took a team with a 1-13 record and transformed it into a four-time Super Bowl champion.
The Steel Curtain, Immaculate Reception and Franco’s Italian Army became part of Pittsburgh’s lexicon and lore during Noll’s 23-year stewardship.
But as biographer Michael MacCambridge observed two years after Noll’s death in 2014 at age 82, he “was not forgotten, exactly. But neither was he celebrated. He never found the place in the public imagination that [Vince] Lombardi and others did.” When he retired in 1991, Noll left the limelight and returned to his other pursuits that included piloting planes and sailboats, fine wine, classical music and cultivating rose bushes. —RC
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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.
Read more here.
46. Bruno Sammartino
While charismatically straddling the line between athlete and entertainer, Bruno Sammartino (1935-2018) was the marquee name in his field for longer than anyone usually remains at the top of any discipline.
The Italian-born immigrant turned proud Pittsburgher was the top pro-wrestling attraction in the world throughout the 1960s and ’70s, including a never-to-be-matched record of more than 4,000 days as WWWF Champion (a mark which almost doubles the longevity of the second-place finisher, some guy named Hogan).
The consummate squared-circle hero captured the imagination of fans around the world; a 10-foot statue of the grappler stands in his native Pizzoferrato, Italy. Indisputably, though, Pittsburgh was his home. —SC
47. Johnny Unitas
Western Pennsylvania is known as fertile breeding grounds for professional football players, and among the best of them is Johnny Unitas (1933-2002). Nicknamed “Johnny U” and “The Golden Arm,” the product of Mt. Washington, after being released by the 1955 Steelers, spent most of his career playing quarterback for the Baltimore Colts.
During a 1958 matchup against the New York Giants, often referred to as “the greatest game ever played,” he became a household name after cooly leading his team to a last-minute victory.
In 18 NFL seasons, he amassed 40,239 passing yards, threw 290 touchdown passes and was named to 10 Pro Bowls. For more than 50 years, he held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Consistently listed as one of the greatest NFL players of all time, the Super Bowl V winner was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. —JS
48. Tim Ryan
Arguably no modern culinary educator has had as much influence on American dining as Pittsburgh-born Tim Ryan, the president of The Culinary Institute of America since 2001.
Ryan, 60, started his culinary career as a dishwasher when he was 13. After graduating the CIA in 1977, he became, at 21, executive chef of La Normande in Shadyside. It was considered at the time to be the finest restaurant in Pittsburgh. He returned to the CIA in 1982, recruited to run its new fine dining restaurant.
Over the next two decades, Ryan piled up accolades while rising through the ranks of CIA leadership; he was captain of championships Culinary World Cup and Culinary Olympics teams, became at the time the youngest Certified Master Chef (later the youngest president of the organization that awards that distinction) and found time to earn a doctorate in education from The University of Pennsylvania. —HBK
49. George Ferris
When America decided it needed to compete with the Eiffel Tower, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. had the answer. The civil engineer, who designed railroad bridges, trestles and tunnels, founded his G.W.G. Ferris & Co. in Pittsburgh and lived in the former Allegheny City, now the North Side.
For the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, Ferris proposed the idea of a large revolving steel wheel that would wow guests, offering them a view they had never seen. The Ferris wheel launched in June of that year, measuring 250 feet in diameter with 36 cars that were each capable of holding 60 people.
Although the concept had been around for more than 200 years, Ferris’ wheel was larger, grander, made from steel and set an example for future amusement park designers. He died of typhoid fever in 1896, at the age of 37, in Pittsburgh. —JM
50. Rick Sebak
The ultimate purveyor of Pittsburgh nostalgia, Rick Sebak rounds out of the list of Greatest Pittsburghers.
A beloved television producer, writer, narrator and local celebrity, Sebak, 65, is known for his documentaries celebrating the unexpected quirks and charms of Pittsburgh. The creator of the “scrapbook documentary genre,” Sebak’s notable documentaries include “Kennywood Memories,” “Things That Aren’t There Anymore” and “25 Things I Like About Pittsburgh,” all narrated in his friendly, unmistakable style.
In celebration of his 25 years with WQED, the city of Pittsburgh in 2012 named the first week of December as Rick Sebak Week. You can catch his column on Pittsburgh’s connection to — well, everything — each month in Pittsburgh Magazine. —JS
The behind-the-scenes debates over the 50 Greatest Pittsburghers.
Read more here.
Over the course of several months, the Pittsburgh Magazine editorial team formed, reformed, voted on, reranked and voted once again on our list of the 50 Greatest Pittsburghers of All Time.
There were a number of obvious choices who were never in question: Roberto Clemente, H.J. Heinz, Rachel Carson. But as we came up with more and more names of people with Pittsburgh ties who have made an impact, we had to ponder the very nature of the question: What makes someone a Pittsburgher?
We’re a proud region, and we like to claim those who once touched our home. The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pa., is within a two-hour drive, but did the actor call Pittsburgh home? He did not make the list. Arnold Palmer, who is undoubtedly from Latrobe, did make the list; we felt no other region could truly claim him as its own.
We gave a lot of weight to two factors. Was the person born and raised here — undeniably Pittsburgh born and bred — such as Andy Warhol, even though he preferred New York?
Or did they make their mark here at some point in their lives and adopt Pittsburgh as their home, as Jonas Salk did?
We also considered the walk of life our famous locals came from. There were numerous great athletes from Pittsburgh, but when comparing athletes from different sports or completely different eras, how do you rank one above another?
There were many notable authors from Pittsburgh — how do you choose “the greatest”? Michael Chabon, despite really only attending college here, set two of his greatest works here and has thus become a part of our culture. He made the list. Gertrude Stein, who lived here for only six months after her birth in Allegheny City and never returned, considered Paris her true home. She did not make the list.
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We also had to ask ourselves: Is a candidate simply famous (albeit talented), like some Hollywood or sports stars who happened to be from Pittsburgh, or did they contribute something to the world that will stand the test of time?
Ultimately, it came down to who we thought best embodies the idea of a “greatest” Pittsburgher. Not necessarily the most important people in history, but those who contributed to Pittsburgh’s story — while becoming great in their own right.
There were a few disappointments on the list — both personally, as some of our “fan favorites” were cut, and ideologically. We felt the list was heavily white and heavily comprised of straight men, but if you look at western Pennsylvania over the years, that was, to a certain extent, simply what history gave us.
Fortunately, several spots on our list belong to those who fought against the constrictions of their time to rise to greatness: Josh Gibson, arguably the best baseball player of all time; Robert L. Vann, a newspaper publisher who provided news during the time of Civil Rights to African Americans in the South; Mary Schenley, whose gender (although she held great wealth and status) was not on her side in the early 20th century.
Finally, there was the matter of ranking our selections. As we studied our final 50 names, people rose or sank as we discovered new information or lobbied for a higher ranking. The top three names represented were, by far, the biggest showdown. While Andrew Carnegie gave us our library system and our most prestigious university and made numerous charitable contributions not just to Pittsburgh but well beyond, we couldn’t in good conscience name him No. 1 or 2 given his contentious history with union workers. August Wilson skyrocketed to the top, not only as the first African American to have a Broadway theater named for him and two Pulitzers bestowed for works within his unprecedented Century Cycle of plays, but also for his status as a homegrown hero from the Hill District who set so much of his work here. Finally, Fred Rogers, the ordained minister who was by all accounts everything good he ever seemed to be on television and in real life, who transformed children’s programming and saved public broadcasting, was a choice no one could argue with.
It seems fitting to turn to his words on greatness, as so much of his life’s work was focused on recognizing one’s worth: “It’s not the honors and the prizes and the fancy outsides of life which ultimately nourish our souls. It’s the knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth, that the bedrock of our very being is good stuff. That’s what makes growing humanity the most potentially glorious enterprise on earth.”