Pittsburgh Travel Guide

Understand

History

The first European to "discover" the site of Pittsburgh was French discoverer/trader Sieur de La Salle in his 1669 expedition. The settlement of Pittsburgh began as a strategic point at the confluence of three rivers, with Britain, France, and the local Native American tribes all vying for control over this spot and thus, the region. On what is now referred to as The Point, where the rivers meet, several forts were constructed by competing French and British forces during the French and Indian War. In 1758, British general John Forbes ordered the construction of Fort Pitt, named after British Secretary of State William Pitt the Elder. He also named the settlement between the rivers "Pittsborough".

Manufacturing in Pittsburgh began in earnest in the early 19th century, and by the US Civil War the city was known as "the armory of the Union." This began a sharp escalation of industry, particularly steel and glass. By the late 19th century, Pittsburgh was known as the Steel City. Andrew Carnegie began the Carnegie Steel Company in 1892, which became United States Steel (USS) a decade later and grew to be the largest corporation of any kind in the world. Carnegie became the richest man on Earth and, along with other local magnates of industry, gave Pittsburgh cultural institutions such as the Carnegie Museums, Carnegie Library, and Carnegie-Mellon University. A number of other Fortune 100 companies have called Pittsburgh their headquarters, helping fund world-class museums, theaters, universities, and other attractions.

At the height of this industrialization Pittsburgh was notorious for its severe air pollution. One journalist, James Parton, descriptively dubbed it "hell with the lid off". White-collar workers came home in the evening as "brown-collar" workers. When asked what to do to fix Pittsburgh, the noted architect Frank Lloyd Wright famously replied with his characteristic frankness, "Raze it." Following World War II, the city launched a clean air and civic revitalization project known as the "Renaissance." This much-acclaimed effort was followed by the "Renaissance II" project, begun in 1977 and focusing more on cultural and neighborhood development than its predecessor. The industrial base continued to expand through the 1960s, but beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, the steel industry in the region imploded, with massive layoffs and mill closures.

Today Pittsburgh is a model of cleanliness due to the remediation of the polluting industrial plants in the late 1950s, as well as the gradual migration of the mills to other cities and countries. There is now only one operating steel mill in the region, Carnegie Steel's venerable Edgar Thompson Works, now a USS state-of-the-art integrated steel mill. With the implosion of the steel industry in the region, the city's population shrank dramatically, from 600,000 in 1950 to 330,000 in 2000. Remnants of the city's more prosperous past can be seen throughout the area. But while the region is still reeling from the economic collapse, Pittsburgh is now (for the most part) economically stable, as the city has shifted the economic base to services such as education, medicine, technology, and finance.

People

The people of Pittsburgh are indeed what make it such a unique place. The city has been shaped by its immigrants, whose specific traditions have left a lasting mark. Pittsburghers are generally welcoming, down-to-earth, and unpretentious. Pittsburgh has also recently gained attention as a burgeoning center for counter-culture.

The British were the first to permanently settle Pittsburgh, and early settlers included the English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish, as well as German, drawn by mining, shipping, and manufacturing. These people formed the foundation of Pittsburgh, still physically visible in the oldest parts of the city.

By the late 1800s, the demand for labor was so strong the new immigrants - the so-called "millhunks" - began flocking to Pittsburgh, chiefly from Central and Eastern Europe. They not only provided labor, but brought their families, their languages, their churches, and other traditions. Today Pittsburgh's identity has been strongly molded by the ethnic traditions of these immigrants from countries like Poland, Slovakia, Ukraine, Italy, Lithuania, Serbia, and Croatia. Steeples and the bright copper onion-dome churches of the Eastern Orthodox tradition dot the old parts of town, and grandmas wearing babushkas are a common sight. Pittsburgh is also home to a large Jewish community, centered in Squirrel Hill.

Pittsburgh's modern economy has brought new immigrants from places such as India and China, along with their traditions; the Pittsburgh region today is home to a number of Hindu temples, for example. Pittsburgh has truly been a great melting pot, and continues to be as a home to thousands of students from across the world that attend the many universities in the city, especially Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. In addition, Pittsburgh has an organized LGBT community and anti-discrimination laws inclusive of LGBT people have been enacted at both the city and county levels.

Land

The surrounding landscape has had a huge impact on Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh's characteristic rivers and hills have shaped the city physically, economically, and socially.

Like most older cities, it was the rivers that made the city. The rivers allowed for the transport of raw materials and provided water used for making steel, and allowed for easy shipping of finished products. Today, the rivers attract mostly recreational boaters, but still support extensive barge traffic. Pittsburgh claims to have more bridges than any city in the world (only counting bridges over 20 feet, 440 or so within Pittsburgh, and over 1700 in the county).

The hilly landscape—arguably the most rugged of any city east of the Rockies—has created unique neighborhoods; flat lands near the rivers were used for mills, while workers' houses cling precariously to the hillsides above. In many places "pockets" of neighborhoods, divided by rivers and valleys, have developed distinctly different characteristics from each other, despite being very close together. Much of the landscape, with its many unbuildable slopes, remains lush and green, and provides for amazing views.

Tourist Information

Pittsburgh's visitor information centers offer maps, brochures and other information for tourists. The VisitPittsburgh website offers more guides and lists of things to do.

Downtown Pittsburgh Info Center, on Liberty Avenue adjacent to Gateway Center, near Point State Park Downtown. Hours: M-F 9AM-5PM (Apr-Oct), 9AM-4PM (Nov-Mar); Sa 9AM-5PM; Su 10AM-3PM.
Pittsburgh International Airport Info Center. Hours: M 9AM-4PM; Tu-F 10AM-5PM; Sa 10AM-6PM; Su 2PM-6PM.
Senator John Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman Street, Strip District. Hours: all week, 10AM-5PM.

source: Wikivoyage

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