Say the name Pittsburgh and what comes to mind? Steel mills, bridges and rivers perhaps? How about Steelers, Pirates and Penguins? All would be valid responses, but in reality Pittsburgh extends beyond the obvious and has been on the cutting edge of culture and society since its founding in 1758. Maybe there’s something in the water, or maybe it’s because the city’s three rivers has made it one of the centralized locations in the United States, but as the ongoing exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center eloquently states, Pittsburgh has a “Tradition of Innovation” that goes back centuries. The region has bared witness to many of the major moments in American history, while likewise being at the forefront of mankind’s most significant and greatest achievements.
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, for instance, began their famed Lewis and Clark Expedition in Pittsburgh, making their way along the Ohio River to the Missouri and then literally across the country to the Pacific Coast. In late 1811, Robert Fulton—often considered the “Father of the Steamboat”—built a specially designed version of his craft with his partners Robert Livingston and Nicholas Roosevelt, launching it in Pittsburgh and proving the capability of such vehicles to transverse the Mississippi Rivers, opening a new form of transportation to America’s Heartland. The popularity of steamboats, as well as Pittsburgh’s three connecting rivers, exposed a young Stephen Foster to multiple musical formats, enabling him to combine these various elements into a unique style and becoming the “Father of American Music” in the process. Famed engineer John Roebling, meanwhile, perfected his wire rope cable suspension bridge over the rivers of Pittsburgh years before he built the Brooklyn Bridge.