27 Pittsburgh Inventions and Historical Firsts Worth Remembering

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on September 19, 2023.

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When you think of Pittsburgh, you may think of the city as being a hub of steel. But the Steel City has also been a hub of non-steel innovation as well with many historical firsts and inventions over the years.

So in this one, we wanted to take a look at some of the most famous Pittsburgh inventions and historically significant moments to come out of the region!

Pittsburgh Inventions

Pittsburgh Innovations at Heinz History Center

Pittsburgh has been an innovation hub since its early days, and some of the most famous inventions to come out of the city are as follows:

  • George Westinghouse was a busy Pittsburgh inventor and created many products including air brakes for trains (1873), transformers for AC electricity (1885), and a whole lot more. (Read more)
  • The world's first Ferris Wheel was designed by George W Ferris from Pittsburgh but was built at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago. (Read more)
  • The first commercial movie theater was a Nickelodeon concept that started in downtown Pittsburgh in 1905. (Read more)
  • The first drive-in gas filling station was opened in East Liberty in 1913. (Note: ‘drive-in' is the key distinction here. Read more)
  • While variants of the game Bingo have been played for centuries, Hugh J Ward standardized the game in the 1920s and published the first rule book in 1933. (Read more)
  • KDKA in Pittsburgh presented the first commercial radio broadcast on November 2, 1920- the results of the Presidential election. (Read more)
  • The Jeep was created by the American Bantam Car Company in Butler in 1940. (Read more)
  • The polio vaccine was discovered by Jonas Salk in 1953 at the University of Pittsburgh and approved for use in 1955. (Read more)
  • The Civic Arena featured the world's first retractable roof when it opened in 1961. (Read more)
  • Iron City Beer released the first aluminum snap-top can in 1962. This design was invented in Ohio and sold to Alcoa. (Read more)
  • The Mr. Yuk sticker used to alert kids to poison was created at Pittsburgh Children's Hospital in 1971. (Read more)
  • The first emoticon was created by Scott Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon University in 1982 :-). (Read more)

Historical Moments

Point State Park Monument

Pittsburgh also has many historically significant events that could be considered “firsts” that you should also be aware of. A few of the most notable include the following:

  • The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette started in 1786 and is widely considered to be the first paper published west of the Allegheny Mountains. One of its early prints was the Constitution in 1787. (Read more)
  • Meriweather Lewis, of Lewis & Clark fame, began his journey from Fort Fayette in Pittsburgh in 1803. Pittsburgh is now recognized as the starting point of the expedition. (Read more)
  • Samuel Langley developed a standardized time system at the Allegheny Observatory which was adopted by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1869. In 1883, all railroads in North America adopted this standard time. In 1918, Congress adopted it and time zones are controlled by the Department of Transportation. (Read more)
  • On November 12, 1892, football player William Heffelfinger was paid $500 to play a game for the Allegheny Athletic Association. This is widely considered to be the first documented payment for a pro football player. (Read more)
  • Baseball's first-ever World Series featured the Pittsburgh Pirates vs the Boston Americans in 1903. While the first game was played in Boston, Pittsburgh's Exposition Park hosted four games. The Pirates lost the series in the eighth game in Boston. (Read more
  • The iconic Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It!” poster was created by Pittsburgh's J Howard Miller in 1942 for Westinghouse. (Read more)
  • Meadowcroft Rockshelter near Avella is an excavation site thought to have the longest evidence of continual human habitation in North America- dating back 19,000 years. The first artifact was found here by Albert Miller in 1955. (Read more)
  • Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962 which documented the damages of pesticides. This led to an environmental movement resulting in the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970. (Read more)
  • The Clean Air Act of 1963 was created in part due to the Donora Smog disaster of 1948 in Donora, PA. This was the first legislation designed to actively control pollutants in the atmosphere. (Read more)

Food Creations

Primanti Brothers Sandwich

Finally, let's not forget some food creations to come out of the region as well!

  • The Heinz brand is known for a wide array of food items, but none are more famous than Heinz Ketchup, launched in 1876. (Read more)
  • The Clark Bar candy bar was created by David L Clark in 1917. (Read more)
  • Primanti Brothers opened in Pittsburgh in 1933 and is known for its unique sandwich style with fries and coleslaw on top.
  • The Big Mac was created by Jim Delligatti in 1967. It is generally accepted that the burger was created at a location in Ross Township but first introduced in Uniontown, PA. (Read more)
  • The Klondike Bar was created by the Isaly Dairy Company (of chip chopped ham fame) in Mansfield, OH in 1922, with Pittsburgh being one of its first major markets. (Read more)
  • Tassel Pharmacy in Latrobe, PA, is widely considered to be the birthplace of the Banana Split, created in 1904 (although disputed by another store in Ohio. Read more).

For more famous Pittsburgh foods, click the previous link!

Do you know of another invention or historical first that happened in Pittsburgh? Comment below to share and we'll add it to our list!

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