The Quick 10: 10 Facts About Pittsburgh (or is it Pittsburg?)

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As I mentioned last week, the actual Super Bowl game isn't really my thing. If you're in the same boat as I am, but still want to compete when people are spouting off obscure stats and trivia, try tossing in a little, "Yeah, Roethlisberger is great. Did you know the smiley face emoticon was invented in Pittsburgh?"

1. Pittsburg, Pittsburgh or Pittsbourgh? The town was named in 1758 by Scotsman John Forbes, who was honoring William Pitt the Elder. Forbes sent a letter to Pitt the same year to let him know that the city had been named for him, and in the letter he spelled it "Pittsbourgh." Most experts agree that as a Scotsman, Forbes probably pronounced it the same way we pronounce Edinburgh. It wasn't until 1769 that the "Pittsburgh" spelling first turned up on a surveying document, but the real controversy came with the 1891 United States Board on Geographic Names ruling that all towns with the spelling "burgh" needed to drop the "h." Many people were outraged at the decision and refused to follow the rules, even the Pittsburgh Gazette, the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange. In 1911, the Geographic Board gave in and officially restored the "h" that was never really missing for most people anyway.

2. San Francisco may be own for its hills, but Pittsburgh has it beat when it comes to verticality. In fact, Pittsburgh has more vertical feet than San Fran, Cincinnati and Portland, Oregon, combined. There are more than 700 sets of stairs in the city.

3. Pittsburgh dialect is so distinct, some locals who speak Pittsburghese have their own name: Yinzers. From what I understand, "Yinz" is kind of like "ya'll." Some examples of Pittsburghese:
City Chicken = pork or veal cubes on a wooden skewer.
Crudded milk = cottage cheese
Gum band = rubber band
Red up = clean up or tidy up

Any others we should know about?

4. You might not know WQED, the PBS station in the 'Burgh… but you definitely know a couple of the shows it has produced. It's where Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego were both born. Michael Keaton (then Michael Douglas) was working as a cameraman for WQED when he got to appear on screen in a couple of shows, including as a "Flying Zucchini Brother" on Mister Rogers.

5. You know this guy - :-) Love him or hate him, the Pittsburgh-originated smiley emoticon has been invading your computer screen since the early '80s, when Carnegie Mellon computer scientist Scott Fahlman came up with him. This was his original post on the Carnegie Mellon message board:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-)
From: Scott E Fahlman

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:

:-)

Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use :-(

6. Many filmmakers feel a certain tie to the Pittsburgh area, but perhaps none as much as George Romero, "Grandfather of the Zombie." Romero has filmed the majority of his Living Dead movies in Pittsburgh or the area. Much of Night of the Living Dead was filmed in or near Evans City, Pennsylvania, just 30 miles north of the Steel City. Dawn of the Dead was shot in Pittsburgh and Monroeville, a suburb. The city takes pride in its association with the undead, hyping it up with Zombie Walks (they held the Guinness World Record for a while), Zombie Fest and a local horror T.V. show called The It's Alive Show.

7. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun. That jingle never would have existed if it wasn't for 'Burgh area-resident Jim Delligatti. He operated several McDs in the area; when the Big Mac was a big smash at his Unionville location, it was tested at three Pittsburgh locations before it went national in 1967.

8. Actress Sienna Miller outraged the fine residents when she called their city "Shitsburgh" after spending time filming 2008's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh there. She later backtracked and explained that she wasn't happy about the all-night filming schedule, even though her comments to Rolling Stone seemed pretty clear: “Can you believe this is my life? Will you pity me when you’re back in your funky New York apartment and I’m still in Pittsburgh? I need to get more glamorous films and stop with my indie year." The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put it this way in a headline: "Semi-famous actress dumps on the 'Burgh."

9. Pittsburgh may have a reputation as a polluted, industrial town, but much has changed since that reputation was earned in the early-to-mid 1900s. In fact, the city has the most certified "green" buildings in the U.S.

10. You can get all the way from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. - that's 245 miles - via a bike and running trail called the Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath trail. Should you feel compelled to try it, you'll pass landmarks like Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, one of two surviving cast-iron truss bridges in all of North America, an abandoned railway tunnel called the Big Savage Tunnel, Antietam Battlefield, Harpers Ferry, and Georgetown University. Sounds like a pretty sweet trip to me.

Pittsburgers, help us out - what other fabulous facts do we need to know about your town? And Green Bay residents, don't worry - I've got facts up my sleeve for your town later this week.

I'm on Twitter if you have Q10 requests or care to discuss what the proper name for Green Bay residents is (Green Bayans? Green Bayonets? Just plain Cheeseheads?).

January 31, 2011 - 9:14am
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