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Pennsylvania: Colonial Times - 1876


Important People


Once the new railroad assured efficient connections to the east in 1852, Pittsburgh became the leading city not only in western Pennsylvania, but also in nearby states. Shipping by water was still much cheaper than by rail, although the railroads did have the advantage of traveling where rivers didn't flow. The result was trains and rivers that worked together, laying the groundwork for Pittsburgh's future industrial might. Often trains would shift their loads to barges to make the trip downriver, and barges would empty their loads onto trains to disperse goods to the countryside. And the trains finally resolved the problem of getting over the mountains. A trip that took three weeks by wagon in 1800 by 1852 took just 14 hours

Pittsburgh was already well-known as the "Smoky City," between manufacturing, steamboats, and household heating with coal. The growth of the railroads and the Civil War's almost insatiable need for hardware caused explosive growth in manufacturing. The need for coal to fuel both trains and manufacturing was another boost for Western Pennsylvania's economy. Massive amounts of coal were mined then moved by barge and boxcar.

The rivers also provided the raw materials for glass (coal was plentiful for firing glass furnaces, and sand to melt could be dredged from the riverbed). The small glass factories that began in Birmingham earlier in the century stepped up production until more than seventy glass factories stood in Birmingham alone. Local glass suppliers in the 1850s and 1860s eventually became the national suppliers by the end of the 1800s, and by then, Pittsburgh became the leading producer of glass in the world

Agriculture, once so important to provide capital and raw materials for the manufacturing industries, began to fade in importance as industries--and its workers' and managers' residences--began invading rural lands. Furthermore, because of the railroad, the city's food needs could be provided by bringing farm produce from greater distances than before.

Because of its topography, Pittsburgh was still contained in the Golden Triangle area, The Strip, the flats on the South Side. Allegheny was still its own city, growing just as Pittsburgh was. The continuing challenges of hilly terrain and numerous rivers made most residents dependent on walking. Wedged among the factories were rows of housing, surrounded by markets, schools and churches also within easy walking distance. This pedestrian-dependent system helped to form the many distinct characteristics of each neighborhood, as immigrants preserved their traditions and influenced the public buildings that surrounded and served them.