Old Images of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Historic Photos and Film

Old postcard of the Fifth and Wood Streets at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, from about 1903

Glimpse history through fascinating old images of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Old Photos of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh’s Exposition Hall

Exposition Hall opened in September 1889, built at The Point where 132 years previously the arriving British pioneers and soldiers threw together a stockade and raised the British King’s enseign.

A commercial institution had been opened at the old Exposition Park in Allegheny in 1875. Fire destoyed it in 1883, leading the Chamber of Commerce to consider a more permanent solution, alongside the establishment of a polytechnic. There was also to be a separate music hall added to the back of Exposition Hall at a later date.

The city donated the land under a 50 year lease, and public subscriptions paid for the building works, including $5,000 from Mrs. Mary E. Schenley.

Building was paused for about a year, because local businesses took legal action, concerned about the impact of the building on the local boat-building industry.

When the six-acre complex of Exposition Hall opened in 1889, the streets at The Point were still unpaved, there was no nearby connection to the streetcar system, and no outside funfair attractions were provided at first. Yet the small affair received more than 250,000 visitors that season, a number set to increase in the following years.

On St Patrick’s Day in 1901, embers from a nearby stable fire blew across to the Main Hall, the building was engulfed in flames, and everything as destoyed except for the Machinery Hall.

The complex was rebuilt at the cost of $600,000, with a Main Hall, Music Hall and new Machinery Hall, and in 1914 the first attempts were made to convert the Main Hall into the Winter Garden, with an ice skating rink.

But by 1916 visitor numbers were sharply declining and the season incurred a financial loss. The Exposition then missed two years, becaused of World War I and a polio epidemic. Hockey matches continued, until spring 1920.

There were plans to sell the buildings to Pittsburgh city council for $360,000, and relinquish the last 17 years of the 50 year lease, which would have settled the Exposition society’s debts. Instead, the city leased the premises for the next 20 years, using it as the cuty’s auto pound.

The Music Hall was demolished in 1941. The following year, the Machinery Hall was dismantled and the scrap metal donated to the war effort. 1951 saw the clearing of the Main Hall, and the complex site became part of the 37-acre Point State Park.

Early Panorama

This panorama of Pittsburgh from across the river was captured in the early 20th Century. Although it is a low resolution image, I’ve added a couple of closeups so a few more details come to the fore.

Early 20th Century Pittsburgh

This first video shows a range of old photos of Pittsburgh, taken between 1900 and 1910.

Old photos of Pittsburgh(Pennsylvania)1901-1910 – oldstuff4all on YouTube

Early Film of Pittsburgh

Guy Jones discovered a short reel of Pittsburgh’s industry, streets and landmarks in 1928, which had been through an early hand-coloring process.

He slowed the footage down to a natural rate, improved the color, and added in sound effects.

Some of the landmarks are still there, such as the funicular rides at Duquesne Incline. But the Exposition Hall is gone, and the R.B. Mellon mansion, seen in the final shot, was demolished during World War II to make way for Mellon Park, so it’s great to see historic film of these buildings.

1928 – Hand-Coloured Views of Pittsburgh (speed corrected w/ added sound) – guy jones on YouTube

Pittsburgh 1929

During Pittsburgh’s Fire Convention in 1929, an amputee climbed a 100 foot ladder and jumped down into a 4ft deep pool. It was captured on silent, black and white film.

This brief footage includes a glimpse of the area around this event, from above.

USA: Thrills by fireman at Pittsburgh (1929) – British Pathé on YouTube

Coal Mine Rescue 1963

In 1963, more than 200 volunteer rescuers worked hard over two days to rescue three boys, aged 13 and 14, who had got stuck down an abandoned coal mine near Pittsburgh.

Suffering from exposure and dehydration, the young explorers were brought out on stretchers and rushed to hospital, to the delight of their relieved families.

Boys Rescued From Mine (1963) – British Pathé on YouTube

Hotels in the 60’s & 70’s

A quick glimpse of the Chatham Center, Hotel Webster Hall, William Penn Hotel (welcoming the Association of Iron and Stell Engineers), Hotel Pick Roosevelt, the Carlton House Hotel in the 1960s and 1970s, and to show how glamorous it all was, lots of young women in bikinis.

1960s, 1970s Pittsburgh Hotels – Kinolibrary on YouTube

Around Pittsburgh 1985

On Saturday, July 6, 1985, Christopher Patton filmed the streetcars in action in rainy downtown Pittsburgh. Then he filmed his ride in one, looking out the windshield of PCC 1721.

It’s an incredible historical piece, beginning at Fourth Avenue and Smithfield Street and then on Liberty Avenue and Wood Street, turning left onto Fort Pitt Boulevard, and turning right and crossing the Smithfield Street Bridge. From the bridge, the route turns left onto West Carson Street and then climbsg Arlington Avenue on the tracks of the former 46-Brownsville, 49-Beltzhoover and 49-Arlington/Warrington. From Arlington Avenue to Warrington Avenue to South Hills Junction, looping and then a return via the same route to downtown Pittsburgh.

The images are clear and surprisingly stable given this is a moving vehicle, and take in a surprising variety of locations. It’s noisy in the background, which adds to the atmosphere of this streetcar ride.

Pittsburgh Downtown/South Side Streetcar Runs July 6, 1985 – Christopher Patton on YouTube

Pittsburgh Students in 1985

Being a home movie made by students in 1985, the camera focuses in on the young people and is often blurry or shaky. But there are quite a few glimpses of buildings, shops and people in the background.

Pittsburgh New Wave 1985 – Dave Bellard on YouTube

Kennywood 1988

Filming for an hour long documentary made in 1988 about Kennywood, near Pittsburgh, created lots of reels of videotape that sat unused for 30 years.

Hundreds of people appear, many of them with good closeup shots, and of course the range of rides on offer at the time.

That Kennywood Summer – WQED Pittsburgh on YouTube

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