by A. L. Humphrey, born in Buffalo, New York, June 12, 1860. Throughout
his career he served as president of the Westinghouse Air Brake Co.,
Chicago and Pittsburgh; president of Union Switch & Signal Company;
Keystone Clay Products Company; American Brake Company; and officers
of other companies and banks. He served in the Colorado legislature
two terms and was speaker of the House in 1895. He served as industrial
expert on the staff of the chief of Ordnance of the U.S. Army during
the World War, and was a member of the President's Conference on unemployment
What the Pittsburgh
of fifty years hence, or in other words, 1977, will be we must discover
in the light of the past, and I ask you to look back with me over the
fifty years which have just ended. The city at that time had a population
of about 150,000. To be exact, the federal census of 1880 fixed the
population at 156,389. The municipal area in 1877 was 27.31 square miles
as against the 49.17 square miles of today. It will be seen that our
growth in population has exceeded our growth in area very materially,
for within the little more than forty-nine square miles of the city
proper today we have a population of 642,000; that is to say, the area
has increased a little more than eighty per cent, while the population
has increased considerably more than 300 per cent.
There was in 1877
little urban development beyond East Liberty, and in fact, East Liberty
itself was for the greater part sparsely settled. There was no Pittsburgh
north of the Allegheny, and the boroughs of Birmingham and Temperanceville
occupied the south banks of the Monongahela and Ohio. The business section
then, as now, was confined to that part of the city which we have since
had reason to nickname as the "Golden Triangle." The business
houses of 1877, however, were of insignificant dimensions compared with
the great establishments which rise from all our downtown streets today.
The five-story buildings of 1877 were regarded as skyscrapers and our
first eight-story building, which many of us still remember, almost
inspired awe. The Monongahela House was the only hotel of note, supplemented
by the Central, the St. Charles, and the Red Lion. Cobblestones were
the prevalent street paving, although not universal, for one of the
longest and most important of our thoroughfares, Penn Avenue, then known
as the "The Pike" (which was short for Greensburg Turnpike),
was paved in wooden block and was not entirely free from tollhouses.
nor of course any other city had at that time any horseless street railways.
The steam railroads were not yet an old institution and horses or mules
were the only motive power for the streetcars. Electric lighting had
not yet been invented; gas lamps which shed their so-called radiance
hardly ten feet were the only means of street illumination, while candles
and oil lamps still lighted thousands of homes n which gas lighting
was beyond reach because of the expense. The incandescent lamp was being
talked about but had not been sufficiently perfected for commercial
use. As for the telephone, we are informed that attempts to introduce
it were even yet met with great skepticism on the part of even our most
prominent businessmen. One of our local historians is authority for
the statement that a prominent bank board consented to subscribe fifty
dollars a year for a telephone only upon condition that half a dozen
other banks should agree to hazard the same innovation. The editor of
one of the daily newspapers being offered a telephone by the telephone
company accepted it with a vague sense of impending calamity and instead
of using it, relegated it to the sacred confines of a coat closet. As
in Pittsburgh, so it was in other cities. There was no more resistance
or incredulity in the presence of the rapidly moving commercial and
industrial revolution here than elsewhere.
About an acre of grass-covered
land between Grant and Ross streets, known as Second Avenue Park, was
the only public recreation ground in Pittsburgh.
We had then excellent
public schools, but the progress of the last fifty years is nowhere
more profoundly impressive than right in this direction. In contrast
with the magnificent school system of today, including a numerous group
of splendid high schools, each one of which greatly surpasses in scope
and equipment the average college of fifty years ago, we had then at
the summit of our grade schools only one high school, while the higher
education was offered only at the Western University of Pennsylvania
(now the University of Pittsburgh), the Pennsylvania College for Women,
and a very limited number of private schools.
The Pennsylvania Railroad,
the Panhandle, the Baltimore and Ohio, the Allegheny Valley, and the
Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne and Chicago railroads were our main means of
transportation, although river traffic was in a most flourishing condition.
We did not then have nearly as large a river tonnage as now. Our shipments
of coal down the Monongahela and Ohio contribute today to a river tonnage
reaching the enormous total for the year 1926, of nearly 31,000,000
On the other hand,
miscellaneous merchandise as well as passenger business was carried
then to a larger extent on the lower rivers than now, as far as Pittsburgh
is concerned, with the result that our wharves presented a scene of
greater animation than at the present day.
For the reason that,
as already stated, the progress of the last half century is the only
measure by which the progress of the half century to come can be divined,
you will bear with me, I am sure, while I present just a few statistics
by means of which our remarkable growth may best be visualized. Our
population growth of more than 300 per cent within the city proper has
been alluded to. The population gains within what is conveniently called
the Metropolitan Area including the suburbs, have of course been even
more notable, for it is after all in the outskirts of our great cities
that the larger growth is inevitable. And if, as now seems entirely
possible, the pending state constitutional amendment already favorably
acted upon by two legislatures is ratified by the people of the state
and subsequently the people of Allegheny County avail themselves of
the metropolitan form of government which it will provide, we shall
have (perhaps by the census of 1930) a city here of approximately 1,500,000
as against the 150,000 of just fifty years ago.
The wealth of Pittsburgh
is piled up in more visible form in the "Golden Triangle"
than even in our finest residence sections or most fashionable suburbs.
A comparison of the property valuations in the First, Second, and Third
wards, which constitute the Golden Triangle, is little short of astounding.
The entire assessed valuation of those three wards in 1880, was only
$1,828,250. In 1890, it had risen to $38,599,876; but it was in the
last three decades that the most amazing growth of property values in
this key section of the city occurred. The assessed valuation of $58,414,760
in 1900 had actually increased in 1910 to $277,573,286. In the following
ten years the expansion was not so rapid, the total for 1920 being $297,745,910.
In the seven years that have passed since 1920, there has been another
marked property development, the valuation at the beginning of the present
year in the three wards of the "Golden Triangle" having stood
at $34,625,560. In comparison with the "Golden Triangle" valuations
of just twenty-six years ago this is a gain of 510 per cent.
Let us turn to industrial
production. The value of the industrial production of the city of Pittsburgh,
taking account of only the city proper and none of its great industrial
suburbs, in 1926, was $711,164,300. That compares with a production
valued at $243,453,693 in 1910; $126,859,657 in 1890; and only $75,
915,033 in 1880. In short, the value of our industrial production was
almost tripled between 1910 and 1926, and multiplied almost ten times
The commonest and
most generally accepted index to the total business activity of any
community is the volume of its bank exchanges. That index in the case
of Pittsburgh reflects not only a constant but an almost phenomenal
increase. The Pittsburgh Clearing House, through which bank exchanges
are made, was organized in 1865 and the first clearings were recorded
in 1866, the total in that year being $83,781,242. The total clearings
or exchanges in 1877, just fifty years ago, were $223, 569, 252. Between
that and 1890 there was an increase of approximately 250 per cent, bringing
the 1890 total up to $786,694,231. Between 1900 and 1905 the increase
was nearly a billion dollars, the 1905 total being $2,506,069,215. Our
greatest period of business growth and development, however, as indicated
by our bank exchanges, was the five years between 1915 and 1920 when
the exchanges actually increased from $2,666,312,569 to $8,982,887,397,
an increase of approximately 240 per cent in five years. Our 1926 clearings
$9,197,686,607 were forty-one times as large as the clearings of fifty
Our bank exchanges,
which we have just compared, give a very fair idea of the volume of
trade and industry as a whole. If we turn to another group of statistics,
namely the reports of inbound domestic money orders at the Pittsburgh
Postoffice, we shall get a clue to the enterprise and growing magnitude
of our merchants. The total number of such money orders cashed I 1900
at the Pittsburgh Postoffice was 183,300 and their value $1,726,896.
In 1920 there number had increased to 1,516,725 and their value to $16,952,485.
In 1926, 2,349,299 were cashed of a total value of $21,884,625. If to
these figures are added the money orders transmitted through the express
companies it will be seen that our merchandising concerns have been
steadily and largely increasing their trade in outside territory, so
that we may fairly claim an uninterrupted extension of the boundaries
of our trading area and our dependent territory.
On the whole, the
Pittsburgh of fifty years ago might well be likened to a young Titan
in that it was endowed with tremendous potentialities and giving promise
of a power unequaled by that of any other community of equal population
the world. Looking back now over the fifty years we see that the promise
has been abundantly fulfilled. Even then the city was recognized as
an unrivaled iron, steel, coal, and glass center that distinction having
come upon it through the natural advantages of its great stores of nearby
raw materials and its exceptionally favorable location for the distribution
of its products throughout the country.
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