of western Pennsylvania began 12,000-18,000 years ago with the first
migration to the area by Native Americans slowly moving west from their
point of arrival, the Aleutian Strait in Alaska. Just like their counterparts
in Europe and Asia, they developed many cultural groups (tribes) with
separate languages, religions, architecture, clothing, and other customs.
The Monongahela people were the group inhabiting western Pennsylvania
at the time of the first European settlements on the East Coast. With
the Europeans, however, traveled their diseases. In fact, their diseases
traveled ahead of them by being transmitted by Indian traders. By the
time the first Europeans explored this area in the early 1700s, the
Monongahela people had vanished, victims of disease. By that time, eastern
tribes had been pushed westward by English settlement on the Coast and
the Iroquois Confederacy moved into western Pennsylvania to resettle.
Europeans to venture into western Pennsylvania were fur traders of French
and British background. After the British won their claim to the area
in 1758 (see Western Pennsylvania History), English Scotch, and Scotch-Irish
slowly come in to settle farms or work in trades. Pittsburgh's population
was only 300 by 1790, so it was clearly not a magnet for migration!
One reason was the cultural conflict that was going on here: Until the
Treaty of Greeneville was signed in 1795, Native American's had not
relinquished their claims to the region.
migrants to western Pennsylvania continued to be primarily English,
Scotch, Scotch-Irish. The Scotch and Scotch-Irish in particular were
attracted to the "west" (as our area was considered until
the War of 1812), because they were subject to prejudice from the more
"genteel" English on the East Coast. (This is why we are among
the most Presbyterian of areas in the United States!) This phenomenon
is called the push-pull effect and is a story that will be repeated
over and over. For migration to happen, conditions at home must motivate
people to leave (push) and conditions at their destination must seem
attractive (pull). Free African Americans also made their way to Pittsburgh,
where they could set up shop as skilled craftsmen, always in short supply
in America, but particularly so in the west.
events in Europe changed the nature of migration to America: A potato
famine in the mid 1840s left Irish peasants starving and political upheaval
made German men subject to forced military conscription. Pittsburgh
and the region were attractive destinations: Ample farmland was still
available cheaply and employment was available in growing boat-building,
shipping, glassmaking, and other manufacturing industries. Thousands
of Irish and German immigrants found their way to Pittsburgh. The Irish--poor,
unskilled, and Catholic--were subject to ridicule and discrimination
and low-paying jobs. The Germans, not having weathered a famine, tended
to arrive with more skills for higher paying jobs or capital to buy
land. Immigration was running at such full steam during this era that
in 1860, foreign born residents made up half of the population!
same era, brave souls in southwestern Pennsylvania became involved in
the covert migration of many slaves escaping from the South. Free blacks
and white abolitionists were conductors on The Underground
Railroad, which was very active along the Ohio and Monongahela
Rivers. Most of the "passengers,' however, did not stay in the
area, moving on to Canada instead because of the danger of being returned
to slaveowners under the Fugitive Slave Act.
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In 1890 the
character of immigration changed dramatically. Between the explosive
growth of Pittsburgh steel industry and its need for cheap, unskilled labor and agricultural depression
and political unrest in eastern and southern Europe, the stage was set
for the largest migration ever! Millions of Italians, Poles, Hungarians,
Slovenians, Ukrainians, and other eastern Europeans took advantage of
cheap transport to arrive in Pittsburgh ready to work in the mills and
transplant their cultures to the neighborhoods nearby. By 1920, two-thirds
of Pittsburgh's population were foreign-born or had parents who were
I, however, cut off the flow of immigration as it increased the demand
for steel. This was the "pull" opportunity for thousands of
African Americans in the South. When their pool of white workers was
no longer available, industries were willing to hire blacks, who eagerly
left Jim Crow laws and share-cropping economic conditions behind.
Migration" began in World War I reached its peak during
Depression in the 1930's. But Blacks coming to Pittsburgh to
escape poverty and oppression found conditions weren't much better here.
Pittsburgh ranked second only to Newark, NJ, in terms of bad housing,
and some men even lived in railroad cars, which they rented for five
cents a night. Congress eventually passed legislation to improve living
Archive of Industrial Society, Hillman Library
Avenue in the 1930s.
Just as other
ethnic groups in the city before them, the Black community put their
roots down by establishing churches and other institutions. One of the
most powerful and diverse neighborhoods was the Hill District, just
east of the Golden Triangle beyond Grant Street.
District was a first stop for several migrant groups arriving in Pittsburgh.
First the Irish arrived in the mid 1800s, then Jews in the late 1800s,
then African Americans in the 1910s. As each group became established
they tended to move to the suburbs to be replaced by the next group
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War I immigration slowed almost to a standstill after Congress enacted
quota laws. Pittsburgh's population continued to grow, however, until
hitting a peak of 676,806 in 1950. Allegheny County's population hit
a peak of about two million in 1960.
1970s, however, the push-pull factors have not been working in Pittsburgh's
favor. In a reverse of the immigration boom of the 1890s-1930s Pittsburgh's
population went in to a rapid decline after the manufacturing jobs.
After the loss of manufacturing jobs in the 1970s-1990s, young people
left the area to find work. Pittsburgh's population was 369,879 in 1990,
only 57% of its peak in 1950. Allegheny County's population declined
also, though not as drastically to 1,336,449, 66% of its peak population.
region has lost its manufacturing jobs, its new economy has need of
technology and medical positions. New immigrants from Asia and the Middle
East have come to make their homes here. Much more mobile than immigrants
of 100 years ago because of the automobile, these newcomers don't cluster
in neighborhoods. But like all others before them, they feel the need
for community, so build houses of faith and other institutions to keep
their cultures alive.