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Things We've Made
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WESTERN PENNSYLVANIANS STILL MAKE LOTS OF REALLY USEFUL AND COOL PRODUCTS

‘Things We’ve Made’ is the latest PBS special from producer Rick Sebak and WQED Multimedia Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, PA – You can learn a lot about a place by taking a look at the things that have been produced there.

Pittsburgh has been a renowned center of the steel industry for more than a century, but the city has also been a home to whiskey distillers, boat builders, bottle makers, George Westinghouse, H.J. Heinz, and even some toy designers over the years. People in the area around Pittsburgh now make big-screen TVs, extraordinary pots and pans, pharmaceutical robots, good local beer, robots, chocolates and model steam engines, among other things.

In this program called “Things We’ve Made,” the latest installment in WQED’s All-American Documentaries series, producer Rick Sebak and his documentary team celebrate some of these items made in Pittsburgh past and present.

It’s like a love letter to the region’s industrial traditions. “The spark of the idea started glowing sometime last year, when I somehow became aware that even though people don’t think of Pittsburgh as a big manufacturing center anymore, we still make a lot of stuff,” said Sebak. “Since I like to celebrate what makes this region charming and unforgettable, this seemed like a good idea for a program.”

Shooting at various factories in western Pennsylvania has been an education for all involved. Sebak and his crews suited up to spend several days in steel mills, donned hair nets at glass factories and at chocolate production facilities. “We usually had to wear safety glasses,” said Rick, “but we feel lucky to have the chance to see these places and to share our experiences on videotape.”

Rick said, “Paul Ruggieri, the director of photography on this project, and I traveled out to the Sony television manufacturing facility in Mount Pleasant for a tour of the incredible places where glass TV tubes are made and where several kinds of large-screen TV’s are assembled, tested and packed. Another day – two days, actually – the whole crew visited All-Clad in Canonsburg, where flat discs of metal are shaped into some of the best-loved pots and pans on Earth. It’s been amazing, and, while we hear so much about manufacturing jobs leaving, it was reassuring to have so many options on places to visit and to check out what’s still being put together around here.

“We watched beer being made and canned and kegged at Pittsburgh Brewing. We saw soup and baby food being made in the gigantic Del-Monte (formerly Heinz) plants on the North Side, where they impressed us with their speed and utmost care for quality.”

“And everywhere we went we met great people who keep these places humming. The scale of the machines and the buildings can be awesome, but the people manage to keep everything in perspective.”
One of the most memorable segments of the show is a visit to a small factory in an old garage in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, where three people work every day to manufacture and assemble all the parts for Jensen Model Steam Engines. They are sophisticated, scientific “toys” for people interested in steam power and engines, machined and soldered and put together exactly as they have been since 1932.

“There’s no question,” said Rick, “we found some unusual manufacturers in our area, but you know, I thought so often about Fred Rogers when we were making this program. The TV programs he made here in Pittsburgh with all his Picture-Picture factory tours taught us all that learning about how things are made could be fascinating and fun. We don’t have a dedication to Fred on the show, but we should.”

In addition to “Things We’ve Made,” Sebak has created fifteen other documentaries about his hometown of Pittsburgh since 1987. Several of these “local” programs have also found national audiences. “Happy Holidays in Pittsburgh” and “Pittsburgh A To Z” both aired in cities across the U.S. in 2003. “We like to let people know that the Pittsburgh region is full of cool surprises and wonderfully goofy people.”

Rick Sebak has also produced and narrated a number of national programs for PBS, including “A Hot Dog Program,” “A Flea Market Documentary” and “Great Old Amusement Parks” among others.

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