Invented, Engineered & Pioneered In Pittsburgh
Produced as part of WQED's celebration of Pittsburgh's 250th birthday, this program celebrated the innovative spirit of Pittsburgh and the engineers who make it possible.
WQED’S INVENTED, ENGINEERED & PIONEERED IN
PITTSBURGH LOOKS AT SOME OF THE ENGINEERS
WHO’VE BRIGHTENED THE HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH
WQED’s Celebration of Pittsburgh 250 is an HD Production
PITTSBURGH -- Engineers make things. And they make things work effectively and
efficiently. They solve problems. They design, build and repair bridges. They also do
a lot in just about every aspect of our modern world. And Pittsburgh engineers have had
some big successes that have helped make Pittsburgh a brighter, healthier and safer place
WQED is celebrating engineers in a new documentary called Invented Engineered &
Pioneered In Pittsburgh. Produced by Rick Sebak in partnership with the Engineers’
Society of Western Pennsylvania for the Pittsburgh History Series, the program premieres
Thursday, April 10 at 8 pm on WQED-TV and WQED-HD. It will re-broadcast on
WQED-TV on Sunday, April 13 at noon.
“I usually learn a lot while making these programs,” says Sebak, “but this time I’ve been
amazed at all the information, historical and new, that is often overlooked. I’ve also
obviously come away with an incredible respect for the crucial and often taken-forgranted
work that engineers do.”
Produced as part of WQED’s celebration of Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary, this new
documentary starts by considering the engineering expertise of the military men who
helped build Fort Pitt.
The program looks at some of the nineteenth-century accomplishments of John Roebling
who came to Butler County from Germany and founded the town of Saxonburg as well as
figured out how to make and use wire cables on suspension bridges. His first major
bridge structure was the Allegheny Aqueduct, a suspended flume of water that brought
the Pennsylvania Canal from the right bank of the Allegheny River into downtown
Pittsburgh. His last bridge was the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City.
George Ferris was another engineer who came to Pittsburgh to work on bridges but ended
up making a name for himself as the inventor of a big rotating wheel at Chicago’s
Columbian Exposition in 1893. The wheel and its giant axle (the largest piece of steel
ever made at that time) were manufactured in Pittsburgh and shipped to Illinois by rail.
The size and scope of Ferris’s giant creation are still impressive.
Another nineteenth-century engineer who moved to Pittsburgh and changed the world in
many ways was George Westinghouse. Among many accomplishments, he invented the
railroad air brake and lots of other important devices, and he helped standardize the
transmission of electricity with alternating current. Even after he died, his name lived
through his several companies, one of which, Westinghouse Electric, continues to be a
world leader in nuclear technology.
Westinghouse was just one of the organizations (along with Duquesne Light and the
federal government) that helped figure out how to put together the world’s first
commercial nuclear power station at Shippingport on the Ohio River just west of
Aliquippa. It opened in 1957 and was decommissioned in the 1980s. We go out to see
what’s still there and meet some engineers and others who worked there.
Because Pittsburgh was also the mighty Steel City, it attracted engineering talent from
around the world, and profited from the work of those who found new ways to improve
production of metals, helping maintain a reputation for innovation and quality that
That reputation for quality can be seen often in Pittsburgh’s many bridges. We consider
the aging Boulevard of the Allies Bridge that was torn down in January 2008. And then
we drive out to Somerset County to meet some structural engineers who have found new
ways of saving an old wooden covered bridge.
The company called MSA or Mine Safety Appliances has been providing Pittsburghmade
tools and equipment to improve worker safety since the earliest part of the
twentieth century. They’ve helped develop crucial devices like battery-powered lights
for miners (to replace the open flames they used to carry on their helmets) as well as
respirators to protect workers from harmful particles in the air. MSA still produces
millions of hard hats (look for the molded “V” shape on top of the helmet) as well as
Kevlar helmets for soldiers around the world, and many new state-of-the-art gas detectors
and heat-imaging cameras that can be used by fire fighters and police officers in
Meanwhile over at the University of Pittsburgh, the Vaccine Center is now carrying on
the tradition of important innovation in healthcare started by Dr. Jonas Salk and his teams
who produced the polio vaccine in the early 1950s. Today doctors and scientists at Pitt
are working to conquer other deadly diseases and viruses that continue to threaten
Then there’s UPMC’s McGowan Center where doctors, scientists, and engineers are
experimenting with tissue regeneration, trying to teach our bodies to re-grow extremities
(maybe eventually even limbs) that have been lost in accidents, in combat, or other
Not far from the offices of the McGowan Center, on the same side of the Monongahela
River, Carnegie Mellon University has establish the ETC, or Entertainment Technology
Center, where student engineers and artists are working together to create new ways of
using technology in unexpected ways. They’re thinking computer games and new uses
for cell phones and new visions of what makes something fun.
There also seems to be some engineering fun in many of the projects being worked on at
the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, too. From creating software that allows robots
to work together (on a soccer team, for instance), to combinations of hardware and
software that look like mechanical snakes and award-winning cars that drive themselves
across deserts and urban landscapes. Work that’s being done in and around Oakland has
made Pittsburgh the best place on earth to study and to work on robots and robot
All of this means nothing, however, if young people aren’t convinced that engineering is
a valuable and worthwhile and fun field of study. The program ends at Carnegie Science
Center for an event called the Chain-Reaction Contraption Contest where high school
students are challenged to create wacky devices that accomplish a task in twenty or more
steps. It’s a competition full of marbles, simple machines, recycled materials and
All of these stories help celebrate the work of engineers and innovators throughout
Pittsburgh’s history. It should be informative and fun.
Invented, Engineered & Pioneered in Pittsburgh was made possible by the Buhl
Foundation with additional funding from Michael Baker Corporation, NOVA Chemicals
and United States Steel Corporation.
WQED Pittsburgh, honored with the 2007 and 2006 Mid-Atlantic Emmy® Award for
Station Excellence, was founded in 1954 as the nation’s first community-supported
broadcaster. WQED creates, produces and distributes quality programs, products and
services to engage, inform, educate and entertain the public within its community and
around the world. WQED Pittsburgh is one of the first broadcasters in the country to be
fully high-definition (HD) in its studio and field production capabilities. It is the parent
company of WQED-TV (PBS); WQED-DT; WQED: The Neighborhood Channel;
WQED-HD; WQEX-TV (A ShopNBC affiliate); WQED-FM 89.3/Pittsburgh; WQEJ-FM
89.7/Johnstown; a publishing division that includes PITTSBURGH MAGAZINE; local and
national television and radio productions; WQED Interactive (www.wqed.org); and The
WQED Education Department.
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Tag(s): Rick Sebak, Pittsburgh Area, Pittsburgh History