History Documentaries and Learning Resources

The Donora Smog

(0:00-14:07) - America’s worst pollution disaster, just south of Pittsburgh in 1948.

Air Pollution Model Cross Section | Aerial Model

Clean Air Act – check out the support materials section for discussion questions and vocabulary

High-Adventure Science – Air Quality Module

Madame Dawson’s Opera Company

The Pittsburgh woman who opened doors nationwide for African Americans in classical music and opera.

Do you think music education is important for students today even if they aren’t going to professional musicians? Why or why not?

Why do you think there is still a disparity of representation of African Americans in classical music/opera today?

Why is it important to revive Mary Cardwell’s legacy?

Dixmont: Breakdown of a Mental Hospital

The early days of mental health treatment chronicled at a Pittsburgh institution.

In the early years, mental hospitals were seen as humane. Many were later closed due to over crowding and understaffing. Thinking about the current mental health system, would there be any benefits to having more mental hospitals today?

Where do individuals with mental illness go now for help?

Why do you think mental illness is so stigmatized?

Look into Dorthea Dix, how was mental illness treated before her push for mental hospitals? What do you think is the next big mental health reform for today?

The Melega Museum

A Western Pennsylvania artist who became one of America’s foremost artists capturing unforgettable images of the coal mining era.

Melega Museum Website

Why is it important to remember and record history like coal mining through art?

Find a few of Melega’s works. What are some common themes in his art style? Which piece of art stands out to you? Why?

Rachel Carson’s Legacy

The Springdale native who inspired the nation’s environmental movement.

Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – check out the support materials section for discussion questions

Pesticide Early Warnings | Rachel Carson | Viewing Guide

Earth Days: Rachel Carson & Silent Spring

Lessons from Silent Spring for Controlling Disease | Rachel Carson – check out the support materials section for teaching tips

A Crowning Achievement

Meet Jean Bryant, a local journalist who changed lives by starting Pittsburgh’s African American youth pageants.

The Miss America Organization and Pageant Icons

American Pageantry Image Gallery

Miss America Timeline

1948 Pageant Contract – Pageant organizers have drawn up contracts over the years for sponsors of local contests. This one, from 1948, includes the notorious rule number 7 barring non-white women from competing.

Breaking the Color Line

Salute to the Sky

Hailing from Connellsville, Florence Reynolds was among the only women pilots during WWII.

What was something surprising you learned from Florence Reynolds’ story?

What do you think motivated so many women to volunteer for military service during WWII?

How did WWII help promote more equality for women?

What does the phrase, “Free a man to fight”, mean to you?

Do you think military women were treated fairly after the war ended?

Cresson: Remembering Life at the San

One of America’s worst pandemics, tuberculosis - as viewed through the history of a Western Pennsylvania TB sanatorium.

Antibiotic Treatment of Tuberculosis – check out the support materials section for a viewing guide

The Public Health Response – check out the support materials section for a viewing guide

The Discovery That Germs Cause Disease – check out the support materials section for a viewing guide

The Darr Mine Disaster

Pennsylvania’s worst ever mining disaster killed nearly 300 men and boys just south of Pittsburgh - yet very few people know the story.

Safety laws were changed due to the tragedy of Darr Mine. Look into current factories/industries today, what are the different safety measures they take to keep their workers safe?

Why do you think so few people know about the Darr Mine disaster despite it being the worst mining disaster in PA?

Look into industry disasters within the past 10 years, what were some comparisons and contrasts between those versus the Darr Mine Disaster?

Leo Beachy: A Legacy Nearly Lost

The photographer who chronicled rural life in the hills of Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania in the early 1900s.

Leo Beachy’s Photograph Gallery

Look through Leo Beachy’s photos, which one stands out to you? Why?

What’s something you notice about the early 1900s through Leo Beachy’s photos?

Why do you think Leo Beachy took photos of what he did?

One Year in Brownsville

Explores the rise and dramatic fall of a Western Pennsylvania coal town.

Many towns in PA have fallen into economic depression due to the coal industry leaving the area. Reviving towns is a challenging task, how are some towns reviving today?

What does development look like in a community?

Why is it difficult for some communities to get grants and funding to help boost their local economy? Think about location, history, politics, and economics.

Homecoming: Sgt. Hamilton’s Long Journey

The amazing story of recovering American remains from a WW2 plane crash in Germany.

Why is closure important for families?

What shapes our perceptions about what it’s like to go to war?

What shapes our perceptions about the war when it is over?

WWII ended in 1945, how is the war still affecting people today?

Stone Soldiers: Saving the Gettysburg Monuments

Meet those on the front lines to restore and preserve the iconic statues at this hallowed battlefield.

Gettysburg Monuments Website

Pick a monument to learn more about. What is the monument of? What did you learn about the subject of the monument?

A Beacon for Change: The Pittsburgh Courier Story

One of America’s most respected newspapers covering the African American community.

The Courier wanted to empower African Americans economically and politically. How did The Courier do this?

The Courier demonstrated the power of media and news in society. How is the news continuing to influence people today?

Take a look at the New Pittsburgh Courier website. What kind of news stories are being covered? Compare the way the same story is covered in a different Pittsburgh newspaper. Are there any differences?

Vietnam: Another View

Observations of the war - from a different perspective - those of Vietnamese men and women now living in Pittsburgh.

Additional Vietnam War Pittsburgh Stories - Videos

Local Stories - Written

Return to the Roots of Civil Rights

A bus tour of some of the iconic stops in our nation’s struggle for civil rights.

Civil Rights Collection

Civil Rights Then and Now

Lesson Plans

Memories of the March: Pittsburgh Stories

Reflections from local men and women who attended the historic 1964 March on Washington, a pivotal event in American civil rights.

The March on Washington | John Lewis: Get in the Way

March on Washington Collection
Lesson Plans

March on Washington Flyers

America’s Arsenal: How Pittsburgh Powered World War II

The people and businesses that led the war effort in the early 1940s.

Pittsburgh’s WWII Photo Album

We Can Do It! WWII: Virtual Tour

Portraits for the Home Front: The Story of Elizabeth Black

A remarkable story of a Pittsburgh artist who sketched soldiers on European battlefields during WW2.

Portrait Gallery

How do you think families felt when they received portraits of their loved ones who were away at war?

Why do you think Elizabeth Black volunteered to draw the portraits of soldiers?

Stories of the Holocaust

Pittsburgh area survivors and liberators reflect on their experiences during the Holocaust.

Holocaust - firsthand video accounts from five veterans

Mural of the Holocaust Collection

The Good Fight

Profiles of African American men and women who served their country, despite discrimination at home during World War II.

African Americans in WWII – The National WWII Museum | New Orleans

Even though African American men and women faced discrimination and prejudice in America, they wanted to serve their country during World War II. Why do you think these brave individuals did that?

How did WWII contribute to the Civil Rights Movement?

Houses Around Here

  • Which house did you like the best? What feature(s) do you like best about it?

  • What surprised you the most about a certain house?

  • Write down the name of the architect of whose work you like the most. Look into more of their work. What are some patterns that you have found in their work? What did you learn about that architect?

  • If you were designing your dream home, what elements from some of the houses featured in this documentary would you incorporate into your design?

Pennsylvania Road Show

This somewhat zany travelogue is full of surprising places, friendly people, and lots of unforgettable roadside attractions. Ride along the Lincoln Highway, have breakfast at Lee’s Diner in York! Go underground on the Lackawanna Coal Mine Tour near Scranton! Throw bread to the huge carp at the Linesville Spillway!

  • Which of these places would you like to visit? Why?
  • What was something you learned about the mine industry that you didn’t know before? 12:20~
  • What are your thoughts about some of these places? Why do you think these places are still around?
  • Do some extra research on Tom Mix. What makes him so iconic? Watch a clip from one of his films. What made his films and career so successful? 25:20~

25 Things I Like About Pittsburgh

Rick celebrates his 25th anniversary at WQED by looking at 25 things he likes about Pittsburgh – not his top 25, just 25 aspects of living here that surprise and delight him and make him happy to be a Pittsburgher.

Another Trip Downtown

There’s a world-class masterpiece of landscape architecture in downtown Pittsburgh. As well as good hot dogs. And a new grocery store. A brilliantly hilarious new comedy venue. And Harry Houdini used to come to town with all sorts of stunts.

Downtown Pittsburgh

This program celebrates the buildings, the history and the people who make the Golden Triangle an unforgettable urban center.

Flying Off the Bridge to Nowhere

Pittsburgh is often called The City of Bridges, and it's easy to see why. With three mighty rivers and lots of hills and valleys, the area around this city is the site for many outstanding bridges with innovative and beautiful designs. It's one-of-a-kind documentary about people and structures that have helped make Pittsburgh such an unforgettable place.

A History of Pittsburgh in 17 Objects

Objects can be like keys to the past. Things we decide to keep can be valuable reminders, clues to important as well as personal bits of history. In this documentary special, WQED producer Rick Sebak takes a look at 17 objects that together illustrate a timeline of Pittsburgh from the Fort Pitt Blockhouse to the Three Rivers Bike Racks that are now familiar parts of the city.

Invented, Engineered & Pioneered in Pittsburgh

What connects Ferris Wheels with state of the art nuclear power plants? Why is there a connection between George Westinghouse and 21st century robotics? What’s the common thread that links John Roebling, Jonas Salk, the Mellon Arena and video games? It’s Pittsburgh’s amazing love and respect for innovation, great engineering and unfettered imagination. Watch this. You’ll see.

Kennywood Memories

The WQED classic documentary about Pittsburgh’s premier amusement park! Now with extra material, including rare old Kennywood commercials and historic films as well as some swell seldom-seen special clips from WQED’s archives! Whooooooosh! It’s roller coasters! French fries! And lots of good times!

The Mon the Al the O

A slightly goofy look at the three rivers that help define Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh A to Z

This delightful documentary includes twenty-six Amazing, Beautiful, Captivating and Delicious pieces of a great city! The program celebrates (in alphabetical order) a wide variety of topics from Amateur Archaeologists to the Zinging Zaps of the Zambelli's.

Right Beside the River

Some of the stuff that has happened and still happens beside rivers in the Pittsburgh area. From the big mound in Moundsville, WV, to the sweeping curved corners of Vandergrift on the Kiskiminetas River north east of Pittsburgh, it's a surprising look at our region's charms.

Something About Oakland

It started when Mary Schenley donated land for a beautiful wooded park. Soon Andrew Carnegie built a great library and museums nearby. There was a grand hotel, a spectacular greenhouse, and a beloved old ballpark Forbes Field. We visit the Bug Rooms, the murals and Music Hall at the Carnegie Museums. We race through Schenley Park, stop at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, and visit shops along Craig St.

Strip Show

On most Saturday mornings, the Strip is one of the best places on earth, full of hungry people, crunchy fruits, snappy vegetables, world-class street food, cool characters and tasty surprises of all sorts. This 1996 documentary is a tour of the Strip including big breakfasts, shopping along Penn Avenue and Smallman Street, warehouses, churches and nightclubs, along with some amazing history.

Underground Pittsburgh

Ever wonder what's below the surface of western Pennsylvania? Come for a hike into Laurel Caverns, investigate the fabled Fourth River, visit the Bug Rooms at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, zip through several tunnels around here, and much more. Watch this one on your basement TV.