Big City Tales

Heinz History Center Celebrates More Than Ketchup

August 9, 2018
Leave a Comment

If the larger-than-life ketchup bottle perched on the roof of the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has you thinking this building only pays homage to the popular condiment, think again. The story of the Heinz family is actually just one small part of what lies inside this six-floor structure, and ketchup is just one of many discoveries and innovations attributed to residents of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. This region of the United States is well known for its prolific contributions to the realm of “World’s First” and the Heinz History Center accordingly celebrates more than ketchup in its educational exhibits.

The Warriors

From 1754 to 1763 much of the occupied parts of North America were battlegrounds where British, French and Native American forces were engaged in what is considered to be the world’s first global conflict, the Seven Years’ War. At the time, the population of the British American colonies vastly outnumbered the French colonies in New France, but the French had significant backing from a number of native tribes. Together, the French and their allies initially proved to be formidable foes for the likes of a young George Washington, who was just embarking on his military career as Commander of the Virginia Regiment, but the British eventually prevailed and substantially increased the breadth of their empire on North American soil. One of the most prized regions that the British and French fought over was the Forks of Ohio located at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which is now Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. The Clash of Empires exhibit offers life-like models, detailed maps and riveting accounts of warfare from the perspectives of all parties involved.

The Explorers

In the early 1800s, the western frontier of the United States was a mystery waiting to be revealed. President Thomas Jefferson was particularly keen to lay claim to the territory before Britain, France or Spain set their sights on it, so he commissioned the Corps of Discovery Expedition to be jointly led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The expedition was the first of its kind to explore the American West and Pittsburgh is where the epic journey began when Lewis set sail from Mon Wharf at the headwaters of the Ohio River to meet up with Clark in St. Louis. Along with mapping the vast territory, Lewis and Clark were tasked with finding a reliable water route to the Pacific Ocean, making contact/establishing trade with Native Americans, and documenting the wealth of resources they encountered along the way. To mark the 200th anniversary of the expedition, the well known Rooney family of Pittsburgh retraced the famed western adventure and the Rediscovering Lewis & Clark exhibit shares the highlights of their journey.

The Entrepreneurs

Established in 1869, the H.J. Heinz Company started small with the pickling of vegetables grown in the Heinz family garden. The first Heinz product to be sold en masse was actually horseradish but by the 1900s the company had expanded significantly. Thanks to its new slogan “57 varieties,” the company now had a clever marketing tool to brand its ever-growing stable of products such as pickles, tomato ketchup, baked beans, chutney, relish, mustard and other processed foods. Heinz was adamant about using only high quality ingredients and developing innovative packaging, including the classic octagon-shaped ketchup bottle that he patented in 1890. The Heinz exhibit chronicles the company’s evolution into a global powerhouse and features an 11-foot ketchup bottle display comprised of over 400 individual bottles, displays of pickle pins and historical product packaging, as well as other family memorabilia.

Gulf Oil

Along with being a major food processing hub in the early 1900s, Pittsburgh was the birthplace of Gulf Oil that was founded and run by the Mellon family until it was sold in the 1980s to Standard Oil. The first gas station in the United States was built by Gulf Refining Company in Pittsburgh and the pumps started flowing in 1913. Until 1970 the company’s Art Deco-styled head office was the tallest building in the city and it remains one of Pittsburgh’s downtown landmarks with its distinctive step-pyramid structure at the top of the 44-story skyscraper. The Special Collections gallery features old gas pumps, hard hats, signs and other marketing materials.

Heinz 14

The Innovators

Pittsburgh is known as a center of innovation. The exhibit Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation showcases Western Pennsylvania’s significant contributions to the world. Be it Westinghouse Electric’s invention of alternating current, Dr. Jonas Salk’s discovery of the polio vaccine, or the creation of the smiley emoticon at Carnegie Mellon University there are dozens of shining examples of local innovations. Here are a few more:

  • Reporter Nellie Bly circled the globe in 72 days.
  • A Pittsburgh artist created the We Can Do It! poster that subsequently became known as Rosie the Riveter.
  • The Jeep was developed by the American Bantam Company based in Butler, PA.
  • The Pennsylvania Turnpike was America’s first “super highway” and was a model for the development of other interstate highways across the country.

The Sports Heroes

Pittsburgh is a sports town through and through and the city has laid claim to dozens of league championships in football, hockey and baseball. The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum located on two floors in the Heinz History Center presents some of the city’s  greatest sporting moments.


As the first National Football League franchise to win six Super Bowl championships, the Pittsburgh Steelers have enjoyed tremendous success over the decades. The team’s winning ways inspired the city’s other professional franchises leading to Pittsburgh earning the designation of City of Champions.

Heinz 4


In 2017, the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated 50 years in the National Hockey League capped off with their fifth Stanley Cup win. Back in the 1990s, the team was led by Captain Mario Lemieux, The Magnificent One, who was an integral part of the franchise’s back-to-back league championships in 1991 and 1992. Today, Lemieux is a co-owner and is the only man to have his name on the Stanley Cup as both a player and an owner. 


Along with the distinction of being the first National League participant in the first World Series in Major League Baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise is noteworthy for winning five World Series championships and hosting the first World Series night game back in 1971. While the team has had many all-star players, Roberto Clemente was the first Latin American and Caribbean player to help win a World Series as a starter, to receive a National League MVP Award, to receive the World Series MVP Award, and to be enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Clemente was also known for his charitable work in the off-season and tragically died in a plane crash en route to delivering aid to earthquake victims in 1972.

Heinz 2

The Educators

When the first community-sponsored educational television station in the United States (WQED) began broadcasting in 1954, little did producers know that it would launch the career of Fred Rogers, aka Mister Rogers, and introduce the world to the familiar refrain of “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood first aired in 1968 and would become a children’s television show classic. The Special Collections gallery contains many of the show’s artifacts, as well as some 3,000 other items representing the ethnic diversity of Western Pennsylvania, its various business entities and talented local artisans.

The Firsts

From the first steamboat to sail westward rivers from Pittsburgh to New Orleans to the first city in the United States to host the world’s largest rubber duck, A History of Firsts created by local artist Ron Magnes is a linear representation of some of Pittsburgh’s most notable firsts in the realms of technology, the arts, business, sports, education, medicine, and entertainment. The world as we know it has been changed for the better as a result of many of these accomplishments that are explored in depth and presented with tremendous pride in the Heinz History Center.

Heinz 6






The Pride of Pittsburgh

January 11, 2018
Leave a Comment

Even with one of its nicknames being “Steel City,” Pittsburgh is a city that has long intrigued me. True, some historical references conjure up images of thick black plumes of smoke hovering over dreary factory buildings in a landscape devoid of green spaces. But that was then and this is now. The industrial town of old has definitely made way for a new cosmopolitan vibe that is attracting curious visitors like me in droves. Indeed, in recent years the city has received notable accolades for its livability, culture, foodie scene and economic prosperity.

Yes, “The ‘Burgh” or “City of Bridges” as the city is also referred to today is chock-full of amazing architecture, museums, parks, educational institutions, restaurants, and sports & entertainment options on par with New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major US cities. Whichever nickname you prefer, each truly represents the best of Pittsburgh’s past and present.

Here is a sampling of the Pride of Pittsburgh:

A “Top 10” City View

As the locals have long been aware, Pittsburgh has a lot of attractions to be proud of. The view of downtown from the Mt. Washington district at the top of the Duquesne Incline (pictured below) is one of the city’s shining gems. This vantage point also just happens to rank in Fodor’s Travel “10 Most Incredible Views of America’s Cities” and shows off many of the city’s bridges, skyscrapers and the fountain at Point State Park, a national historic landmark.
downtown Pittsburgh

When dusk makes way to mid-evening and late night, the city lights begin to twinkle and reflect off of the river waters making for a glorious sight that photographers of all levels clamor to capture. Even my humble 35mm point and shoot digital camera produced a decent shot. Having enjoyed a lovely panoramic nighttime view of downtown, I was looking forward to getting a closer look in the daylight of Pittsburgh’s iconic buildings.

city view 2


It may not be the tallest building in Pittsburgh, but PPG Place certainly caught my eye as it sparkled against the backdrop of a crystal blue sky.  The complex towers above most of the city’s skyline and its series of buildings stretch over three city blocks. PPG Place is noteworthy for its matching glass design consisting of six buildings, 231 spires, and 19,750 pieces of glass. At ground level, a large plaza paved in a mosaic of red, grey and black granite provides a gathering place for various seasonal activities such as an outdoor skating rink during the winter months and a fountain feature from spring until fall. For those who prefer an indoor refuge, the Wintergarden is a glass-enclosed garden oasis located in the main tower that is open year-round.

pittsburgh 16

PPG Place is also located next to the Market Square district where restaurants, cafes and retailers cater to tourists, as well as the regular Monday to Friday downtown business crowd. One of the popular casual dining haunts in Market Square is Primanti Brothers, known for their colossal “Almost Famous” sandwiches of grilled meat, an Italian dressing-based coleslaw, tomato slices, and french fries piled high between two pieces of thick Italian bread. Believe me, you won’t need to eat for the rest of the day, and you’ll probably want to head to one of the city’s nearby world-class museums to walk off some calories!


From history to art, to soldiers and sailors, or the celebration of the bicycle, Pittsburgh’s wide variety of museum options offers something for everyone’s taste and interests. 

Heinz History Center

Located in the Strip District, which is a one-half square mile shopping area northeast of downtown, the Heinz History Center is Pennsylvania’s largest history museum and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. The center showcases Pittsburgh’s past and highlights its tradition of innovation, notably that Pittsburgh is known as a city of “firsts” such as the first Big Mac hamburger at McDonald’s, the first retractable roof, the first drive-in gas station, the first ferris wheel, etc. As depicted in its many permanent and rotating exhibitions, the city is the headquarters of the Heinz food empire, is where famed explorers Lewis & Clark launched their epic trek from Pittsburgh to the Pacific from, and is where the beloved children’s show, “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” was filmed at the local public broadcasting station. A unique feature of touring the museum is that you can start in the stairwell and view highlights of the city’s 250-year history on the walls and steps as you wind your way to the top floor and then work your way down. I highly recommend this approach before taking in the full exhibits; the incline is not too steep and the museum is only six floors so you don’t have to be in tip-top shape.

Andy Warhol Museum

andy warhol 1

Before he took New York City and the entire world by storm with his abstract art (most notably Campbell’s soup cans and images of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis), Andy Warhol was a fresh-faced kid from Pittsburgh. Located in the city’s North Shore district, the Andy Warhol Museum holds the largest collection of Warhol’s artworks and archival materials, and is the largest single artist museum in North America.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I found it interesting to see Warhol’s development as an artist before and after his fixation with Campbell’s soup cans, and late in his career when he started using computer generated design and color techniques. It also surprised me to learn that he was a pack rat and amassed quite a collection of knickknacks.

andy warhol

Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History Museum 

Founded in 1895 by renowned businessman Andrew Carnegie, the Carnegie Museum of Art is considered to be the first museum of modern art in the United States. With paintings ranging from Monet to Whistler, the museum’s impressive collection also features one of the largest collection of plaster casts of architectural masterpieces in the world that are housed in the massive Hall of Architecture wing. The statues and building facades may be plaster, but they certainly looked authentic which speaks to the high quality of the replication process. The Porch of the Maidens installation captured my attention along with an elaborate burial shrine.

The Natural History Museum is noted for having one of the finest collections of dinosaur skeletons in the world, but has many other exhibits covering subject matter such as minerals and gems, Ancient Egypt, life in the Arctic, and geology. The museum’s high vaulted ceilings are the perfect construction to show off the towering heights of long extinct species.

pittsburgh 5

Educational Institutions

Situated in the heart of the University of Pittsburgh campus, the Cathedral of Learning stands 535 feet tall and contains 42 floors.

Aside from its magnificent Late Gothic Revival exterior, the interior features the infamous Nationality Rooms that are located on the first and third floors. The rooms are representative of various cultural and ethnic groups that have settled in the Pittsburgh area. When not in use, the public is free to explore the rooms; there are also great city views from the windows on the 35th and 36th floors.

Sports & Entertainment

Pittsburgh has a stellar record of winning sports franchises and an impressive array of venues to show off their talents in. PPG Paints Arena is the home of the 5-time Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League; Heinz Field is where the 6-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League play; and PNC Park is where the 5-time World Series Champion Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball hear the cry “Batter Up!” Even if ‘black and gold’ aren’t your colours, there’s plenty to cheer about and admire in this amazing “City of Champions!”