Events in history either drew so much attraction to them that everyone yesterday and today has heard about them—or they went by unnoticed. But then there are always events that created a real stir at the time they occurred, but now people today don’t even realize they happened, even in their own hometown. Pittsburgh is a city rich in cultural and historic events—some that people today may not even realize happened. If that is the case, I would like to bring to the attention of every Pittsburgher ten notable events that you never knew happened in our own city that you really should be aware of.
1. “Ghost Bomber” disappears
This is Pittsburgh’s “Ghost Bomber Mystery.” On January 31, 1956, an American military plane crashed into Pittsburgh’s icy Monongahela River. Of the six crew members who survived the initial crash, only four were able to swim back to sure. The plane has never been found. This is an intriguing mystery that you never knew happened in Pittsburgh.
2. KDKA founded
After World War 1, Westinghouse began looking to expand its communication range in the radio industry. This vision began with a shack and an antenna system at the East Pittsburgh Works. On November 2, 1920, KDKA made its first commercial broadcast: the news of the Hardy-Cox presidential race—hours before the results reached the newspapers.
3. Performance of Veronica’s Vell
Veronica’s Vell is the longest-running play in American history. It was a Passion Play performed on the Southside as a thank you to the Lord for sparing a church’s parish during a cholera epidemic.
4. Polio vaccine discovered
For the first time in history, polio had a cure—and it was discovered in Pittsburgh. Jonas Salk had spent seven years at the University of Pittsburgh developing his vaccine, and in April 1955, thousands of children in Allegheny County became the first people treated with this new vaccine. This is an extremely important moment of pride for Pittsburghers that you never knew happened in Pittsburgh.
5. Ferris wheel invented
Invented in Pittsburgh by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr., the Ferris Wheel made its debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. Like all good inventors, many people scoffed at his idea while it was in the making. But just go to any fair in town, and you’ll find a Ferris wheel there. Guess who’s laughing now?
6. Big Mac created
One of the staple foods of McDonald’s, the Big Mac was created by Jim Delligatti in Pittsburgh in 1967. After being called “The Aristocrat” and “Blue Ribbon Burger,” McDonalds finally landed on the name “Big Mac,” and it became popular nationwide the year after.
7. First simultaneous transplant undertaken at UPMC
In 1989, the UPMC Presbyterian hospital team performed a medical first: a heart, liver, and kidney transplant, the first simultaneous transplant of its kind. This is an astounding thing you never knew happened in Pittsburgh.
8. First armored truck robbery
On March 11, 1927, Pittsburgh experienced the first armored truck robbery led by gangster Paul Jaworski. His Flatheads gang stole $104,000 dollars from an armored truck very near Bethel Park—and escaped. However, Jaworski was executed by electric chair shortly afterward for another robbery in which he committed murder.
9. Great Fire of Pittsburgh
On April 10, 1845, the pollution and iron factories in the Pittsburgh gave way to tragedy. This particular April day swept a wind through Pittsburgh that ignited a spark from a factory on a dry wooden shed. With nothing to stop the flames, the fire spread quickly, burning a third of the city and resulting in about twelve million dollars’ worth of damages.
10. Explosion of Allegheny Arsenal
While the Battle of Antietam was being waged between the North and South, the worst civilian devastation of the war occurred in Pittsburgh. In September of 1862, the Allegheny Arsenal exploded, killing seventy-eight women and girls who were working there. This news was largely unrecognized in lieu of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.
These are only ten events among so many more. (In fact, be prepared for the next installment of “Ten More Things You Never Knew Happened In Pittsburgh. There really are that many.) Whether you knew these ten things happened in Pittsburgh or not, they are ten more reasons for every Pittsburgher to understand why our city is so extraordinary.