I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received an email where the sender spelled Pittsburgh without the “h”… Pittsburg. Heck… I’d even be a liar if I told you I never accidentally left the “h” off of Pittsburgh, and told someone I was from “Pittsburg”… only to then resend the email and correct the spelling.
I think most of us from Pittsburgh know that we are also from a place once called Pittsburg. The latest communication I received with this mistake got me thinking. When did Pittsburgh actually become Pittsburg? And then of course, when did Pittsburg change to Pittsburgh? Now before you think I’m just keyword-stuffing a blog article… think about this:
According to Ubersuggest (a great keyword tool, BTW), the word “Pittsburgh” is searched for roughly 450,000 times each month. First, that suprised me. I thought it would be less. Now for the real interesting fact… taking the “h” off of Pittsburg… searched for about 330,000 times. Hmmm… Opportunity? You bet! If you’re going to be Pittsburgh Beautiful, then you should also be Pittsburg Beautiful.
The Origin of Pittsburgh (Pittsbourgh or Pittsburgh)
So where did this all start? I did a little research and discovered that originally, Pittsburgh wasn’t Pittsburgh. When the British captured Fort Duquesne durning the French and Indian War, General John Forbes sent a letter to William Pitt the Elder, notifying him of the victory and that the area had been renamed in his honor. Thing is… he spelled it “Pittsbourgh”. Oh boy. Now we have a twist. I thought this place was only named twice! Seems it was named several different times. Turns out that General Forbes, actually a Scotsman, probably pronounced it the way you pronounce Edinburgh, Scotland. Try that one out.
How Pittsbourgh Became Pittsburgh
The earliest recorded reference of the name change was actually “Pittsburgh” on a survey map of the area created for the family of William Penn in 1769. This seems to be the first “official” naming of the area. Remember, Pittsburgh wasn’t a city yet. As a matter of fact, the north side was growing into it’s own “city” – Allegheny City.
Pittsburgh Is Officially Chartered. As Pittsburgh.
Throughout the late 1700s and into the early 1800s, the region grew. Settlers moved into the area. Iron, brass, tin and glass production were some of the leading industries. Local government was formed, and in 1816, the city of Pittsburgh was officially chartered. There. It’s settled. Right? Not so fast…
Pittsburg Becomes the Official Name of Pittsburgh
Here’s the fun part. In 1890, the government established the “United States Board on Geographic Names”. It wanted to “stabilize” geographic name recognition of locations in the U.S. I don’t know… maybe for the Post Office? Anyway… one of the 13 general rules they created was that any place named a “Burgh” had to rename itself to “burg”. Their justification on dropping the “h” from Pittsburgh? Printing not being the “exact science” it is today, when the city was officially chartered, the “h” was used in the original document. BUT… the “h” was left off of the official copies of the documents, thus the birth of a place called Pittsburg. The name seems to have stuck. Companies such as the Pittsburg Dispatch, one of the largest and most successful newspapers in the United States from 1847-1923 dropped the “h” and used the spelling. The board used this as justification for their decision.
Pittsburgh Becomes the Official Name of Pittsburg
Can anyone say hamster wheel? We’re not quite there yet… even though the government decided that Pittsburgh was Pittsburg, the populace was basically split on how to spell it’s own name. Even some of the larger institutions in Pittsburg continued using the “h”. While the Post Office had to comply and the official postal address of Pittsburgh was “Pittsburg”, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the University of Pittsburgh continued to use the “h” as they were not bound by the government’s ruling. It was not until mounting political pressure mostly by Senator George T. Oliver that the board reversed it’s decision, and on July 19, 1911, the City of Pittsburg officially and forever (we hope) became the City of Pittsburgh. One thing I find super entertaining is the final sentence of the letter by the Board sent to Senator Oliver:
” At a special meeting of the United States Geographic Board held on July 19, 1911, the previous decision with regard to the spelling of Pittsburgh without a final H was reconsidered and the form given below was adopted:
Pittsburgh, a city in Pennsylvania (not Pittsburg).”
You think that created a little confusion? Yep. The Pittsburg Press had to become the Pittsburgh Press.
Now that’s a little yinzer humor for ya. The last question I have… and may just try to research a little… is it “Pittsburgese” or “Pittsburghese”? Seems the board has yet to render a decision on this.
Perhaps one of the most recognized relics with Pittsburgh spelled as Pittsburg is The T-206 Honus Wagner baseball card from 1909.
For more history of Pittsburgh, start with our popular series right here:
The History of Pittsburgh, Part 1
And here are some little known facts about Pittsburgh.
Your picture of the Honus Wagner card was interesting. My dad, Gilbert Wagner of Coraopolis, who passed away in Dec. 1987, told stories of visiting his great(?) aunt who lived in McKees Rock and visiting Honus and his brother there. The family legend he told was that Honus’ brother was actually considered a better ball player but had a drinking problem. My dad, his dad and my uncle Louie were all quite athletic throughout their lives. At one time my dad was scouted by one of the baseball teams because he was a talented switch-hitter and pitcher. Unfortunately, he was injured playing football and that ended the possibility of a career in sports. My brother, Gilbert Wagner of Butler has his wool uniform. Dad was adept at many sports besides the baseball. He was a high school football player, a bowler, and a horse shoe player. Neither, my brothers Gil or Bob Wagner of Coraopolis ever became the all-around athlete that dad was. My brother, Bob, in Coraopolis is more of the family historian than I. It is fun, however, to know of my family connection to Honus. It certainly thrills my grandsons.
Actually, the city name on the 1816 city charter is “Pittsburg” without the h. The charter was unveiled in the City-County Building in 2016 after sitting in Harrisburg for 200 years. Here’s a video of the unveiling, including a close-up of the h-less city name:
(skip to 30:27 in the video)
My paternal grandfather was born in “Allegheny City” in 1899. Where the Community College is now on the Northside.
Pitt was named the Western University of Pennsylvania from 1819-1908, so the h changes would not have had an effect on its name