Historic Events

Era of industrialization and urbanization

News worthy events:  1880 - 1922


1881 November 15
The American Federation of Labor was organized in Pittsburgh with Samuel Gompers as a prime mover. It continues as one of the strongest unions in the world as part of the AFL-CIO (Reynolds 1999).

1882 March 6
The Homestead mill of the Pittsburgh Bessemer Steel Company, owned by Andrew Carnegie, had its first strike when mill workers refused to sign "yellow dog" contracts; violence followed (Lorant 1999).


1882 June 1
A nationwide strike resulted from a general stoppage of work called by the Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers in a wage dispute (Lorant 1999).


1882 - Celebration and reenactment held in Chester and Philadelphia in honor of the 200th anniversary of the landing of William Penn (March 1915).


1884 - The Punxy Groundhog Club started a "mock pagan" ritual of weather forecasting (Reynolds 1999).


1885 - Elizabeth Cochrane (1867-1922), the Nellie Bly of the "Around the world in 72 days" fame began her newspaper career as a reporter for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. She investigated the factories and public institutions of the city and reported about them (Lorant 1999).


1887 - Centennial of the adoption of the U. S. Constitution was celebrated in Philadelphia by a great industrial parade one day and a military parade on the next (March 1915).


1887 - An amendment to the state constitution was proposed by Prohibitionists.  It was defeated by a large majority, the people in the largest cities not being ready for such a measure (March 1915).


1888 March 11
The Great White Hurricane, a blizzard of snow over the eastern part of the country, cut off all communication from Philadelphia, destroyed shipping, and blocked railroads.  Workmen who attempted to clear the drifts from the tracks were frozen to death (March 1915).


1889 May 31
The Great Johnstown Flood destroyed the city when heavy rain caused a dam to break above the city at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club whose members included wealthy industrialists, bankers, and attorneys.  Between two and three thousand people perished.  "Great masses of wreckage and bodies of human beings were piled up against a stone bridge of the Pennsylvania Railroad below the city.  This caught on fire and its lurid glare added to the horror of the scene.  The magnitude of the disaster aroused the sympathies of the whole world and people everywhere sent assistance to the flood sufferers" (March 1915).


1889 September 2
Labor Day celebrated as a legal holiday for the first time in Pennsylvania (Walther 1925).


1892 July 6
Homestead Strike, armed private police from the Pinkerton National Detective Agency hired by Henry Frick, general manager of the Homestead steelworks owned by Andrew Carnegie, battled armed Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel & Tin Workers. National Guard troops were ordered to Homestead by the governor to prevent further violence; the strike ended soon thereafter (Licht 2002).


1893 March 20
Ground was broken for the first Ferris wheel in Pittsburgh, invented by George Washington Ferris of the city (Lorant 1999).


1894 - The state capitol burned and many valuable papers and documents were lost. "After the destruction of the building, agitation arose in favor of moving the capitol elsewhere.  It was finally determined, however, to rebuild upon the old site.  The agitation had at least one good effect, for it awoke the people of Harrisburg from their lethargy and made them introduce civic reforms which placed their city among the most progressive of the state" (March 1915).


1895 - To discourage child labor, the General Assembly enacted a Compulsory Education Act mandating that children between 8 and 13 years of age attend school for at least four months per year (PHMC 2007).


1897 September 10
In the Massacre at Lattimer Mines, unarmed striking miners were fired on by a posse organized by the Luzerne County Sheriff at the behest of miner owners (PHMC 2007)


1898 - Willa Cather, novelist, joined the staff of the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Two years later she became reporter for the Pittsburgh Leader, the city's leading newspaper (Lorant 1999).


1898 - Using lantern slides at lectures and the newspapers, Mira Lloyd Dock and J. Horace McFarland began to advocate for the "City Beautiful" movement to clean up industrialized Harrisburg (Contosta 2002).

1901 February 1

United States Steel was incorporated; it was the first billion-dollar corporation in American history (Contosta 2002).


1901 April 17
First automobile accident in the city of Pittsburgh was reported (Lorant 1999).


1901 July 14
The Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel and Tin Workers called a general strike against the U.S. Steel Corporation subsidiaries, the first steelworker's strike since 1892 (Lorant 1999).


1901 August 5
Pittsburgh newspapers and the general public demanded construction of a water filter system as hospitals became crowded with 266 victims of typhoid fever (Lorant 1999).


1902 -1903 - Anthracite coal miner strike, in which President Theodore Roosevelt intervened, set the pattern for non-violent arbitration in labor relations (PHMC 2007).


1903 October 13
The first of baseball's modern World Series ended in Pittsburgh before 7455 persons at Exposition Park; the Pirates were defeated by Boston, 4 to 3, and lost the Series three games to five (Lorant 1999).


1904 - Ida Tarbell, a native of Pennsylvania's oil region, published her History of the Standard Oil Company. Labeled a muckraking account, it revealed the illegal means used by John D. Rockefeller to monopolize the early oil industry (PHMC 2007).


1905 - Mounted state police were created to patrol the rural districts and other unprotected places.  They were used in protecting life and property in times of strikes, and in capturing criminals out of the jurisdiction of the ordinary police.  It was the first uniformed police organization of its kind in the United States (March 1915).


1905 - H.J. Heinz Co. led a movement for model factories based on the principle that workers deserve clean, pleasant work conditions with some chance for self-improvement (PHMC 2007).


1905 June 19
The first all-motion-picture theater in the world was opened on 433-35 Smithfield Street in Pittsburgh by John P. Harris and Harry Davis.  The term "nickelodeon" was coined there (PHMC 2007).


1906 October 4
The new state capitol was dedicated. Citizens were led to believe it was constructed within its $4 million budget. They soon learned that overpriced decorations and furnishings, as well as kickbacks and graft had inflated the cost to $13 million (Contosta 2002).


1907 - First statewide farm products show was held in Harrisburg (PMHC 2007)


1907 - Pittsburgh's first Bureau of Smoke Control was instituted. In the national press, Pittsburgh was the prime example of a dirty and polluted industrial city (Contosta 2002).


1909 July 15
Rioting workers of the Pressed Steel Car Company, near McKees Rocks, clashed with guards; Coal and Iron Police and State Constabulary were called out; many strikers were wounded by volleys of buckshot fired to halt their charges; State Police were ordered to "shoot to kill" if attacked by strikers (Lorant 1999).


1911 January 1
The first old age retirement plan for United States Steel employees was created with a fund of $12,000,000 of which $4,000,000 had been provided by Andrew Carnegie ten years before (Lorant 1999).


1912 October 19
The Pitt Panthers were defeated, 45 to 8, by Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indians from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School which was established in 1879 by the federal government and social reformers to transform Native Americans into self-supporting "Americans" (Lorant 1999).

1913 - The semi centennial celebration of the anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg was organized as a peace jubilee.  The veterans of the North and South met as friends in a great encampment upon the Gettysburg field where they had fought.  They came from every state in the Union as the guests of Pennsylvania and all of their expenses within the state were paid out of appropriations made by the legislature (March 1915).


1913 - The General Assembly approved a women's suffrage amendment to the state's Constitution but Pennsylvania's male voters rejected the amendment (PHMC 2007).


1913 December 1
The world's first "drive-in gas station" opened in Pittsburgh (PHMC 2007).


1917 -1918 - Pennsylvania furnished nearly 300,000 men for World War I.  This was almost one out of every twelve of the total number. Pennsylvania's shipyards, mills, and factories provided a large part of the war materials for the nation (PHMC 2007).


1918 April 1
Daylight-saving time, conceived and promoted by Robert Garland, of Pittsburgh, went into effect (Lorant 1999).


1918 June-July
Violent racial incidents occurred in Philadelphia as the black population increased during World War I (Contosta 2002).


1918 October 5
An influenza epidemic, starting at the Cantonment Hospital in Point Breeze, victimized 23,268 Pittsburgh residents. Of the total, 1374 died of lobar pneumonia and 678 of bronchopneumonia (Lorant 1999).


1920 November 2
The first commercial broadcast station in the world was KDKA in Pittsburgh, which started daily schedule broadcasting.  The election returns were its first scheduled broadcast. The first church service broadcast by radio occurred on KDKA a year later, and the first public address by radio was made by Herbert Hoover at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh in 1921 (PHMC 2007).


1922 April
Miners in Windber went on strike to gain union recognition, preserve their pay rates, and have the coal that they dug weighed accurately. It was the first national strike by both anthracite and bituminous miners (WITF 2003).




Ayer N. W. & Son. 1881, 1891, 1911, 1921. American newspaper annual. Philadelphia: N. W. Ayer & Son.


Contosta, D. R. 2002. Reforming the Commonwealth: 1900-1950. In Pennsylvania: A history of the Commonwealth, ed. Randall M. Miller and William Pencak, 258-316. Pennsylvania State University Press and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


Gibson, C. 1998.  Population of the 100 largest cities and other urban places in the United States: 1790 to1990. Washington D. C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Population Division. http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027.htm.


Library of Congress. 2007. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.


Licht, W. 2002. Civil Wars: 1850-1900. In Pennsylvania: A history of the Commonwealth, ed. Randall M. Miller and William Pencak, 203-256. Pennsylvania State University Press and Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.


Lorant, S. 1999. Pittsburgh: The Story of an American city. Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. http://digital.library.pitt.edu/cgi-bin/chronology/chronology_driver.pl?searchtype=dbrowse&year=1880&year2=1889


March, T. S. 1915. A history of Pennsylvania. American Book Company


Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. 2007. 1861-1945: Era of industrial ascendancy. In Outline of Pennsylvania history. http://www.phmc.state.pa.us/bah/pahist/industry.asp?secid=31


Reynolds, P. M. 1999.  Pennsylvania firsts: The famous, infamous, and quirky of the Keystone State. Philadelphia: Camino Books, Inc.

Walther, R. J. 1925. Happenings in ye olde Philadelphia 1680-1900. Philadelphia: Walther Printing House. http://www.ushistory.org/philadelphia/timeline/index.html

WITF, Inc. 2003. Windber Strike of 1922-1923. Behind the marker. http://www.explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=938

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