Heinz History Center


Growing up a military brat meant we were a transient family, moving every 2-3 years. When my Dad’s final assignment landed us in the Pittsburgh region I never expected it to marry a Pittsburgh boy and call Pittsburgh home for the next 24 years, but here we are. It is crazy to wrap my brain around the reality that I have lived in the Pittsburgh area for almost a quarter of a century…Crazy! Over the years I have come to fall in love with this area… its rivers, its bridges, its seasons, its people, and its history. We have explored Pittsburgh’s every corner, becoming well acquainted with all it has to offer culturally, but one museum we had never visited is the Heinz History Center, which is the very mecca of all things Pittsburgh!

So when a field trip to Heinz History Center was announced through 21st Century Cyber Charter School we jumped at the chance to see our teachers and visit this Pittsburgh treasure. The added incentive was the cost of the fieldtrip: FREE! The school was graciously picking up the tab for this outing which was a wonderful treat.

The Heinz History Center in located in the Strip District of Pittsburgh in the century-old Chautauqua Lake Ice Company building that was renovated and adapted for use as the museum.


We arrived for the fieldtrip at 10:00 am and once we had received our instructions for the day were given the freedom to explore the museum at our own leisure. We spent the day exploring the history of Pittsburgh with the Stone family, another co-op family.


An old Pittsburgh trolley. Watch out girls! Do you see who is behind the wheel?!


The museum consisted of six floors of exhibits. As incentive for fully exploring all six floors the museum has a challenge where the kids could stamp each floor of a bookmark with a symbol representing that floor’s exhibits to turn in at the end of the day for a prize. The prize they won: a Heinz Pickle Pin…perfect!


The hands-on area outside the lunchroom where we stowed our lunches ended up being one of Tyler’s favorite areas of the museum. Here the kids got to explore science center-like exhibits:


The boys enjoyed building with these giant foam tinker toys.


Tyler and Mr. Cho exploring the world of sound.


Tyler and Miss Miller playing the Inventors game.


Here the kids could create parachutes using Dixie cups, pipe cleaners and coffee filters and then test them out against the upward blowing fan.

This station featured a cool app that allowed you to design a car on paper with crayons and then place it under the I-pad where the screen would read the image and allow you to race the car you designed:


From there we moved into the other areas of the History Center.

The many exhibits of the Heinz History Center are set up to share the history of the region ranging from the days of the first settlers all the way to the present. Starting from the beginning with the early fortifications, the revolutionary war, the slave trade and underground railroad, all the way to the industrial revolution and the present, the incredible history of the city is laid out in this museum.


This approach works out well because the museum truly has something for everyone whether you are a history buff, interested in technology and the sciences, pop culture, or even sports.

If there is one section of the museum that I would call my favorite, it would be Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation.


This section features all of the global contributions local Pittsburghers have made since the city’s founding and includes some of the more well-known (Carnegie steel) to the odd-ball creations that came out of the city (Mr. Yuk stickers, anyone?).


I liked the way this exhibit was oriented chronologically from when the region was first inhabited all the way to present day. It did a great job highlighting the contributions locals have given to the world.



For example:

Did you know that George Ferris, inventor of the Ferris Wheel, lived in the North Side? Or how about that the Polio Vaccine was discovered at Pitt? What about the fact that public TV broadcasting was revolutionized in the city thanks to Mr. Rogers and others?  (His full set is on display in a different section of the museum, too!)


We also learned:


    • The oil industry started here in Western Pa. in 1859 when Edwin Drake successfully drilled the first well north of Pittsburgh near Titusville, allowing black gold to flow to a ready market. By the end of the Civil War, the Pennsylvania petroleum industry produced four-and-a-half million barrels of oil a year.
    • Samuel Langley developed standardized time for the railroads while at the Allegheny Observatory.
    • Meriwether Lewis began his journey west from Fort Fayette in August 1803. The epic Lewis & Clark expedition to the Pacific began here in Pittsburgh.
    • On May 30, 1918, representatives of several Slovak and Czech organizations gathered in Pittsburgh to discuss, draft, and sign the Pittsburgh Agreement. Written by Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, it represented the first time Slovaks and Czechs issued a public, written document expressing the intention of forming a single common state, Czechoslovakia.
    • When Charles Martin Hall discovered an inexpensive means to produce aluminum, he came to the Mellon family in Pittsburgh for financing.
    • In 1967, Jim Delligatti created the Big Mac at his Uniontown, Pa. franchise, one of a dozen stores he operated at the time. Introduced nationwide the following year, the Big Mac remains a favorite.
      Several of the biggest features of the museum are dedicated to, not surprisingly, the businesses and sports teams of our city.

      The Heinz exhibit, as if we need to elaborate, covers the history of the H.J Heinz Company starting from its days as a horseradish manufacturer all the way to its growth in the early 1900s to one of the largest food and condiment companies in the world.

      What we learned:

      Although the Heinz Company is most associated with ketchup, their first product was actually horseradish.

    • H.J. Heinz’s parents were hard-working German immigrants who greatly influenced his drive and ethics, especially his mother. Henry once remarked that his mother could handle him because she “knew how to inspire me.”
    • Heinz’s first venture ended in bankruptcy in 1875, but he quickly rallied and started a new company the very next year.
    • The Heinz Company built the very first electric sign in New York City in 1901, but it was short lived as the Flatiron building construction began on the site a year later.
    • Heinz had a volatile relationship with his brother Peter and even had him followed by Pinkerton detectives. View the reports and other primary documents in our extensive Heinz archival holdings.
    • Deeply impacted by the Railroad Strike of 1877 and influenced by the paternalistic approach of the German factory system, Heinz set out to erect a model factory in Allegheny City (currently Pittsburgh’s North Side) in the 1890s.
    • The British eat the most beans per capita of anywhere in the world and it all started with Heinz Baked Beans in the early 1900s. The Heinz Company introduced baked beans to England and heavily advertised them, eventually making them a staple of the British diet.
    • The Heinz Company has always been committed to innovation and sustainability. In recent years they have partnered with the Ford Company to explore using tomato fibers for plant based plastics in vehicles.
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      On the sports side of the spectrum you can imagine that the City of Champions would be home to a large exhibit, and the two floor sports section of the museum covers the history and science of sports while featuring many unique exhibits from the city’s sports scene.  Whether you want to watch the Immaculate Reception from the early 70s, measure your vertical jump, or simply learn about the best sports players to ever play in the city, this exhibit delivers on it all.

      The boys spent some time testing their throwing arms…


      Nice shot, Tyler!! (It was hard to drag Tyler away from this exhibit)


      Pittsburgh is known for its loyal sports fans and it was fun seeing some of the sports fan memorabilia on display.

      Here Rusty got to try filling the shoes of a famous football legend only to discover his shoe size exceeds the imprint. Rusty now wears a size 15 shoe. (He is only 15 years old!)


      It was a wonderful day and we left this fun school outing with a greater appreciation for all things Pittsburgh!


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