Name of Pittsburgh

The name of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has a complicated history. Pittsburgh is one of the few U.S. cities or towns to be spelled with an h at the end of a burg suffix, although the spelling Pittsburg was acceptable for many years and was even held as standard by the federal government (but not the city government) from 1891 to 1911.

Inside of the rotunda of Union Station in Pittsburgh showing the city's name as commonly spelled in 1900.


Pittsburgh was named in honor of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, often referred to as William Pitt the Elder to distinguish him from his son William Pitt the Younger.

The suffix burgh is the Scots language and Scottish English cognate of the English language borough, which has other cognates in words and place names in several Indo-European languages. Historically, this morpheme was used in place names to describe a location as being defensible, such as a hill, a fort, or a fortified settlement.[1][note 1]

History and spellingsEdit

Pittsburgh is spelled without the h in its 1816 city charter.
Advertisement for The Pittsburg Dispatch from 1876. The newspaper used the Pittsburg spelling from its second year (1847) to its end of publication in 1923.[2]

Pittsburgh (originally Fort Duquesne) was captured by British forces during the French and Indian War (Seven Years War). The earliest known references to the new name of the settlement are in letters sent from General John Forbes, dated 26 and 27 November 1758, reporting the capture of the fort. In copies of and quotes from those letters in later sources, the name of Pittsburgh is spelled with and without the h, and sometimes with an o before the u.[note 2] As a Scotsman, General Forbes probably pronounced the name /ˈpɪtsbərə/ PITS-bər-ə, similar to the pronunciation of "Edinburgh" as a Scotsman would say it: /ˈɛdɪnbərə/ ( listen) ED-in-bər-ə.[11][12][13][14] The name appeared in print at least as early as 14 December 1758, when the Pennsylvania Gazette published a letter written by a member of Forbes's army from "Pittsburgh (formerly Fort Duquesne)".[15]

For a long time, there was little concern about the spelling of Pittsburgh's name.[16] Early municipal documents and city directories generally spelled the name with a final h,[17] but the letter is notably omitted in the city charter enacted by the state legislature in 1816.[16] The variance in spelling persisted through the 19th century. In 1890, some local newspapers were using the final h and some were not.[16]

Federal board decisionsEdit

In 1890, the United States Board on Geographic Names was created to establish uniform place name usage throughout the various departments and agencies of the U.S. government. To guide its standardization efforts, the Board adopted thirteen general principles, one of which was that the final -h should be dropped from place names ending in -burgh.[18] The Board compiled a report of place name "decisions" in 1891 in which Pittsburgh's name for federal government purposes was rendered Pittsburg.[19][note 3]

In support of its decision favoring the Pittsburg spelling, the Board referenced the 1816 city charter. The full decision and rationale from the Board follows:

Pittsburg. Pennsylvania.
The city was chartered in 1816, its name being spelled without the h, and its official form is still Pittsburg. The h appears to have been added by the Post-Office Department, and through that action local usage appears to have become divided. While the majority of local newspapers print it without the h, certain others use the final h.[20]

The Board's decisions were compulsory upon all federal government agencies, including the Post Office. Outside the federal government, the decisions, while clearly influential,[19] were not officially binding.[21] The Pittsburgh city government continued to use the spelling with the h,[11] as did such local institutions as the Pittsburgh Gazette, the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange and the University of Pittsburgh.[16] In 1908, a Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce committee, after conducting a review of historical documents, endorsed Pittsburgh as the correct way to spell the city's name and looked toward getting that spelling federally recognized.[22] Responding to mounting pressure and, in the end, political pressure from senator George T. Oliver, the names board reversed itself and added an h to its spelling of the city on July 19, 1911.[16] The letter sent to Senator Oliver to announce this decision, dated July 20, stated:

Relative frequency of Pittsburgh (blue) vs. Pittsburg (red) word forms in English-language books over time, according to Google Ngram Viewer data. Usage of Pittsburg has practically disappeared except in reference to places other than the Pennsylvania city.

Hon. George T. Oliver, United States Senate:

Sir: 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).

Very respectfully,


With the spelling controversy largely settled, the h-less form of the city's name headed toward extinction. There were some holdouts: the city's largest-circulation newspaper, The Pittsburg Press, stuck with the shorter spelling until 1921;[24] The Pittsburg Dispatch and The Pittsburg Leader did so until ceasing publication in 1923.[25]

Many cities across the United States named after the city of Pittsburgh, such as Pittsburg, Kansas, Pittsburg, California, and West Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, continue to use the Pittsburg spelling in their names. Other independent municipalities, such as the borough of East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, reflect the modern spelling.

Baseball cardEdit

The T-206 Honus Wagner baseball card from 1909

Perhaps the most familiar reference to the Pittsburg spelling is on the renowned 1909 T-206 baseball card of Pittsburgh Pirates legend Honus Wagner. Its scarcity, even at the time, combined with Wagner's reputation as one of the greatest players in baseball history, made it the most valuable sports card of all time, with one pristine specimen yielding $2.8 million at auction.[26] It has been characterized as the "Holy Grail" of baseball cards.[27] The city name displayed across Wagner's jersey on the card was an artistic addition that did not actually appear on the Pirates' uniforms of the time.[28][29] The portrait of Wagner makes it appear as if there could be an H on the end, cut off by the border of the picture, but this notion is countered by the appearance of "PITTSBURG" in the underlying caption and on other Pirate portraits from the T-206 card set.

The -h in Pittsburgh cultureEdit

The presence of the -h at the end of the word Pittsburgh is occasionally recognized in Pittsburgh culture. It is often rendered as PGH. For example, Pittsburgh International Airport's abbreviation is PIT, while Union Station's abbreviation is PGH. The area's Fox affiliate takes their calls, WPGH-TV from this. A recent playful take on the final -h of Pittsburgh appears in the name of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority's brand of bottled water: PGH2O, which is a portmanteau of the abbreviation PGH and the chemical name for water, H2O.[30] "Da 'Burgh" or "Da Burgh" is a local and affectionate nickname for the city. In homage to the city's history, the "Pittsburg Plunge" at Kennywood park retains the alternate spelling without the h.

See alsoEdit

  • Alburgh, Vermont, a town whose name was changed from Alburgh to Alburg in the 19th century, apparently by influence of the same 1891 decision that applied to the spelling of Pittsburgh. The Alburgh spelling was restored in 2006.
  • Newburgh, New York, another early U.S. city with a trailing h.


  1. ^ See Etymology of Burgh for more details.
  2. ^ The form of the name appearing in a letter sent by Forbes to Lieutenant-Governor William Denny, dated 26 November 1758, is given in discrepant sources as Pittsbourg,[3] Pitts-bourgh,[4]Pitts-bourg,[5] Pittsburgh,[6] and Pittsburg.[7] The name appearing in other letters has been transcribed as Pittsbourg (Forbes to Generals Abercromby and Amherst, 26 November 1758),[8] Pittsburg (Forbes to an uncertain addressee, 26 November 1758),[9] and Pittsbourgh (Forbes to William Pitt, 27 November 1758).[6][10]
  3. ^ Because the Board lacked the immediate means to publish and distribute its decisions (see pp. 9–10 of the report), its report was not actually printed in volume and distributed until 1892. The actual finalized decisions and recommendations do date to 1891, however.


  1. ^ Harper, Douglas. "Borough". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  2. ^ See, e.g., The Pittsburg Daily Dispatch, 9 August 1847, and The Pittsburg Dispatch, 14 February 1923. The earliest surviving issues, from scattered dates in 1846 and early 1847, include the h in the city's name.
  3. ^ Denny, H.L.L. (1920). "Memoir of his Excellency Colonel William Denny, Lieutenant-Governor of Pennsylvania, Etc". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. 44 (2): 119.
  4. ^ Montgomery, Thomas Lynch, ed. (1916). Report of the Commission to Locate the Site of the Frontier Forts of Pennsylvania. 2 (Second ed.). Harrisburg, PA. p. 100. hdl:2027/pst.000024531337.
  5. ^ Espenshade, A. Howry (1925). Pennsylvania Place Names. The Pennsylvania State College. p. 122.
  6. ^ a b Church, Samuel Harden (1908). A Short History of Pittsburgh, 1758–1908. New York: De Vinne Press. p. 29. hdl:2027/loc.ark:/13960/t6n01z03r.
  7. ^ Minutes of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania. Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. VIII. Harrisburg, PA: Theo. Fenn & Co. 1852. p. 232. hdl:2027/mdp.39015037355966.
  8. ^ James, Alfred Procter, ed. (1938). Writings of General John Forbes Relating to his Service in North America. Menasha, WI: Collegiate Press. p. 262. hdl:2027/mdp.39015027041345.
  9. ^ Hazard, Samuel, ed. (February 1831). "Historical Notes". The Register of Pennsylvania. Philadelphia. VII (8): 125. hdl:2027/nyp.33433081772489.
  10. ^ Kimball, Gertrude Selwyn, ed. (1906). Correspondence of William Pitt. 1. New York: Macmillan. p. 406.
  11. ^ a b "How to Spell Pittsburgh". Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Archived from the original on October 1, 2008. Retrieved January 18, 2009.
  12. ^ Van Trump, James. "The Controversial Spelling of "Pittsburgh", or Why The "H"?". Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  13. ^ Boehmig, Stuart P. (2007). "3: A City Emerges from a Frontier Town". Downtown Pittsburgh. San Francisco, CA: Arcadia Publishing. p. 29. ISBN 978-0-7385-5042-8. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  14. ^ Bannon, Shawn; Jason Coll; Bill Flanagan (21 February 2008). "The Naming of Pittsburgh". YouTube. Retrieved 19 February 2010.
  15. ^ "[untitled]". The Pennsylvania Gazette. 14 December 1758. p. 1.
  16. ^ a b c d e Stewart, George R. (1967) [1945]. Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States (Sentry edition (3rd) ed.). Houghton Mifflin. pp. 344.
  17. ^ "Spell It Pittsburgh Contends Committee". The Pittsburgh Sunday Post. 6 August 1911. Sec. 3, p. 1 – via
  18. ^ United States Board on Geographic Names (1892). First report of the United States Board on Geographic Names. 1890–1891. U.S. Govt. Print. Off. p. 8. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  19. ^ a b Stewart, George R. (1967) [1945]. Names on the Land: A Historical Account of Place-Naming in the United States (Sentry edition (3rd) ed.). Houghton Mifflin. pp. 342–344.
  20. ^ United States Board on Geographic Names (1892). First report of the United States Board on Geographic Names. 1890–1891. U.S. Govt. Print. Off. p. 34. Retrieved 4 August 2010.
  21. ^ "The United States Board on Geographic Names: Getting the Facts Straight" (PDF). United States Board on Geographic Names. November 2016. Retrieved 8 October 2019. It is sometimes incorrectly assumed that BGN decisions on names apply to everyone in the United States. The BGN was formed to provide uniform geographic name usage in the Federal Government and its decisions only apply to the Federal Government. ... BGN decisions are not binding outside the Federal Government.
  22. ^ "Hold First Meeting in New Quarters". The Gazette Times. Pittsburgh. 15 May 1908. p. 8.
  23. ^ Notes & Queries (1918). Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine. 2. The Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania. p. 65.
  24. ^ Lowry, Patricia (17 July 2011). "Are yinz from Pittsburg?". The Next Page. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  25. ^ See, e.g., the last issues of The Pittsburg Dispatch and The Pittsburg Leader, both published February 14, 1923.
  26. ^ Macur, Juliet (1 February 2011). "A Windfall in Cardboard". The New York Times. p. 12. Retrieved 14 February 2011.
  27. ^ Cato, Jason (6 November 2010). "Honus Wagner card brings $262,900". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  28. ^ Doyle, Jack (28 May 2008). "$2.8 Million Baseball Card — 1909 Honus Wagner". The Pop History Dig. Retrieved 15 December 2017.
  29. ^ "Uniform Database". Dressed to the Nines: a History of the Baseball Uniform. National Baseball Hall of Fame. Retrieved 27 September 2020.
  30. ^ Smydo, Joe (11 June 2011). "PWSA prepares its own bottled water". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 12 June 2011.

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