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Category:  General History
Published:  June, 2008

The Things You’ve Heard. The Things That Are True
By Al Owens

I must have heard a hundred times that “They used to say that Pittsburgh would never amount to much – because it was too close to Brownsville.”

I’ve always wondered just who that “they” was. I have no doubt that at some time during Brownsville’s history, and as a result its proximity to coal, coke and a highly navigable waterway – that bold prediction certainly must have been a possibility.

I just haven’t found any evidence of the originator of that statement.

There are a lot of things I’ve heard about this area that I’ve sought to confirm. Some of those things, unfortunately, I’ve discovered to be questionable.

For instance, that Pittsburgh once had more corporate headquarters than any city in the country. That’s not true.

In the latest study I could find, Pittsburgh only ranked 21st among the top 50 American cities as being the home of corporate headquarters. Contrast the New York metro area’s 239 corporate headquarters to Pittsburgh’s 21, and it’s hard to understand how that particular myth got started.

There’s the myth that Pittsburgh has more bridges (446) than any city in the world.

Nope. Hamburg, Germany holds that distinction. It has 2,300 bridges.

Since living in the Seattle, Washington area – I used to believe it had more rainy days and more suicides (as a result of the rainfall) than any city in the United States. No on both counts.

I’ve found that Mobile, Alabama has far more rain among cities in the contiguous 48 states, and that Hilo, Hawaii is the rainiest of all U.S. cities.

And according to my friend Google, there are three cities which have much higher suicide rates per year than Seattle – and for no curious reason. Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada along with Atlantic, City all have higher suicide rates. I’ll bet (a very bad pun there) you didn’t know that.

Pittsburgh, by the way, does hold a few rather obscure distinctions.

Per capita, Pittsburgh has more coffee drinkers than in any other city in the country. (Hold onto that phrase “Per Capita.” I’m going to pull it out a few paragraphs ahead)

It’s second in the nation to San Francisco being steepest in the country.

One of those things I’ve always heard was, “Don’t ever buy a used car in Pittsburgh.” I’m still trying to find out if Pittsburgh, too, is the pothole capital of the world.

There are more staircases in Pittsburgh – due to the number of hills that lead to streets that won’t allow for vehicular traffic, than in any city in the country.

The Windy City? Most people believe Chicago is the windiest. It’s not. Dodge City, Kansas with its average wind speed of 13.9 mph is, according to the National Climatic Data Center. Chicago is way down on that list.

I’ve also heard “At one time there were more millionaires in Uniontown than in any city in the country.” That was never the case.

Many people leave out two rather critical elements when they repeat that bit of non-history.

In the early 1900’s Uniontown had more millionaires PER CAPITA than in any city in the country EXCEPT Colorado Springs, Colorado.

It’s true that at one time, Uniontown had between 11 and 13 millionaires. But that PER CAPITA means a lot. During the time when those millionaires lived in Uniontown, the city’s population was between 7 and 13 thousand.

That meant that Uniontown would have roughly had one millionaire per each one thousand residents.

Colorado Springs, too, was dependent on coal mining in those days. It was, however, several times larger than Uniontown, and coal wasn’t the only thing that produced millionaires out there. They had gold too.

Perhaps that’s why their pro baseball team in those days called themselves the Colorado Springs Millionaires.

Yet, it really didn’t matter how many millionaires lived in Colorado Springs or in Uniontown (or how many millions they had), when something happened in the late 1920’s that affected their lives, and just about everybody else’s in this country - and the lives of people around the world.

It was called the Great Depression.

On Tuesday morning, October 29th, 1929 readers of the Uniontown Morning Herald opened their newspapers to find that huge loses had been registered on Wall Street the previous day.

The events that followed that Tuesday would reverberate for generations to come.

The following morning Uniontown’s newspaper readers learned that a record 16 million shares of stock had been sold off in what would later be called “Black Tuesday.”

Yet, with Christmas approaching that year, there were few signs that the full effects of what was simply being called “an economic downturn” had, or ever would reach Uniontown.

On the final day of 1929, you could only find a few words that would indicate the depression had taken hold. A December 31st Morning Herald editorial contained the hopeful phrase, “It won’t be long now.”

By the following December, it was becoming clear that the depression was, indeed, taking its toll.

On December 4th, 1930 there was some degree of optimism, when it was reported that “large crowds” lined up in front of the brand new G.C. Murphy store on Main Street to get some of the store’s low prices.

“Evidence of depression or the alleged ‘hard times’ in Uniontown and the vicinity was dispersed by the immense throngs who milled in and out of the store,” read the account of the opening.

The following day, however, it was reported that Uniontown High School was putting on a play with any kind of food for the needy, being the price of admission.

At the end of the 1931, there was still a bit of hope that the hard times would end soon. The final editorial of that year in the Morning Herald contained the phrase, “The present depression has exceeded its cycle. It has run its course.”

The editorial writer had no way of knowing his words were nearly nine year premature.

It had been a year when hundreds of “hunger marchers” had passed through Uniontown on their way to Washington. Their pleas for help went unanswered for several years.

The depression had begun to permeate every facet of American life by the mid-1930’s. An editorial cartoon in the Morning Herald on December 18th, 1934 said it all. It depicted a map of the United States, covered by a large cylinder, which read RELIEF ROLL. The caption said, “The Biggest Thing in America.”

An editorial written at the end of 1937 in the Morning Herald trumpeted that “America has emerged from the depression.” Yet, in 1938, a Washington politician was trumpeting the nutritional and economic benefits of dog food for his constituents.

But two years later, there were clear signs the worst had ended. Employment and labor operations had returned to their best levels since 1929.

The optimism in late 1940 was well-founded. “Christmas this year will be marked by the heaviest exchange of Christmas remembrances since before the depression years,” read the Morning Herald’s editorial on Saturday, November 9th, 1940.

The Great Depression was over. The country had survived its strongest challenge since the Civil War.

Yet, there was another challenge on the way. One year and one month after that editorial appeared, the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor.