History Center Collections

The History Center has a wide variety of collections and artifacts that document life in Western Pennsylvania. Some may surprise you.

Don’t Miss Artifacts

Tiffany punch bowl, 1902

Tiffany punch bowl, 1902

Presented to U.S. Steel Division President George G. McMurtry in October 1902 by his workers, this punch bowl served as a tribute to ties between capital and labor. McMurtry received his position when his company merged into the steel conglomerate. Although supposedly presented by the workers to their manager, it seems more likely that U.S. Steel used these gifts to attempt to cement the relationship between the company and the many others they absorbed.

Visitors can see this item in the Innovation exhibit.

Danger sign, c. 1910

Danger sign, c. 1910

Found in a locomotive repair shop, this Carnegie Steel Company sign written in English, Italian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Serbo-Croatian implores workers to beware of the many hazards of the workplace.

Visitors can see this item in the Innovation exhibit.

Dagger used on Henry Frick, 1892

Dagger used on Frick, 1892

After wounding Henry Clay Frick with his handgun, Alexander Berkman reportedly used this letter opener to strike his victim’s legs. Quickly subdued by aides, Berkman’s assassination attempt failed. Frick returned to work within a week, while Berkman served his prison sentence in Allegheny Penitentiary. He later chronicled his experience in a book, “Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist.”

Visitors can see this item in the Innovation exhibit.

George Romero’s Director’s chair, 1990

Director’s chair, 1990

George Romero first came to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Tech. He left with no degree, but with valuable contacts. With friends, he formed Latent Images in 1963 and used seed money from commercials to film their first feature, “Night of the Living Dead.” It only took a month to film and cost a little over $100,000 but it became a critical and cult classic. This director’s chair is from the film “Jacaranda Joe,” a mock documentary that Romero made with Valencia Community College students in 1994.

Visitors can see this item in the Innovation exhibit.

Heinz, Noble & Company horseradish bottle, c. 1872

Heinz, Noble & Company horseradish bottle, c. 1872

The H.J. Heinz Company started out in 1869 as a partnership between H.J. Heinz and his friend Clarence Noble and first called Heinz & Noble. Within a few years they added an additional partner and became Heinz, Noble & Company. Although the Heinz Company would become most associated with tomato ketchup, their first product was horseradish.

Visitors can see this item in the Heinz exhibit.

Fun ArtiFacts

Mink fur bouquet, c. 1960

Mink fur bouquet, c. 1960

Azen’s, a downtown institution founded in 1906, supplied the region with fine fur until 1981. This mink flower bouquet dates to 1968 when Dr. Clifford Lee Wilmoth went to Azen’s to choose a fur coat for his wife as an anniversary gift. The company sent him home with a bouquet of its various mink colors. Accompanying the bouquet was a “Happy Anniversary” card signed by Harry Azen with instructions to “nurture these flowers and soon they will grow into a full length mink coat.” It is unclear whether this gift was a one-time sales pitch for a special client or a regular enticement used by Azen to cultivate customers in the 1960s.

Hand Carved Amusement Park, c. 1935

Hand Carved Amusement Park, c. 1935

Starting in the 1930s, using a pen knife, wooden fruit crates, and materials from discarded machinery, Frank Salisbury began constructing an amusement park for his son Walter. Inspired by West View Park, he started with the twin track roller coaster, but found that it took months of trial and error before he was able to keep the cars on their track. Over the years he continued to expand both the rides and grounds of his miniature world. Every ride was operational; even the figures on the dance floor glided along to the music. The finishing touches included a fiberboard fence that surrounded the park’s perimeter and red corrugated cardboard roofs for the various concession stands and buildings.

Glass Birdhouse, c. 1950

Glass Birdhouse, c. 1950

A glass birdhouse seemed like a good idea, but this item flopped on the market when it was discovered that it became too hot inside for birds to use. McKee Glass Co., Jeannette, PA.

Visitors can see this item in the Glass exhibit.

Daughters of Pocahontas outfit

Daughters of Pocahontas outfit

The Degree of Pocahontas began as a deeply patriotic fraternal organization with the express purpose of increasing patriotism, love of the flag, and “preserving the American way of life.” In Pennsylvania the order had a high concentration of German-Americans. There were four Degree of Pocahontas councils in the Pittsburgh area in this period, but only one is in existence today. Although they were distinguished by their unique costumes and language, the organization was much like other beneficial and fraternal societies in America. The councils provided insurance for members, a venue for socializing with neighbors, and raised money for the community.

Ilkuvitz store contents, shoes and bowties, c. 1950

Ilkuvitz store contents, shoes and bowties, c. 1950
Ilkuvitz store contents, shoes and bowties, c. 1950

The Ilkuvitz store, located in Clairton, Pa, had been a vital part of the community from the 1920s until they closed their doors in the 1990s. When the community was a thriving mill town, Ilkuvitz supplied everything from work boots and gloves to dress shoes and hosiery. As the town struggled and the mill laid off workers, Ilkuvitz kept its doors open, but ordered less and less inventory. It became a place for local men to reminiscence and the content of years past stayed on the shelves. We found a virtual time capsule when the contents of the store were gifted to the History Center in 2013.