"The other burgs don't have that."
-- Overheard at Penn Brewery, North Side, 16 March 1998.
Pittsburgh has been spelled with an h officially and historically since its founding in 1758--except for the period between 1890 and 1911. General John Forbes named the city in honor of William Pitt, the Elder. The letter to Pitt states in part:
"Pittsbourgh. 27th Novemr. 1758.
...I have used the freedom of giving your name to Fort Du Quesne, as I hope it was in some measure the being actuated by your spirits that now makes us Masters of the place..."
burgh and bourgh, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, are variants of "borough" -- obsolete in ordinary English use since the 17th Century but continued in Scotland. (For example, Edinburgh.) General Forbes was a Scot and would have used this form, probably pronouncing it "Pitts-burro," just as Edinburgh is pronounced "Edin-burro." Acts of the Legislature, 22 April 1794, incorporating Pittsburgh as a town, and 5 March 1804, incorporating Pittsburgh as a borough, used the h. Pittsburgh was incorporated as a city by an Act of 18 March 1816. Through a printer's error, the h was omitted from the printed copy, but the original charter included it. (This original was burned in the Court House fire of 1882.) Through the 19th century, in directories and newspapers, an occasional use of Pittsburg will be found, but the predominant usage was Pittsburgh. Municipal documents always used the latter spelling. In 1890, the United States Board on Geographic Names decided that the final h was to be dropped in the names of all cities and towns ending in burgh. (Throughout the period 1890-1911 city ordinances and council minutes retained the h.) In 1911, after protest from citizens who wished to preserve the historic spelling, the United States Board on Geographic Names reversed its decision and restored the h to Pittsburgh.
Compiled by the Pennsylvania Department.
- Letter of General John Forbes to William Pitt, 27 November 1758
- An ACT to erect the town of Pittsburgh...
- An ACT to alter an act, entitled "An act to erect the town of Pittsburgh..."
- An ACT to incorporate the city of Pittsburg.
- "How to Spell Pittsburgh" -- The Chamber of Commerce of Pittsburgh
- "Policy of the Board", United States Board on Geographic Names (Excerpt)
- Letter to Senator George T. Oliver from the United States Geographic Board
- "I Have Called the Place Pittsburgh" -- George T. Fleming
- Pittsburgh / Diondega -- George P. Donehoo
- "All May Assist Nation-Wide Campaign" -- How to Spell Pittsburgh
- The Other Pittsburgs
- For Further Reading
Pa Pitt Return to Pa Pitt's Master Index
Return to Local History.