Pittsburgh in the 1940s: Exploring the City’s Evolution through Timeless Images

The 1940s kicked off with a bang, quite literally, with the onset of World War II. As the United States entered the war in 1941, Pittsburgh’s steel mills roared into overdrive, producing steel for ships, tanks, and other military equipment. The city quickly earned a new nickname – the “Arsenal of Democracy.” It was a time of intense work, but Pittsburghers rolled up their sleeves and delivered.

War also brought changes on the home front. With many men away fighting, women stepped into roles previously held by their husbands, fathers, and brothers. Rosie the Riveter wasn’t just a national symbol; she had plenty of real-life counterparts right here in Pittsburgh!

The post-war years brought a wave of optimism and prosperity to Pittsburgh. The city was booming, and so was its population, with many new faces arriving from across the country and around the world. This influx of new residents added to the city’s vibrant cultural mosaic, bringing fresh perspectives, traditions, and flavors.

In the realm of sports, the Pittsburgh Pirates continued to rally the spirits of their fans. The 1940s weren’t their most successful decade, but the Pirates never lost their fighting spirit, embodying the never-give-up attitude of their city.

On the cultural front, Pittsburgh’s arts scene was thriving. The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra was gaining international acclaim, and the city’s theaters and cinemas were full of life. The Stanley Theatre was a hot spot, hosting everything from big band performances to the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

But let’s not forget one of the most significant transformations in Pittsburgh during the 1940s – the Renaissance I urban renewal project. The city’s leaders, recognizing the need to tackle pollution and modernize infrastructure, launched a massive clean-up and revitalization campaign. Smoky skies started to clear, and the city began to shed its soot-covered past, revealing a shining future.

#1 F. W. Woolworth Company decorates their windows for Christmas, 1940

#2 A view of North Avenue east of Federal Street looking west near Garden Theater, 1946

#3 East Ohio street looking west at Spitz Furniture, 1947

#4 A view of Murray Avenue at 1822-44, looking north, 1947

#5 A view of Centre Avenue at 2015, looking west, 1947

#6 Aerial view of the Southside in the vicinity of Carson Street taken for the Department of City Planning, looking east, 1949

#7 Forbes Avenue near the parking plaza, the Hotel Schenley and the future site of Hillman Library, 1947

#8 Kirby’s Shoes at 6101 Penn Avenue looking east showing pedestrians and the Negley Building, 1945

#10 Smallman Street repair at the railroad switch 100 feet east of 21st Street, looking east, 1940

#11 Magee Street, looking south from Fifth Avenue showing London’s Service, 1940

#12 1501 Fifth Avenue, looking west showing Harris Furniture Company and other local businesses, 1940

#13 A view of Fifth Avenue at Bouquet Street, looking South, 1940

#14 Terrace Village 1, Elmore Square looking south, 1940

#16 Frankstown Avenue, looking west at Penn Avenue, 1940

#17 Looking west along Bigelow Boulevard to Sixth Avenue, 1940

#18 West Carson Street looking east at Brown Auto Parts Company and North Pole Ice Cream Company, 1940

#19 A view of the rear of the University of Pittsburgh campus on Forbes Avenue, looking east, showing a Mobil gas station, 1940

#20 A view of the cat cages attached to the main zoo building, 1940

#21 Looking west on East Ohio Street showing Hong Wah Low Chop Suey Restaurant, 1940

#22 Bureau of Highways and Sewers, U.S. Works Progress Administration project to grade Harpin Street, 1943

#23 A view from the stands at Forbes Field looking toward the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, taken sometime between June and October, 1943

#24 West Carson Street looking east from opposite McFarlins Grill near the Duquesne Incline showing North Pole Ice Cream Company and Breakfast Cheer Coffee, 1940

#25 Snow Removal at the Amoco Station, Boulevard of the Allies and Grant Street looking east at 3:25 p.m., 1941

#26 A view of Smithfield Street businesses, including Woolworth’s, looking northeast, 1941

#27 A view of Downtown Pittsburgh, showing Gimbels, Woolworth’s and King Flowers looking northwest along Sixth Avenue, 1941

#29 Centre Avenue looking east from the northwest Corner, 1942

#30 Third Avenue looking south showing flags and Pennsylvania Perfumery and Barber Supplies, 1942

#31 Rosenbaum’s Department Store, looking from Clarks Shoe Store, 1942

#32 General view of the Fort Pitt exploration area from Duquesne Heights near North Pole Ice Cream and Breakfast Cheer Coffee, 1942

#33 Baseball Poster Featuring Homestead Grays vs New York Cubans in Pittsburgh Street Scene, 1945

#34 Mayfair Hotel and Restaurant, Site of Racial Discrimination Lawsuit by Nat King Cole, 1949

#35 Collapsed Wall of a Brick Building on Mahon Street, Hill District, 1947

#36 A Leo Weil Elementary School Exterior with Four People, 1946

#37 Syria Mosque Advertising Pop Concerts, Little Symphony Orchestra, 1946

#38 Condemned Home of Hattie Dodson and Mary Davenport, Hill District, 1946

#41 Warren Methodist Church on Centre Avenue, Hill District, 1945

#42 Tour Bus for Irvin C. Millers, Brown Skin Models, Hill District, 1942

#43 Vacant Lot Next to a Brick Row House, Hill District, 1945

#44 Iowa Street Before Ewart Drive with Stone Fence, Hill District, 1945

#45 Four Checker Model A Yellow Cab Company Taxis, 1945

#46 Smithfield Street Bridge and Monongahela River, Pittsburgh, 1941

#53 Aerial View of Oakland and Surrounding Areas, 1945

#54 University of Pittsburgh Area from Upper Campus, 1945

#56 Sidewalk in Front of Bromier’s Candy Shop, 1945

#57 69 Squirrel Hill Streetcar on Forbes Avenue, 1945

#62 Scales Near Spitz Furniture on East Ohio Street, 1947

#63 Market Street looking north to the corner of Liberty Avenue near Woolworth’s, 1945

#64 Shops on Centre Avenue, looking West. Fred’s Radio and Electric Service on the Right and Eunice’s Beauty Bar on the Left, 1946

#65 Looking north down Boyd Street to the Locust Street intersection, 1940

#67 A man operates an asphalt binding machine over a sewer trench, 1-1.5 inches high, at a location 35 feet south of Margaretta Street, 1940

#69 The Pittsburgh Municipal Hospital under construction at the intersection of Darragh and Terrace Streets, 1940

#70 No. 24 Engine Company Pumper at Engine and Hose Company 14, 1941

#71 1082 Fourth Avenue and Smithfield Street looking west from southeast corner showing Liggett’s Rexall Drugs, 1942

#72 Sweeping view of the north shore, the Point and Downtown as seen from Duquesne Heights near Republic Street, 1942

#73 Hazelwood Avenue looking northeast from railroad tracks showing Meszaros Pharmacy, 1943

#74 Sidewalk at Volkwein’s Music Store looking northeast showing signs for Volkwein’s and the Pittsburgh Baseball Club ticket office, 1943

#75 Frankstown Avenue looking east near Triangle Theatre and Max’s Used Furniture, 1943

#76 Intersection of North Atlantic and Penn Avenues showing Champion Laundry, 1943.

#77 View of Nixon Theatre on Sixth Avenue and Montour Way looking east, 1943.

#79 The Manchester and Point Bridges seen from Point Building, 1943.

#80 View of Pennsylvania Railroad Yard and Freight Department, 1943.

#81 Bellefield Avenue showcasing Carnegie Institute and Heinz Chapel, 1944.

#82 People’s Laundry on Highland Avenue at Centre Avenue intersection, 1944.

#83 Murray Avenue shops, including Beacon Pharmacy and a bowling alley, 1944.

#84 View of Thompson’s Store and Dines Bar on Sixth Street, 1945.

#85 Intersection of Murray and Forward Avenues showing Morrowfield Pharmacy, 1945.

#87 Penn Avenue view from Barbeau Street featuring Dravo Building, 1941.

#88 McMaster’s Way, home to the Fannie Farmer store, 1941.

#89 Market Street viewed from the center of South Diamond Street, 1941.

#90 Businesses on Fifth Avenue near the lower Hill District, 1941.

#91 Girls observing Pettey Musical Instruments on Liberty Avenue, 1943.

#92 Ninth Street at Penn Avenue showing Edison Hotel, 1943.

#93 Negley and Penn Avenues near Schwartz Sanitary Super Market, 1943.

#94 Female Mental Building of Pittsburgh City Home and Hospitals, 1941.

#95 Gas station at Lockhart and Madison Streets, 1941.

#100 After church services in a Hungarian community, 1940.

#101 Scene from a Negro church in mill district, 1940.

#105 Coal transport to Jones Laughlin steel plant, 1941.

#111 Jones and Laughlin steelworks in Pittsburgh, 1941.

#112 Scene related to Jones Laughlin steel company, 1941.

#120 Montour No. 4 mine, Pittsburgh Coal Company, 1942.

#121 Champion No. 1 cleaning plant near Pittsburgh, 1942.

#122 Beechview Avenue, looking north at Isaly’s, 1945

Beechview Avenue, looking north at Isaly's, 1945

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#123 A view of the lower level of Bedford Dwellings, looking west, showcasing construction progress, 1940

A view of the lower level of Bedford Dwellings, looking west, showcasing construction progress, 1940

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#124 A view of an 18-family frame apartment building (Rear) on Mansion Street, 1940

A view of an 18-family frame apartment building (Rear) on Mansion Street, 1940

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Written by Kevin Clark

Kevin Clark is a historian and writer who is passionate about sharing the stories and significance behind historical photos. He loves to explore hidden histories and cultural contexts behind the images, providing a unique insight into the past.

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  1. I lived in Pittsburgh in the early 50s. We could draw in the soot on the cars at times. Would do this walking home from school and get yelled at when we got home.

    Remember the red glow from the steel mills at night over the hill.

    Live near Gettysburg since 1987. Went to the Steelers game last night. When leaving today, drove around my old neighborhood just to remember the difference.

    Beautiful city!