University of Pittsburgh
November 15, 1999


Contact:  412-624-4147

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 16 -- Interested in tracing your family's Pittsburgh roots? Researching the Homestead Steel strike? Viewing a map of the Northside from the 1800s? It can be done with a click of the mouse on Historic Pittsburgh — the groundbreaking digital library project of the University of Pittsburgh Library System (ULS), which makes rare books and documents on the history of the Greater Pittsburgh area accessible to a global audience.

Historic Pittsburgh ( is unique in that it offers the full text of 62 books from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as well as a growing database of information on articles and other materials relevant to the region's history. On-line archival finding aids provide a full listing of the contents of manuscript collections at Pitt and the John Heinz History Center that are related to Western Pennsylvania. Full-text search capabilities—by keyword, subject, author, and title—allow users to find specific passages within books and other records. The library has digitized land ownership maps, or plat maps, that depict churches, cemeteries, roads, railroads, lakes, and streams. City plans and atlases show lot and block numbers, street widths and names of property owners. Users can click on portions of the map to zoom in on a particular street or building.

"Everyone is a bit of a history buff, or will be once they have found this site," commented Rush Miller, University librarian and director of the ULS, who has been receiving positive feedback from users since the project went on-line last month. "Most of these books are located in very limited numbers in specialized libraries, and are not available to be checked out and used. Now at this site, they are available to everyone, anywhere, at any time," said Miller.

Historic Pittsburgh offers a diverse array of information, from the memoirs of prominent immigrants to accounts of Pittsburgh dance halls in the 1800s. Users can read the documented history of the Pittsburgh Pirates (1910-1950) including scorecards and schedules; material on industrialization and modernization, especially related to the development of the steel industry, working class society and labor unions; early city planning documents; and the correspondence and diaries of many individuals, such as James R. Mellon, one of eight children of Judge Thomas Mellon, founder of Mellon Bank. Other major themes are the development of transportation facilities, government and religious organizations, and the immigration and growth of ethnic and racial groups.

"Genealogists will love this resource," said Miller. "There is a tremendous amount of information on Pittsburgh families. But it will be equally useful for teachers, historians and anyone interested in the role of Pittsburgh in the making of America's industrial society."

The books, some in very brittle condition, are scanned as high-resolution image files and are then rebound, using acid-free reprints of the original pages. "It's really an access project and preservation project rolled into one," noted Miller, who is collaborating with the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania on the project. An advisory group of professors, teachers, librarians, and archivists will guide the growth of Historic Pittsburgh, which is expected to include 400 on-line books by next year.