Peculiar Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgher’s Creed: Inside the history of the city’s unofficial rallying cry

Here’s why a three-paragraph, century-old newspaper column took off.

Circa 1912.

Circa 1912.

Courtesy of Odd Pittsburgh
Rossilynne Culgan

Written on a whim more than 100 years ago, three paragraphs about Pittsburgh from an otherwise unknown author have ridden the waves of history, ushering generations of Pittsburghers through everything from daily life to war.

Even the late rapper Mac Miller is said to have recited The Pittsburgher’s Creed every night.

The three-paragraph love letter to the city begins “I believe in Pittsburgh the powerful — the progressive.”

A century after it was written, John Schalcosky, a local history expert who founded Odd Pittsburgh, stumbled across it and posted it on Facebook, where hundreds shared it.

“It’s so incredible, and the message is so strong. It really took off. It remains true to this day,” Schalcosky said, adding that he begins his speeches about Pittsburgh by reading the creed aloud.

Written in 1912, the creed continues to resonate, even recently finding its way onto T-shirts at Giant Eagle.

So what’s the story? Here, local history experts, newspaper archives, and public records weigh in on the city’s unofficial drumbeat.

The Pittsburgher’s Creed

First, here’s the creed itself.

“I believe in Pittsburg the powerful — the progressive. I believe in the past of Pittsburg and in the future founded on the heritage of that past; of clean living, frugal, industrious men and women of poise, power, purity, genius and courage. I believe that her dominant spirit is, has been, and always will be for uplift and betterment. I believe that my neighbor stands for the same faith in Pittsburg, altho his expression may vary from mine. I believe in Pittsburg of the present, and her people — possessing the virtues of all nations — fused thru the melting pot to a greater potency for good. I believe in taking pride in our city, its institutions, its people, its habits.

I believe in the great plans born of initiative, foresight, and civic patriotism in the minds of the great men of to-day; here — now. I believe that the Pittsburgers who truly represent her are those of God fearing lives, scorning ostentation and the seats of the ungodly; building surely, quietly and permanently.

I believe that those who know Pittsburg love her, “her rocks and rills, and templed hills.” I believe that Pittsburg’s mighty forces are reproduced in a mighty people, staunch like the hills –true like steel.”

— James G. Connell Jr.

When it was published, the creed dropped Pittsburgh’s controversial “-h” — just after the city officially got its “-h” back. Later reprints adopted its modern spelling.

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Courtesy of Odd Pittsburgh

‘It knows no bounds’

The creed’s author, James Gilleland Connell, Jr., was born in Beaver County, the son of a poor farmer who moved the family to Homewood where the younger Connell attended primary school. At age 14, he dropped out to help support the family, according to Pittsburgh Press archives.

Connell worked his way up from running errands to leading West Penn Paper Co., which was located Downtown and later torn down to make way for Point State Park, Schalcosky said.

In 1912, the creed was published in the Gazette Times “with no explanation” and credited the author, Sue Morris, a researcher who writes about Pittsburgh history, told The Incline.

“Nestled as it is amongst urban news and editorial-type statements and columns, it seemed to have been a kind of random citizen submission,” Morris said.

The city was not involved in the creed’s conception, James Hill, executive assistant to Mayor Bill Peduto, told The Incline.

West Penn Paper is located on the right side of this May 2, 1915 image.

West Penn Paper is located on the right side of this May 2, 1915 image.

Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection / University of Pittsburgh

Two years later, Connell died suddenly at age 33 of “organic heart disease” at work, archives show. He was survived by his wife Florence Harbison and five children under the age of 10. Connell was buried in Chartiers Cemetery.

The day after his death, the Pittsburgh Press published an article describing Connell as “an active worker in his business (who) devoted much of his time assisting organizations that were formed for the purpose of promoting the interests of Pittsburgh.”

The Press also lauded Connell’s creed, noting “A copy is to be found hung in a prominent place of nearly every businessman’s office in Pittsburgh.”

In 1916, the creed was re-printed in a guide book called “Pittsburgh, How to See It.” The book described Connell as a native of Allegheny County and “a man of fine character and engaging personality.”

“Given the creed author’s prominent business profile and association with Pittsburgh’s Chamber of Commerce, et. al., I can imagine his associates including it because it was a good ‘fit’ for such a publication,” Morris said. “After all, to republish such a statement of civic pride while the world was being knocked off kilter during the Great War couldn’t hurt.”

Newspapers later referenced the creed in 1934, 1955, 1956, and 1976.

It was “the type of thing that paper companies used to (and still do in some instances) distribute to customers,” per a 1956 Pittsburgh Press article responding to a reader’s questions about the creed.

A Pittsburgher's Creed T-shirt spotted at Robinson Market District.

A Pittsburgher's Creed T-shirt spotted at Market District.

Lexi Belculfine / The Incline

Morris noted that Connell “wasn’t talking about ‘progressive’ in the politically-charged way that the word resonates for us today. His Pittsburgh was ‘progressive’ because it was a leader in industry and technological innovation. There was pride in being the Smoky City, despite the deplorable living conditions that the Pittsburgh Survey had exposed a few years earlier.”

To Schalcosky, recognizing the accomplishments of past Pittsburghers is an important part of the creed, showing the importance of learning from the past to better the future.

Plus, he said, the creed shows that Pittsburghers “always look out for each other.”

“Soon as the tragedy happened in Squirrel Hill, that was the first thing I thought of,” he said, referring to the mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue. “That’s what it’s all about — we all stick together. … (The creed) can inspire everybody, and it knows no bounds. It was an incredible thing that he wrote on a whim, and it had a life of its own.”

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