Three Different Ways to Experience Pittsburgh's Inclines

I've heard from locals that they get tired of taking their visitors to the same places all the time. But there are certain spots around town that are "must sees" for newcomers. This includes one of Pittsburgh's most iconic sites, the view from Mount Washington and the Inclines.

Street Lark is all about experiencing Pittsburgh from new vantage points, and that includes different mindsets. If you approach your visit to the Inclines from a unique perspective - like the three suggested here - you’ll have the chance to learn something new and keep things interesting, whether it's your first ride on the incline or not.

Here are three fresh ways to incorporate the Inclines into your adventure around town.

Pop Culture Experience: the Incline + Drinks at an Iconic Hotel

Put on your pop culture hat, learn about the celebrity surrounding the Inclines, then grab drinks at an iconic hotel.

Pop Culture Facts About the Inclines

In the 1983 movie Flashdance, the camera pans across the Mon before cutting to a scene where the main character, Alex, is seen riding the Duquesne Incline. Jennifer Beals plays the character of Alex, a young welder in a Pittsburgh steel mill whose dream is to become a professional dancer.

More recently, the local news station WTAE filmed their "Inclined to Talk" video with Tom Junod, the journalist who interviewed Mr. Rogers for Esquire magazine and inspired the film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. WTAE chats with Junod while riding the Incline.

Interestingly, Pittsburgh's Inclines have been associated with celebrity from the very start. Among the three designers of the Monongahela Incline was Caroline Endres, one of the first female engineers in the U.S.

Born in Prussia, Caroline later immigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio around 1866. In the summer of 1869, she moved to one of Pittsburgh’s most premier hotels, the Monongahela House, where she lived for two years. This was especially convenient for Caroline since the hotel was located at the intersection of Smithfield Street and Water Street (now Fort Pitt Boulevard), across the river from where the Monongahela Incline was being built.

“When the news broke out that a LADY was assisting with the project, it caused quite a stir around town as this was considered quite an unusual occupation for a female at that time,” states P. G. Eizenhafer in Pittsburgh History of Inclines. “This brought many curious people to the old Monongahela House where she lived.”

Among the other famous guests to visit the hotel were Stephen Foster, Charles Dickens, the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward the Seventh), Teddy Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and even President-elect Abraham Lincoln.

After You Visit the Incline

Once you visit the Inclines and learn about their role in Pittsburgh’s pop culture (including the famous Monongahela House), grab beverages at the Wiggle Whiskey Tasting Room, Speakeasy, or Starbucks located within another famous Pittsburgh hotel, the Omni William Penn.

The William Penn Hotel opened in 1916 after two years of construction at a cost of $6 million. It boasted modern luxuries including electricity and bathrooms in each room, an amenity even the famous Plaza Hotel in New York City didn’t have at the time.

The hotel has been visited by many prominent figures over the course of its rich history. Yet it might never have been built if wife of the hotel’s financier, Henry Clay Frick, hadn’t fallen ill one night in April 1912, leading the couple to cancel their trip aboard the ill-fated Titanic passenger liner.

Sports and Fitness Experience: the Incline + Climbing in Pittsburgh

Put on your sports cap, ride the Incline to the top of Mount Washington for a view of the sports stadiums, then climb mountains without the assist of a funicular.

Sports Facts Related to the Inclines and the View from the Mount

Cincinnati Bengals Ride the Incline

Employees of the Duquesne Incline remember a few years back when the Cincinnati Bengals were in town, and a group of them rode the incline. When the football players made it to the top of Mount Washington, one Bengal “emerged from the car, very pale with eyes very wide,” and refused to ride back down. Instead, his wife rode back down, got their car, and drove back up to the top of Mount Washington to pick up her frightened husband.

Heinz Field, the Whole Picture from Mount Washington

  • Seating Capacity: 68,400 seats

  • Building Square Footage: 1.49 million sq. ft. (approx.)

  • Sight Lines: 60 ft to first row sideline, 25 ft to endzone

  • Field Surface: Kentucky Bluegrass

  • Concrete: 48,000 cubic yards

  • Steel: 12,000 tons

  • Paint: 30,000 gallons

  • Glass: 50,000 square feet

  • Doors: 1,100

  • Miles of Railings: 7

  • Pipes Under the Field: 1.85 miles

  • The Heinz Ketchup bottles located on the Heinz Field scoreboard are exact replicas of the 14-ounce glass Heinz Ketchup bottle. Each bottle measures 35 feet by 9 feet. Together they weigh 16,000 pounds, the equivalent of 53 300-pound-NFL-linemen. If the Heinz Ketchup scoreboard bottles were filled with Heinz Ketchup, then emptied onto the turf, the entire football field would be covered in ¾ inches of ketchup. If they were filled with ketchup, then emptied into 14oz bottles, there would be enough to send at least one bottle home with everyone seated. Approximately 4,500 footballs could fit into each scoreboard bottle.

Pirates Ballparks, Past and Present

  • Exposition Park: 1891-1909; Capacity of 16,000

  • Forbes Field: 1909-1970; Capacity of 35,000 (located in Oakland)

  • Three Rivers Park: 1970-2000; Capacity of 47,971

  • PNC Park: 2001-Present; Capacity of 38,496

Pirates current playing field, PNC Park, is the first baseball stadium with a two-deck design to be built in the U.S. since the 1953 completion of Milwaukee's County Stadium. Designed with the baseball fan in mind, the highest seat is only 88 feet from the natural grass playing field, ensuring everyone in the park has an ideal sight line.

After You Visit the Incline

Once you climb Mt. Washington in an inclined car, try something more physical at Ascend Climbing Gym or by walking the South Side Steps using a former StepTrek Route.

STEM Experience: the Incline + Terrain Navigation at roboworld

Put on your STEM hat, take the 50 cent tour of the Duquesne Incline machine room, then learn about today's terrain navigation technology.

Operating the Monongahela Incline in the 1800s

The operator/engineer of the Monongahela Incline sat in a glass enclosure called the ‘pulpit,’ which overlooked the tracks. The operator used hand throttle levers and a foot brake to control the cars ascending and descending the tracks. In 1870, the engineer and conductor worked from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. After a freight incline was constructed alongside the Monongahela passenger incline in 1884, the shifts were reduced to 12 hours. The freight incline carried horse-drawn freight and vehicles until 1935, at which time it was dismantled.

Take the 50 Cent Tour of the Duquesne Incline

Don’t miss the view of the city, but also check out the Duquesne Incline’s original mechanics by taking the 50 cent tour of the machine room in the upper station.

After You Visit the Incline

Once you've learned about the engineering of the Inclines, head over to Carnegie Science Center’s roboworld to practice hands-on engineering at the Terrain Navigation exhibit.

In the city’s early years, Pittsburgh’s topography created challenges for the engineers tasked with designing transportation. Decades later, difficult terrain continues to drive efforts in the field of engineering.

Visit roboworld to explore how engineers are developing robots that can traverse a wide variety of terrain with complex legs or wheels, navigating surfaces like volcanic craters, Mars, and the icy Antarctic.

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