June 3, 1951: We love this image because it combines three elements that, for better or worse, define Pittsburgh’s past — rivers, big steel bridges and lots of thick, black smoke. The picture was made during a race between two steamboats, the William Larimer Jones and the Homestead, along a 3.1-mile course on the Ohio and Monongahela rivers.
Smoke from the sternwheelers “blacked out bridges and hillsides,” reported the Pittsburgh Press, and engulfed spectators standing on the old Point Bridge. The race was part of a city celebration called “Welcome Week.”
Pittsburghers loved the steamboat race. Spectators gathered by the hundreds of thousands along waterfronts, hillsides and, of course, bridges. ”They screamed themselves hoarse in blazing heat that left many in a state of near collapse,” according to the Press.
Welcome Week, by the way, was described by the Press as an annual “civic open house to show off Pittsburgh as America’s busiest city,” and included tours of industrial plants, powerboat racing, rivet tossing contests and parades.
“It may some day rank with New Orleans’ Mardi Gras and Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses as a national event,” read the Press. That obviously didn’t happen. “Welcome Week” ended after 1952.
And the steamboat race? It was the last in the city’s history, and it ended in a dead-heat.