Category Archives: Inclines

When Steam Engines Powered the Monongahela Incline

Figure 1. Monongahela Incline upper station on Grandview Avenue, June 24, 1908. The twenty-two foot high iron truss spanning Grandview Avenue at the center of this image fed two cables from the boiler and steam engine house (at right, with the two stacks) into two holes (portals) in the incline’s upper station at left. Those were the very cables that were each attached to an incline car. One pulled a car up the hill while the other let a car down. Detail from the image on page 33 of “Pittsburgh’s Inclines”. Image courtesy of Historic Pittsburgh, the Digital Research Library at the University of Pittsburgh.

All of Pittsburgh’s inclines were originally powered by steam engines. Figure 1 above shows the Monongahela Incline’s upper station in 1908 more than 25 years before electric motors replaced its steam engines. Tap or click on the image and zoom in to see details of the two steel cables that passed over a wheel set about 22 feet above Grandview Avenue between the steam engine house at right and the upper incline building at left.

Those of you in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania tomorrow Sunday, July 1st please drop by Classic Lines between 2:30 and 3:30p.m. for “Pittsburgh’s Inclines” discussion and book signing. I hope to see you there!

How Many Inclines in Pittsburgh?

Many people have heard about or visited Pittsburgh’s two running inclines, the Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines. However, did you know that more than a dozen inclines once operated in Pittsburgh?

The first passenger incline, the Monongahela Incline, opened in 1870. The Mount Oliver Incline quickly followed in 1871. Six years later, in 1877, the Duquesne Incline began moving passengers between riverside and hilltop. By the end of the 1870s, Pittsburgh had three inclines operating south of the Monongahela River. Over the following decade, during the 1880s, at least 11 new inclines were built and operating on Pittsburgh’s hillsides.

I’m confident that the 15 inclines listed above once traversed Pittsburgh’s hillsides. I have not seen photographs of the Ridgewood or Troy Hill Inclines (please contact me if you have!) but images of the other 13 exist even if they are mostly rare.

No one is sure of the total number of inclines that once existed in Pittsburgh. There were probably more than the 15 listed above. Perhaps we’ll find new photographic evidence for more of these engineering marvels from the pre-automobile age!

Pittsburgh’s Inclines Movie Footage from about 1900

Prosperous Pittsburgh after the American Civil War had little room left for residences adjacent to its industries lining its rivers. Real estate developers had a great idea. Make Pittsburgh’s hilltops accessible using inclined railroads. Steam engines would pull a specialized car, using a cable, up one track while simultaneously letting an identical car be pulled down by gravity on another track. Between 1870, when the still existing Monongahela Incline was opened, and 1900 there was an incline building boom in Pittsburgh. No one is sure of the total number of inclines built. My new book “Pittsburgh’s Inclines” contains images of 12 Pittsburgh inclines. There were certainly more than 12 inclines in Pittsburgh but, so far, images of the others have been impossible to find.

To kick off my new blog and soon to be released book on Pittsburgh’s Inclines I want to share with you extraordinary video footage of some of our historic inclines from archives at the University of South Carolina. Jack added title cards so that you know which incline you’re riding or looking at. The title cards are mostly correct except for some typos mentioned below.

The Monongahela (passenger) Incline was not built in 1884 but was the first Pittsburgh incline built and was opened in 1870. (A view from the Monongahela Incline is shown at the beginning of the above clip.) The Monongahela Freight Incline was built next to the passenger incline in 1884 and was dismantled in 1935.

The Knoxville Incline was not the only incline with a curve in Pittsburgh. The Nunnery Hill Incline, shown in the image at top of this page (scanned in from an article from 1897), was opened in 1887 on the North Side before the Knoxville Incline was built in 1890. You can see the Mount Oliver Incline in the background in the clip showing the Knoxville Incline.