1. Travel

Pittsburgh - America's Most Misspelled City

How Pittsburgh Lost its "H" ... and Got it Back


Pittsburgh - America's Most Misspelled City
Pittsburgh is the most misspelled city in America, according to a recent study by ePodunk. The most common misspelling? You guessed it - Pittsburgh spelled without its 'h.'

Pittsburgh, named by General John Forbes in honor of Sir William Pitt, has officially ended in an 'h' since its founding in 1758 with the exception of the time period from 1890-1911. In 1890, President Benjamin Harrison established the t10-man U.S. Board on Geographic Names to help restore order to the naming of cities, towns, rivers, lakes, mountains and other places throughout the U.S. At the time, some states actually had as many as five different towns with the same name which, understandably, caused confusion.

One of the first codes established by the new Board to help restore order to U.S. place names was that the final 'h' should be dropped from the names of all cities and towns ending in 'burgh.' The proud citizens of Pittsburgh, considering their town an obvious historical exception to this ruling, refused to give in to the Board's ruling and mounted a campaign to keep the traditional spelling. Twenty years later, in 1911, the Board finally relented and restored the 'h' to Pittsburgh. To this day people remain confused.

The Undoing of Pittsburg(h)

The Official Decision of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to Standardize U.S. City Names: [blockquote shade="no"]The Board is agreed that in general the name which is in common local use at present should be adopted. This is a broad general principle, and summarizes the policy of the Board, with the exception of certain classes of cases mentioned below. It covers cases of changes or corruptions of names, except where such changes or corruptions are considered to be unworthy of perpetuation.

The difficulties encountered in carrying out this principle are found mainly in determining what is local usage, or the prevailing local usage where it is divided between different forms. Where the local usage is so divided, opportunity is afforded for the selection of the more appropriate and euphonious of the names in use.

The Board considers it desirable to depart from local usage in certain cases in order to effect reforms in nomenclature. Among these departures approved by the Board are the following:

(a) The avoidance, so far as seems practicable, of the possessive form of names.
(b) The dropping of the final "h" in the termination "burgh."
(c) The abbreviation of "borough" to "boro."
(d) The spelling of the word "center" as here given.
(e) The discontinuance of the use of hyphens in connecting parts of names.
(f) The omission wherever practicable of the letters "C.H." (Court House) after the names of county seats.
(g) The simplification of names consisting of more than one word by their combination into one word.
(h) The avoidance of the use of diacritic characters.
(i) The dropping of the words "city" and "town" as parts of names.

All of these changes are warranted by the direction of development. The possessive form of names is rapidly disappearing, except in rare cases where good reason exists for its retention. In most cases this is effected by dropping the apostrophe and the final "s." In certain cases, however, usage or euphony appears to require the retention of the final "s" when the apostrophe only is dropped.

Concerning the termination "burg" or "burgh," as Pittsburg, an extensive correspondence has developed the fact that in more than three-fourths of the places having this termination the final "h" is not in local use. The case of the termination "boro" or "borough," as Attleboro, is very similar. The present tendency is strongly toward the substitution of the abbreviated form. The Board therefore deems it desirable and advisable to induce uniformity in this matter in the manner indicated.

--An excerpt from the First Report of the United States Board on Geographic Names 1890-1891.

1911 - Pittsburgh Regains its Official Designation

[blockquote shade="no"]United States Geographic Board
Washington, D.C.
July 20, 1911
Hon. George T. Oliver, United States Senate


At a special meeting of the United States Geographic Board held on July 19, 1911, the previous decision with regard to the spelling of Pittsburg without a final H was reconsidered and the form given below was adopted:

Pittsburgh, a city in Pennsylvania (not Pittsburg).

Very respectfully,

C.S. Sloan,

--Letter to Pennsylvania Senator, George T. Oliver, reprinted in the Pittsburgh Gazette, July 22, 1911.

The Other Pittsburgs

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is not the only Pittsburg in the nation. There's even a tiny town in North Dakota that spells it with the "h"! Other Pittsburg(h)s in America include:
  • Pittsburg, California - Contra Costa County
  • Pittsburg, Colorado - Gunnison County
  • Pittsburg, Florida - Polk County
  • Pittsburg, Georgia - DeKalb County
  • Pittsburg, Illinois - Fayette County
  • Pittsburg, Illinois - Williamson County
  • Pittsburg, Indiana - Carroll County
  • Pittsburg, Iowa - Van Buren County
  • Pittsburg, Kansas - Crawford County
  • Pittsburg, Kentucky - Laurel County
  • Pittsburg, Michigan - Shiawassee County
  • Pittsburg, Missouri - Hickory County
  • Pittsburg, New Hampshire - Coos County
  • Pittsburg, Oklahoma - Pittsburg County
  • Pittsburg, Oregon - Columbia County
  • Pittsburg, South Carolina - Greenwood County
  • Pittsburg, Texas - Camp County
  • Pittsburg, Utah - Piute County
  • Pittsburgh, North Dakota - Pembina County

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.