Not long after the War of 1812, when trade between Britain and the United States
resumed, pottery factories in Staffordshire, England, began to design lines of
tableware especially for the American market. The pieces were decorated with
American imagery: historical scenes, portraits of heroes like Washington and
Lafayette, and picturesque views of notable places. On this Staffordshire
platter, produced in the 1830s, the steamboat The Pennsylvanian dominates a
view of Pittsburgh.
Images of Pittsburgh have always been inseparable from images of its industry.
Pittsburgh has been known as “Iron City” and “Steel City,” but its first
industry was transportation. Situated at the head of the Ohio River, it was the
gateway to the West in the early nineteenth century, when the Ohio and the
Mississippi were the West’s main highways. The first steamboat on the Ohio was
built in Pittsburgh in 1811, when the town had a population of some 1,500, many
of whom were traders and migrants just passing through. By the time of the
Civil War, Pittsburgh was a manufacturing center with a population of 50,000.
Credit: Staffordshire platter, c. 1830, Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, transfer from the South Carolina State Museum.