The 'h' in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA is one of the most commonly misspelled city names in the United States. What's that 'h' at the end all about anyway?

Though pronounced the same, burgh (or bourgh) was the Scottish spelling of the word borough. It just so happened that Pittsburgh was named by General John Forbes, a Scotsman, who originally intended the city name be pronounced as "Pitts-boro". Unfortunately for General Forbes, the man he was honoring, Sir William Pitt, was an Englishman who pronounced the name as it used today.

Pittsburgh has officially been spelled with an 'h' since its founding in 1758 - except of course for the time period between 1890 and 1911. The 'h' was removed as a result of the decision of the US Board on Geographic Names in 1890. The board was created to solve numerous naming problems occurring in many states. Problems included states that would have as many as a half a dozen cities or towns with the same name, and other cities with very similar names. One of the numerous decisions was that all cities who's named ended with "burgh" would be changed to end in "burg" instead. A similar change effected cities whose names ended "borough" (shortened to "boro").

Being the stubborn town that it is, Pittsburgh (aka Pittsburg) continued to use the 'h' in all its municipal documents, though the 'h' would sometimes be missing from local directories and newspapers. After more than 20 years of trying, the city finally received a reversal of the decision made by the Board on Geographic Names, and the historical name returned.

Interestingly enough, the official charter incorporating Pittsburgh as a city in March of 1816 did include the 'h', however a printing error in a copy of the charter did not include the last letter of the name. The original was destroyed in a courthouse fire in 1882, so the only copy of the city's charter actually contains a misspelling.

Interesting Fact: There is one other place in the US with the name Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh, North Dakota, in Pembina County.


  • Heinz History Center (personal visits and online -