"If you have family or friends of Polish descent
around the country or across the sea, we hope you
will share the Popular Pittsburgh website with them.
our website is a great way for them to learn about our
town and what makes Pittsburgh popular." - Tom
Witamy! Pittsburgh's Polish Power
Chopin, Pope John Paul II-these are just a few of the
myriad Polish notables who have left their marks on
history. Although these Polish luminaries resided in
Europe, when the Polish came to Pittsburgh, they did not
leave their remarkable culture behind. The list of
accomplishments by Americans of Polish ancestry is as
long as some of the consonant-crammed surnames they
Early Polish Settlers in Pittsburgh
The earliest Polish visitor to Western Pennsylvania
was Anthony Sadowski, a trader and explorer, who was
recorded as coming to the area in 1729. In 1758,
Christian Post, a Moravian missionary born in Poland,
worked among the Indians at Fort Duquesne. Pennsylvania
artist Robert Griffing immortalized this time in history
in his painting Post & King Beaver at Fort Duquesne.
The Polish population in Pennsylvania grew slowly;
according to the census of 1790, a mere 32 families of
Polish descent were living in Pennsylvania. However,
after the Polish Insurrections in the mid-1800s, more
Poles began to arrive in the area, and by 1852, there
were large numbers of Poles living on Pittsburgh's South
Side. That same year the first Polish Mass was held at
St. Michael's Church (a German church) in Pittsburgh.
By 1875 there were sufficient numbers of Poles in
Pittsburgh to support a parish, and St. Stanislaus Kostka opened in the Strip District, giving the Polish
faithful a spiritual home in their new land.
Throughout the later part of the 19th Century, the
number of Poles coming to the area seeking employment in
the surrounding mills and coal mines increased, so that
by 1903, it was estimated that in the City of Pittsburgh
alone there were 50,000 Poles living here. The census
of 1920 listed the city as having 588,343 residents,
some 200,000 of them Polish immigrants and
second-generation Poles. There were so many Poles in
Pittsburgh that from 1920 to 1976, the area had a Polish
newspaper called Pittsburczanin, The Polish Daily
Pittsburgh's Polish Hill
With so many Poles residing in the area, it's no
wonder the Polish have put such a stamp on Pittsburgh.
From food to football, the Polish have made their mark.
Pittsburgh even has a hill named for the culture-Polish
Hill, which had the largest concentration of Poles in
the area. Polish Hill is also home to the area's other
premier Polish church, Immaculate Heart of Mary. It is
a grand house of worship in the "Polish Cathedral"
style. Like their European counter parts the Polish
Catholics in Pittsburgh have produced some remarkable
clergy-Bishop David Zubick, and Adam Cardinal Maida, are
both of Polish descent and are from Pittsburgh.
The Polish Prince - Bobby Vinton
In addition to the royalty of the church, the Poles
have also produced another regal son-Bobby Vinton,
dubbed the Polish Prince. The crooner from Canonsburg
was called the "most successful love singer of the
Rock-Era" by Billboard Magazine for his string of hits
like "Roses Are Red," "Blue Velvet," and "Mr. Lonely."
However, nothing solidified his identity as the Polish
Prince than his unlikely hit "Melody of Love," which
featured a chorus with Polish lyrics. Vinton has a
street named for him in Canonsburg.
Polish Influence in Pittsburgh - from Music &
Celebrities to Cuisine
Polkas, Polish folk music, are still a favorite in
the area and even today, it's not uncommon to include
one at a wedding reception. And it wouldn't be a
Steelers Super Bowl party without the "Steelers Polka."
The Polish influence has also manifested itself in
sports in other ways besides the fight song. Steeler
Jack Ham, a Johnstown resident of Polish heritage and
one of the best linebackers Penn State and the Steelers
have ever seen, was known as "Dobre Shunka," Polish for
"good ham." Although not a native Pittsburgher, Eddie
Olczyk, the former Penguin player, coach, and
broadcaster has been one of the team's most noted Polish
player. When you are talking Polish sports stars, you
can't forget Donora's Stan Musial and the hero of the
1960 World Series, Bill Mazeroski.
Of all the aspects of Polish culture, Polish food is
probably the most beloved. Kielbasa, pierogies, haluski,
golabki-however you spell or pronounce them, these
Polish specialties are delicious. If you can't make
them like your Babcia (grandmother) did, then head to
the Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, The Polish Party House,
where they serve dishes just like your Polish grandma
used to make. If you can't find what you are looking
for there, head to S&D Polish Deli in the Strip
District, where you'll find an astonishing array of
What's Polish food without some sweets? Come Mardi
Gras look for paczki, Polish doughnuts, to appear in the
area's bakeries to indulge in before the start of Lent.
Also, you may want to try some kruczyki, fried Polish
cookies, that some, because of their appearance, call
angel wings. No matter what you call them, they taste
burn off all those calories, you may want to try your
hand at some Polish crafts. Cracow Creches or szopka
(pronounced shop-ka) are a Polish folk art. Beautiful,
ornate, miniature edifices are constructed from every
day items like shiny, foil paper. Pittsburgh is
fortunate that the foremost expert on the history and
construction of szopka lives in the area and regularly
offers classes that teach others how to create these
magnificent works of art. You can learn more about
David Motak at
For some more Polish culture, head to the Polish
Nationality Room at the Cathedral of Learning on the
campus of the University of Pittsburgh. The room was
inspired by Wawel Castle in Cracow and houses a
cornerstone from a cornice of Collegium Maius (1369).
If you are looking to socialize, there are numerous
Polish organizations in the area: There are several
Polish Falcons located in Pittsburgh as well as The
Polish Army Veterans Association, and the Young Men's
Polish American Association. Also, don't forget Polish
Day at Kennywood, when everyone heads to the amusement
park to have fun and celebrate their Polish heritage.
Witamy means welcome in Polish and is usually used in
the sense of "welcome to my home." Pittsburgh put out
the welcome mat for the Polish and the city has greatly
benefitted from all the Polish have contributed to and
brought with them to the area.
Article by Jan Palko
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