Friday, October 27, 2006

Pittsburg, P.A.?

In the 1890s President Benjamin Harrison launched a campaign to standardize the spelling of U.S. place names. The problem was that federal agencies were using multiple variations of spellings for the same locations and this practice was a source of needless confusion. So on September 4, 1890 President Harrison issued an executive order creating a new agency, U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the job of which was to standardize the spellings of U.S. locales. At the time, no one probably expected that the work of the agency would become the source of controversy.

As part of the standardization process, however, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names decided to drop the final "h" in places ending with "burgh." As this NPR story reveals, this change didn't sit well with many citizens of the newly dubbed "Pittsburg, Pennsylvania" and thus began a twenty year campaign on the part of Pittsburgh citizens to get back the "h" in their name. At a special meeting in 1911, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names decided to give up the campaign to remove the "h" in Pittsburgh, and the secretary of the board sent a letter to Pennsylvania Senator George T. Oliver instructing him of the decision.

The fight over place names can be told with Government Documents (thus the connection!). For instance, the executive order that President Harrison issued on September 4, 1890 to create the U.S Board on Geographic Names can be read on the second page of this document. Also, to see an original copy of the U.S. Board's complete report on uniform place names, see the House of Representatives Report "Message from the President of the United States Transmitting The Report of the United States Board of Geographic Names," [52 Congress, 1st Session, Ex. Doc. No. 16], which was issued on December 23, 1891.