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Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (U.S.)

Allegheny County

Last modified: 2011-10-21 by rick wyatt
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[Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] image by Joe McMillan, 2 June 2000

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Description of the flag

Black-yellow-black vertical tricolor with arms on yellow stripe.

Pittsburgh is the second largest city in the state of Pennsylvania behind Philadelphia, and is located in the western half of the state where the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers meet to become the Ohio River.
Walter F. Kawalec III, 9 September 1998


"When Pittsburgh became a city in 1816, officials set out posthaste to obtain an official seal. This duty was handed to the city recorder, Charles Wilkes Jr., who passed it along to a few friends, most notably a theater personality named John R. Jones.

"Jones and contributors chose the coat of arms of the Chatham family (William Pitt, for whom Pittsburgh is named, was the First Earl of Chatham) as a basis for the seal. They removed, as inappropriate for the seal of an up-and-coming city, a stork perched atop an anchor and a stag and lion used as supporters on either side of the Chatham shield. The Chatham motto, "benigno numine," or "Divine Providence," was omitted until 1950, when a council vote added it to the large seals used on mayoral proclamations.

"A castle wall was placed above the shield, which had a blue and white checkerboard design and three gold coins, called "bezants," touting an ancestral Chatham's activity during the Crusades. As local history tells it, an engraver mistook "bezants" for "pheasants," and placed birds inside the gold circles on the city seal."

No mention of the castle having been based on Ft. Pitt, although I guess it's possible. My guess would be that an amateur heraldist would recall having seen mural crowns on the arms of other cities and assumed they were castles. But who knows?


Joe McMillan, 5 June 2000

Coat of Arms

Section 103.01 of the city Code of Ordinances blazons the arms (somewhat idiosyncratically) "on a field Sable, a fess chequay Argent et Azure, between three bezants bearing eagles rising with wings displayed and inverted Or. For crest, Sable a triple-towered castle masoned Argent." The city ensign should have the ring of stars all with a point facing away from the center.
Joe McMillan, 2 June 2000

The coat of arms is that of William Pitt, Earl of Catham and the city walls (not castle walls) are the traditional heraldic signification of a city. Since the city was named after him, the coat of arms is his topped by the city walls.
Matt Trepal, 27 January 1999

The Coat of Arms of the City of Pittsburgh - from a now-defunct website

The Ordinance from files of Pittsburgh City Council, December 1925
File of Council, City of Pittsburgh, Series 1925, File No. 1877, Bill No. 4361, Presented by Mr. Garland, December 14, 1925, In Committee on Finance, December 15, 1925, Affirmatively Recommended
An Ordinance - - Confirming and establishing the Arms of the City of Pittsburgh and providing permanent descriptive and graphic records thereof.
Whereas, A certain device, adapted from the family arms of William Pitt, First Lord Chatham, has long been and is now employed as the Official Arms of the City of Pittsburgh and as the distinctive feature of its Great Seal; and, Whereas, No ordinance or minute of Council establishing and describing the said device is extant, all records pertaining thereto having been destroyed with other of the municipal archives in the great fire of 1845; and, Whereas, The design of the said City Arms, as of custom employed, should be firmed, and the permanence and integrity thereof insured by proper record and description established in law;
   Section 1. Be it ordained and enacted by the City of Pittsburgh, in Council assembled, and it is hereby ordained and enacted by the authority of the same, That The Arms of the City of Pittsburgh have been, and are, properly rendered as follows, to-wit: On a field Sable, a fess chequey Argent et Azure, between three bezants bearing eagles rising with wings displayed and inverted Or. For crest, Sable a triple-towered castle masoned Argent.
   Section 2. That an accurate colored rendering of the device, done in permanent pigments upon parchment, together with a line drawing of the same in fast black ink upon stout white paper be prepared by a competent person under the direction of the municipal Art Commission, and that these drawings be placed under glass in a fire-proof container, and preserved in the archives of Council.
   Section 3. That hereafter all representations of the City Arms used upon official documents, publications, and stationery of the City, or as parts of architectural details or decorations in or on municipal structures, or wherever else employed as an official mark of the City shall conform strictly to the hereinbefore mentioned description and the aforesaid drawings.
   Section 4. That the sum of One Hundred Dollars, or such portion thereof as shall be necessary, be, and is hereby appropriated from Code Account 42-- Contingent Fund of the City of Pittsburgh for the purchase of the aforesaid drawings and the necessary provision for their proper preservation.
   Section 5. That any Ordinance or part of Ordinance conflicting with the provisions of this Ordinance, be and the same is hereby repealed, so far as the same affects this Ordinance.

Pittsburgh's Seal and Colors
from "Pittsburgh School Bulletin" May 1928
The colors of Pittsburgh are gold and black. The flag or ensign is divided vertically into three equal parts; the first and third are black, the middle pale gold. The gold section contains the city's arms -- a shield surmounted by a castellated wall and with three circles, each of which contains the figure of a bird. It is a variation of the arms of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. Pitt's town, or Pittsburgh, was incorporated as a borough in 1794 and as a city in 1816. July 5, 1816, common council resolved that the recorder be authorized to provide for a seal for the city. To George Harris, silversmith, engraver and sword-maker at Liberty and Smithfield streets, was entrusted the work of providing the seal. Nothing is said in the record concerning the design. In a letter relative to the seal, written by Judge Charles Shaler and dated "May, 1848," is the following: "Charles Williams, who was our first recorder, was appointed to designate a suitable design for the seal. In this he was aided by the taste and intelligence of the late Morgan Neville. After much discussion, in which everybody's taste was consulted, the armorial bearings of the Chatham family was made the basis of the device of our city seal, and the crest of the Chatham arms was dispensed with and the castellated wall adopted in its stead, so that the device in the seal, in heraldic language, would read, 'City of Pitt.' "On the Chatham arms are three circles representing besants, or coins of Byzantium or Constantinople and no doubt perpetuating the heroism of some member of the family through the Crusades. On the seal of Pittsburgh these circles enclose birds of some kind, the meaning being unknown. An ordinance approved March 15, 1899, established the official flag and colors for Pittsburgh. On the Chatham arms were black, gold (coins), silver and blue; the selection of black and gold for Pittsburgh is most appropriate.

The terminology of Heraldry: the blazon of the city seal Blazonry describes a coat of arms in the technical language of heraldry.
The blazoning of the City of Pittsburgh Arms of Community: On a field Sable, a fess chequay Argent et Azure, between three bezants bearing eagles rising with wings displayed and inverted Or. For crest, Sable a triple-towered castle masoned Argent. Field - The surface of a shield upon which the charges or bearings (objects which appear within the shield) are blazoned. Sable - The tincture Black. In engraving it is represented by perpendicular and horizontal lines crossed. Also Diamond and Saturn. Fess or fesse - One of the ordinaries, a strip or band placed horizontally across the shield, occupying one-third of the field. Chequay - A field divided into small squares, of different tinctures, resembling a chess board. Usually made up of seven squares in the top line, and in depth according to the length of the shield. Commonly small squares of metal and colour alternately. There should be at least twenty squares in the shield, in three rows. Argent - The tincture Silver or White. In engravings it is generally represented by the natural color of the paper. It represents purity, innocence, beauty or gentleness. Also Pearl and the Moon. Azure - The tincture Bright Blue or Sky Blue. Engravers represent azure in heraldry by horizontal lines. Also Sapphire and Jupiter. Bezant - A gold roundlet, representing a coin of that name. It is supposed to have been introduced into English heraldry by the Crusaders, who had received the gold coin while in the East at Byzantium and Constantinople. et - Latin word for "and. "Eagle - The king of birds. A symbol of courage and power. Rising - A bird represented as if in the act of taking flight; rising from the ground. Wings Displayed - Said of any bird of prey shown erect, with the wings expanded or spread. Inverted - In a contrary direction; turned the wrong way, as a pair of wings with the points downwards. Or - The metallic tincture gold or the color yellow. Engravers represent or as rows of dots. Also Topaz and the Sun. Crest - Originally the crest was the ornament of the helmet, or headpiece, and also afforded protection against a blow. The word "timbre" includes the crest, helmet, wreath, etc., in short everything which is above the shield. Triple-Towered Castle - The Castle is borne very frequently in the insignia of cities and towns. Masoned - Applied to a field or charge which is divided with lines resembling a wall or building of stones.

Erik Bell, 3 January 2008

Pittsburgh City Ensign

[Pittsburgh City Ensign] image by Joe McMillan, 2 June 2000

Pittsburgh has a flag so-designated, which is actually used as the river-going flag. I know I've seen it on various vessels on the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela when visiting Pittsburgh, such as police boats.
Joe McMillan, 4 June 2000

Pittsburgh City Pennant

[Pittsburgh City Pennant] image by Walter F. Kawalec III, 9 September 1998