Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Exploring Western Pennsylvania History and the Special Toys Exhibit at Heinz History Center {Pittsburgh}


During our first visit to the Heinz History Center a few years ago, we were immediately amazed by the wealth of engaging exhibits. We spent close to three hours going through each gallery gathering a store of knowledge about the history of Western Pennsylvania. We were just as captivated on our recent visit, soaking in familiar exhibits as well as appreciating the special Toys exhibit and exploring the Heinz exhibit that was being remodeled during our earlier excursion.


Climbable trolley car at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh
All aboard the trolley!
The lower level of the museum has a variety of vehicles to explore including a trolley. You can actually climb on the trolley which is great fun! Also on the first level is a replica of the Rodman cannon. Rodman cannons where manufactured at the Fort Pitt Foundry not too far from where the history center is today and marked a development in cannons less likely to blow up when fired. A jeep, a steel car, a Heinz wagon and more vehicles definitely capture the interest of kids and adults alike!

Building blocks in the Toy Exhibit at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh
Take a walk down memory lane in the Toy exhibit!
The museum holds special exhibits in a wing on the first floor. Through May 31, 2016, the special Toys exhibit provides a magical walk down memory lane displaying toys from the '50s,'60s and '70s. Quite an astounding collection of toys and even if you did not have them yourself, most likely you remember your parents discussing them. Coupled with displays are areas where kids can play with nostalgic toys. I really give the Heinz History Center kudos on this aspect--how cruel would it be to just see the toys and not be able to touch any of them? Several play sections including an old school arcade delight all!

Nostalgic arcade games at the Heinz History Center
A little pinball fun!
In a sizable gallery, guests walk through the history of innovation in Pittsburgh recreated with scenes and artifacts. This gallery has a lot to look at and is the one that took us the longest time to go through. But, it is well worth the journey! See Pittsburgh's contributions to the 1893 World's Fair, visit a replica of the Fort Pitt Foundry used during the Civil War, learn about the area's invention of the jeep and its contribution in WWII, marvel at Elektro--the first voice animated robot--and explore the world of medicine through discoveries by Jonas Salk and George Magovern.

Fort Pitt Foundry Replica at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh
Peek inside the Fort Pitt Foundry.
What visit to Pittsburgh would be complete without learning about Heinz Ketchup? The Heinz Exhibition unfolds 145 years of Heinz history. Founder H.J. Heinz was very particular about his products and took measures to ensure quality and uniformity. One of our favorite artifacts in the exhibit is a set of measuring pickles that salesmen used to help patrons purchase the correct size of pickles. Pretty cool! Other highlights including seeing previous products sold by Heinz as well as products and packaging from other countries.

Heinz Pickle Sizer at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh
Really cool pickle sizer!
One of my favorite exhibits happens to be on the French and Indian War. Often, the French and Indian War can be a neglected point in history. However, the war impacted the Pittsburgh area and remains an integral part of Pittsburgh history. I loved the chance to not only explore the conflict myself but also present it to my daughter. I must admit, my favorite part of the exhibit is that the signs are both in English and French. So, I do use a visit to work a bit on my French. Really, though, I do recommend visiting this particular exhibit.

French and Indian War Exhibit Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh
The French and Indian War 
In the Special Collections Gallery, guests can visit with Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.  Fred Rogers was born in nearby Latrobe, Pennsylvania and lived much of his life in Pittsburgh. Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood was filmed in a public television studio in Pittsburgh. The museum displays sets from the show as well as a few of the puppets. What a beautiful day in the neighborhood!

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood set pieces at Heinz History Center
The castle from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.
Also part of the museum is the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. I love the way the sports museum uses hands-on experiences, memorabilia and multimedia elements to capture the exhilaration of sports. Walking on to the field, putting on the green and more experiences captivate. Curiosity is stoked with exhibits like one on the inside of a golf ball and how it has changed over the years. A huge range of sports is represented, so everyone will find something of interest.

On the field at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.
On the field at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum.

The inside of an old golf ball at the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum
What is inside a golf ball?
Wow! What a visit! So much history lives in the Heinz History Center that I have barely scratched the surface. The Heinz History Center beckons for visit after visit to appreciate all of the treasures held inside as well as appreciate the well put together traveling exhibits.

To know:
  • The Heinz History is across the street from a Hampton Inn. We have stayed there twice and enjoyed the ability to get up, ready to go and to one of our favorite attractions quickly.
  • The snack shop has a great selection of nibbles at what we felt were reasonable prices for a museum.
  • The gift shop has some local art items.
  • The museum is the Strip District, so you have convenient access to many restaurants.
  • There are several play areas in the museum that are Pittsburgh-themed. So, kids still get to learn a bit about Pittsburgh while engaging hands-on curiosity. 
Thank you to Visit Pittsburgh for facilitating this review! Complimentary admission was received. No other compensation was received. All opinions are 100% my own.
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