A 100 Year History

This article was taken from the Spring 1990 issue of Children's Hospital's COLORS magazine.

Pittsburgh in 1890. Industry. Steel. Coal. Factories. Laborers. Pollution. Entrepreneurs. Viewed by historian H.L. Mencken as “hell with the lid off.”

Pittsburgh in 1990. Revitalized. Renaissance. Information. Service. Software institutes. Technology engineers. Glistening skylines. Entrepreneurs. Ranked by Rand McNally’s Places Rated Almanac as “America’s most livable city.”

Pittsburgh has been home to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh for 100 years. The complexion of the city dynamically changes. But through it all, Pittsburgh has supported its hospital for children, and Children’s Hospital has cared for the future of Pittsburgh.

Do you have photos or other memorabilia from Children's Hospital's past? Please email us at feedback@chp.edu.


1880s Original Children's Hospital BuildingThe future begins with the past, in the form of a young entrepreneur, Kirk LeMoyne. Master LeMoyne, son of local pediatrician Frank LeMoyne, had an idea. He and his friends decided to raise the necessary $3,000 to endow a single cot at The Western Pennsylvania Hospital. The cot would be used exclusively for babies and children. And in 1887 the Cot Club began its fundraising mission.

But once the cot was endowed, several hundred dollars remained. So Dr. LeMoyne advised young Kirk to place the funds in a savings account so that one day the Cot Club could provide an entire hospital dedicated to the well-being of babies and children. Dr. LeMoyne believed that children could be better cared for in a hospital devoted to their care than in the wards of wing of a general hospital. And Kirk agreed.

Word traveled about the Cot Club’s savings plan. And those who could, contributed. Those who couldn’t, admired. And the fund grew.

Then in 1887 Miss Jane Holmes, a local philanthropist and church worker, bequeathed $40,000 for a hospital exclusively for children. There was one stipulation: the hospital must be built within one year.

Although the challenge was nearly impossible, on September 27, 1889, the combined gifts of the Cot Club and Miss Holmes were used to purchase four acres of property. Bounded by Forbes Avenue, McDevitt Place, and Ophelia Street, the site was to be developed for the first home of the Pittsburgh Hospital for Children.

The 15-bed hospital opened its doors on June 5, 1890. Its mission, as set by the board and staff, was “to try and meet the needs of the community in present day pediatrics and prevention.” The diseases of the day — cholera, infantum, constipation, dyspepsia, scrofula, and indigestion. And the hospital’s pledge to the community began with the first patient. “The doors of Children’s Hospital have been opened to all children in need of medical and surgical care regardless of race, creed or the ability of their parents to pay the cost.”


By the turn of the century Children’s Hospital was well-received and well-utilized. Wards were filled to capacity. The early 1900s saw the additions of electric lights, fans, and open air tents. And in 1907 the hospital’s nursing school opened to train women to care for young of the community. To keep up with the times, in 1909 the hospital’s name was officially changed to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

From conception Children’s Hospital was generously supported by the community it serves. In 1911 Tag Day was started and became a fund-raising tradition that lasted until 1975. Society page headliners took to the streets one spring day each year to collect money for the hospital. Throughout the area contributors could clearly be seen by the bright yellow tag they wore.

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Christmas 1902

Christmas, 1902

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Fresh Air Pavilion 1912

Fresh Air Pavillion, 1912

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh Nursing Students 1900's

Nursing Students, Date Unknown


By the 1920s the original hospital structure had grown to include six buildings that housed medical and surgical wards, an x-ray area, operating rooms, a dispensary, the nursing school, and a detention ward for contagious diseases. The capacity of the hospital had grown to 100 beds.

Suddenly, in the early morning hours of May 31, 1923, a barking dog ran from room to room alerting all to the blazing fire that had encaptured the hospital. Notes from the hospital’s history provide the detail:

“This fire … was proof of the hospital’s efficiency. At this time the children learned, if they did not already realize, the friendship and generosity of the community. Although the fire destroyed the Administration Building, including offices and officers’ rooms, wards, the pantries, dining rooms and the kitchen, the hospital did not stop its real work for half a day. Not one child’s life was lost due to the realization of the cooperation of the nurses and doctors. It was owing to the generosity of the hospitals all over the city, and to the taxi cabs that carried these children to the welcoming wards of other hospitals where there own nurses cared for them until one week later when the building had been repaired to such an extent that the little patients could be gathered in their own hospital again.”

Plans were immediately undertaken to secure property for a new home for the hospital. The H.K. Porter property on DeSoto Street was selected as the new site. A public fund-raising campaign was held in 1924, and $1.6 million was raised toward the $1,850,000 cost of the new hospital.

The following is recorded in the annual report from that year: “Its work has prospered beyond even beyond the dreams of its founders. It is the peer of any children’s hospital in America, strictly carrying out its avowed object to limit and prevent sickness and mortality among children, to provide them with medical and surgical aid, and to aid in the training of physicians and nurses in the care of sick children and babies. To do this every means known to modern medical and surgical science has been called into being.”

History of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC 1926 time capsuleThe cornerstone of the new building including a time capsule was laid on October 18, 1925, and the move into the new structure took place on November 1, 1926. With the new beginning, Children’s became the first member of the Medical Center on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. The hospital became the center for pediatric and orthopaedic training at Pitt. Its wards and clinics became the pediatric training ground for medical students, interns, resident physicians, and student nurses from affiliated schools of nursing. Board minutes explain that “election to the staff automatically elects members to the teaching faculty of the Medical School and these men rank as Professors, Associate Professors, Assistants and Demonstrators.”

Throughout the depression Children’s, like all of Pittsburgh, struggled. The years were exceedingly difficult, and a Hospital Maintenance Fund was established to raise money for operating expenses. Through it all, the hospital managed to admit and care for all patients who required hospitalization.

After the Children's Hospital fire, 1923

After the Children's Hospital fire, 1923

Architectural drawing, 1924

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 1926

Moving Day, November 1st, 1926

Private room, 1926

Private ward, 1926

Children's Hospital lobby, 1928

1930s and 1940s

The year 1933 saw the undertaking of an activity that would grow to become a Pittsburgh tradition. A child with a communicable disease was hospitalized at Children’s. The young boy was a patient for only three days, but his father was tremendously impressed by the work of the hospital. An editor for The Pittsburgh Press, the man went to his employer with an idea. And that year the Press printed a souvenir edition, and area business leaders walked throughout the region selling the special newspaper. Proceeds from the sale were donated to Children’s Hospital. And the Pittsburgh Press Old Newsboys were born. They were later joined by KDKA-Radio and TV to conduct one of the area’s larger annual fund-raising campaigns. Proceeds have always assured every child from the Pittsburgh area would have access to health care at Children’s.

As the Medical Center of the University of Pittsburgh grew, so too did Children’s relationship with it. In 1942 the hospital disbanded its nursing school to become part of the pediatric teaching unit of Pitt’s School of Nursing.

World War II found Children’s lacking facilities, material, and labor, largely due to the war. Numerous staff members and employees left to serve in the armed forces, so many area residents volunteered their services to the hospital. The most pressing personnel problem locally was shared by other hospitals throughout the nation – the supply of nurses.

Notes from an annual report: “With hospital occupancy at a record high in recent years, student enrollment in nursing schools has been declining. The gap between demand and supply has already reached dangerous proportions. Indeed, there have been occasions where some hospitals have had to close entire floors because of the lack of nurses. The Children’s Hospital has done better than most in providing adequate nursing. But the future is not promising unless much is done and done soon and on a national scale to make nursing more attractive to young women who are qualified for the training required to meet its exacting obligations. Higher salaries and better living conditions, among other things, are essential ingredients of any recruitment program which is to have a chance to succeed.”

By the late 1940s Children’s took on a new role as “hub hospital.” The hospital was now serving children from throughout the tri-state area of western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and West Virginia.

Historical records show that “children were being sent from area hospitals and area physicians because Children’s Hospital had become a specialized medical center, able to render service in obscure diagnoses and difficult surgery for patients.”


View from parking lot, 1930s

View from the parking lot, 1930's

Pharmacy, 1930s

Pharmacy, 1930's

Senior medical student taking patient history, 1930s

Senior medical student taking patient history, 1930's

Drawing insulin, 1940's

Mother and child on private floor, 1940's

Child in an iron lung, 1942


As the demands upon the hospital grew, its space diminished. So, in 1950, a four-story wing was added to the structure. It was in these halls that a development took place that changed the course of medical history.

While physicians wrestled with the scourge of poliomyelitis, iron lungs were at a premium and serum after serum was heralded as the possible breakthrough. The Bulletin Index of September 16, 1937, captures the tone of Pittsburgh — and the nation — at the time. “Many communities were gravely troubled, postponed the opening of schools, forbade children to attend theatres, parks, go swimming. Chief cause for concern was the incidence of ‘polio’ victims whose chests were paralyzed. Unable to breathe, many were strangling to death over the U.S. because there were not enough mechanical respirators to go around.”

But it was a young investigator testing his ideas in the hallways of Children’s who actually freed children and their families from their paralyzing fear. In 1955 Jonas Salk developed the vaccine that would put an end to the ravages of polio.

While testing the results of research, other activity in the hospital included work in the relatively new specialty of pediatric surgery. And with a $6 million physical expansion in 1957 Children’s now provided 253 beds.

Dr. Vincent Albo and patient, 1950's

Dr. Vincent Albo and patient, 1950's

Doctors viewing x-rays, 1950's

Doctors viewing x-rays, 1950's

Formula bottle capping, Esther Bubley, 1951

Formula bottle capping, Esther Bubley, 1951

Blood transfusion, Esther Bubley, 1951

Blood transfusion, Esther Bubley, 1951

Aerial view of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 1959

Aerial view of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, 1959

1960s and 1970s

The 60s began with Camelot in the White House and ended with social unrest. But the decade was one of calm for Children’s. The number of employees increased, the average length of stay decreased and the walls seemed to be bursting once again.

To meet the ever-growing demands for space, a new construction project, DeSoto Street South, was begun early in the 1970s. The hospital year book from 1972 recalls “lowering the length of patient stay in the hospital coupled with the demand for additional space to accommodate the more intensive nature of today’s treatment with its specialized equipment has reduced the required bed space to 235.”

It was during this era that the growing outpatient department was renamed the Ambulatory Care Center. And a new face arrived on the scene. Mean, green Mr. Yuk was introduced by the Pittsburgh Poison Center at Children’s Hospital as the poison warning symbol. Yuk has gone on to become an internationally recognized face.

Mrs. H. Sherman, Snack Shop Volunteer, 1960

Mrs. H. Sherman, Snack Shop Volunteer, 1960

Trustee visiting patient, 1965

Trustee visiting patient, 1965

Surgery, 1970's

Surgery, 1970's

Waiting room, 1970's

Waiting room, 1970's

Boy and puppy, Zoo Day, 1972

Boy and puppy, Zoo Day, 1972


In 1981, Thomas E. Starzl, MD, PhD, was recruited to head the Transplant Surgery Department at Pitt’s School of Medicine. Pittsburgh soon became the world’s leader in transplant surgery, and Children’s Hospital quickly grew into the world’s largest pediatric transplant center.

Spirits were sky high in January of 1986 when the Main Tower became the home for Children’s 210 patient beds. Gone were the wards with several patients sharing space. The state-of-the-art now was private and semi-private rooms with private baths and bed chairs for parents. From the two-level underground parking garage to the helipad atop the tower, every aspect of Children’s new $92 million home was welcomed.

The latter part of 1986 held excitement for the hospital again when the Benedum Pediatric Trauma Program was granted accreditation by the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation. Children’s was one of only three accredited pediatric trauma programs in the state and the sole program serving the children in the western half of the commonwealth.

Children’s Hospital headed north in 1988 with the opening of an outpatient satellite in Wexford, Pa. Children’s North extends services and conveniences into the rapidly growing northern suburbs and provides a more direct link to hospital specialty services for community physicians.

The link between Children’s Hospital and the government strengthened in 1988. The federal government awarded a $15 million appropriation to Children’s for the establishment of a pediatric research center. The hospital used the funding to purchase and renovate the Shanahan Storage Building. In June of 1990 that building was unveiled as the John G. Rangos Sr. Research Center, home to many pediatric research developments.

The past serves as the foundation upon which the future is built. And in recognition, Children’s launched its celebration of the StarBright Centennial in October 1989. The celebration, which concluded in mid-1991, re-emphasized the hospital’s mission of patient care, research, and education.


What was recorded by the hospital president in 1948 still burns brightly as the hospital’s guiding star for the future:

“The Children’s Hospital exists to treat the sick and injured, to help in the medical and surgical training of students to the end that there will always be an ample supply of soundly-trained doctors, surgeons, and nurses, and to help by research to push forward the frontiers of medical, surgical, and nursing knowledge and skills. ...Our objective is, of course, to perform better and better as the years pass. Complacency cannot be afforded.”

Pittsburgh in 1990: Revitalized. Renaissance. Information. Service. Software institutes. Technology engineers. Glistening skylines. Entrepreneurs.

“America’s most livable city.”