ASME-Landmark:Monongahela Incline


As a practical conveyance during the horse-and-buggy era, the Monongahela Incline was one of seventeen built and operated in Pittsburgh in the 19th century. Of the seventeen, the Monongahela and the Duquesne (landmark #27) are the only two remaining operating units.

Pittsburgh's expanding industrial base in 1860 created a huge demand for labor and a subsequent housing shortage, as industry occupied most of the flat lands adjacent to the river, leaving only hills such as Mt. Washington, then called "Coal Hill," for housing. German immigrants, recalling their "seilbahns" or cable calls, proposed the construction of inclines along the face of Coal Hill. While the Mt. Washington Incline was known as a coal-carrying incline plane in 1854, the Monongahela Incline is probably the earliest passenger-carrying incline in the United States and has been in continuous successful service since its construction, so it is also the oldest continuously operating funicular in the United States.

Designed by John G. Endres, a Prussian engineer, and Sam Diescher, who went on to design the Duquesne Incline, the Monongahela opened May 28, 1870. It was steam powered to move two cars along a wooden plane on a 71 1/2 percent grade. Though the wooden plane was replaced with iron in 1882, followed by the addition of a parallel plane the next year. It travels on two parallel tracks, overcoming the need to pass a switch track at the midpoint like the single-track incline.

Inclines contributed greatly to the development of metropolitan areas in hilly terrain such as Pittsburgh, but were superseded by the automobile and improved roads in the early part of the twentieth century. See ASME website for more information