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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Manufacturing > Things We've Made (Pittsburgh/WQED DVD)

Things We’ve Made (Pittsburgh)


Picture: B-     Sound: B-     Extras: B-     Program: B



A more recent installment of the Pittsburgh History Series is Things We’ve Made (2003), which looks at the former steel city of Pittsburgh and the industries that still exist.  Besides steel, a very few plants left of which still operate, it looks at companies of the past, survivors and newcomers.


Pittsburgh was the home of the Westinghouse Corporation, now subsumed by Viacom/CBS, but one of its subdivisions survives.  A mom-and-pop operation offers miniature versions of the steam engine, Jensen Steam Engine, that is a real throwback and much sought after.  We see the long-running Heinz Food plants, which have been recently taken over by Del Monte, but still are in full swing with the same facilities, employees, and foods produced.  Heinz, unlike Westinghouse, is alive and kicking as one of the top food companies.  There is alcohol (from rye whiskey of the past to the Iron City beer brand and its affiliates today), kitchenware (All-Clad), and the latest TVs (Sony has a major plant in the area).  There is even the local Betsy Ann Chocolates.


Like the past specials, produced and narrated by Rick Sebak, this is a smart, fun, informative show that even non-Pittsburghers can get much out of.  One of the best is the tale of the Wolverine Toy Company, who made tin toys for decades unnoticed by many in the city, like so many toy companies before their output turned out to be a fortune in later generations.  In this case, Sebak visited both an archive of prototypes and a private collectors set which he actually could touch.  That is a highlight that made me realize a 150-minutes-long program could be done on that company alone.  Overall, this is very entertaining.


The 1.78 X 1 image is not bad, looking like it was shot either on very good analog or even High Definition video, but the lack of anamorphic enhancement makes it hard to tell.  This is clearer than the older definitely-analog productions and the clearest DVD of the five we have covered so far.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is clear and newly recorded, but surprisingly does not offer any Pro Logic-type surrounds.  It is still very clear considering it is Dolby compression.


Extras include several promos for this program, over a dozen trailers for other Sebak/PBS shows (split between the local Pittsburgh WQED channel and national network), and some extra segments from earlier shows that could have fit in to this one very easily.  Joy Cones (for ice cream), the ever-incredible Mancini’s Italian Bread (some of the best in the world, literally), Orum’s Donuts in nearby Butler County and other great finds are a welcome plus.  This should inspire some well-earned tourism.


Whether this becomes a multi-part series by WQED and/or a program that inspires equivalents nationwide, everyone can appreciate this show, because ultimately, all the great cities and towns of America have the same hidden goodies to offer.  Things We’ve Made is ultimately (intended or not) about the variety of innovate things that built the U.S. into the greatest country it needs to be more often.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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