In 1895, thousands of fans watched in awe as the game of ice hockey made its public debut in Pittsburgh. Seasoned players visiting from Queen’s University in Ontario faced off against local athletes who, according to The Pittsburgh Press, “didn’t know just what to do with that little flat ‘puck’ used in hockey.” Despite the uneven odds, the exhibition was so popular that the Western Pennsylvania Hockey League (WPHL) was formed with four competing teams, including the Pittsburgh Athletic Club (PAC).
The league’s inaugural season began in 1896. Teams played at the Schenley Park Casino, a state-of-the-art arena with the first indoor artificial ice rink in North America. Tragically, the Casino burned down in December of that year, destroying the PAC’s equipment and dissolving the league before its championship game. A second season commenced in 1899, after the construction of a new facility known as Duquesne Garden. There, the PAC earned their first championship title, beating the team from Western University (known today as the University of Pittsburgh).
By 1901, the PAC had claimed three championship victories in a row, and fans were enamored with hockey – team manager Charles S. Miller wrote of the “wonderful popularity which [had] been attained in Pittsburgh by this fast, rough and scientific game.” The team also began recruiting Canadian talent, including future Stanley Cup winner and Hockey Hall-of-Famer Alf Smith. They played until 1904, when the WPHL consolidated into one team to join the International Professional Hockey League, the first all-pro league in the world.
Though their story was short, the Pittsburgh Athletic Club – along with the rest of the WPHL – left a lasting legacy, sparking the city’s love for hockey and helping pave the way for professional playing in the United States.