Mayor of Pittsburgh 1879-1881
Robert Liddell was the last of Pittsburgh’s mayors to hail from another country. Born in 1837 at Houghton-le-Spring, County Durham, England, Liddell immigrated to Pittsburgh when he was 19 years old. He found work as a manager for a fleet of coal barges and then, when he married Maria Spencer in 1861, his father in law put him to work at his company, Spencer McKay and Co, Brewers. Liddell showed an early interest in politics and by 1860 was the Democratic leader of Pittsburgh’s 2nd Ward. He was elected first to the Common Council and later to the Select Council of the city.
Liddell received the Democratic nomination for Mayor in 1877, at which time Pittsburgh was suffering a major financial crisis due largely to the Flinn-Magee political machine. The campaign was a heated one and two days before the election Liddell suffered a near fatal attack of peritonitis. Voter disillusion with the corrupt Republican party of William Flinn and Christopher Magee resulted in Liddell defeating Republican Miles S. Humphreys in a close race. Liddell astonished Pittsburgh both by beating the Republicans and by living to see the election results.
Liddell proved an effective mayor despite being a Democrat with an all Republican city council. During his term in office he oversaw annexation of the boroughs of Union, Temperanceville, Mount Washington, West Pittsburgh, Allentown, Monongahela, Birmingham, East Birmingham, St. Clair and Ormsby. These additions more than tripled the city’s population. Mayor Liddell was a popular enough figure that his endorsement ensured the election of his chosen successor, Major Robert W. Lyon, also a Democrat. By the time his party nominated Liddell for a second term in 1884, however, his influence had waned and he was roundly defeated by Republican Andrew Fulton. Liddell retired from politics, entering into the glass business as the owner of Gallatin Glass in Leetsdale. He later became a wholesale liquor distributor with a warehouse on 25th and Smallman street.
Throughout his life, Liddell was an avid sports fan and he lived in Pittsburgh when one of its main recreations was rowing. Liddell was a patron of Pittsburgh born oarsman Jimmy Hamill and former rowing champion of England, James Taylor. He was also an “early mainstay” of the Pittsburgh Baseball Club. He supported a number of churches of various denominations and was an active mason. At age 52, a two month battle with paralysis of the larynx had broken Liddell’s health and he died on the operating table during emergency surgery to clear his airways. Liddell was survived by his wife and their six children.