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The Monongahela River ( , also known locally as the Mon ) is a river on the Allegheny Plateau in North-Central West Virginiamarker and southwestern Pennsylvania in the United Statesmarker. At Pittsburghmarker, it meets the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River.


The word "Monongalia" is a Latinized version of the Native American word "Monongahela," which means "falling banks," in reference to the geological instability of the river's banks. Moravian missionary David Zeisberger gave this account of the naming: In the Indian tongue the name of this river was Mechmenawungihilla, which signifies a high bank, which is ever washed out and therefore collapses.

Monongalia County, West Virginiamarker and Monongahela, Pennsylvaniamarker are named after the river.


The Monongahela is formed by the confluence of the West Fork River and the Tygart Valley River at Fairmont, West Virginiamarker. The river is navigable its entire length with a series of locks and dams that maintain a minimum depth of to accommodate coal-laden barges. In Pennsylvania, the Monongahela is met by two major tributaries: the Cheat River, which joins at Point Marionmarker, and the Youghiogheny River, which joins at McKeesportmarker.


The Monongahela Valley was the site of a famous, if small battle that was one of the first in the French and Indian War (Braddock Expedition). It resulted in a sharp defeat for British and Colonial forces against those of the Frenchmarker and their Native American allies.

The Monongahela Valley was the site of the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

In 1817, the Pennsylvania legislature authorized the Monongahela Navigation Company to build 16 dams with bypass locks to create a river transportation system between Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Originally planned to run as far south as the Cheat River, the system was extended to Fairmont, and bituminous coal from West Virginia was the chief product transported downstream. After a canal tunnel through Grant's Hill in Pittsburgh was completed in 1832, boats could travel between the Monongahela River and the Western Division Canal of Pennsylvania's principal east-west canal and railroad system, the Main Line of Public Worksmarker. In 1897, the Federal government took possession of the Monongahela Navigation through condemnation proceedings. Later, the dam-lock combinations were increased in size and reduced in number. In 2006, the navigation system, operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, had nine dam-locks along of waterway. The locks overcame a change in elevation of about .

Briefly linked to the Monongahela Navigation was the Youghiogheny Navigation, a slack water system of between McKeesport and West Newton. It had two dam-locks overcoming a change in elevation of about . Opening in 1850, it was destroyed by a flood in 1865.

During the 19th century, the Monongahela was heavily used by industry, and several U.S. Steel plants, including the Homesteadmarker Works, site of the Homestead Strike of 1892, were built along its banks. Following the killing of several workers in the course of the strike, anarchist Emma Goldman wrote: "Words had lost their meaning in the face of the innocent blood spilled on the banks of the Monongahela."

Two ships in the United States Navy have been named Monongahela for the river.

The river was the site of a famous airplane crash that has become the subject of numerous urban legends and conspiracy theories. Early in the morning of January 31, 1956, a B-25 bomber en route from Nellis Air Force Basemarker in Nevadamarker to Olmsted Air Force Basemarker in Pennsylvania crashed into the river near the Glenwood Bridgemarker in Homestead, Pennsylvaniamarker. All six crewmen survived the crash but two later succumbed to exposure and drowned. Despite the relative shallowness of the water, the aircraft was never recovered. [29349]

Monongahela River in popular culture

  • "Monongahela" is uttered in the television show Seinfeld as one of Kramer's famous random expressions. The episode is the 23rd of the 6th season, "The Face Painter". The reference occurs around the 4th-5th minute of the show.

  • It is also credited (incorrectly) by Michael Douglas in the film "Wonder Boys" for washing away his unsaved book manuscript after Robert Downey Jr. crashes his car into a bowling alley. (This scene actually took place NW of the Monongahela River along the Ohio River in Rochester, PA).

  • Montana Diaz Herrera/Sally Lerner (Ayda Field) of the television show Back To You has trouble pronouncing the name "Monongahela" when she has to mention it in her weather forecast.

  • The Monongahela River was immortalized in the spoken introduction to actor/comedian Guy Marks' parody hit "Loving You Has Made Me Bananas" (1968).

  • The Monongahela is mentioned in the choruses of The Oak Ridge Boys' song "Gonna Take A Lot of River" along with the Mississippi and the Ohio.

  • The Monongahela River was mentioned a number of times in the AMC series Remember WENN which was set in Pittsburghmarker. Particularly in season 3, episode 14 "And How" when the world premier of the fictional film Drums Along the Monongahela is taking place in Pittsburgh.[29350]

Cities and towns along the river


Variant names

According to the Geographic Names Information System, the Monongahela River has also been known historically as:
  • Malangueulé
  • Manaungahela River
  • Me-nan-gi-hil-li
  • Meh-non-au-au-ge-hel-al
  • Mehmannaunringgehlau
  • Mehmannauwinggehla
  • Mo-hon-ga-ly River
  • Mo-hon-galy River
  • Mo-hon-gey-e-la River
  • Mo-hong-gey-e-la River
  • Mohungahala River
  • Mohunghala River
  • Monaung River
  • Monaungahela River
  • Monna River
  • Monnyahela River
  • Monona River
  • Mononga River
  • Monongahalia River
  • Monongahaly River
  • Monongaheley River
  • Monongahelia River
  • Monongalia River
  • Monongalo River
  • Mononguhela River
  • Mononyahela River
  • Muddy River

Photo gallery

Image:Monongahela River Pittsburgh.jpg|The South Tenth Street Bridgemarker over the Monongahela River in Pittsburghmarker in 2005Image:Monongahela River Fairmont.jpg|The Monongahela River in Fairmont, West Virginiamarker in 2006Image:Monongahela River Scene Pittsburgh PA 1857.jpg|Monongahela River Scene, 1857Image:Opekiska Lock and Dam Monongahela.jpg|Opekiska Lock and Dammarker on the Monongahela River near Fairmont, West Virginiamarker at river mile 115

See also



  1. Zeisberger, David: David Zeisberger's History of the Northern American Indians in 18th Century Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania, page 43. Wennawoods Publishing, 1999, ISBN 1-889037-17-6
  2. John Gilmary Shea. Relations diverses sur la bataille du Malangueulé : gagné le 9 juillet, 1755, par les François sous M. de Beaujeu, commandant du fort du Quesne sur les Anglois sous M. Braddock, général en chef des troupes angloises. Nouvelle York : De la Presse Cramoisy, 1860. .
  3. Ballou's Pictorial, issue of 21 Feb 1857

Other sources

Core, Earl L. (1984), "The Monongalia River", In: Bartlett, Richard A. (ed), Rolling Rivers: An Encyclopedia of America's Rivers, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., pp 149-152.

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