Essays » Philadelphia and the Nation
The Convention and Visitors Bureau touts Philadelphia as “a city of firsts.” The Independence Hall Association lists five pages of “Philadelphia Firsts” on its website. A walking tour of the city links “Philadelphia Firsts” to its home page. George Morgan may have been the first to title a book on Philadelphia The City of Firsts, in 1926, but even that far back he acknowledged the research of others who had been tracking those firsts for “many years past.” Although Philadelphia lost its rank as first city in the nineteenth century, it claimed for itself the title of city of firsts.
From the days of William Penn to the civil rights movements of the twentieth century, Philadelphians have taken pride in their city as a "Cradle of Liberty" -- while also acknowledging the cracks in the cradle.
Few regions in the United States can claim an abolitionist heritage as rich as Philadelphia. By the time Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison launched The Liberator in 1831, Philadelphia's confrontation with human bondage was nearly 150 years old.
Doctors in Philadelphia diagnosed the first local case of what would later become known as AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) in September 1981, just months after the Centers for Disease Control first reported mysterious outbreaks in New York and Los Angeles that marked the beginning of the recognized AIDS epidemic in the United States.
The American Civil Liberties Union, a national legal organization dedicated to the defense and preservation of civil liberties in the United States, has been organized in the Philadelphia region since 1951, when chapters formed in Pennsylvania and New Jersey as part of a move toward establishing branches throughout the nation. Both chapters played a role in the civil liberties history of the region.
Greater Philadelphia’s banking roots go deeper than those of any region in the country. By the late twentieth century, however, historic regulatory changes led to acquisitions by out-of-town giants and changed the face of the banking industry both locally and nationally.
Modeled after the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition in London, and the first in a long line of major world’s fairs in the United States, the Centennial Exhibition in 1876 exhibited national pride and belief in the importance of education and progress through industrial innovation.
Philadelphia’s Civil War sanitary fairs represented the spirit of patriotic volunteerism that pervaded the city during the Civil War. These grassroots efforts, climaxed by the Great Central Fair of 1864 in Logan Square, provided a creative and communal means for ordinary citizens to promote the welfare of Union soldiers and dedicate themselves to the survival of the nation.
As a cause for commemoration, the signing of the U.S. Constitution historically has struggled to compete with the Declaration of Independence for national recognition and ardor. In Philadelphia, the site of the Constitutional Convention, commemoration of the document’s major anniversaries has reflected how regard for the Constitution and its connections to the city have evolved over time.
The First and Second Continental Congresses, held in Philadelphia in 1774 and 1775-81, engaged in the complex politics surrounding independence and heightened the city’s role in a world-changing moment in history.
Convening in the East Room of the Pennsylvania State House from May 1775 to July 1776, sixty-five delegates of the Second Continental Congress worked through deep political divisions to create the Declaration of Independence, which gave birth to a new nation and cemented Philadelphia’s reputation as a Cradle of Liberty.
As department stores became central to retailing in American cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Philadelphia played a major role. Led by John Wanamaker, whose store was a national model, the giant "Big Six" stores on Market Street helped create a new consumer culture.