Workshop of the World
How will they know? How will future generations of Philadelphians have any inkling that their city once thrived as a premier manufacturing center, the fine products issuing from its shops, mills, and plants prized by customers around the nation and the world?
There are few traces left of this history—abandoned factory buildings here and there—and the acres and acres of empty lots that form the landscape of decaying neighborhoods that once brimmed with industrial sites and jobs give no clues. The curious onlooker might ask: What was here? What happened? Delving into the past is to find that the decline of Philadelphia manufacture is directly related to its rise, flip sides in effect of the same coin: of the strengths and weaknesses of a particular kind of industrial system that graced the city, one that rested by and large on the production of quality goods.Read More
A rich agricultural hinterland, an enterprising merchant community, and ready markets for the products processed and crafted in the city transformed Philadelphia into a major commercial entrepôt within a half century of its founding by William Penn in 1681. By the time that delegates convened in Philadelphia in 1776 to write the Declaration of Independence, the city had become second only to London in both the volume and value of the goods that entered and left its port. Philadelphia’s commercial fortunes plummeted, however, in the early nineteenth century as the city lost trade to its chief rival, New York. Rather than enter a long-term period of economic stagnation, Philadelphia fortunately embarked on a new direction that would mark its history for the next 150 years: prospering as a major manufacturing center.
Chronicling Philadelphia’s rise to industrial supremacy is difficult since no single invention, businessperson, event, or circumstance can be designated as a prime mover. Thousands of initiatives occurred as a steady mushrooming of varied enterprise. The individual efforts do add up to a whole, and at least four features characterized Philadelphia’s industrial structure in its heyday.
Diversity, Specialization, Skill
First is product diversity. Never a one or two-industry city, Philadelphia became known for its fine textiles and garments, boots and shoes, hats, iron and steel, metal items, machine tools and hardware, locomotives, saws, rugs, furniture, shipbuilding, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, glass, cutlery, jewelry, paints and varnishes, printing and publishing, medical instruments, and so much more.
Second is diversity of work settings. Goods were made in homes, craft shops, sweat shops, small manufactories with hand and foot-driven machinery, water and steamed-powered mills, and multidimensional plants. In their manufacture, some products even passed through several of these settings from initial processing of raw materials to final finishing.
Third is specialization in processes and products. Philadelphia manufacturers did not prosper by competing with mass producers of goods in other parts of the country, but rather by operating in niche markets fashioning high-quality wares or by concentrating in single aspects of production (in textiles, for example, separate establishments emerged respectively to spin special fibers, weave fine clothe and dye elaborate fabrics). Even in the case of Philadelphia’s famous (but relatively few) large firms, such as Baldwin Locomotive, Stetson Hat, and Midvale Steel, specialty production remained the hallmark. Baldwin rarely made two engines alike, meeting particular orders of rail carriers for locomotives with highly specific dimensions and powers; Stetson produced the finest of felt and straw hats and sold them in beautifully-made boxes with silk insides and adorned with the renowned Stetson logo; and Midvale produced a specialty grey steel and took orders for specialty castings and forgings (unlike its other Pennsylvania rivals, U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel).
Fourth is the prevalence of small-to-medium-sized, family-owned-and-managed manufacturing concerns that were reliant on highly skilled workforces. Large, corporate enterprises with armies of mass assembly workers did not form a part of Philadelphia’s economic skyline.
A number of factors contributed to Philadelphia’s particular industrial history. An abundance of skilled labor allowed for specialty production. The absence of a powerful river-way with waterfalls initially limited the building of large-scale, fully mechanized factories. Philadelphia custom producers further chose not to compete with manufacturers of cheap, standardized products in other cities; their small size afforded a flexibility that allowed them to shift into new product lines and profit in niche markets. Finally, Philadelphia’s elite tended to invest in banks, canal and railroad construction, and mining rather than in local industry; this created a capital scarcity for manufacture in the city, another limit on large-scale ventures, and a vacuum that enterprising native-born and immigrant skilled men could fill in establishing their relatively small custom manufactories.
Although the first use of the label “Workshop of the World” cannot be precisely determined, by the first decade of the twentieth century, the phrase was regularly attached to Philadelphia in journals and books and in the pronouncements of business and civic leaders. However, the success and prosperity that marked Philadelphia industry crested in the 1920s when declines occurred in textile and garment manufacture and in shipbuilding—although new production of radios and electrical appliances sustained employment. The Great Depression saw retrenchments everywhere as unemployment at its peak reached more than 40 percent of the city’s work force. Military orders during World War II then boosted production, but a massive enduring decline in industrial jobs occurred thereafter. At a postwar height in 1953, 359,000 Philadelphians were employed in manufacture, 45 percent of the city’s entire labor force; in our own times, the number of industrial jobs has dramatically fallen to below 30,000, 5 percent of the total. These figures reflect the greater deindustrialization of the United States, though the downward spiral for Philadelphia far exceeded the nation as a whole; since the early 1950s, overall manufacturing jobs have declined from a high of 19.4 million to 14 million, from 32 percent of all employment to 10 percent.
As Philadelphia’s industrial ascent had a particular cast, so did the descent. Philadelphia did not lose manufacturing jobs because national corporations purchased and liquidated the facilities of local firms to undo competition; nor because financiers breezily bought, broke up and sold firms to make paper profits; nor because of foreign competition and the flight of businesses to low-wage areas in the U.S. and abroad—as happened in other American cities and regions over the course of the twentieth century. Rather, Philadelphia’s manufactories closed their doors because of changes in consumerism. Synthetic fibers, for example, wiped out Philadelphia’s famed silk hosiery trade; parquet flooring and wall-to-wall shag carpeting decimated the city’s tapestry rug industry; men stopped wearing fine felt hats to the detriment of Stetson; and cheap hardware merchandized by Sears Roebuck and other mass distributors cut deeply into the sales of the magnificently crafted and durable saws of the Disston Saw Company.
Mass production and marketing systems promoting shifts in consumer preferences to inexpensive disposal products proved the death knell of Philadelphia industry as the city’s custom manufacturers—slow, unable or unwilling to react—failed to compete with standardized producers of goods elsewhere in the county and across the globe. The loss was great not just for the city and its citizens; greater awareness and respect for workmanship and quality was lost as well.
Walter Licht is Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania. His books include Getting Work: Philadelphia, 1840-1950 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992).
Topics: Work, Commerce, and the Economy
People of African descent have migrated to Philadelphia since the seventeenth century. First arriving in bondage, either directly from Africa or by way of the Caribbean, they soon developed a small but robust community that grew throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although African Americans faced employment discrimination, disfranchisement, and periodic race riots in the ⇒ Read More
Commercial aviation grew dramatically in the United States in the twentieth century, and a number of airports in the Philadelphia area grew to become regional centers of the industry. There was nothing assured or inevitable about this growth, however. It depended on the efforts of local political leaders, investments by the aviation companies, and state ⇒ Read More
For much of the nation’s history Philadelphia held a preeminent position as the provider of logistical support to the U.S. Army, and federal arsenals played a considerable role in the economic life of the city. The Schuylkill Arsenal and Frankford Arsenal were, respectively, the largest manufacturers of uniforms and small-arms ammunition in the country, often ⇒ Read More
Beloved by generations of diners and immortalized in art, song, cinema, and poetic verse, Automats, also known as “automatics” or “waiterless restaurants,” were popular manifestations of an early-twentieth century modernizing impulse. Influenced by Frederick W. Taylor’s studies of scientific management and the widespread use of the assembly line, the Automat removed the process of ordering ⇒ Read More
Since appearing in the 1890s, automobiles have in many ways shaped Greater Philadelphia’s history and geography. Initially a luxury item and later available on a massive scale, cars, while enhancing mobility, required billions of dollars in infrastructure, reordered the landscape of every town and city, and made indelible marks on the region’s architecture, culture, and ⇒ Read More
Once a mainstay of Greater Philadelphia’s industrial might and a reflection of the socioeconomic transformations of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the manufacturing of automobiles and related components provided mobility for millions, jobs for many thousands, and lifeblood for towns and cities. First appearing in the 1900s, flourishing during the interwar and postwar periods, ⇒ Read More
Chartered May 26, 1781, by the Continental Congress under the Articles of Confederation, this enterprise was the first national and truly commercial bank in the United States. Officially titled The President, Directors, and Company of the Bank of North America (BNA) until 1825, the bank was the first created by the national government to do ⇒ Read More
Greater Philadelphia’s banking roots go deeper than those of any region in the country. Philadelphia was the home of the first commercial bank (1782), the first national bank (1791), the first savings bank (1816), and the first savings and loan association (1831). Until the mid-1980s, celebrated local institutions such as First Pennsylvania, Girard, and Provident ⇒ Read More
Throughout much of its modern American history, barbering has been derided as “servile” work, unfit for native-born, white citizens. As such, the profession has been dominated by marginalized groups. In the Philadelphia region, African Americans owned and operated the majority of barber shops during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Since then, waves of immigrant ⇒ Read More
Between 1750 and 1800, Philadelphia became the center for book printing and publishing in the United States, surpassing New York and Boston. Although Philadelphia lost that primacy in the nineteenth century, firms specializing in medical and religious publishing continued to do well. By the mid to late twentieth century, however, as the publishing industry consolidated, ⇒ Read More
Bookstores have long been an important part of the economic and cultural fabric of Philadelphia. As early as the eighteenth century, booksellers set up shop in the city, eager to serve a highly-educated population hungry for information. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the number of bookstores continued to rise. These stores sold a ⇒ Read More
First designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1995, the polluted tracts of land known as “brownfields” resulted from Greater Philadelphia’s industrial heritage. For more than a century, manufacturers generated vast amounts of waste and runoff. After industry declined between the 1950s and the 1980s, acres of abandoned structures and soiled land remained. ⇒ Read More
Anyone crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge from Philadelphia to Camden during most of the twentieth century saw one of the best-known icons of American consumerism, the giant Campbell-Soup-can water towers looming over the company’s flagship cannery. Campbell Soup may have been “America’s Favorite Food,” as the title of the company-sponsored history claims, but it was ⇒ Read More
Canals transformed the economic and geographic scope of Greater Philadelphia in the first half of the nineteenth century. By providing a cheap and reliable mechanism for shipping goods, these complex technological systems funneled the products of broad hinterland regions to the Quaker City. Although canals delivered a wide variety of goods including farm products, lumber, ⇒ Read More
In its early twentieth-century heyday, Philadelphia’s carpet and rug industry represented this nation’s greatest concentration of factories making household and commercial floor coverings. The Public Ledger boasted that “two wards, in the northern section of the city, produce more carpets than the whole of Great Britain and Ireland.” Indeed, as early as 1882, those Kensington ⇒ Read More
Over a period of four decades, from 1840 through 1880, a commercial district of distinctive cast iron buildings developed in Center City Philadelphia. Born of the iron wealth of Pennsylvania and fashioned by the city’s architects and mechanics at a time of technological innovation, these buildings helped define the downtown of the emerging modern city. ⇒ Read More
The International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine, more simply known as “the Centennial,” opened in Fairmount Park to great fanfare on May 10, 1876, and closed with equal flourish six months later. Modeled after the Crystal Palace Great Exhibition in London in 1851, and the first in a long ⇒ Read More
Located 30 miles down the Delaware River from Philadelphia, the small but once industrially mighty city of Chester emerged in the latter part of the twentieth century as but a shadow of its former prominence in the county and the region. The municipality’s fortunes shifted many times over the 334 years of its existence, evolving ⇒ Read More
Settled by Chinese migrants in the 1870s, Philadelphia’s Chinatown grew over the course of the twentieth century from a small ethnic enclave on the outskirts of Skid Row to a vibrant family community in the heart of Center City. Threatened by urban renewal in the 1960s and 1970s, Chinatown residents marshaled the redevelopment process to ⇒ Read More
In the 2000s and 2010s, nearly thirty co-working spaces opened in the Philadelphia area. Co-working offered flexible, shared office facilities to freelancers, technology start-ups, entrepreneurs, and nascent businesses that did not require or could not afford private workplaces. These spaces were designed to foster a collaborative atmosphere, where clients could share innovations and resources. A ⇒ Read More
In the nineteenth century, Philadelphia banks and entrepreneurs played a pivotal role in facilitating the emergence of coal as the nation’s principal energy source for industry, transportation, and heating, by creating and financing the firms that first brought to market anthracite coal, mined exclusively in rugged eastern Pennsylvania. To mine anthracite, or “hard coal,” on ⇒ Read More
Opened to the public in 1897, the Commercial Museum was the foremost source of international trade knowledge for American manufacturers at the turn of the twentieth century. Located on the western bank of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, the museum served as a reference library for merchants, facilitated connections between American export traders and foreign ⇒ Read More
Delaware Avenue, the north-south thoroughfare closest to the Delaware River in Philadelphia, owes its existence to the richest man in America, who wanted a grand avenue along the central waterfront. The street, including a portion renamed Columbus Boulevard in the 1990s, played a significant role in the development of Philadelphia’s maritime activity, particularly food distribution ⇒ Read More
As dentistry slowly emerged as a profession in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, innovative dentists in Philadelphia helped to shape dental care, procedures, and tools. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, dental colleges, journals, and societies contributed to the expansion of dental training and practice, which gradually but increasingly became accessible to women and people of ⇒ Read More
At Duffy’s Cut, a railroad construction site in Chester County, Pennsylvania, fifty-seven Irish immigrant railroad workers died amid a cholera epidemic in the summer of 1832 and were buried in a mass grave. The Irishmen from Donegal, Tyrone, and Derry were hired to dig a railroad cut and construct an earthen fill in lieu of ⇒ Read More
Nestled between Second Street and the Delaware River, thirty-two Federal and Georgian residences stand as reminders of the early days of Philadelphia. Elfreth’s Alley exists today as a residential street, historic landmark, and interpreted site labeled the “Nation’s Oldest Residential Street.” The heroic efforts of residents and local historians from the 1930s to 1960s preserved ⇒ Read More
Introduced in the Philadelphia area and the nation in the early 1980s, the enterprise zone was a new kind of urban policy that emphasized market-based, “supply-side” strategies for tackling urban decline, most notably in the form of tax incentives for business. A variation in the 1990s, the empowerment zone, targeted areas of high poverty and ⇒ Read More
In the colonial era linen and flaxseed were fundamental to the mercantile life of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. Philadelphia’s linen and flaxseed market extended from the farthest point of settlement, Fort Pitt, to the fields of England and Ireland. Traveling in a circle of trade across the north Atlantic, these goods forged relationships among ⇒ Read More
At the time the first European colonists settled in the Delaware Valley, few places in the world were as well-suited to the cultivation of grains. The region’s generous rainfall, mild climate, and rich limestone soils provided the perfect environment for planting wheat, the most desirable and profitable grain in the world. By 1750 the Delaware ⇒ Read More
The food industry has always held a special place in Philadelphia and its surrounding region, though it never became a center of a massive industry like meatpacking in Chicago. Still, the methods of processing food at different periods and the people who did the work tell much about the state of Philadelphia’s economy and its ⇒ Read More
On February 5, 1824, a group of Philadelphians led by Samuel Vaughn Merrick (1801–70) and William Hypolitus Keating (1799–1840) met at the courthouse on Sixth and Chestnut Streets to found the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts. Seeking to emulate a passion for useful science, in the ⇒ Read More
On March 5, 1910, between 60,000 and 75,000 workers complied with the Central Federated Union’s call for a general strike in solidarity with the striking streetcar workers employed by Philadelphia’s Rapid Transit Company (RTC). Business and political elites feared that the strike would spread to other parts of Pennsylvania and to cities where workers had ⇒ Read More
The Great Depression, which lasted from 1929 to 1941, was characterized in both the Philadelphia region and the nation by a severe contraction in all levels of economic activity, massive unemployment, widespread bank failures, and sharp price deflation. Many people lost their life savings and their homes. Untold thousands went hungry; some starved. It led ⇒ Read More
The Mid-Atlantic gunpowder industry flourished in the nineteenth century along the Brandywine River in Delaware and spread into Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states. Long synonymous with the name duPont, the industry began in 1802 when Eleuthère Irénée duPont (1771–1834), a French refugee and former student of famous chemist Antoine Lavoisier (1743–94), began manufacturing gunpowder ⇒ Read More
Hog Island, at the confluence of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, exemplifies many broad trends in the environmental history of the region. Once improved for agriculture, the natural landscape ultimately deteriorated through overexploitation, leading to its conversion for industrial, commercial, and other forms of development. No longer productive in the early twentieth century, the island ⇒ Read More
The revival of immigration to Philadelphia and its surrounding region in the early nineteenth century provided one of the most powerful elements in reshaping the city’s society. After a decline in immigration during the wars of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, the growing industrialization of the Philadelphia region began to attract streams of ⇒ Read More
During the national explosion of immigration that took place between 1870 and the 1920s, the Philadelphia region became more diverse and cosmopolitan as it was energized by immigrants who indelibly changed the character of the places where they settled. With its reputation as the “Workshop of the World,” Philadelphia attracted immigrants to jobs in industry, ⇒ Read More
For most of the decades since the United States’ immigration restriction acts of the 1920s, Philadelphia was not a major destination for immigrants, but at the end of the twentieth century the region re-emerged as a significant gateway. Beginning with changes in U.S. law in 1965 and accelerating by the 1990s, immigration added large, diverse ⇒ Read More
The growth and decline of industry in the Philadelphia region in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also shaped the character of many of its neighborhoods. Compact industrial neighborhoods originated at a time when the lack of public transportation made it necessary for workers to live within walking distance of the factories. These row house blocks ⇒ Read More
In the early 1900s thousands in greater Philadelphia belonged to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)—a militant, leftist labor union. Local 8, which organized the city’s longshoremen, was the largest and most powerful IWW branch in the Mid-Atlantic and the IWW’s most racially inclusive branch. Indeed, there might not have been a more egalitarian ⇒ Read More
Insurance is sometimes called an “invisible” element of commerce, but in Philadelphia, it has never been far from view. From the eighteenth century through the twenty-first, Philadelphia’s leadership in the field of insurance has enhanced the city’s preeminence in many types of commercial and communal endeavor. Insurance in Philadelphia, over the years, has meant everything ⇒ Read More
The Knights of Labor, the first national industrial union in the United States, was founded in Philadelphia on December 9, 1869, by Uriah Stephens (1821-82) and eight other Philadelphia garment cutters. Intended to overcome the limitations of craft unions, the organization was designed to include all those who toiled with their hands. By mid-1886 nearly ⇒ Read More
Labor Day, celebrated the first Monday of September, has been observed in the Philadelphia region since the 1880s, before it became a nationwide holiday. New Jersey was one of the first states to grant Labor Day legal status in 1887, and Pennsylvania followed suit by the end of the decade. The earliest incarnations of Labor ⇒ Read More
As the country’s largest city, and for a time capital of the new nation, Philadelphia was well situated to chart the young republic’s changing geography. Using its capacity to attract all the manufacturing elements necessary for successful publishing—printers binders, colorists, engravers and others—Philadelphia became the home of the nation’s first full-time geographical publisher and soon ⇒ Read More
The March of the Mill Children, the three-week trek from Philadelphia to New York by striking child and adult textile workers launched on July 7, 1903, by Mary Harris “Mother” Jones (1837-1930), trained public attention on the scourge of child labor and energized efforts to end it by law. Jones, the storied Irish-born labor organizer, ⇒ Read More
Greater Philadelphia’s office buildings reflect the aspirations of individuals, companies, and municipalities. Once clustered in cities and later spreading to suburbs throughout the metropolitan area, office buildings have mirrored changing architectural styles and economic patterns. While many celebrated office buildings have been demolished, others (new, restored, or adapted) stand as integral features of the built ⇒ Read More
In the 1960s, after leading protest campaigns to expose discriminatory hiring and open thousands of jobs to African Americans, the Reverend Leon Sullivan (1922-2001) founded the Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC), a vocational, educational, and life skills training program designed to prepare young men and women for full-time employment. Moving beyond protest to address the barriers ⇒ Read More
From colonial times to the nationwide deindustrialization trend starting in the 1950s, Philadelphia played a leading role in providing American and overseas markets with quality paints and varnishes. “Oil and Colours” merchants of the colonial period turned, during the early nineteenth century, into family-owned-and-managed manufacturing companies, as they opened paint and varnish factories in Center ⇒ Read More
Petty Island, part of Pennsauken, New Jersey, in the Delaware River opposite the Kensington section of Philadelphia, played a significant supporting role in the economic development of the region. Also known as “Pettys” or “Petty’s” Island, over time it served as a place where people hunted, fished, gathered herbs, farmed, built and repaired boats, operated ⇒ Read More
Philadelphia’s Board of Trade worked for more than a century to promote commercial development in the city and the region while also arbitrating disputes among its member businesses. Formed in 1833, the board filled unmet needs for economic development and became the largest organization of its type in the nation. The original concept for the ⇒ Read More
The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), a nonprofit corporation controlled jointly by the city government and the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, formed in 1958 to support existing businesses and attract new ones by offering land and low-cost financing for both for-profit and nonprofit enterprises. To accomplish this mission, PIDC manages the oldest municipal land ⇒ Read More
Even as it underwent a painful process of economic restructuring in the years after World War II, Philadelphia garnered national attention from efforts to integrate historically white building trades. Dubbed the “Philadelphia Plan,” the program requiring federal contractors to practice nondiscrimination in hiring tested the liberal coalition formed in the aftermath of the New Deal ⇒ Read More
The Philadelphia Stock Exchange played an influential role in America’s financial and economic development. It helped the fledgling nation raise funds to develop infrastructure for a growing industrial base and new commercial banks and insurance companies. The Exchange is the nation’s oldest, founded two years before the New York Stock Exchange, and third-oldest globally, after ⇒ Read More
Reaching hundreds of miles to the Philadelphia area from western Pennsylvania, pipelines carrying oil and gas were critical to Philadelphia’s emergence as an industrial power and linked the fates of suppliers and consumers for more than 160 years. The development of the pipelines, marked by both challenge and innovation, supplied energy for residential and business ⇒ Read More
From the late seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth century, Philadelphia’s printing and publishing industry was a central component of the city’s evolution from “Green Country Town” to “Cradle of Liberty” to “Workshop of the World.” Growing their operations from small do-it-all shops into large fully mechanized publishing houses, Philadelphia’s printers and publishers capitalized on the ⇒ Read More
Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, Philadelphia became a leading center of printmaking in the United States. While publishing companies had operated in the city since the eighteenth century, the technological innovations of the firm of Peter S. Duval (1804/5-86) transformed Philadelphia’s lithographic trade into a booming industry. Duval’s commitment to improving printmaking methods and achieving ⇒ Read More
From radio’s inception to contemporary times, Philadelphia-area innovators, performers, and manufacturers contributed to shaping the industry. Like its technological forerunner, the telegraph, radio made possible the direct, real-time transmission of information. The immediacy and intimacy of radio waves arriving directly into listeners’ homes made radio revolutionary. The medium quickly became not only a technology for ⇒ Read More
The history of the railroad industry in the United States and the growth of the Greater Philadelphia region are inextricably linked. Philadelphia money and engineering built the national network and, from the middle of the nineteenth century to the middle of the twentieth, railroads helped make and maintain Philadelphia as a “Workshop of the World,” ⇒ Read More
The birthplace of the American “record” industry, the Philadelphia region for more than a century has been home to a thriving industry of recording studios and record companies. In Camden, New Jersey, the Victor Company in the early 1900s was the nation’s largest manufacturer of musical recordings. Since then, Philadelphia’s unique concentration of diversified industries, ⇒ Read More
From colonial-era taverns to the celebrity chef establishments of the early twenty-first century, Greater Philadelphia’s restaurants illuminated the region’s socioeconomic, cultural, and culinary trends while also providing sustenance for millions, employing thousands, and in some cases emerging as historic and nostalgic treasures. Taverns and public houses (“pubs”) represented the area’s earliest food-serving establishments; many operated ⇒ Read More
The Saturday Evening Post, one of the oldest magazines in the United States, originated in Philadelphia in 1821 as a four-page weekly newspaper printed on the same equipment as Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette. After switching to a magazine format in 1870, the Post grew in the twentieth century to reach more than a million readers ⇒ Read More
While eighteenth-century Philadelphians looked almost exclusively to the east and the Delaware River to connect them to the wider world, by the turn of the nineteenth century they looked increasingly to the Schuylkill River and the west. After several failed attempts to fund improvements that would make the rapid-filled Schuylkill River navigable in the 1780s ⇒ Read More
The “Scientific Management” movement was born in early twentieth-century Philadelphia factories but spread rapidly, transforming not only management techniques but also popular conceptions of industrialized society itself. According to its founders, the system simply sought the “one best way” to perform any task. But its time-study engineers, along with the assembly line, came to symbolize ⇒ Read More
Perhaps no business, industry, or institution illuminates the history of the Greater Philadelphia region from the seventeenth century to the present day more clearly than shipbuilding and shipyards. This may seem surprising since Philadelphia and nearby Delaware riverfront ports lie one hundred miles from the Atlantic Ocean up an often treacherous Delaware Bay and river ⇒ Read More
On December 20, 1909, more than 7,000 of Philadelphia’s 12,000 shirtwaist workers walked out on their jobs, one month after the “uprising of 20,000” commenced in New York City’s shirtwaist industry. The strike lasted until February 6, 1910, when manufacturers agreed to comply with workers’ demands (though ultimately refused union recognition). Occurring in an era ⇒ Read More
Shopping centers, which bound retailers together into one physically convenient and accessible commercial venue for suburban consumers, profoundly altered Greater Philadelphia, redefining the region’s socioeconomic dimensions and destabilizing the city’s old, commercial core, the Central Business District. Commercial retailing also underwent significant changes, as the location, planning, and physical proportions of shopping facilities dramatically transformed ⇒ Read More
Invented by accident in a Philadelphia shipyard, the Slinky is a stack of coiled metal that becomes a bit of oscillating magic, a moving, traveling toy perfect for flipping head-over-heels to “walk” down stairs. Always made in Pennsylvania, the Slinky became standard-issue equipment for generations of American children and a familiar, fun plaything for grown-ups ⇒ Read More
Southwest Philadelphia, which along with adjacent Tinicum Township, Delaware County, is the location of the Philadelphia International Airport, greets many visitors to the city. Yet, Southwest Philadelphia, often described as “far” Southwest, is quite possibly the least-known area of the city, even to Philadelphians. Kingsessing, as this vicinity was originally named, was the first section ⇒ Read More
The Global Sullivan Principles, launched in 1977 by Philadelphia civil rights leader Leon H. Sullivan (1922-2001), represent one of the twentieth century’s most powerful attempts to effect social justice through economic leverage. More a sustained movement than a static document, the principles sought to bring the power of American investment in South Africa to bear ⇒ Read More
As a region with a complex industrial history that generated numerous chemical, industrial, and landfill operations, by the late twentieth century Greater Philadelphia held some of the nation’s highest concentrations of environmentally hazardous “Superfund” sites. Named for the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA), also known as “Superfund,” the designation ⇒ Read More
“Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake” has been a brand tag line known by virtually every Philadelphian for a century. Indeed, few things are as iconically associated with the city and region as Tastykakes. The company was founded in 1914 by Philip J. Baur and Herbert T. Morris, in the Germantown neighborhood ⇒ Read More
Like many neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Harrowgate, located just northwest of Kensington, experienced dramatic changes as a result of the industrial boom in the nineteenth century. Prior to industrialization, Harrowgate was a small community built around medicinal springs and attracted only the wealthiest of Philadelphia’s citizens. Industrialization, however, transformed Harrowgate. By the late nineteenth century, Harrowgate ⇒ Read More
Although the United States’ military involvement in the First World War lasted just over a year, the conflict in Europe had a lasting impact on the Philadelphia region. The war created new opportunities for the industrial base of Philadelphia, Chester, and Camden, and as men and women enlisted for military service, the region developed a ⇒ Read More
World War II, which created change for industries, populations, and politics in many urban areas in the United States, had a transforming effect on the Philadelphia region. Already industrialized, the region gained new impetus from government orders for supplies, armaments, transportation, and more. Philadelphia-area industries expanded, making the region a major “arsenal for democracy” during ⇒ Read More