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1776

The story of American independence comes to life in the musical 1776, which dramatizes the debates, drafting, and signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Second Continental Congress. The musical, which debuted on Broadway in 1969 and became a film in 1972, highlights Philadelphia as the site of the fateful decisions made at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) and features the pivotal roles of delegates from Pennsylvania and Delaware.

[caption id="attachment_33480" align="alignright" width="300"] The cast of 1776 performed at the White House for President Richard Nixon (center, in tuxedo) in 1971. (Executive Office of the President photograph, Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Created by composer and lyricist Sherman Edwards (1919-81) with book writer Peter Stone (1930-2003), 1776 depicts historical events from May 8 through July 4, 1776, with a sprinkling of dramatic license. Produced on the eve of the nation’s bicentennial, in the charged political climate of the 1960s and 1970s, 1776 showed how the nation began in conflict. The musical opens in Independence Hall’s Assembly Room with John Adams (1735-1826) complaining that Congress cannot come to an agreement on whether to separate from Great Britain. Frustrated, he states: “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a congress!” This sets the tone of fundamental disagreement, which becomes evident as Virginia’s Richard Henry Lee (1732-94) proposes independence. Dickinson , from Pennsylvania, moves to indefinitely postpone this notion. At first, five colonies vote in favor of debate while five vote against, as New Jersey is absent and New York abstains. Rhode Island’s vote is delayed, but the notion is passed after their vote of “yea” is ultimately heard. Adams then seeks to buy time by calling for postponement until a written Declaration of Independence can be prepared. The president of the Congress, John Hancock (1737-93), agrees and breaks the tie to favor postponing. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) is then nominated to write the Declaration, despite missing his wife and claiming he is unable to concentrate without her. The film version of 1776 shows Jefferson walking up the stairs to his rented rooms at Seventh and High (Market) Streets to write, play the violin, and spend time with his wife, which enabled him to successfully write.

The Slavery Issue

Jefferson’s draft, when completed, triggers additional disagreements, including conflict between North and South over whether the text should denounce King George III’s responsibility for the slave trade—a reminder that the roots of racial tensions run deep in American history. After Jefferson’s words against slavery are removed, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia join northern and middle colonies in voting “yea” on Lee’s resolution for independence on July 2. New York abstains (“courteously”), and Pennsylvania passes at first but ultimately votes in favor. The resolution passes, and the story is depicted as ending on July 4 as the names of delegates from every colony are called and they sign the Declaration of Independence. (In reality, the delegates approved the written declaration on July 4, and signing did not begin until August 2). The bell in the State House, later known as the Liberty Bell, is heard ringing dramatically (a myth invented later, in the nineteenth century).

[caption id="attachment_33484" align="alignright" width="237"] Pennsylvania delegate John Dickinson, depicted in this c. 1885 engraving, appears in 1776 as the man who pressured his colleagues to vote against independence. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Throughout, the show calls attention to Philadelphia’s stifling heat. The song “The Egg” playfully refers to hot and humid Philadelphia acting as an incubator for the unborn majestic eagle that will ultimately represent the United States. Philadelphia figures play key roles in the suspenseful vote for independence. Within the Pennsylvania delegation, Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) favors independence while John Dickinson (1732-1808) does not, and James Wilson (1742-98) tends to follow Dickinson’s actions. After all other colonies have voted “yea,” the divided Pennsylvania delegation has the final vote. Wilson’s character, responding to Dickinson’s pressure to vote against independence, states, “If I go with them, I’ll only be one among dozens; no one will ever remember the name of James Wilson. But if I vote with you, I’ll be the man who prevented American independence. I’m sorry, John—I just didn’t bargain for that.” Wilson’s choice assures Pennsylvania’s approval and a unanimous vote in favor of independence. Dickinson is shown leaving Congress, and he did not sign. He did, however, join the Pennsylvania militia.

Breaking the Tie Vote

[caption id="attachment_33485" align="alignright" width="249"] A dramatic moment in 1776 occurs when Caesar Rodney, shown here in an 1888 book illustration, rides in from Delaware to break the tie. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Similarly, the musical portrays Caesar Rodney (1728-84) as the tiebreaking vote in favor of independence for the Delaware delegation. After riding approximately eighty miles on horseback through a thunderstorm, Rodney arrives in Philadelphia on July 2 still wearing his muddy boots just as the vote for independence is about to take place. New Jersey also plays a role in the show as Benjamin Franklin notes the strain in his relationship with his illegitimate son, William Franklin (c. 1730-1813), a Loyalist who served as royal governor of New Jersey from 1763 to 1776.

The Broadway production of 1776, directed by Peter Hunt (1925-2002) and choreographed by Onna White (1922-2005) with musical direction by Peter Howard (1927-2008), received warm reviews. Critics found the book for the show to be well researched and written. Although they commented that musical numbers often sounded alike and acted as filler with large gaps in between, they show was a smash hit with audiences. 1776 won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1969, and it came back to Broadway as a revival in 1997. Numerous professional, regional, community, and school theaters have produced the show nationally, including at least nine regional theater companies during the year of the Bicentennial. In Philadelphia, the Walnut Street Theatre produced the show in 1997.

The director of the 1969 Broadway production also directed the screen version, and many actors from the stage repeated their roles in the movie, including William Daniels (b. 1927) as John Adams, Howard Da Silva (1909-86) as Benjamin Franklin, and Ken Howard (1944-2016) as Thomas Jefferson. Although set in Philadelphia, filming for the movie of 1776 took place in California at the Columbia Ranch (later known as the Warner Brothers Ranch, or Warner Ranch) in Burbank and Sunset Gower Studios in Los Angeles. A fire at the Warner Ranch in the 1970s destroyed the film’s recreation of a colonial Philadelphia street and other sets. The movie cost an estimated $4 million to make and grossed $6.1 million, but it was not generally admired  by critics.

Throughout 1776, Adams’ character repeats the words “Is anybody there? Does anybody care?” These words have continued to resonate and take on new meanings to viewers of all ages. Set in and around Independence Hall, 1776 has helped to sustain recognition of Philadelphia’s role in history.

Alexandra Jordan Thelin is a Ph.D. student in History and Culture at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and specializes in fashion history, visual culture, and art.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Although not made or invented locally, Philadelphia Cream Cheese reflects the region’s agricultural history and reputation as a purveyor of fine foods. Established by a New York distributor of dairy products in 1880, the brand came to be owned by the Kraft Heinz Company of Pittsburgh and Chicago. Nevertheless Philadelphia, printed in blue capital letters on foil wrapping and on the lids of little plastic tubs, spread across the globe on packaging for the industry leader in cream cheese.

Although Philadelphia did not directly give birth to the brand, the city had an association with uncured, highly perishable cream cheese that dated to at least the early nineteenth century. Knowledge of the product came to the region from England, where cream-based cheeses were popular with the upper class. Early farmers around Philadelphia raised cattle more for beef than for dairy purposes, but rural women often made cheese and butter from the milk of their cows. Even before refrigeration, these goods could be taken quickly to market in nearby Philadelphia via the network of roads and turnpikes developed by the nineteenth century. Some hard cheeses could be exported, but the more delicate cheese made from cream had a very short shelf life, which prevented it from traveling beyond the immediate region.

[caption id="attachment_33365" align="alignright" width="190"] As the national rail network expanded during the later nineteenth century, cream cheese became popular in cities outside of Philadelphia. Fine restaurants soon began to feature it in luxury dishes, as illustrated by this 1901 menu with a cheese course offering both "cream" and "cheddar." (New York Public Library)[/caption]

Because cream cheese had such a limited range of distribution, Philadelphia became one of the few places where it could be found. Expensive and rare because of its production in very small batches, cream cheese drew the notice of early nineteenth-century visitors who commented on the novelty and pleasure of sampling Philadelphia’s delicacy. The city’s association with the product grew as travelers wrote about their experiences and as local publishers of newspapers, books, and magazines printed recipes for how to make cream cheese. After railroads extended the range of markets and reduced travel time beginning in the 1830s, the fine cheese from Philadelphia could travel a bit farther, to New York City. While farmers in outlying New York counties also made cream cheese, fine restaurants and markets in Manhattan offered “Philadelphia cream cheese” to their customers.

The branding of Philadelphia Cream Cheese reflected this early history, but only because a New York cheese distributor cashed in on the cachet of the city’s reputation. In the late nineteenth century, Americans who aspired to high social status hungered for luxury foods. At the same time, production of cream cheese and demand for it increased as cheese making shifted from home production to factories. The first modern cheese factories opened in New York, where dairy farming had expanded substantially after completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 linked New York City with the interior. Among the many cheese factory operators of New York, dairy farmer William A. Lawrence (1842-1911) opened his facility in 1862 in Orange County. Prompted by a request from an upscale grocer in New York City, in 1875 he became the first to factory-produce cream cheese. Then, in 1880, he joined forces with distributor Alvah Reynolds (1830-1925), who came up with a brand that he felt would associate Lawrence’s product with high-quality foods: Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Reynolds himself manufactured Philadelphia Cream Cheese from 1882 until 1903, then sold the brand to the Phenix Cheese Company of New York. In 1928, Phenix merged with Chicago-based Kraft Foods, which through another merger in 2015 became Kraft Heinz.

[caption id="attachment_33363" align="alignright" width="300"] Originally produced in circular disks, the now iconic foil-wrapped blocks of Philadelphia Cream Cheese were made possible once stabilizer ingredients were incorporated into the recipe in the late 1920s. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

As the ownership of the Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand changed, so did the nature of cream cheese. No longer rare because of mass production, cream cheese became an everyday food item instead of a luxury. While still asserting the richness and pleasure of tasting cream cheese, the Phenix Cheese Company and Kraft marketed their brand as a healthful, family-friendly food. Advertisements taught consumers that cream cheese could be enjoyed not only by itself but as an ingredient that might be spread on toast or incorporated into recipes. In some respects, despite name on the dominant brand, cream cheese became indelibly associated with New York because of its pairing with bagels and use as an ingredient in New York-style cheesecake. But the Philadelphia brand also expanded nationally and internationally after stabilizer ingredients introduced in the late 1920s made it possible for Kraft to package cream cheese in foil-wrapped blocks and distribute it widely. By the end of the twentieth century, Philadelphia Cream Cheese could be found in a proliferating array of flavors and products around the world.

[caption id="attachment_33368" align="alignright" width="300"] Still produced in Lowville, New York, cream cheese has become a part of the local culture, as this 2013 promotional banner indicates. A festival is held annually to celebrate the famous product. (Lowville Cream Cheese Festival)[/caption]

Under the ownership of Kraft Heinz, in the twenty-first century Philadelphia Cream Cheese continued to be manufactured in a factory in Lowville, New York, in the state where the brand originated, and the people of Lowville organized an annual Cream Cheese Festival to celebrate their local product. The parent company, meanwhile, celebrated Philadelphia through promotions including a video contest, “The Real Women of Philadelphia,” and advertising slogans like “It Must Be Philly.” Mostly by name alone, but also by benefit of its agricultural history, Philadelphia reigned as the world’s leader in cream cheese.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Alexandra Jordan Thelin

Alexandra Jordan Thelin is a Ph.D. student in History and Culture at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, and specializes in fashion history, visual culture, and art.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a comedy series that premiered on the FX cable television channel in August 2005, follows a group of five friends as they engage in narcissistic and questionable schemes from their Irish bar, Paddy’s Pub, fictionally located at Dickinson and Third Street in South Philadelphia. Created by executive producer Rob McElhenney (b. 1977), a Philadelphia native, the show brought area landmarks and cultural references to its national audience with every episode.

McElhenney and his friends Charlie Day (b. 1976) and Glenn Howerton (b. 1976) shot the pilot for It’s Always Sunny in 2005 for less than $200 with their own recording equipment. After pitching the show to FX executives and earning the support of the network, they began writing and producing the series, and together with actress Kaitlin Olson (b. 1975) they portrayed the friends running Paddy’s Pub. The dive bar, located in a fictional run-down neighborhood in South Philly, serves as home base for “the gang” as their greed and narcissism fuel their various schemes, which generally devolve into shenanigans for the entertainment of viewers.

[caption id="attachment_32963" align="alignright" width="229"] Inside Paddy’s Old City Pub the décor includes merchandise featuring slogans and imagery from the show. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia photograph)[/caption]

Along with its local focus, the series’ first season included societal commentary about issues such as racism, abortion, and gun rights. Initial reviews of the show were scathing. One critic from USA Today wrote in 2005, following the series premier, that It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia handled issues of race and homophobia clumsily and simply was not funny. The show failed to capture a wide audience in its first season. Low viewership threatened its longevity heading into the second season, until Danny DeVito (b. 1944) joined the cast and increased the audience. The show rose in popularity and continued to satirize sensitive topics, including the Great Recession, class discrimination, conflicts in the Middle East, the welfare system, and drug addiction. Tackling polarizing subjects head-on, which had been the basis for negative critiques, quickly became its greatest strength. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia earned four People’s Choice Awards nominations and three Primetime Emmy Awards nominations. The popularity of the show even made the bar that inspired the show’s setting, Paddy’s Old City Pub at 228 Race Street, an international destination for fans.

[caption id="attachment_32965" align="alignright" width="300"] Many popular landmarks, including the illuminated Market Street sign are featured in the opening credits for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

The opening credits of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, a compilation of scenes filmed from a car window, establish Philadelphia and the surrounding area as the primary setting for every episode. Shot by Day on a digital camera while he drove through Philadelphia one night, the opening credits feature the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Penn's Landing, Lincoln Financial Field, Swann Memorial Fountain in Logan Circle, Boathouse Row, 30th Street Station, and South Street. In the life of the series, many other notable landmarks have been mentioned, including the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, Citizens Bank Park, Independence Hall, the Italian Market, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Penn State, Atlantic City, and the Jersey Shore.  The show’s characters are depicted as avid fans of the Phillies, Eagles, and Flyers.

By including frequent mentions of Wawa convenience stores and homages to movies like Rocky and Invincible, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, brought the culture of Greater Philadelphia to national audiences. In doing so, the show engrained itself in the culture of the region.

Cody Schreck is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee pursuing a master’s degree in Public History, Museum Studies and Non-Profit Management. He also works as a Research Assistant for The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee.

Orchard Window (The)

Painted in 1918 by Philadelphia artist Daniel Garber (1880-1958), The Orchard Window depicts the interior of Garber’s studio in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and features his 12-year-old daughter Tanis sitting in a sun-dappled window seat, reading a book. This large oil painting on canvas has been highly regarded as a prime example of Pennsylvania Impressionism, a variation on the French Impressionism of Claude Monet (1840-1926) and Camille Pissarro (1830-1903).

[caption id="attachment_32979" align="alignright" width="296"] The idyllic setting and tone of The Orchard Window (1918), projected a sense of calm at a time of world war, racial tensions, and a flu pandemic. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

The Orchard Window is one of Garber's masterpieces, dating from a period when the artist reached the height of his popularity. In this painting, Garber combined the atmospheric concerns of impressionism with the sharp, careful drawing typical of all graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. By flattening out the picture plane in the background (in other words, by making the view out the window almost two-dimensional), he also added a decorative quality that was new to his work at the time.

[caption id="attachment_33076" align="alignright" width="300"] Daniel Garber received his training in impressionism at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, depicted in this early 1900s postcard. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Born and raised in Indiana, after a brief period of study at the Art Academy of Cincinnati Garber moved to Philadelphia and enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. There, and at the Darby School of Art, a summer school in nearby Darby and Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, he received training from artists such as Thomas Anshutz (1851-1912) and Hugh Breckenridge (1870-1937). In 1905, he won the academy’s coveted Cresson Scholarship, which enabled him to travel and study in Europe for two years. In Europe, he encountered French Impressionism, which inspired him to become one of America’s leading artists working in the impressionist mode.

Garber returned to the United States in 1907 and settled with his wife, Mary, in Lumberville, a village just north of New Hope, Pennsylvania. He became a longtime leader, along with Edward Redfield (1869-1965), of the artist colony that sprang up in the New Hope area in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Garber’s studio at Cuttalossa Farm served as the setting for many paintings of his daughter Tanis, with whom he was very close. He loved the sunlight that came in through his studio window and the flower garden that stood just behind his studio. He took a great deal of pride in, and solace from, his home in the country, as can be seen vividly in The Orchard Window.

[caption id="attachment_32978" align="alignright" width="205"] Daniel Garber had close ties with many renowned Philadelphia art institutions throughout his life. Photographed here circa 1900, the artist also played a large role in the creation of the Pennsylvania Impressionism movement during the early twentieth century. (Smithsonian, Archives of American Art)[/caption]

Garber for many years also had a home on Green Street in Philadelphia, where he lived during the academic year until about 1926. He began a long and successful career as a teacher, first at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (later Moore College of Art and Design), and then at the Pennsylvania Academy. The critical and public responses to The Orchard Window illustrate the changing tides of Garber’s critical fortunes over the next century. The oil won the Temple Gold Medal for best painting at the 1919 annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy, and magazine and newspaper reviewers immediately touted the work as very “American.” According to Gardner Teall (1876-1956), writing in 1921, “it reveals the spirit of American art, a thing one sees and feels, but which perhaps, is not so easy to define.” By 1930, however, critics were questioning whether it was possible to speak of any country as having a unique, instantly identifiable style of oil painting. Garber’s representational art gradually fell out of favor during the second and third quarters of the century, with the rise of abstract art.

[caption id="attachment_32982" align="alignright" width="300"] The Philadelphia Museum of Art, shown here in 1928, featured Daniel Garber’s The Orchard Window in its 1976 bicentennial exhibition, Philadelphia: Three Centuries of American Art, possibly saving his work from obscurity. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_32977" align="alignright" width="300"] Completed just one year before The Orchard Window, Daniel Garber’s Quarry (1917) showcases the techniques of Pennsylvania Impressionism, such as focusing on an American landscape. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Garber’s work had almost been forgotten by 1976, when the Philadelphia Museum of Art included The Orchard Window in its Bicentennial exhibition of American art. The public, however, responded very enthusiastically to The Orchard Window at that exhibition, which in part motivated a 1980 Garber retrospective at the Pennsylvania Academy. This exhibition marked the centennial of the artist’s birth (as well as the 175th anniversary of the founding of the academy). More exhibitions of Garber’s works followed, several books and catalogues appeared, and his works earned higher and higher prices at auction. The reestablishment of his reputation, and that of his fellow New Hope School painters Edward Redfield (1869-1965) and Walter Schofield (1867-1944), drew in part from the nationalism surrounding the Bicentennial as well as from the realization, in many circles, that representational art was just as valid and important as nonrepresentational art. The work of Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), for instance, and that of his fellow Brandywine School artists, became perceived as serious creative art by critics who had once panned it as "mere" illustration.

By the early twenty-first century, art historians regarded Garber as one of the Philadelphia area’s most important contributors to the history of American art. The Orchard Window became so popular that it appeared on jigsaw puzzles, coffee cups, placemats, and even advertisements for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 1918, The Orchard Window represented a moment of calm to viewers who were wrestling with World War I and many other serious issues, among them racial tension and the beginnings of a flu pandemic that would kill at least 675,000 Americans. The painting continued to function in that manner in later years, bringing respite to viewers feeling unsettled by the pace of twentieth- and twentieth-first century life.

Mark Sullivan, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Art History at Villanova University. His recent publications include Picturing Thoreau: Henry David Thoreau in American Visual Culture (Lexington Books, 2015), and two essays for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia:  “The Red Rose Girls” and “Pennsylvania Impressionism.”

Grocery Stores and Supermarkets

Local grocery stores, along with churches, elementary schools, and often saloons, have defined and anchored urban and suburban neighborhoods. General grocery stores first appeared in Philadelphia and the surrounding area in the early nineteenth century and increased in number after the Civil War as populations exploded in industrial cities like Camden and Philadelphia and their adjacent suburbs.  By the end of the century, independent groceries faced increasing competition from stores operated by chains and grocers associations. Although supermarket chains never completely replaced small neighborhood grocery stores, they became typical in post-World War II suburbs.  Some urban areas, meanwhile, lost their supermarkets as population declined and poverty rose. Some “food deserts” remained by the early twenty-first century, but a transformed grocery and supermarket model began to deliver nutritious food options to more Philadelphia-area residents.

In colonial times, outdoor street markets near waterfront docks provided fresh meat, fish, and produce. Such public markets, later located near railroad lines, supplied food to many town and city dwellers (and, eventually, retail grocers) into the twentieth century. In Philadelphia, a few retail stores specialized in food items, but they generally sold expensive, imported “fancy goods” such as coffee, tea, wine, sugar, and chocolate. Gradually, some of these shops began offering everyday foods as well. Butchers, bakers, dairy stores, dry goods stores (which also carried some nonperishable food items), and apothecaries (which sometimes sold spices) also sold food items.

The early nineteenth century marked a transition to general groceries that carried a range of dry food items and sometimes a limited selection of longer-lasting perishables, such as potatoes and apples. In Philadelphia, hundreds of general groceries opened in both older and developing residential neighborhoods as the city expanded. DeSilver’s Philadelphia Directory and Stranger’s Guide for 1835 & 1836 listed 485 Philadelphia grocers. Some grocers operated in semi-detached and detached dwellings, depending on the neighborhood, but in Philadelphia and Camden, cities characterized by row-house blocks, most were located in row houses.

[caption id="attachment_32809" align="alignright" width="300"] Like many other grocers in the nineteenth century, Thompson Black's Grocery Store at Broad and Chestnut Streets (1841–75, pictured in 1841) did business in a row home—a staple of Philadelphia architecture. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The stereotypical “corner store” offered clear retail benefits: two sidewalk facades provided extra space for displaying goods, increasing the relatively limited interior stock and display space and creating the possibility for two large plate glass display windows. However, even in this early era fewer than half of Philadelphia’s grocers, about 45 percent, had corner locations. They vied with many types of retail stores—saloons, pharmacies, dry goods, bakeries, hardware stores, and  tobacconists/newsagents—all desiring visible locations.  There simply were not enough corners to go around.  

Challenges of Perishables

Before refrigeration, the small grocery was an especially risky business. Grocers had to estimate the quantities of foods they could sell, which could require years of experience to accurately predict the needs of a store’s particular group of customers. Many perishable goods had to be sold the same day the grocer purchased them.  Overstocking, particularly of quickly perishable items, led to failure for many stores.

As the number of grocers increased, national trade publications, such as American Grocer (first published in 1869) and later Progressive Grocer (established in 1922) provided advice augmented by local and regional publications.  For grocers in Philadelphia, Camden, and adjacent counties, Grocers’ Price Current (1873-86), Cash Grocer (1874-94), and Grocer (1875-90) offered price and transportation information for the region. By the end of the century, the national rail network and the appearance of nationally manufactured packaged food items reduced the need for local publications. National publications kept grocers apprised of weather conditions affecting growing seasons and reported on rail strikes or other factors that affected the quality, supply, or price of food items, which the grocer might need to explain to disappointed or even angry customers.  By carrying items from an expanded marketplace, the local grocer connected each family in the neighborhood to a global food economy.   

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as Philadelphia transformed into the “workshop of the world” and outlying wards urbanized, the system of food distribution became increasingly complicated; at the end of the system, the neighborhood grocery made it all work.  By 1920, Philadelphia had an estimated sixty-five hundred independent retail grocers and two thousand additional chain and association stores, not including delicatessens, variety stores, caterers, small shops and restaurants that sold a few groceries as a sideline, or food halls at department stores that sold primarily “fancy goods.” The number of grocery stores increased steadily through the building boom of the 1920s.

[caption id="attachment_32798" align="alignright" width="287"] Samuel and Pauline Seltzer posed for this 1930 photograph in front of their delicatessen on Second Street. Prior to the advent of supermarkets, small grocers often carried homemade, culturally diverse offerings as well as pre-packaged goods. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The advent of chains and grocers’ associations beginning in the 1890s increased competition in this relatively risky business, but many independent small grocers absorbed and implemented new methods. Like chain grocers, they began carrying manufactured, packaged foods, which they displayed on shelves, in glassed counters, and in complicated arrangements like pyramids.  The independent grocers also continued to offer goods and services that made them indispensable to many customers. Many grocers took pride in offering homemade ethnic foods, such as German lunch meats, or homemade honey or home-smoked hams. Neighborhood grocery stores also offered an extension of family domestic space as women and children ran in and out every day, even several times a day, before most families acquired electric refrigerators. 

By the early years of the twentieth century, independent grocers had to show they were keeping up with modern methods as a defense against criticisms by some Progressive reformers. Journalist Ida Tarbell (1857-1944), for instance, suggested that in addition to being tempted to overweigh goods, independent grocers might sell unpackaged goods that could be contaminated or adulterated. For this reason, professional trade publications suggested displaying packaged and branded foods in large storefront windows, which also allowed passersby a full view of the interior of the store.

Chains and Supermarkets

The first grocery store chains in Philadelphia, established by several Scots-Irish and British immigrants, emerged in the 1890s.  By 1910 they accounted for about 490 stores, including the Acme Tea Company with two hundred stores and Robinson and Crawford, first established in South Philadelphia, with about one hundred. Originally very similar to independent groceries in size and daily operation, stores within a chain system benefited from central management of inventory.

Chains practiced economies of scale unavailable to independent grocers.  By standardizing inventories of member stores, they could purchase large quantities at discount from wholesalers and pass on lower prices to customers. A Wharton School economist, Clyde Lyndon King (1879-1937), suggested, though, that chains actually lowered their prices to points only just below those of independent grocers. The largest chains skipped the wholesalers and dealt directly with food manufacturers and sometimes even with farmers.

[caption id="attachment_32794" align="alignright" width="300"] To combat the increasing number of grocery chains that offered consumers discount-priced goods, small grocers and wholesalers united to form cooperatives like the Unity-Frankford grocery store shown here in 1950. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

To compete with these chains (and the growing number of independents), by the 1890s some retail grocers joined together to form wholesale associations. Reformers noted these retail cooperatives were especially successful in Philadelphia. The Retail Grocers’ Association (Girard Grocery Company) included about seven hundred Triangle Stores, so-called because their newspaper advertisements featured a triangular emblem.  The other significant grocery association in Philadelphia was the Unity-Frankford Association (Frankford Grocery Company). By 1920, about twenty-two hundred grocers had joined one or the other. Smaller groups of grocers had less success.  A group of thirty Polish grocers started the Richmond Grocery Company, but they did not have adequate working capital to purchase the large quantities necessary to pass on competitive lower prices to customers. Their association folded after just a few years. 

Grocers, as well as customers, struggled with the increasing price of food.  Like reformers, grocers identified the various middlemen in the food distribution process as a cause of rising food prices.  As retailers joined together in wholesale cooperatives, wholesalers fought back by creating retail cooperatives.  Food prices fluctuated wildly and became an issue in the 1912 election. The years 1916-17 saw a steep rise in prices of many goods, including the daily staples of flour and potatoes; women in several districts of the city, primarily in South Philadelphia, attacked pushcart vendors and grocers.  A mayoral commission appointed to investigate found that prices varied widely from grocer to grocer and that independent grocers invariably charged more than chain stores.

Chain-Store Efficiencies

Progressive reformers approved of the large-scale efficiency of the chain stores and attacked the independent retail grocer as the main culprit in high food prices.  In Philadelphia, important avenues devoted to small retail stores (Frankford Avenue, Germantown Avenue, Ridge Avenue, Woodland Avenue) frequently had two or three grocery stores to a block.  In many areas of the city, two of four corners at an intersection were occupied by grocery stores. By World War I, the city had one retail grocery for every fifty-nine families or 295 people.  Experts estimated this allowed the average grocer an income of $640 or less after expenses. Reformers believed cooperative associations should regulate the grocery trade by imposing stricter credit requirements on grocers, reducing both competition and failure. 

Even the chains had difficulty competing effectively. During and after World War I, they began merging with each other.  When the Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, the first grocery store chain in the nation, entered Philadelphia from New York and New Jersey, local mergers followed.  Five Philadelphia chains, including the Acme Tea Company, combined to create the American Stores Company, parent of ACME Markets. By 1920, six hundred grocers in the city and another six hundred in the surrounding counties had become part of American Stores. ACME experimented in New Jersey with two self-serve supermarkets, but both ACME and A&P were reluctant to abandon the familiar and overall successful model of the neighborhood grocery.

[caption id="attachment_32804" align="alignright" width="300"] This Holiday Thriftway on Frankford Avenue was originally the Penn Fruit Store (1927–78), which was founded in response to the creation of large grocery chains like ACME. Thriftway took over the location after Penn Fruit closed in the late 1970s. (Philadelphia Historical Commission, Nomination for Historic Building)[/caption]

From the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s, automobile and refrigerator ownership, the latter of which increased tenfold, changed the way Americans shopped for food. The Great Depression of the 1930s made customers even more sensitive to food prices and that decade saw a wave of supermarket expansion and innovation.  Three local businessmen founded the Penn Fruit Produce Store (1927-78) as a green grocery (only produce), but they quickly transformed their stores into a full general groceries in response to competition from ACME and A&P. By the late 1930s, Penn Fruit operated six self-serve supermarkets in Philadelphia. At its height in the 1950s, Penn Fruit ranked as one of the most successful supermarket chains in the United States.   

The Depression also provided the impetus for grocery and supermarket modernization. New Deal Main Street Programs encouraged even small businesses to remodel in a Moderne style characterized by glass and chrome, and newly constructed supermarkets most fully exploited the new visual taste. Most iconically, Penn Fruit became known for its modern streamlined curving arched storefront, even more so in 1955 when the company hired commercial architect Victor Gruen (1903-80) to create a prototype store design for the Black Horse Shopping Center in Audubon, New Jersey.  By the 1950s, developers looked to supermarkets as anchor stores for new suburban shopping centers reached by automobile. In 1953, Penn Fruit opened the first store in Shop-a-Rama in Levittown, Bucks County.  Food Fair, which originated Harrisburg in the 1920s, soon followed. Compared to these large, well-lit, glass and chrome structures in colorful new shopping centers surrounding by parking lots, traditional corner groceries in cities and the small shopping districts of inner suburbs like Swarthmore and Drexel Hill, Delaware County, often seemed out of date, unhygienic, and simply inconvenient.

Suburban Migration

In the mid- to late-twentieth century, supermarkets were identified with suburbia.  Giant, which began as a small meat market in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, expanded to several cities, but after World War II the company followed families moving to the suburbs. Genuardi's, which began as a green grocery in Norristown in the 1920s and evolved into a supermarket by the 1950s, expanded in the suburban counties west and north of Philadelphia but never opened a store in the city.

By 1970, supermarkets, which had revolutionized food distribution by carrying all kinds of foods under one roof and had largely stabilized food prices, accounted for about 70 percent of national food sales. Still, competition emerged. Offering an alternative to congested parking lots and long check-out lines, new “convenience” stores with easily accessible, roadside locations stocked basic items such as milk, snacks, and ready-made foods, tobacco products, newspapers, and sundries. In the 1990s, many began installing automatic-teller machines. Convenience stores generally charged higher prices than grocery stores and supermarkets, but they offered longer hours, sometimes twenty-four hours a day, and relatively quick service.

As with supermarkets, local and regional convenience stores competed with national chains.  A decline in popularity of home-delivered milk led two of the region’s dairy producers into the convenience store business: Heritage’s Dairy Stores, familiar in Camden and other southern New Jersey counties, opened its first convenience store in Westville, New Jersey, in 1957.  In Pennsylvania, the first Wawa Food Market opened in Folsom, Delaware County, in 1964.  Wawa expanded into New Jersey in 1968 and just one year later into Delaware.  In the early twenty-first century, Wawa also opened Center City Philadelphia stores geared toward urban pedestrians. Wawa and Heritage’s competed with the national 7-Eleven chain, founded in Texas in the 1920s, which became more famous for its Slurpee and large-sized sugared drinks than for milk and daily basics.

Large discount stores, such as Walmart and Target, also competed with supermarkets. With grocery departments as just one of their many offerings, these stores successfully offered one-stop shopping. Price clubs, like BJs and COSTCO, offered even more inexpensive food items for those who could pay annual memberships and buy in larger than usual quantities.

Food Deserts and Obesity

By the 1990s, the Philadelphia region had a full complement of supermarkets, including Giant, Shop Rite, IGA, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods (joined in the twenty-first century by Aldi, which sold discount organic produce). Quality and prices varied significantly between supermarkets and between neighborhoods, as new food categories—organic, non-GMO, and gluten-free—came into demand, for health or political reasons.  As “foodies” sought tasteful and unusual ingredients, supermarkets competed with farmers’ markets for customers who sought to “buy local.”

At the same time, in the 1990s several studies indicated that Philadelphia residents exhibited increasing levels of obesity, diabetes, and other diseases closely related to poor nutrition.  This once again made small, independent grocery stores the target of critics. Most neighborhood grocery stores still carried mainly packaged processed foods, with limited produce, meat, and seafood selection. Some urban areas (sections of Germantown, for instance, and the city of Camden) had deteriorated into “food deserts,” defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as areas lacking relatively easy access to the ingredients for a healthy diet, such as affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat milk, and other fresh food products.

To combat the high incidence of diet-related diseases in low-income neighborhoods, in 1992 Duane Perry (b. 1955), then-executive director of the Reading Terminal Market Merchants' Association, founded the Food Trust to encourage public-sector support of a nutritious food supply and a return of supermarkets to lower-income neighborhoods. Because more Philadelphians had convenient access to small neighborhood groceries, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health launched the Get Healthy Philadelphia initiative and offered neighborhood grocers financial incentive to carry at least two healthy food items in at least two food categories. In Camden, the situation was less promising as plans for a second full-service supermarket, a new ShopRite, fell through in 2016. Earlier, the city lacked a full-service supermarket for one year until a PriceRite opened in 2014, the first new supermarket to enter the city since the late 1960s.

Due to increasing publicity, dedicated activists, and widespread health concerns, supermarkets and neighborhood grocery stores brought an improved selection of healthy foods to many of Philadelphia’s residents by the beginning of the twenty-first century.  Despite new forms of competition, the corner grocery—the original convenience store—survived, and the distinctive offerings of Mexican, Asian, Italian, Nigerian, and other ethnic grocery stores in the city’s neighborhoods continued to attract a loyal following.

Anne Krulikowski holds a Ph.D. in American History with a concentration in material culture/historic preservation from the University of Delaware. She teaches at West Chester University and has published articles on working-class neighborhoods, oral history, vernacular architecture, and grocery stores.

Horticulture

The history of horticulture in Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley has been primarily a story of exploration, beautification, and preservation. Due to the relatively mild climate and fertile soils of the region, Native American groups practiced horticulture long before the arrival of Europeans. Colonists brought gardening traditions from their homelands and ushered in a new age of horticultural exploration. William Penn (1644-1718) imagined Philadelphia as a “greene country town” by way of horticulture with “gardens round each house, that it might never be burned, and always be wholesome.” By the end of the nineteenth century, horticulture grew to be not only a popular pastime but also a major commercial enterprise. As this commercial focus continued into the twentieth century, horticulture also became a strategy for preserving (and creating) green spaces.

Derived from the Latin hortus, “garden,” and colere, “to cultivate,” horticulture is the study and cultivation of plants for both beauty and utility. Horticulture encompasses activities like garden design, botanical study, and small-scale cultivation of crops (as opposed to the large-scale farming techniques of agriculture). Professional and amateur horticulturalists alike take care of forests, orchards, and arboretums, tend to vegetable and flower gardens, and cultivate species for sale or for study. While preserving and enhancing the beauty of a specific environment, horticulture also is key to maintaining a sustainable and safe food supply.

New Discoveries and Foreign Imports

In pre-contact North America, the Delaware Valley provided ample resources for the semi-agricultural communities of the Eastern Woodlands. In contrast to the hunter-gatherers of the Plains, the Lenni Lenape grew maize, beans, and squash and collected fruits and leaves from around 200 species of trees, vines, and shrubs. They fertilized their gardens with fish scraps. Although there seems to be no evidence of crop rotations, the Lenapes’ gardens changed as they moved from one village to the next, which they did frequently.

When European colonists arrived in the seventeenth century, they quickly established their own gardens to grow fruits, vegetables, medicinal herbs, and ornamental flowers. Many of the species grown in colonial gardens were transplanted from Europe. Local species were, however, foraged from the surrounding oak, hickory, and chestnut forests around the region’s small settlements. In addition to serving as a major staple of the colonists’ diet, these plants were also exported as Europeans developed an insatiable taste for colonial plants such as phlox, asters, and sunflowers.

[caption id="attachment_32926" align="alignright" width="218"] William Bartram created this botanical illustration among many others after collecting specimens along the eastern seaboard with his father, John Bartram. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

Some colonists created extensive gardens with a greater diversity of species than most typical colonial gardens. These early versions of botanical gardens were meant for study and, in the case of Quakers like John Bartram (1699-1777), for representing the diversity of God’s creation. Bartram developed the most famous North American garden of this period on the banks of the Schuylkill River in 1728. There he grew and arranged local species as well as others he collected on expeditions along the eastern seaboard, accompanied by his son William (1739-1823), who illustrated the specimens they found. The Bartrams and other enthusiasts exchanged seeds, plants, and botanical information with scientists in Europe such as Peter Collinson (1694-1768), beginning an important transatlantic dialogue about horticulture. William’s drawings became a crucial means of disseminating horticultural information in particular. In his rendering of Franklinia alatamaha, a typical example of botanical illustration from this period, William depicted only a small portion of this rare North American tree to emphasize the intricacies of its blossom and leaves so that the plant might be easily identified by others.

Bartram was not the only Philadelphian to create large-scale (and usually private) gardens in this period. Henry Pratt (1761-1838) designed his Lemon Hill estate to be a “showplace” with almost three thousand plants of seven hundred varieties. Other early botanic gardens included Tyler Arboretum, originally the farm of Jacob (b. 1814) and Minshall (b. 1801) Painter. The Painter brothers, interested in the study of natural history, collected dried plant specimens throughout their lives and in 1825 began planting more than 1,000 varieties of trees and shrubs on their property for study. In 1800 the DuPont family of Delaware started their first garden on two acres of land that later became part of the grounds for the Hagley Museum and Library.

[caption id="attachment_32849" align="alignright" width="206"] In 1871, the catalog for a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society exhibition featured the society's hall (on Broad Street) on its cover. (Historical Society of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Early in the nineteenth century, local horticulture enthusiasts began to organize. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) formed in 1827 as a means of sharing information about plants and garden design. Members exchanged seeds and grafts from each other and abroad, tested new technologies and pesticides, and tasted new varieties and uses of fruits and vegetables.

In the early days, members frequently brought new or particularly large species of plants to show off at meetings. In 1829, the society founded the long-running Philadelphia Flower Show when it hosted an exhibition at the Masonic Hall on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia to provide local growers the opportunity to display such specimens to the general public. Considered the first public flower show held in the United States, the event featured species ranging from Sickle pears to amaryllis to geraniums.

[caption id="attachment_32865" align="alignright" width="237"] Rubens Peale with a Geranium, painted in 1801 by his brother Rembrandt Peale, showcased local interest in horticulture. (National Gallery of Art)[/caption]

Many of these varieties, both local and imported, held great importance for horticulturalists in this period. Philadelphia painter Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), for instance, documented the local interest in horticulture by depicting his botanist brother, Rubens (1784-1865), holding a potted geranium in a portrait from 1801. With both Rubens and the geranium rendered in exacting detail, the work functioned as a portrait not just of Rubens but also of the flower, a variety of Pelargonium inquinans. Imported from South Africa by way of Britain, this was the first tropical geranium cultivated in the New World and therefore a major challenge for a Philadelphian to grow.

Popularizing Horticulture for the Home Grower

By the middle of the nineteenth century, the New York-based landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-52) described Philadelphia as “the first city in point of horticulture in the United States.” The early establishment of a horticultural community in and around the city as well as the incorporation of large estates into public parks, Downing argued, caused Philadelphia to develop more rapidly into a center for horticulture than other major North American cities. In addition, by the middle of the century Philadelphia became known for its horticultural publications, such as the influential Gardener’s Monthly, published in the city from 1859 to 1888 and edited by the Philadelphia botanist and nurseryman Thomas Meehan (1826-1901).

[caption id="attachment_32855" align="alignright" width="300"] This hand-colored watercolor print of Horticultural Hall in Fairmount Park depicts its size and grandeur at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. (Historical Society of Philadelphia)[/caption]

At the Centennial Exhibition of 1876, a 75,000-square-foot Horticultural Hall—the largest conservatory in the world—further marked Philadelphia as the nation's center of horticultural activity. Inside, amateur and professional gardeners from the United States and eleven other countries displayed tropical plants, fruits, vegetables, and gardening tools and equipment. Tropical plants and fruits testified to advancements in transporting plants. Ferneries and aquatic flowers (not to mention waxwork flowers) created a spectacle amidst other varieties. The popularity of Horticultural Hall, with more than 1,800 species on view, spurred development of arboretums and botanical gardens around the country.

The promotion of horticulture, particularly floriculture, at the fair also spurred the development of nurseries and seed houses in the second half of the nineteenth century. Philadelphia had long been a major center of commercial horticulture activity. It was home to the first seed house in the country, founded by David Landreth (1752-1828) in 1784, and Bartram’s garden operated as a modern nursery by 1783. Later, Robert Buist (1805-80) of Philadelphia opened Rosedale nurseries, known for its roses and indoor plants, and Meehan began the successful Germantown Nurseries in the 1850s. By the 1890s, commercial horticulture in the greater Philadelphia area reached new heights as it became internationally known as home to the largest seed house in the world, the W. Atlee Burpee Company.

[caption id="attachment_32857" align="alignright" width="213"] The Burpee seed catalog in 1910 featured some of the company’s most famous melons: Netted Gem, Rocky Ford, and Emerald Gem. The distinctive names and colorful illustrations were staples of the annual catalog. (Smithsonian Libraries)[/caption]

Begun by W. Atlee Burpee (1858-1915) as a mail-order poultry business, Burpee later switched to seeds as it proved to be a more profitable venture. Vegetable seeds became Burpee’s most popular product for home gardeners living in rural areas and emerging suburbs in the Northeast, Great Lakes, and Plains states. To promote his business, each year Burpee published a catalog filled with colorful illustrations and descriptions of vegetables and flowers. An illustration of the “Rocky Ford melon” and the “Emerald Gem,” for instance, with an up

-close depiction of one whole and another partially dissected large green melon resting in a melon patch emphasized the successful growing outcomes of Burpee’s varieties (as did distinctive names). A large part of Burpee’s success lay in his experimental farms, the first of their kind in the United States. In 1888, he established Fordhook in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where, taking advantage of the exceptional growing conditions, he developed and cultivated new varieties of plants, for example, the “stringless green pod bush bean” and “iceberg lettuce.” In 1909 he began two other experimental farms, one in California and the other, Sunnybrook, in Swedesboro, New Jersey.

[caption id="attachment_32928" align="alignright" width="300"] Photographed in 1911, students of the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women work in the institute’s greenhouse. (Temple University Special Collections)[/caption]

Seed houses like Burpee succeeded because of the gardening movement taking place in the United States at the turn of the century. As urbanites moved to the suburbs to escape the pollution and overcrowding of the cities, middle- and upper-class homeowners, especially women, became more and more interested in gardening the landscape around their homes. Groups of amateurs formed garden clubs like the Philadelphia Botanical Club (founded in 1891), the Garden Club of Philadelphia (founded in 1904), and the Garden Club of Wilmington (founded in 1918). The Garden Club of America began in Germantown in 1913. Amateur and professional degree programs also began to proliferate at this time. Women played an important role in establishing horticultural education with Jane Bowne Haines (1869-1937) opening the Pennsylvania School of Horticulture for Women in 1910 and Laura Barnes (1875-1966) opening the Barnes School of Horticulture in the 1940s. The region’s state universities later instituted Master Gardener training programs in Pennsylvania (Penn State, 1982), New Jersey (Rutgers, 1984), and Delaware (University of Delaware, 1986).

The Preservation Impulse

[caption id="attachment_32872" align="alignright" width="320"] This circa 1900 postcard for Bartram’s Garden showcases the west side of the main house and the “Lady Petre Pear tree,” which survived into the twenty-first century. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

While the commercialization of horticulture maintained a steady pace into the twentieth century, attention also turned toward preservation. Beginning in the second half of the century, municipal, state, federal, and private organizations acted to preserve the gardens and parks in Philadelphia and the surrounding region of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. In addition to ongoing preservation of areas such as Fairmount Park and Bartram’s Garden, these conservation efforts and a revived interest in native species spurred the development and preservation of nature reserves and native or wildflower gardens. The Brandywine Conservancy, founded in 1967, created a garden around the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, to pay tribute to native species. Mt. Cuba Center, a woodland wildflower refuge in Hockessin, Delaware, became a public garden in 2001.

Other preservation efforts have been organized at the local level. The Philadelphia Green program, started by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 1974, has created community gardens and small parks in neighborhoods across the city. Vacant lots have been turned into vegetable and flower gardens, and trees have been planted in a number of low-income neighborhoods, renewing interest in horticulture in these communities. The Philadelphia Orchard Project, founded in 2007, focused on planting and preserving community orchards. In southern New Jersey, the Camden City Garden Club began in 1985 to assist Camden residents with community gardening projects. It later turned its attention to educating younger generations about horticulture with its Grow Lab program and the Camden Children’s Garden, a four-acre “horticultural playground.” In the twenty-first century, professional and amateur horticulturists in the greater Philadelphia area continued, as they had for centuries, to use gardening as a means of beautifying urban spaces, encouraging the exploration of nature, and building communities.

Eliza Butler is a Core Lecturer in Art History at Columbia University. Her research centers on the intersection of landscape, natural history, and material culture in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century North America.

Eliza Butler

Eliza Butler is a Core Lecturer in Art History at Columbia University. Her research centers on the intersection of landscape, natural history, and material culture in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century North America.

LOVE (Sculpture)

The sculpture commonly known as “the LOVE statue,” first placed in Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Plaza for the 1976 Bicentennial, was not the only sculpture of its kind—by the twenty-first century, it was not even the only sculpture of its type in Philadelphia. Yet LOVE, by Robert Indiana (1928-2018), came to be embraced by Philadelphians and the city’s promoters as a distinctive icon for the City of Brotherly Love. Standing like a beacon thirteen feet high (six feet of artwork atop a seven-foot base), the colorful aluminum sculpture became a marker of identity for the surrounding plaza, increasingly known only as “Love Park.”

The LOVE design of four letters stacked in a square with a tilted “O” predated the Bicentennial, as did the artist’s association with Philadelphia. Indiana (who took the name of his home state) worked in New York, but his first single-artist museum exhibition occurred in Philadelphia in 1968 at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania. On the rise as a Pop artist, Indiana was working in a style he termed “verbal-visual,” in which words became elements of art. LOVE, which appeared at ICA in the form of paintings, prints, and a small sculpture, had been developing as a motif in Indiana’s art since 1961, when he created the design for a personal Christmas card and then for an immensely popular set of holiday cards issued by New York’s Museum of Modern Art. A subsequent LOVE poster for an Indiana show at New York’s Stable Gallery in 1966 further disseminated the design, which struck a responsive chord in the emerging counterculture of the 1960s. Along with love-ins, love beads, and other symbols of love and peace, Indiana’s work seemed symbolic of the times.

[caption id="attachment_32698" align="alignright" width="173"] The AMOR sculpture, created in 1998 by Robert Indiana, is the sister statue of the famous LOVE statue. Conceived in response to the changing demographics of the United States, the work stands in Sister Cities Park, Philadelphia. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia photograph)[/caption]

In addition to LOVE, the body of Indiana’s work displayed by ICA in 1968 included many other paintings, sculpture, and prints with themes drawing primarily upon American literature, current events, history, and popular culture. ICA director Stephen S. Prokopoff (1929-2001), one of the exhibition’s curators, viewed Indiana’s focus on American themes as harmonizing with Philadelphia’s history as a center for American art in the early nineteenth century. The catalog for the ICA exhibition contributed to later scholarship about Indiana’s work by including the artist’s “auto-chronology” of his life and work to that point in time.

By the early 1970s, LOVE came to overshadow Indiana’s other work as it circulated in many forms, as original art and in copies both authorized and unauthorized. The artist had come to the opening of the ICA exhibit sporting an 18-carat gold LOVE ring, one of series of 100 he had authorized to be made by Villanova-based Rare Rings, a new venture by Pop-art merchandise entrepreneurs Joan Kron and Audrey Sabol. For the cover of the novel Love Story (1970), another artist closely mimicked the colors and typography of Indiana’s design. Indiana himself produced versions large and small. A 12-foot-tall steel sculpture of LOVE, which became part of the permanent collection of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, traveled for exhibition in Boston and New York in 1971 and 1972. A 20-foot painting of LOVE appeared in an Indiana exhibition in New York. Indiana also created a miniature version of LOVE for a postage stamp, issued in time for Valentine’s Day 1973. Philadelphia, as the City of Brotherly Love, provided the setting for a first-day-of-issue ceremony held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The U.S. Postal Service went on to sell more than 300 million of the eight-cent LOVE stamps. Intended to be red, green, and blue, the stamps turned out to be red, green, and purple—the result of overprinting blue over red.

[caption id="attachment_32699" align="alignright" width="201"] Promotional banners installed at LOVE Park following renovations in 2016-18 feature updated marketing, including the social media hashtag #lovepark. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia photograph)[/caption]

The aluminum LOVE sculpture placed in John F. Kennedy Plaza, the public park at Fifteenth and JFK Boulevard near City Hall, featured the same colors as the stamp—red, green, and purple (replaced by blue during subsequent restorations but returned to the original purple in 2018). Indiana loaned the work to Philadelphia for the Bicentennial, a year also marked by the installation of Clothespin by another leading Pop artist, Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), one block away at Fifteenth and Market Streets. LOVE, alas, proved to be fleeting. When the artist’s dealer recalled the sculpture to New York for a potential buyer in 1978, a public outcry ensued. City officials, who admitted to having no knowledge of the art market, had declined to pay the $45,000 asking price to keep LOVE in the park. Ultimately the price came down to $35,000, paid as a donation by Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. (1923-2006), owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission. The Quaker Export Packaging Company donated its labor to retrieve the lost LOVE.

Secured again in John F. Kennedy Plaza, LOVE became a landmark and reference point in local geography. The Philadelphia Inquirer attributed the usage “Love Park” to homeless people who frequented the plaza during the 1980s. During the 1990s, “Love Park” gained widespread currency among skateboarders attracted by the varied levels of stone and concrete walls, steps, and benches of the plaza. Skateboarding videos and video games spread the image of LOVE in Philadelphia. By the time a thorough redesign and reconstruction of the plaza occurred in 2016-18, plans prioritized keeping LOVE in its place and termed the surrounding public space as JFK Plaza/Love Park. When the park reopened, “Love Park” appeared on banners and signs as a promotional brand.

[caption id="attachment_32693" align="alignright" width="300"] The LOVE statue installed at the University of Pennsylvania in 1966 is an earlier version of the later-famous statue in Love Park (1976). The statue, located on campus in Blanche Levy Park, is part of the university’s sculpture tour. (Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia photograph)[/caption]

Indiana continued to create LOVE sculptures into the late 1990s, including variations in other languages. By the twenty-first century, they could be found across the United States, in Israel, Europe, and Asia. In the Philadelphia region, the University of Pennsylvania and Lehigh University each had its own LOVE, and Ursinus College had a copy authorized by the artist. In 2015 for the visit of Pope Francis (b. 1936), the Philadelphia Museum of Art brought one of Indiana’s Spanish-language AMOR sculptures to the city, where it remained.

Philadelphia did not possess LOVE alone. Nevertheless, the sculpture became one of the city’s most recognizable icons, attested and reinforced by the steady flow of visitors seeking it out, posing for photographs, and placing themselves into a distinctively Philadelphia scene of LOVE.

Charlene Mires is Professor of History at Rutgers-Camden and Editor-in-Chief of The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia.

Cody Schreck

Cody Schreck is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee pursuing a master’s degree in Public History, Museum Studies and Non-Profit Management. He also works as a Research Assistant for The Encyclopedia of Milwaukee.

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