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Salem County, New Jersey

[caption id="attachment_29387" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Full color postcard with large oak tree with sprawling limbs at the center, a short brick wall behind the tree, and three houses in the background. The Salem Oak, depicted in this early twentieth-century postcard, was a beloved landmark in Salem County. According to local tradition, founder John Fenwick affirmed his claim to the so-called “Salem Tenth” beneath the mighty white oak. (Visit Salem County)[/caption]

Before Philadelphia’s founding, Salem, New Jersey, was the first English Quaker colony along the Delaware River. Established in 1675, the city of Salem had early prominence and served as a port of entry, but was soon overshadowed by Philadelphia. Although eighteenth-century settlement in Salem County consisted primarily of farmers and craftsmen, the proximity of the Philadelphia market by ship, steamboat, and railroad spurred additional industry during the nineteenth century, particularly glass manufacturing, canneries, dairies, poultry, fishing, and truck farming. With the advent of World War I, DuPont Powder Works and Chambers Works permanently changed Salem County, bringing an influx of new residents and immigrants and establishing the precedence of industry over agriculture. The Delaware Memorial Bridge and the modern highway system increased the number of commuters living in the county while working in Delaware, Philadelphia, and other South Jersey counties. By the twenty-first century, Salem County remained a rural region of farm fields and small towns, still close to the urban hub of Philadelphia. However, the decline of former manufactories created a pressing need to increase jobs, industry, and tourism.

The area that became Salem County was first settled by the Lenape, followed by Swedes who arrived in the Delaware Valley in 1638 and purchased the New Jersey side of the Delaware River from Cape May to Raccoon Creek. To curb English settlement and establish their precedence over the Dutch, the Swedes built Fort Elfsborg at what was later called Elsinboro to guard the Delaware River. By 1654, when the Dutch took control, the Swedes had settled at Finns Point and other locations on the neck of land between the Delaware and the Salem River.

The first permanent English settlement in Salem County was established by John Fenwick (1618-83), who arrived with Quakers and other Englishmen on the Griffin in 1675. Prior to his departure, Fenwick had purchased the West Jersey holdings of Lord John Berkeley (1602-78)—a transaction of disputed validity. After negotiations with William Penn (1644-1718) and others, Fenwick was granted one-tenth proprietorship of West Jersey. Shortly after Fenwick arrived to plant his colony, he affirmed his claim by purchasing from the resident Lenape three tracts of land stretching along the Delaware River from Oldman’s Creek to the Maurice River, known as the Salem Tenth. At the mouth of the Salem River, Fenwick founded the city of Salem, which became a port of entry in 1682. Although the Swedes still lived in the land along the Delaware River, Fenwick brought them under English rule, and they were eventually absorbed by the English colony. Due to ongoing controversy regarding his ownership of the land, Fenwick had to relinquish all but 150,000 acres of his colony to William Penn in March 1683, just months before Fenwick died. The Salem Tenth officially organized as Salem County in 1694 with Salem City as the county seat; it was one of the two original West Jersey counties and included the region that later separated to form Cumberland County.

The first major road laid out in Salem County was the Kings Highway, commissioned by the West Jersey Assembly in 1681 to connect Salem with Burlington, at that time the other principal town of West Jersey. The next major roads, beginning in 1707, connected Salem with Greenwich in the area that later became Cumberland County. Settlements formed around three principal bridges across Alloways Creek: Hancock’s Bridge, Quinton’s Bridge, and Thompson’s Bridge (later Alloway). By the early 1700s, settlements had also formed inland at mills in Woodstown and Daretown along the Salem River and at Centerton along Muddy Run, feeding into the Maurice River. At the northern border of the Salem County, Pedricktown and Sculltown (later Auburn) formed along Oldman’s Creek. After Cumberland County separated from Salem County in 1748, Stow Creek became the southern border of Salem County. Roads continued to be laid out to connect these early settlements, which generally centered on mills or taverns.

[caption id="attachment_29398" align="alignright" width="230"]Color photograph of two story, three bay, brick home taken from the front right corner of the building in order to showcase the pattern brick-work on the side of the home. Many Salem colonists built pattern-brick houses during the early eighteenth century. A few dozen examples of this unique architectural style have survived into the twenty-first century, such as the Hancock House, seen here in a recent photograph. (Courtesy of Andrea Tingey, New Jersey Historic Preservation Office)[/caption]

During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, additional English colonists arrived from Great Britain and New England and French Huguenots and Dutch migrated south from New York. The county’s strong Quaker presence and religious tolerance attracted Quakers and Baptists. Less nobly, wealthy Salem County residents purchased enslaved persons from the West Indies and Africa for housework and farm labor. By 1737, Salem County’s population had reached 5,884, with 184 slaves forming roughly 3 percent of the population. Initially residing in log houses, many colonists built pattern-brick houses during the early eighteenth century; a few dozen examples of this unique architectural style survived as private residences or tourist attractions into the twenty-first century.

Farms and Manufactories

From the port of Salem, the early settlers exported grains (wheat, corn, rye, and oats), animal products (beef, pork, tallow, and pelts), and timber (cedar posts, shingles, staves, and cordwood) to New York, Boston, and the West Indies. As Philadelphia emerged as a rival in foreign trade, Salem shifted focus to supplying the Philadelphia market. In addition to mills, farming, tanning, woodworking, and masonry, the first major industry was glass making, which Caspar Wistar (1696-1752) of Philadelphia established in 1738 with a glass works at Wistarburg in Alloway Township. The Wistarburg Glass Works, which operated until the Revolutionary War, attracted many German immigrants to Salem County.

The Revolutionary War figures strongly in Salem County lore, although no major battles occurred in the county. Salem County provided militiamen for the Continental Army, provided cattle and fodder for Washington’s troops at Valley Forge, and fiercely fought the British and Loyalists during skirmishes. With rich farm fields, Salem County tempted both the American and British troops, whose foraging in Salem in 1778 prompted the Battle of Quinton’s Bridge and the Hancock’s Bridge Massacre.

By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the rich soil of Salem County had been exhausted of nutrients, farms yielded poor harvests, and many farmers migrated to the Midwest. In 1826, however, the discovery of marl, an excellent fertilizer, in Pilesgrove led to revitalized soil and solidified agricultural presence in Salem County. Farmers raised cattle, potatoes, fruits, vegetables, poultry, and dairy products to supply the Philadelphia markets, and fishing for shad, herring, and sturgeon became important industries along the Delaware River. As the need for shipping increased, shipbuilders in Salem and Alloway responded by producing schooners, canal boats, brigs, and later steamboats. By the 1830s, steamboats ran regularly from Salem and Penns Grove to Philadelphia and Wilmington, transporting crops to market and goods for export.

Salem County’s population rose by 1800 to 11,371, including 85 slaves and 607 free blacks. The oldest African Methodist Episcopal Church in New Jersey, established in Salem City in 1800, predated the founding conference of the A.M.E. denomination in Philadelphia in 1816. The Quaker influence significantly reduced slavery in Salem County, and by 1830 only one slave remained, with 1,411 free blacks among the total population of 14,155 residents. The significant increase of free blacks (by 1830 making up 10 percent of the population) resulted partially from the Underground Railroad and an influx of escaped slaves. Because of its proximity to Philadelphia and its strong Quaker presence, Salem County became a haven for many fugitives, who settled in free black communities in Mannington, Pilesgrove, and other townships.

When the Civil War began, Salem men quickly enlisted in the Union Army. Local women also contributed to the cause, most notably Cornelia Hancock (1840-1927), who served as a nurse after the Battle of Gettysburg. Although no battles occurred on Salem County soil, Fort Delaware in the Delaware River housed Confederate prisoners in overcrowded and unhealthy conditions; 2,436 prisoners died and were buried in Salem County at Finns Point Cemetery, across the river from Fort Delaware.

Impacts of the Railroad

In 1863, the West Jersey Railroad connected Salem to Camden and Philadelphia, passing through Salem County’s small towns along the way. The Delaware River Railroad crossed the northern region of Salem County to Penns Grove in 1869. These railroads offered daily passenger trains between Salem County and Philadelphia, allowing residents to commute to work in the city. In addition, the railroads offered a new way to transport goods and produce to the metropolitan area. Taking advantage of the shipping opportunities, industry in Salem County expanded. Glass factories formed in Salem and Quinton in 1863; the Quinton Glassworks supplied glass for the Centennial Exhibition buildings in Philadelphia in 1876. A variety of other factories (spindles, shoes, cigars, and others) also emerged near these railroad lines. The American Oil Cloth Company started in Salem in 1868. Later, Mannington Mills became a significant flooring manufacturer.

[caption id="attachment_29390" align="alignright" width="300"]Black and white aerial photograph showing large industrial complex owned by the Heinz corporation along the right bank of the Salem River as well as homes and other buildings. The H.J. Heinz food processing plant, in the lower left corner of this 1929 aerial photograph, operated in Salem City from 1905 to 1977. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The railroad also allowed farmers to ship tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus, and other vegetables and fruit to Philadelphia to be sold or to South Jersey canneries such as Campbell Soup in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Small local canneries emerged in several Salem County communities, and a Heinz food processing plant operated in Salem City from 1905 to 1977. The increased need for agricultural workers attracted immigrants from Europe (especially Italy), and some canneries built housing for immigrant workers. In addition to produce, caviar harvested from sturgeon became a key export from Penns Grove during the 1880s. Dairy farms shipped milk to Philadelphia, and local creameries created ice cream and other dairy products for export. Abbott’s Alderney Dairies, founded in Mannington, shipped milk by train to the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876; the creamery moved to Philadelphia the following year. By the 1920s, roads and trucks had surpassed railroads as the preferred shipping method, allowing farmers to drive produce to Camden and Philadelphia.

In addition to facilitating commerce, railroads and steamboats brought tourists, vacationers, and immigrants to Salem County. The New Jersey Southern Railroad brought Russian Jewish immigrants from New York City to Pittsgrove Township, where in 1882 they established the Alliance Colony, subdividing the land into fifteen-acre parcels with the intent of forming an agricultural utopia. With limited agricultural experience, however, the settlers had to supplement their crops with clothing factories and other industry, later adding the poultry and egg businesses. The community expanded during the early 1900s, but by 1959 the Jewish presence had waned, and a new wave of migrants–primarily African Americans and Hispanics–moved into the houses.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, vacationers from New York, Philadelphia, and other cities rode the railroad to parks at lakes such as Rainbow Lake, Centerton Lake, Palatine Lake, and Parvin State Park, while steamboats traveling daily from Philadelphia to Salem brought vacationers to groves along the Delaware River such as French’s Grove at Penns Grove and Silver Grove in Pennsville (later known as Riverview Beach Park). These parks and groves featured swimming, boating, rides, and pavilions for skating and dancing. The Wilson Line provided regular transportation from Philadelphia, Camden, and Wilmington to Penns Grove and Salem along the Delaware River, which became popular vacation spots for city residents.

As automobiles took over from railroads, the ferries crossing between Delaware and Salem County could not adequately handle the surge of vehicles, and the Delaware State Highway Department constructed the Delaware Memorial Bridge between Wilmington and Deepwater (the first span opened in 1951, and the second in 1968). Along with the bridges in Gloucester and Camden Counties, highways linked Salem County to Philadelphia, Delaware, and the rest of the country. Commuters traversed the county on the New Jersey Turnpike (completed 1952) and I-295, vacationers headed through the county to the shore, and trucks exported and delivered goods.

Population Growth and Change

[caption id="attachment_29392" align="alignright" width="300"]Sepia-toned photograph of a village of one-and-a-half story bungalows. Workers from around the United States, as well as immigrants from other countries, flooded into Carneys Point, Penns Grove, and Pennsville to work at the DuPont Company’s plants. To accommodate the influx, DuPont built temporary housing, barracks, and workers villages, like the one in this early twentieth-century photograph. (Hagley Museum and Library)[/caption]

Industry boomed at the DuPont Powder Works once World War I broke out, and Salem County changed forever. DuPont had established the Powder Works at Carneys Point just south of Penns Grove in 1891 to create smokeless gunpowder for the Spanish-American War, but World War I dramatically increased the need for munitions. Workers from around the United States, as well as immigrants from Italy, Russia, Poland, Ireland, Germany, and other countries, flooded into Carneys Point, Penns Grove, and Pennsville to work at DuPont. Between 1910 and 1920, Salem County’s population increased by about ten thousand, compared to a typical increase of one thousand in prior decades. Carneys Point’s population jumped from 744 to 6,259, while neighboring Penns Grove’s population increased from 2,118 to 6,060. During World War I, the plant employed a high of over twenty thousand people. To accommodate the influx of workers, DuPont built temporary housing, barracks, and bungalows, and even put up tents to house the workers. With dramatic increases of students, Penns Grove and Carneys Point expanded and built new schools.

In 1917, DuPont started the Chambers Works at Deepwater in Pennsville Township, initially focusing on creating dyes, an industry previously dominated by war-torn Germany. The Chambers Works became a worldwide leader in organic chemicals by discovering and creating materials such as Teflon, nylon, and Freon. DuPont remained a major employer for the rest of the century, with high wages that continued to draw both locals and new residents to Salem County. By 1964, approximately 25 percent of county households included a DuPont employee. Although Carneys Point’s population dropped after World War I, the population increased again from 1930 to 1960, remaining around seven thousand or eight thousand for the rest of the century. From 1930 to 1970, Pennsville dramatically increased in population, rising from 2,933 to 13,296, making it the most populous municipality of the county. A once-rural area had become densely populated, lining the industrial belt along the Delaware River between Salem City and Penns Grove.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Salem County’s industrial towns slumped, especially Salem City and the Borough of Penns Grove. Both places experienced decreases in jobs and industry as factories and small businesses closed, prompting a rise in poverty and abandoned housing. Because Salem and Penns Grove also had high minority populations, racial tensions aggravated the situation. At the time schools integrated in 1947, most Salem County elementary schools were segregated while high schools were integrated. It took several years before all the schools integrated, due to reluctance as well as the need for additional facilities to accommodate extra students. An NBC television special in 1964, which calculated that Salem City most embodied “Average Town USA,” also revealed local prejudice. Racial tensions continued to escalate during the following decade with a few cross burnings that were soon halted. At the time, African Americans comprised 29 percent of Salem City’s population.

[caption id="attachment_29568" align="alignright" width="300"]Map of income levels in Salem County in 2014 Salem County's industrial towns slumped as factories and small businesses closed. (Click to enlarge map by Michael Siegel, Rutgers Geography Department)[/caption]

By 2010, minorities had become the majority in Salem and Penns Grove; Salem City was 62 percent African American, and Penns Grove was 40 percent African American and 28 percent Hispanic. These regions, along with Carneys Point and Pennsville, also had the highest numbers of foreign-born residents and Hispanics. Puerto Rican migrant workers began arriving after World War II to pick vegetables between spring and fall, and later settled permanently. The Puerto Rican Action Committee (PRAC) of Southern Jersey, formed in 1971 by Salem County Agricultural Workers to rally the Hispanic community and advance opportunities, remained active into the twenty-first century.

Blighted by poverty, over 20 percent of the households in Salem City and Penns Grove received public assistance in 2010, and the unemployment rate was 27 percent in Penns Grove and 18 percent in Salem. Over 60 percent of houses in these cities were rentals, with high percentages of multiple unit dwellings and several hundred vacant homes, 22 percent vacant in Salem City in 2010. Volunteers from organizations such as Stand Up For Salem (established in 1988) attempted to revitalize the county seat through restoring neglected buildings, developing downtown businesses, fund-raising, and promoting events with moderate results.

Small Town Survival in the Suburban Era

[caption id="attachment_29416" align="alignright" width="300"]Cowtown Rodeo ring with audience in foreground and background and flag bearing horse riders in between. Salem County's Cowtown Rodeo, which promotes itself as being the oldest weekly running rodeo in the United States, hosts bull and bronc riders, calf ropers, barrel racers, rodeo clowns, and wry commentary from the arena announcer. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

In contrast to the declining urban populations, Salem County’s rural regions gained residents as suburban housing and commuting became popular in the second half of the twentieth century. Rural townships experienced growth in the 1950s or gradually increased throughout the century. Pittsgrove Township received the most new residents, increasing from 2,808 in 1950 to 8,121 in 1990. Developments such as Palatine Lake Village and trailer parks attracted new residents, many of whom longed to live in a rural setting. The completion of Route 55 in 1989 and the ease of access to I-295 and the New Jersey Turnpike made living in rural Salem County, while commuting to jobs outside the county, feasible. According to the 2010 census, although 14,002 Salem County residents worked within the county, 10,730 residents commuted to work in other South Jersey counties or out of state, with the top work locations being Cumberland County (30 percent), Delaware (24 percent), Pennsylvania (16 percent), and Camden County (11 percent).

PSE&G’s Salem Generating Station, built between 1976 and 1986, became Salem county’s largest employer. Consisting of three nuclear power plants on Artificial Island off the coast of Lower Alloways Creek, the facility supplied New Jersey, Philadelphia, and the Delmarva Peninsula. DuPont Chambers Works, Mannington Mills, and hospitals in Mannington and Elmer continued to be significant employers. Although Salem’s glass factory closed in 2014, Salem Community College (founded in 1972) continued the glass tradition by offering Glass Art and the only Scientific Glass Technology degree in the country. The Salem County government attempted to expand use of the railroad between Salem and Swedesboro, repairing it to connect with the port of Salem, another underused asset in the twenty-first century. New businesses in Salem County included distribution centers and warehouses at the Gateway Business Park in Oldmans Township. Still, the need for more jobs and businesses to counteract high property taxes remained.

[caption id="attachment_29406" align="alignright" width="300"]Color pie chart depicting land use patterns in Salem County as of 2002. Despite the presence of industry, Salem County has remained primarily agricultural. (Chart from the Salem County Farmland Preservation Plan)[/caption]

Despite its industrial presence, Salem County remained primarily agricultural with small towns, and many residents resisted further development. In response to the community’s desire to preserve farmland, the county freeholders established the Salem County Agriculture Development Board and the Agricultural Land Preservation Program (1990) and the Farmland Preservation Plan (2006). At both the county and municipal levels, voters approved taxes dedicated to support Farmland Preservation, resulting in over three hundred farms preserved after 1990. By May 2017, Salem County had the most preserved farmland in the state, with 36,459 acres under protection. Salem County farms still produced corn, hay, soybeans, vegetables, and fruits for market; horse farms, nurseries, sod farms, and wineries also were on the rise. The biggest tourist attraction in Salem County remained the Cowtown Rodeo, founded in 1929 as the only weekly rodeo east of the Mississippi. Other cultural attractions bringing tourists from urban areas included the Salem County Fair, the Appel Farm Arts & Music Center, the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Pow Wow, the Arts in Bloom tour, historic house tours, wine trails, and other festivals, as well as a multitude of outdoor activities at local state parks and nature preserves as Salem County invited people to “Discover the Treasures.” Whether marketing rural charm, exporting goods and produce, or seeking employment at a commutable distance, Salem County continued to benefit from both the opportunities and the needs of Philadelphia and its suburban area.

Bonny Beth Elwell is a Salem County historian and genealogist, serving on the board of several historical organizations. She works as the editor of the Elmer Times newspaper, the Library Director of the Camden County Historical Society, and is the author of Upper Pittsgrove, Elmer, and Pittsgrove (2013) and other publications.

Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania

Dating to 1682, Philadelphia County’s founding coincided with the origin of the city. Although the county faded from view after its consolidation with the city in 1854, it remained important for understanding Philadelphia’s urban development, local government, and long battles for political reform.

[caption id="attachment_28884" align="alignright" width="280"] Rural landowners' names and their lots in Philadelphia, Chester, and Bucks Counties appear on this map created in 1687 by Thomas Holme. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

When founding Pennsylvania, William Penn (1644-1718) followed long-established precedent by dividing his province into counties. As an ancient jurisdiction, the county had roots in the shires of England’s Saxon earls. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the shires became known as counties. Over the following centuries they became the primary administrative subdivisions for a growing state, and then in the American colonies beginning in Virginia in the 1630s. Penn followed suit, creating Philadelphia, Bucks, and Chester Counties in 1682.

Over the course of the eighteenth century the Provincial Assembly and Pennsylvania State Legislature altered Philadelphia County’s borders as the colony expanded. As colonists who had migrated westward petitioned for local governments of their own, portions of Philadelphia were sliced off to form Berks (1752) and Montgomery (1784) Counties. By 1800 Philadelphia County’s boundaries had been fixed in a manner that roughly corresponded to the future city limits, running along the Delaware River from southwest to northeast and stretching over the Schuylkill River to the west.  

Local government in early Philadelphia County took place at three levels. Incorporated municipalities enjoyed rights granted by the proprietor, much in the manner of self-governing English towns. Within the county, the two-square-mile city of Philadelphia (1691) and Germantown (1691) each benefited from these privileges, although Germantown lost its charter in 1707 after devout Quakers and Pietists proved reluctant to hold local offices on religious grounds. Between that point and the Revolution, only Southwark (1762), which stood just to the south of the city proper, secured incorporation. Beyond these self-governing municipalities, county government held sway, with Philadelphia city serving as the seat. As the county covered a large rural area, it was subdivided into townships–twelve in all by 1718–that took on administrative roles. In Blockley, Bristol, and Byberry, for instance, township constables performed many of the same duties as Philadelphia’s sheriff.  

County Politics

County government played an important role in the lives of the colonists. Together with its townships, it built and maintained highways, provided for the poor, preserved the public peace, prosecuted and punished offenders, and impounded stray animals. Like a chartered corporation, Philadelphia County could hold property and could sue and be sued. As the most visible form of local government, moreover, it became a political battleground. Despite holding Pennsylvania as a feudal estate, Penn and his heirs soon had to grant the province a measure of self-rule, which extended to counties and townships. Thus while a few county officers were directly appointed, voters usually had at least some say. The proprietor, for instance, chose the county sheriff, but only from the two leading candidates at the polls. Because a far higher proportion of Philadelphia’s rural men than their urban counterparts met the property qualification for voting, participation in county politics was common, including service as directly elected officials included property assessors and tax collectors.  

[caption id="attachment_28906" align="alignright" width="300"]Color lithograph depicting large, gothic-style structure with adjacent Egyptian-revival building. A black horse-drawn carriage is shown passing in the foreground as two men look on. With its imposing stone façade, Moyamensing prison dominated Tenth and Reed Streets from 1835 to 1968, when it was finally demolished. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Colonial patterns persisted long after the proprietorship of the Penns. In the decades after American independence, growing parts of Philadelphia County sought incorporation as self-governing municipalities, a process that gathered pace in the Jacksonian era. Many of these municipalities, like Moyamensing and Kensington, stood on the edge of Philadelphia proper, separated from the city only by lines on the county map that were more imaginary than real. Others, notably Manayunk (1840) and a rechartered Germantown (1844), burgeoned as villages, miles from the growing metropolis. The vast majority of Philadelphia County remained rural, and in these areas county and township government appeared perfectly adequate, especially as more positions–including the sheriff from 1838–opened to direct election. County jurisdiction also extended into the incorporated municipalities. Residents of the city, districts, and boroughs voted for county officers and paid the county tax, which went toward the upkeep of highways, courts, bridges, and prisons; some of the biggest building schemes proposed around mid-century—including early plans for public buildings at the Broad and Market intersection—were county projects. Among such designs was Moyamensing’s imposing jail—designed by Thomas U. Walter (1804-1887), fourth architect of the U.S. Capitol building—which stood from 1835 until 1968.

Philadelphia’s “turbulent era,” however, exposed the limits of county government. Between 1828 and 1849 the city was wracked by riot after riot, including the anti-Catholic violence of 1844. Much of the trouble took place in the newly incorporated suburbs. Neither city nor suburbs maintained a modern police force prior to 1845, and when crowd action got out of hand, it usually fell on the sheriff, as traditional conservator of the peace, to restore control by raising a posse comitatus (“power of the county”). Although the sheriff’s powers were broad in theory (a judge in 1844 compared them to those of a dictator in the Roman Republic), they proved weak in practice. One Kensington strike in 1843 concluded with weavers turning on the sheriff, and a year later, after the posse proved unable to stop two major mobs, the county was placed under martial law. Attempts to improve the county’s response to rioting—notably an 1841 statute that made taxpayers liable for losses incurred during riots—had little impact, and instead citizens began to look to either the creation of a professional police force or the consolidation of the city and built-up districts into one municipal government.

As if to step into the vacuum created by the want of strong municipal authorities, the county became more assertive. In 1853, the County Commissioners tried to borrow $2 million to help fund a railroad to Lake Erie. Such actions, along with the money made in fees by county and township officers, drew censure from prominent citizens; one labeled the purchase of stock “the most flagrant act of injustice ever attempted.” Frustration at spendthrift officials swelled support for a consolidation, which, when it finally came in 1854, swallowed the entire county into the city.

Consolidation’s Far-Reaching Effects

The extension of the city’s boundaries to embrace the county’s vast rural environs went far beyond the designs of most consolidators. Opposition to consolidation came largely from rural townships, where the routine work of maintaining highways and providing for the poor seemed a world away from the complex administration of a big city. In the years leading up to the Civil War residents in the remote northeast petitioned the state legislature to break away from the city and either form a new county or merge with neighboring Bucks; such secessionist sentiment in Philadelphia’s northeast persisted late into the twentieth century. But in 1854 consolidators promised county landowners spectacular returns on their property, lower rates of taxation, and the maintenance of separate poor boards. The mixture of incentives and concessions tempered hostility to annexation.

[caption id="attachment_28917" align="alignright" width="240"]A map of the city of Philadelphia, with colored sections separating sections of the city. This map depicts the districts, boroughs, and townships consolidated into the City of Philadelphia in 1854. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

With the 1854 charter, Philadelphians were not quite sure whether city and county had become one and the same—even the architect of the Consolidation Act expressed his doubts, and the city commissioners retained a degree of independence from councils and the mayor—but the new charter seemed to have done its work. The county board disappeared, as did the townships, except for the purpose of providing poor relief. County officials came under the city’s control, including the county commissioners, who oversaw elections and tax collection. The county continued to play a role in the justice system, but the cost of maintaining courthouses and prisons fell on the city. A single municipal treasury had authority to raise taxes and disburse funds for city and county purposes.

Yet in the late nineteenth century divisions between city and county began to reappear. The state constitution of 1874 made several offices—including commissioner and treasurer—county positions. Courts subsequently confirmed that these city officers under the Consolidation Act were constitutionally-protected county officials. To municipal reformers, such a seemingly academic distinction had serious political consequences. First, county officials could spend money of their own accord and then leave the bill with city government. This “mandamus evil,” as Progressive reformers called it, reminded residents of post-Civil War commissions that had similar powers to burden the municipal treasury. Second, elected county officials had access to a rich patronage pot and considerable income in the form of state-mandated fees. A new city charter in 1919 established a merit system for city employees, but as the county lay beyond its jurisdiction, jobs there could still go as political rewards. By the middle of the twentieth century, about a thousand county employees were excluded from Philadelphia’s civil service requirements. Long before then, however, county offices had become a boon to Republican bosses like Simon Cameron (1799-1899) and James McManes (1822-99).

Long Road to True Consolidation

The task of completing what one early twentieth-century critic called the city and county’s “half-hearted” consolidation preoccupied reformers from the Progressive era (c. 1890-1920) onward. The independent Bureau of Municipal Research, which acknowledged the “complicated and technical” relationship between the two governments, nonetheless argued in 1923 that the matter was “of sufficient importance to engage the attention of every citizen.” The bureau led the drive for “home rule”: a measure adopted in other states that gave cities the freedom to draw up their own charters without legislative interference. Calls for the consolidation of city and county offices accompanied the campaign. Given that the 1874 state constitution safeguarded county offices, this required a constitutional amendment, and a measure enabling such a reform failed in a 1937 referendum despite registering a large majority in Philadelphia.

In the post-World War II era reformers found friendlier terrain for consolidation. Democrats Joseph S. Clark (1901-90) and Richardson Dilworth (1898-1974) exposed swindling in the Republican city machine, and for once “corrupt and contented” Philadelphians responded. Civic organizations called for home rule and the merger of city and county functions. In 1951, they secured a home rule charter, and state voters approved an amendment allowing cities and counties to merge. By 1952, under the reform charter, the work of bringing county offices under city control was well underway.

Philadelphia’s first consolidation in 1854 had merged the territory of city and county; its second, almost a century later, brought their separate institutions together under unified control. The county “row offices,” though, did not disappear entirely. In 2017, the Sheriff, the City Commissioners, the Clerk of Quarter Sessions, and the Register of Wills remained a part of city government. Reformers saw them as expensive anachronisms. The Register of Wills, for instance, was just about the only part of the municipal apparatus exempt from Philadelphia’s civil service rules. Philadelphia County died as a unit of local government, but in pockets of City Hall its legacy lived on.      

Andrew Heath is a Lecturer in American History at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. He is writing a book on the Consolidation of 1854.

Bonny Beth Elwell

Bonny Beth Elwell is a Salem County historian and genealogist, serving on the board of several historical organizations. She works as the editor of the Elmer Times newspaper, the Library Director of the Camden County Historical Society, and is the author of Upper Pittsgrove, Elmer, and Pittsgrove (2013) and other publications.

Scots Irish (Scotch Irish)

Pennsylvania’s Scots Irish, a hybrid people of Scots and Irish ancestry, were the most numerically predominant group within an Irish diaspora migration that brought between 250,000 and 500,000 Irish immigrants (most of them Protestants from Ulster and predominately Presbyterians) to America between 1700 and 1820. Philadelphia was one of their principal destinations.

As the prototypical “peoples in motion” of their time, the Scots Irish moved first from the Scottish Lowlands to Ulster during the seventeenth century at the behest of the English, who desired them to act as a Protestant colonizing force among Ireland's native Catholics. After 1700, when faced with deteriorating economic conditions and mounting religious and political persecution as dissenting Protestants (not members of the official, state-sponsored Church of Ireland) in Ireland, and later, after the failed 1798 Uprising (a rebellion of Irish Protestants and Catholics that aimed to overthrow British rule and establish a republic) and the British crackdown that followed it, they chose to migrate again.

This time, the Scots Irish came to America, migrating as servants and free people, individuals and families, and sometimes as political exiles and refugees. They arrived in two major waves at the ports of New Castle, Delaware, and Philadelphia between 1710 and 1776 and then again between 1780 and 1820. After nearly a century of migration, the Scots Irish became one of the largest non-English ethnic groups in Pennsylvania, composing approximately 25 percent of Philadelphia’s population and 15 percent of the state’s population in 1790; they were also among the most influential.

Cradle of Scots Irish Culture

The Mid-Atlantic, particularly Pennsylvania, was thus the first American home of the Scots Irish, serving as the cradle for their culture. Pennsylvania had much to offer them. Because of the value proprietor William Penn (1644–1718) had placed on religious tolerance in planning his colony, Pennsylvania had a pluralistic society where these Scots Irish Presbyterians would no longer be stigmatized as dissenters. The colony’s economy, anchored by the rapidly expanding port city of Philadelphia, was also growing rapidly. An expanding flaxseed trade with Ireland during the eighteenth century, one closely tied to the immigrant trade, offered immigrant Scots Irish merchants abundant commercial opportunities in Philadelphia and encouraged farm families to continue the linen production they had done in Ireland in America. The growing colony and its practice of purchasing lands from Indians also offered newcomers abundant rural lands and a generally peaceful climate in which to settle. Finally, with Philadelphia as the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church in America, the Delaware Valley also offered Scots Irish Presbyterians the promise of a spiritual home.

[caption id="attachment_28607" align="alignright" width="300"]A sepia-tone drawing of a group of men dressed in hats and jackets attacking a group of people in simple clothing in the middle of a street. There is a row of buildings in the background, but they are in the distance behind the group of people. The Paxton Boys' brutal attack on the Native American residents of Conestoga contributed to a negative stereotype of the Scots Irish as violent Indian-haters. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Popular histories of Pennsylvania’s Scots Irish associate them mostly with the expansion of the colonial frontier, where, as prototypical American backwoodsmen, they built log cabins, farmed and traded, wove flax into linen, distilled whiskey, and fought Native Americans. Because of their participation in the notorious Paxton Boys’ “massacre” of the Christianized Conestoga Indians at Lancaster (1763) and their eagerness to fight brutally against Native American, French, and British enemies during first the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) and then the American Revolution (1776–83), scholars have often portrayed them as violent Indian-haters and frontier ruffians. Their violent resistance against the whiskey tax during the Whiskey Rebellion (1794) and their especially vicious destruction of Philadelphia’s Catholic Irish immigrant neighborhoods during the city’s “Bible riots” (1844) not only confirmed their reputed predilection for violence, but ensured that historians would regard them as racists and nativists, too.

Yet these stereotyped and negative images are only partly correct. In actuality, Pennsylvania’s Scots Irish were a socioeconomically diverse immigrant group from a variety of class, occupational, and educational backgrounds. While many did settle on the Pennsylvania frontier, many others did not; not all Scots Irish were country bumpkins and gun-toting ruffians. Many Scots Irish individuals and families, who ranged in status from impoverished indentured servants, to middling shopkeepers and traders, to wealthy Atlantic World merchants and professional men, made their homes in urban Philadelphia and its hinterlands and in other, smaller interior Pennsylvania towns such as Carlisle, Easton, Bedford, and Pittsburgh. They did not farm, but traded, retailed goods or services, practiced professions or trades, or labored as servants. And while some did live in log cabins, many others resided in stylish stone and brick homes where they enjoyed the kind of cosmopolitan lifestyle that other elite Americans did, albeit with a Scot-Irish emphasis on family, church, and education.

Positive Contributions

Pennsylvania’s Scots Irish thus contributed to the Philadelphia region in many positive ways, including by shaping the religious landscape. Having suffered as dissenters in Ulster, Scots Irish Presbyterians relished Pennsylvania’s commitment to religious pluralism. When the Ulster-born minister Francis Makemie (1658–1708) founded the first presbytery in the colonies at Philadelphia in 1706, Presbyterians claimed the Delaware Valley as their own. The establishment of their first American synod at Philadelphia and the creation of new presbyteries at New Castle, Delaware, and Long Island, New York, cemented these regional ties in 1717. The Presbyterian presence in the region grew quickly thereafter, with new congregations and meetinghouses closely following the founding of Scots Irish settlements near Philadelphia and in the colony’s growing backcountry. The church’s influence continued into the twenty-first century, as the Synod of the Trinity (formerly the Synod of Philadelphia) remained one of the largest synods in the church.

[caption id="attachment_28538" align="alignright" width="300"]Black and gray illustration of a three bay log building with chimney; Four men standing at the end of a walkway connecting the building to the road. Presbyterian minister William Tennent founded this school in 1726 to train evangelically-minded clergy. Critics mocked Tennent for attempting to educate poor country boys, derisively referring to his academy as the “Log College.” (Internet Archive)[/caption]

Scots Irish Presbyterians also had a profound impact on higher education in the region. When the transatlantic religious revival known as the Great Awakening (approximately 1730–60) bitterly split Scots Irish Presbyterians into New Sides who favored conversion and Old Sides who adhered to the primacy of scripture, it heightened Presbyterian commitments to education. New Side Presbyterian evangelicals such as the Ulster-born Rev. William Tennent (1673-1746) bolstered their influence by founding schools to train evangelically minded, converted clergy. The success of Tennent’s boys’ academy (derisively called the “Log College” by critics), which he founded at Neshaminy, Bucks County, in 1726, helped set the stage for the 1746 chartering of the College of New Jersey (Princeton University). Old Side Presbyterians responded by founding their own schools. The Ulster-born Rev. Francis Alison (1705-79) established his New London Academy in 1743 in Chester County (it was later moved to Newark, Delaware, and evolved into the University of Delaware) and served as vice provost at the College of Philadelphia (University of Pennsylvania) until his death in 1779. Later, long after the church repaired this schism and reunited, Benjamin Rush and a group of Old Side Presbyterians chartered Dickinson College in Carlisle in 1783. Presbyterians also founded Arcadia, Wilson, Waynesburg, and Westminster Colleges.

Leadership Positions

In politics, the Scots Irish held many critical political leadership positions in the state. Having experienced discrimination under British penal laws in Ireland, the Scots Irish formed the core of the commonwealth’s revolutionary vanguard by leading the resistance movement to Great Britain and volunteering in large numbers for Continental army and militia service. As committed republicans, they drafted a radical state constitution that democratized the new state’s republican political order by establishing a unicameral legislative government. Although that government model lasted only until 1790, it was the most radical state government of the revolutionary period. Scots Irish political participation continued during the early republic when they strengthened their control of state politics with the election of one of their own, the Chester County–born attorney and state Supreme Court Justice Thomas McKean (1734–1817) as the state’s Democratic-Republican governor (1799–1808).

Despite such gains, Scots Irish influence gradually waned during the nineteenth century. This happened in part because the new waves of more predominately Irish Catholic immigrants who began to arrive after 1815, and especially during the famine migrations of the late 1840s and 1850s, challenged what it meant to be Irish in America. The Scots Irish, who could claim a heritage as proud patriots and republicans during the Revolution and its aftermath, reacted defensively by aligning themselves with America’s white, Protestant, and sometimes xenophobic cultural mainstream. Some of their working-class members took to the streets to join other nativists in violent anti-Catholic riots, and they supported the anti-immigrant platform of the Know-Nothing Party during the 1850s. Others acted in less confrontational ways to shed their identity as “Irish,” the label they had long accepted, and to adopt the name “Scotch Irish” as a way to highlight their Scots Protestant heritage, a testament to their status as white American pioneers of the nation. To reinforce their claims as pioneers and weave themselves into the fabric of the nation’s founding, they established organizations such as the Pennsylvania Scotch Irish Society (1889) to preserve their history, “keep alive the spirit de corps of the Scotch Irish people,” and promote their unique contributions to American culture.

Scots Irish influence in the region also dwindled because this “people in motion” continued to move. While some stayed in Pennsylvania, many other families left the region in search of new opportunities elsewhere beginning in the eighteenth century. At first, they followed the Great Wagon Road into the southern backcountries of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia. Later, they traveled other overland routes across the Appalachian Mountains to pioneer the American Midwest and states such as Kentucky and Tennessee. In moving, they created a “Greater Pennsylvania” culture region that extended Scots Irish influence well beyond the state’s borders, while simultaneously putting a Scots Irish stamp on southern backcountry and Appalachian culture. It is no surprise, then, that according to U.S. Census data from 2015, only 1.1 percent of Pennsylvania’s residents claimed Scots Irish ancestry by the early decades of the twenty-first century. Thanks to several centuries of migration, Scots Irish had become more often associated with the hillbilly culture of southern Appalachia or the cracker culture of the Deep South than with the mid-Atlantic region.

Judith Ridner is an associate professor of history at Mississippi State University. She is the author of A Town In-Between: Carlisle, Pennsylvania and the Early Mid-Atlantic Interior (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010) and The Scots Irish of Early Pennsylvania (to be published in 2017 by Temple University Press for the Pennsylvania Historical Association).

Judith Ridner

Judith Ridner is an associate professor of history at Mississippi State University. She is the author of A Town In-Between: Carlisle, Pennsylvania and the Early Mid-Atlantic Interior (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010) and The Scots Irish of Early Pennsylvania (to be published in 2017 by Temple University Press for the Pennsylvania Historical Association).

Railroad Strike of 1877

The first nationwide strike in the United States occurred in the summer of 1877 as rail workers and their supporters throughout the nation protested conditions under corporate control. While Philadelphia largely escaped the turmoil that erupted in other cities as authorities worked vigorously to quash labor opposition, the city’s National Guard regiment nonetheless became entangled at the center of Pittsburgh’s violent confrontations.

[caption id="attachment_25549" align="alignright" width="285"]Black and gray illustration depicting Robert Ammon sitting at a table, reading a document, surrounded by several men. This 1877 sketch by John Donaghy depicts leader Robert Ammon directing the actions of the Trainmen’s Union. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The leading causes of this strike lay in the Panic of 1873, which brought massive unemployment, exposed the lack of safeguards against unemployment and support for relief for the poor, and brought attention to the concentration of power in corporate hands. When workers were presented with a 10 percent wage reduction in June and July 1877 on top of those horrible conditions, they struck. Starting on July 16, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 began in Martinsburg, West Virginia, spread quickly throughout the nation, and reached Pennsylvania on July 19. That morning workers in Pittsburgh struck against reduced wages and the institution of “doubleheading,” the practice of doubling the number of rail cars without increasing work staff.

The morning of July 19 two brakemen and one flagman refused to go on a doubleheader. Throughout the day workers refused to couple train cars, seized switches, and swarmed the tracks, preventing any freight trains from leaving the city. The company appealed to the mayor and sheriff for assistance, but both proved ineffective at dispersing the strikers. The local regiment of the National Guard mustered into duty on the morning of July 20, but only 250 of the 326 men reported for duty. Lacking sufficient force to meet the emergency, adjutant general and Philadelphia native James Latta (1839–1922) telegraphed Major General Robert M. Brinton (1843-85), commander of the First Division of the National Guard in Philadelphia, for assistance. The next day, six hundred Philadelphia militiamen left for Pittsburgh.

[caption id="attachment_25550" align="alignright" width="285"]Black and gray illustration of building with smoke billowing into the air. Mangled railroad tracks and broken wheels and axels are visible in the foreground. This 1877 illustration depicts flames and thick smoke rising from a Pennsylvania Railroad roundhouse at Pittsburgh. Strikers set fire to the roundhouse in an attempt to “burn out” Philadelphia militiamen who had taken refuge inside the building. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The arrival of the Philadelphia militiamen turned the relatively peaceful strike in Pittsburgh into a scene of violence and disorder. Pennsylvania Railroad officials attempted to resume freight traffic and ordered the troops to suppress any resistance. When protesters threw stones and other missiles at troops, the Philadelphia “Dark Blues” opened fire, killing over twenty people, including one woman and three small children. The outraged strikers and their sympathizers spent the rest of July 21 burning all the Pennsylvania Railroad property they could. The following day, troops clashed again with protesters, leaving an additional twenty-three dead, including three members of the First Division. The Philadelphia troops ultimately escaped the city and returned to Philadelphia, but their presence and actions in Pittsburgh drew significant criticism from a subsequent investigation.

By way of contrast, the city of Philadelphia served as a model of law and order during the Great Railroad Strike. Alerted to the trouble in Pittsburgh, Thomas A. Scott (1823–81), president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, enlisted the help of Philadelphia Mayor William Stokley (1823 - 1902). Known both for personally leading troops against striking gas workers in 1872 and keeping Philadelphia safe during the Centennial celebration of 1876, Stokley responded quickly with the concentration of his 1,300-man police force in the vicinity of the West Philadelphia station, located one block from the present 30th Street Station. Responding to the reported violence in Pittsburgh, Stokley banned public meetings and suspended the citizens’ rights of assembly.

On Sunday July 22 a crowd of nearly five hundred people approached the West Philadelphia depot. As the Philadelphia troops had done in Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia police charged the crowd, but with nightsticks instead of bayonets. This show of force, and lack of fatalities, dispersed the crowd and restored order to city. Shaken by the incident, however, Scott wired Governor John F. Hartranft (1830-89) for additional troops, which arrived the following day. Together with an augmented local force, doubled in size once again by Stokley, these forces assured that freight trains would successfully leave the city on July 24.

A number of factors saved Philadelphia from the fate of Pittsburgh and the handful of other cities where violence followed the strike. Unlike Pittsburgh, where the Pennsylvania Railroad drew widespread criticism for charging exorbitant rates, Philadelphia’s leadership maintained a favorable attitude towards the corporation. The city itself held 59,000 shares of Pennsylvania Railroad stock, worth nearly three million dollars and therefore had a vested interest in preventing destruction of its property.

More important, the combination of Stokley’s quick actions and the city’s show of force spared Philadelphia. While Pittsburgh Mayor William McCarthy (1820–1900) refused to appear before the crowd in his city, and ultimately left the city to care for his sick wife, Stokley returned from vacation and personally oversaw the efforts to prevent large-scale unrest. Stokley’s decision to increase the police force of Philadelphia to 1,300 men before the strike, and then to double that number as unrest unfolded, gave Philadelphia nearly twenty times the local forces than was available in Pittsburgh during the strike (a meager 120 men). The only fatality in the city during the nation’s great labor uprising occurred on July 26, as policemen attempted to break up a public meeting. Although criticized by labor advocates and defenders of civil liberties, Stokley received praise for his actions not only from Philadelphia newspapers, but also from the committee formed to investigate the strike and by Governor Hartranft in his 1878 annual address to the state.

By the end of August, the Great Railroad Strike had ended throughout the nation, primarily due to the increased presence of federal troops. Questions followed about the role, function, and efficiency of law enforcement agencies throughout Pennsylvania during the strike, including that of the National Guard. Ultimately, while Philadelphia’s First Division received harsh criticism for its actions in Pittsburgh, Stokley set an example for the state and nation on how best to combat civilian unrest.

Patrick Grubbs is a Ph.D. candidate at Lehigh University who is writing his dissertation entitled “The Duty of the State: Policing the State of Pennsylvania from the Coal and Iron Police to the Establishment of the Pennsylvania State Police Force, 1866 – 1905.” He has been employed at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, since 2009 and has taught Pennsylvania history there since 2011.

Public Media

Philadelphia participated early and actively in the founding and development of public broadcasting, which expanded across the twentieth century to encompass radio, television, and digital platforms. Public media organizations have given voice to local concerns, provided forums for diverse opinions, and offered programming not found in commercial broadcasting.

Precedents for public broadcasting originated in the United States in the form of noncommercial educational radio stations in the early days of broadcasting. During the 1920s and 1930s radio became America’s dominant media for entertainment and the instantaneous transmission of news. However, the Great Depression decimated stations run by educational and academic institutions, and by 1933 seventy-five percent of educational stations had ceased broadcasting. Financial problems also plagued educational television stations. In 1938, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began reserving a spectrum of channels for noncommercial educational use. By 1952, 242 such stations existed in the United States, but by 1959 the number declined to forty-three.

[caption id="attachment_25568" align="alignright" width="216"]Black and white photograph of Professor John Roberts leaning on studio recording equipment. WRTI was founded by Temple professor and broadcast pioneer John Roberts as part of the School of Communication and Theater. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Three of Philadelphia’s public media outlets had their origins in this era, two with the benefit of support by local universities. At the University of Pennsylvania, WXPN began as a student-run, campus-limited AM radio station in 1945 and gained its license as an FM station from the FCC in 1957. Temple University began its campus-limited AM station in 1948 with call letters indicative of the station’s mission: WRTI, for “Radio Technical Institute.” The FCC licensed WRTI as an FM station in 1953. In 1954 the region also gained WHYY (“Wider Horizons for You and Yours,” an educational radio station founded by a partnership of community leaders including Dr. W. Laurence LePage (1902–85), president of the Franklin Institute. Westinghouse Radio stations donated a studio for WHYY in the Architect’s Building at Seventeenth and Sansom Streets.

WHYY moved into television programming in 1957, broadcasting on an educational station, UHF-Channel 35, which operated under the auspices of the School District of Philadelphia. With support from the city’s cultural and educational institutions, WHYY broadcast news and arts programming from studios at 1622 Chestnut Street—a renowned Art Deco building formerly home to WCAU (later occupied by the Art Institute of Philadelphia). The opportunity to move to Channel 12 on the VHF television dial emerged in 1963 when a VHF license became available in nearby Delaware. WHYY sought and obtained the license from the FCC, then began broadcasting a local news program from a studio in Wilmington at Fifth and Wood Streets. While maintaining this foothold in Delaware, the station subsequently moved into WFIL-TV’s former station facility at Forty-Sixth and Market Streets, donated by media magnate Walter Annenberg (1908-2002).  

Struggle for Funding

While generally acknowledged as a public good, educational radio and television consistently struggled for funding. Public broadcasting did not become viable as a national system until 1967 with passage of the Public Broadcasting Act. Promoted by President Lyndon Johnson (1908-73) as part of his Great Society program to relieve poverty, provide educational opportunities, and address racial inequalities, the Public Broadcasting Act established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and charged it with founding the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS, established in 1969) and National Public Radio (NPR, 1970). An earlier public television network, National Educational Television (NET) merged with PBS in 1970. With support from the federal government, these entities became the cornerstones for public broadcasting throughout the United States.

WHYY became one of the first charter members of the National Public Radio network in 1970. While broadcasting primarily classical music, and some of its locally produced shows began to reach nationwide audiences, including “Fresh Air” (inaugurated in 1975) with Terry Gross (b. 1951) and “Voices in the Family” (which premiered in 1985) with Dan Gottlieb (b. 1946). In 1979, WHYY moved to Sixth Street near Independence Mall, occupying the former the Living History Center, a museum built for the Bicentennial that had gone bankrupt in 1978. The City of Philadelphia leased the building to the station for a dollar a year.

[caption id="attachment_25562" align="alignright" width="300"]Della Lazarus sits reading a thin booklet facing right, with a microphone in front of her face and controls just behind her. A soundproof window is behind the audio controls and two men sit on the other side, one sitting (likely Bill Sinrich), reading the contents of a paper into a mic of his own. Working in WXPN's Spruce Street studios in 1975 are (from left) disc jockey Della Lazarus, station manager Jamie Garner, and AM program director Bill Sinrich. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The question of whether the federal government should fund public broadcasting spurred debate by the early 1970s, followed by major cuts during the administration of President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) in response to conservative allegations of the network’s supposed liberal bias. During this era, the 1980s and 1990s, the region’s public radio stations altered their formats as they searched for expanded audiences and greater sustainability. In 1987, WHYY dropped classical music and transitioned into a mainstay for reporting and commentary on news and the arts. After a commercial station, WFLN, also dropped its classical music format in 1997, Temple’s WRTI partially filled that niche by moving from the all-jazz format it had followed since 1969 to broadcasting classical music during the day and jazz in the evening. At the University of Pennsylvania, from the start WXPN had featured an eclectic mix of musical genres. In 1986 the station repositioned itself to operate as a financially self-sufficient enterprise. Changes included hiring professional staff and initiating professionally-run fundraising drives. The station became known for innovative programming such as Kid’s Corner (begun in 1988), one of the country’s longest-running interactive children’s radio shows, and World Café (debuted in 1991), a showcase of cutting-edge and “world” music distributed by NPR.

Regional Affiliations

All three stations developed networks of regional affiliates. During the 1980s, WRTI expanded its audience to affiliates in northeast and central Pennsylvania well as New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland. During the 1990s WXPN also increased it listenership by adding a number of regional affiliates throughout Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey.   WHYY television, in addition to its locations in Wilmington and Philadelphia, added WDPB-Channel 64 (Seaford, Delaware) as an affiliate broadcasting in southern Delaware. The public media landscape also shifted in 2011, after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (b. 1962) directed the dismantling of NJN (the state’s public television and radio network). While public broadcasting stations in New York bought NJN stations in North Jersey, WHYY acquired WNJS (Berlin), WNJB (Bridgeton), WNJN (Atlantic City), WNJM (Manahawkin), and WNJZ (Cape May Court House).

The region’s public broadcasters augmented their original productions from a national array of sources. For radio, in addition to NPR these included Public Radio Exchange (a nonprofit content provider headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts), Public Radio International (Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose parent company is WGBH, Boston), and American Public Media a nonprofit headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota). For television, in addition to PBS, sources of programming included American Public Television, the Independent Television Service, and the National Educational Telecommunication Association.

With the advent of computer technology, podcasting, and digital radio, public broadcasting became “public media,” with new vehicles for delivering programming and new models for economic viability and relevance. Public radio, including Philadelphia’s WHYY, embraced new media to publicize and distribute content and to reach a younger audience. In 2000, WHYY opened its Technology Center and Independence Foundation Civic Space to encourage civic participation with the station’s media content. In 2010, continuing to extending its reach beyond broadcasting, WHYY opened the Dorrance H. Hamilton Public Media Commons to promote digital skills and digital media production for the region’s residents, including students and teachers. WHYY also launched two websites, WHYY.org and NewsWorks.org, the station’s multi-platform information service.

In the twenty-first century, state, local, and federal funding for public broadcasting continued to shrink. By 2014, according to the Congressional Research Service, the share of federal funding had fallen to only about 15 percent for public television stations and 10 percent for radio, leaving public broadcasting increasingly reliant on corporate and viewer support. While funding and competition for audiences from traditional and digital media remained challenges, the region’s public broadcasters pursued innovation and new platforms to revitalize and promote public media’s mission as the electronic “vox populi.”

Vibiana Bowman Cvetkovic is a reference librarian at the Paul Robeson Library of Rutgers – The State University of New Jersey.

Fairmount Park Houses

[caption id="attachment_24414" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Color photograph depicting the front facade of an eighteenth century, Georgian-style home with a dependency on either side. Architectural historians have generally agreed with John Adams, who called Mount Pleasant “the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania.” (Courtesy of Fairmount Park Conservancy)[/caption]

From the mid-eighteenth century, prominent Philadelphians looking for a rural, healthy, scenic environment built small mansions, or villas, along the Schuylkill River, one of two major waterways that define Philadelphia's geography. In the early nineteenth century, the city began to acquire properties along the Schuylkill, including these villa houses. These purchases culminated in the 1855 creation of Fairmount Park, which stretches for five miles along both banks of the Schuylkill.

Most of the architecturally noteworthy houses, the “Fairmount Park houses,” existed within Fairmount Park on the east and west sides of the Schuylkill. Dating to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, they make up a remarkable collection of historic landmarks in one of America’s largest urban parks. Over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the Fairmount Park houses transitioned from private to public ownership, were adaptively reused, and often became historic house museums. These houses have served as a bellwether for how Philadelphians have conserved and used their historic architecture.

A rural environment close to their business concerns in the city attracted commercial elites who were key figures in the busy port city of eighteenth-century Philadelphia. Although there had long been dwellings of many types along the Schuylkill, by the 1740s, as the city grew more prosperous, patrons began to build a number of larger houses along the river. The construction of elegant houses along the Schuylkill, reminiscent of developments such as Richmond and Twickenham along the River Thames near London, occurred in Philadelphia especially in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

[caption id="attachment_24416" align="alignright" width="280"]Color photograph depicting the front facade of a two-story brick home. A complicated series of land transactions in the 1750s led to construction of several houses, including Woodford, originally a one-story home built for Philadelphia merchant William Coleman in 1756. (Courtesy of Fairmount Park Conservancy)[/caption]

Pre-Revolutionary observer Patrick M’Robert noted how the country around Philadelphia was “interspersed with genteel country seats.” Houses were not evenly distributed, and concentrated more densely on the east side than on the west. On the east side of the river, one of the first noteworthy houses was The Cliffs (prob. 1750s), built for merchant Joshua Fisher (1707–83). A complicated series of land transactions in the 1750s led to construction of several houses, including Woodford (1756, enlarged 1772) by Philadelphia merchant William Coleman (1704–69) and Laurel Hill (1767) for wealthy widow Rebecca Rawle (1730–1819). Architectural historians have generally agreed with John Adams (1735–1826), who called Mount Pleasant (1762–65) “the most elegant seat in Pennsylvania”; it inspired other Georgian mansions built in the 1760s or later, such as Cliveden, Port Royal, Laurel Hill, or expanded, as at Woodford. On the west side of the river, the largest house built during the colonial period in the area that later became Fairmount Park was Lansdowne (1773, burned 1854), for John Penn (1729–95), the last colonial governor of Pennsylvania.

Building continued and even accelerated after the Revolution. By the 1790s, Philadelphians used the term “villa,” suggestive of a semirural retreat close to a city, to describe these houses. John Penn’s cousin John Penn Jr. (1760–1834) built a small villa inspired by a German hunting lodge in about 1785, called The Solitude, which later became part of the Philadelphia Zoo. Built in about 1789, Strawberry Mansion (originally Summerville) served as home to several prominent Philadelphia lawyers, jurists, and political leaders, including William Lewis (1752–1819) and Joseph Hemphill (1770–1842). Hemphill added the large Greek Revival wings to the original center section, creating the largest of the Fairmount Park houses. In 1797, merchant and politician Samuel Breck (1771–1862) constructed Sweetbriar, although it functioned for him as a permanent residence rather than a retreat from urban life. The final villa in what became Fairmount Park, Rockland, was completed between 1810 and 1815, bringing to a close about eighty years of building along the Schuylkill’s banks.

Owners built villas for various reasons. Health—especially to avoid frequent yellow fever and cholera epidemics—motivated some, while others sought to display wealth, taste, and status. Scant information exists about the designers of these houses, although most scholars agree that capable master builders who were likely members of the Carpenters’ Company drew on pattern books widely available in the American colonies especially after the 1750s. The houses reflected a cornucopia of architectural taste, including examples of Georgian, Palladian, and Federal styles, a veritable catalogue of colonial architecture when taken as a whole.

[caption id="attachment_24426" align="alignright" width="280"]Photograph of historic Rittenhouse bake house. The building is one story, with a stone facade and the doors and windows have been painted a bright yellow. Within Fairmount Park, several vernacular structures connected with the region’s early manufacturing also existed, including this bake house, restored by the Friends of Historic RittenhouseTown in the late twentieth century. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Over the course of the nineteenth century, industrialization and suburban expansion made river villas less attractive. Slowly from the 1820s, in an effort to preserve its drinking water supply, Philadelphia began purchasing the land that became Fairmount Park. Lemon Hill (1799–1801), an elegant neoclassical house built for merchant-trader Henry Pratt (1761–1838), was part of the first parcel acquired by the city. By the end of the 1860s, many of the original villas were under Fairmount Park ownership. Within Fairmount Park, less elaborate houses connected with the region’s early manufacturing also existed. Historic RittenhouseTown, established as a paper mill in the 1690s, included a number of vernacular structures, many destroyed by Fairmount Park authorities in the 1890s, and represented both industrial and domestic history in the park.

Although some property owners made efforts to retain control over villas—and this may have resulted in more effective public/private arrangements over time—for the most part houses along the Schuylkill became public property, sometimes to their detriment. Over the years, the city adapted many of the Fairmount Park houses to other uses, including restaurants, beer gardens, employee housing, and rental properties. Such active use served to protect the houses, as buildings generally underwent only minor, and mostly reversible, changes. At the same time, it demolished many outbuildings in the park that required extensive maintenance and upkeep.

The houses of Fairmount Park were situated in ornamental as well as practical landscapes. A drawing by Pierre du Simitiere (1736–84) shows the garden of William Peters (1702–86) at Belmont (built 1745), replete with cherry trees, gravel walk statuary, and a Chinese temple. Such landscapes were largely lost by the late nineteenth century, although the city made some effort in the early twenty-first century to restore view sheds and the relationship to the river, as at Lemon Hill. Also lost were many outbuildings that would have supported these villas and were a critical part of their aesthetic and functional landscapes.

[caption id="attachment_24418" align="alignright" width="280"]Color photograph of the front facade of Lemon Hill, a historic home in Fairmount Park. Lemon Hill is an elegant neoclassical house built for merchant-trader Henry Pratt in 1800. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The Centennial Exhibition of 1876, which drew nearly ten million visitors to Philadelphia to celebrate the history and achievements of America, increased interest in colonial history and architecture and an awareness of the special character of Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park houses, although it took time for these ideas to result in action. The Letitia Street House, initially believed to be the oldest house in Philadelphia and William Penn’s city residence—it was neither—was moved from Center City Philadelphia to Fairmount Park in 1883, the year following the bicentennial of Penn’s arrival. Lemon Hill, which in the late nineteenth century had functioned as a restaurant and ice cream parlor, became a striking example of restoration and reuse. While the Philadelphia Museum of Art was erected on Fairmount in the 1920s, the museum director, architectural historian Fiske Kimball (1888–1955), restored the house in 1926 and lived there until the 1950s. Indeed, Kimball was a pivotal figure in championing the historical and aesthetic importance of the Fairmount Park houses, which he referred to as the “Colonial Chain.”

Efforts like Kimball’s set the stage for renewed interest in the preservation of buildings, moving them toward museum status. As a result, during the twentieth century, citizens became increasingly concerned to see these material fragments of early America preserved and made available to the public. Although Philadelphians and tourists often thought of the villas along the Schuylkill River as the “Fairmount Park houses,” the term also included other structures, including some that had been relocated to the park. An early example, Cedar Grove (1748) was originally located in the Frankford section of the city along the Delaware River, but moved to Fairmount Park in 1926–28.

The Bicentennial resulted in enhanced efforts to repair and preserve the buildings in anticipation of millions of visitors. Controversy erupted in the late 1970s and 1980s about caretakers being allowed to live for free in some Fairmount Park houses. On one hand such arrangements provided security and maintenance, on the other it was seen as a corrupt practice providing free housing. Either way the demise of the caretaker system saw damage to some houses, such as The Cliffs.

[caption id="attachment_24419" align="alignright" width="280"]Color photograph depicting the front facade of Belmont, a historic home in Fairmount Park. In the foreground, a female interpreter is wearing an early eighteenth century costume. Originally maintained as the home of early Pennsylvania statesman William Peters, Belmont became better known in the late twentieth century for its connection to the Underground Railroad. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, a patchwork of organizations preserved and managed the Fairmount Park houses. Although owned by the city, differing management arrangements, many with patriotic women’s service organizations such as the Committee of 1926, the Colonial Dames of America, and the Women for Greater Philadelphia, resulted in a unique character for each house. By the early twenty-first century, arguments by some cultural leaders and government authorities that there were too many historic house museums in the city threatened the futures of the Fairmount Park houses. Some of the houses tried to adapt to these changed circumstances. The earliest villa in Fairmount Park, Belmont Mansion, for example, characterized a shift made in the stories told and the history interpreted by historic houses in Philadelphia. Originally maintained as the home of early Pennsylvania statesman William Peters (1701–86), it became better known in the late twentieth century as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Others remained open as more traditional house museums highlighting architecture and elite owners, while still others functioned as hostels, offices, or rental venues.

Since the mid-eighteenth century the banks of the Schuylkill River have been a scenic focal point for Philadelphians. The small mansions and villas that became a part of Fairmount Park retained a significant presence as cultural symbols of a period signifying Philadelphia’s role as a leading city and, later, as contributors to the environmental centerpiece that is Fairmount Park.

Stephen G. Hague teaches British and modern European history at Rowan University. His research interests center on social, cultural, and architectural history, and he is the author of The Gentleman’s House in the British Atlantic World, 1680–1780.

Locomotive Manufacturing

[caption id="attachment_25198" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Illustration of an early steam-powered locomotive. During the first phase of locomotive manufacturing in Philadelphia, Norris Locomotive Works (later Richard Norris & Son) became the most successful manufacturing firm, producing nearly one thousand locomotives between 1834 and its closure in 1866 or 1867. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

For over one hundred and twenty years, railway locomotives were built in Greater Philadelphia. From the pioneering manufacturers of steam locomotives in the Spring Garden section of the city in the 1830s to the sprawling plant of the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Delaware County in the twentieth century, the products, the companies, and the buildings were archetypes of Philadelphia’s industrial might at its manufacturing peak. Baldwin Locomotive became the largest producer of steam railway locomotives in the United States. By the mid twentieth century, however, even Baldwin could no longer compete in the world market, which had shifted to diesel and electric locomotives.

The rise, dominance, and decline of locomotive manufacturing in the region had two complementary contexts, one local, the other transnational. In the late 1820s American railroads imported steam locomotives from Britain and, because the locomotives had to be partially disassembled for shipping, employed local artisans to put them back together. Because these imported locomotives were expensive and often too heavy and rigid for the poorly constructed track used in the United States, engineering firms on the East Coast quickly began to build local alternatives. In Philadelphia, entrepreneurs drew on the city’s broad engineering base and its skilled workforce to adapt the British technology.

[caption id="attachment_25188" align="alignright" width="232"]Black and white portrait of a man in a black suit with a high collar. Matthias Baldwin was a jeweler, inventor, and manufacturer. During the second phase of railway locomotive production, which lasted from the end of the Civil War to the 1930s, Baldwin Locomotive Works dominated the industry nationwide. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

This first phase of locomotive building in Philadelphia lasted from the 1830s to the American Civil War and consisted of a variety of small-scale enterprises that tended to have difficulty surviving economic downturns, such as the Panic of 1837. In 1830, the American Steam Carriage Company was founded in Philadelphia and manufactured its first locomotive the next year. It failed. In 1831, Matthias W. Baldwin (1795-1866), a Philadelphia jeweler and machine maker, built a working scale model of one of these British imports for Peale’s Philadelphia Museum. That same year, he reassembled the English locomotives constructed for the New Castle and Frenchtown Turnpike and Rail Road, Delaware’s first railway, and learned still more about the new technology. In 1832, Long & Norris, a successor to American Steam Carriage, and Baldwin built successful locomotives for the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad, the first line to open in the city.

Norris Locomotive Works

During this period the most successful builder in the city was the Norris Locomotive Works (the successor to Long & Norris, which operated under various names and differing partnerships). Norris produced nearly one thousand locomotives between 1834 and its closure in 1866 or 1867. The firm achieved success through engineering innovations (it substituted a movable truck or bogie for the standard fixed front axle on English locomotives, which worked better on the poor American track) and by generating publicity (on July 10, 1836, it operated a steam locomotive up the steep rope-worked inclined plane in West Philadelphia on the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad). Its designs became so popular that it became the first American exporter of locomotives. By 1840, 30 percent of the firm's production went to foreign markets. Norris locomotives operated in England, France, Prussia, Austria, Saxony, Belgium, Italy, Canada, Cuba, and Colombia. By the 1850s, Norris was the largest locomotive builder in the United States, but it closed shortly after the Civil War during a downturn in demand for steam locomotives.

[caption id="attachment_25199" align="alignright" width="250"]Color postcard depicting a large red building. In 1906 alone, the Baldwin Locomotive Works produced 2,666 steam locomotives and employed more than eighteen thousand workers at its facilities on North Broad Street, depicted in this early twentieth-century postcard. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The second phase of railway locomotive production lasted from the end of the Civil War to the 1930s, a period when Philadelphia’s Baldwin Locomotive Works dominated the industry nationwide. With a plant located near the Norris Locomotive Works in the city’s Spring Garden section, in the 1830s, 1840s, and 1850s, Baldwin, although less innovative than Norris, produced higher-quality products. This, combined with innovations in financing, allowed Baldwin to thrive in the second half of the nineteenth century. By 1870 (four years after the death of its founder), the Baldwin Locomotive Works was by far the largest producer of steam locomotives in the United States and one of the largest manufacturers in the world. It, like Norris earlier, also exported its products worldwide. The peak of Baldwin’s production in Philadelphia came between 1898 and 1906, before railway regulation under the federal Hepburn Act (and the Panic of 1907) slowed demand for locomotives nationally. In 1906 alone, Baldwin produced 2,666 steam locomotives and employed more than eighteen thousand workers. Although the locomotive manufacturers did not know it at the time, increased regulation, two world wars, a Great Depression, and technological change would mean that demand for steam locomotives would never again reach this high point.

In the early twentieth century, as part of the City Beautiful Movement, Philadelphia and other American cities sought to relocate large-scale manufacturers like Baldwin away from central business districts and their peripheries. At the same time, Baldwin’s management desired a new and enlarged plant. The company acquired a large tract of land in suburban Eddystone, Delaware County, and slowly transferred all production there, completing the move by 1928. Constructed on a grand scale, the facility at Eddystone never operated at more than one-third of its capacity.

Challenges of New Technology

From the 1930s through 1956, Baldwin survived as not only the sole locomotive builder in Philadelphia but also as just one of a handful nationwide. Two technological changes in the first half of the twentieth century in the American railroad industry combined to decrease the demand for steam locomotives from Baldwin and its competitors. First came the electrification of commuter lines in New York and Philadelphia in the first three decades of the century. This eventually encouraged one of the railroads–the Pennsylvania–to electrify its busy main lines between New York, Washington, and Harrisburg. Then, although railroad electrification slowed, the development of diesel locomotives accelerated. First used in limited applications in the 1920s, by the end of the 1930s diesels operated as switch engines and on prestige passenger services, and by the 1940s were replacing steam locomotives in general service on most American railroads. Although more expensive than steam locomotives to purchase, diesels were cheaper and more efficient to operate.

As late as 1937, Baldwin’s management thought its future depended on the production of steam locomotives, despite changing technology. The next year, when Baldwin emerged from its 1935 bankruptcy with new management, it finally began to develop the newer diesel locomotives on a much larger scale.

During the Second World War, Baldwin continued to produce steam locomotives for both the United States and abroad and built tanks for the military at its massive Eddystone works. However, the War Production Board authorized Baldwin’s main competitors–the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors of La Grange, Illinois, and the American Locomotive Company (Alco) based in Schenectady, New York–to build diesels. This meant that Baldwin entered the postwar market in a weaker position.

After the Second World War, Baldwin introduced a full line of diesel locomotives and merged with a smaller locomotive builder to form Baldwin-Lima-Hamilton in 1950. Despite continual improvements in the products, the company’s sales remained well behind General Motors and Alco. In 1956, when the usually dependable Pennsylvania Railroad decided to place a large order with General Motors instead of Baldwin, the company ended the production of locomotives, although it continued to make construction equipment until around 1970. Baldwin had built over seventy thousand steam, electric, and diesel locomotives since 1832. With the closure of the once-massive Eddystone plant, locomotive production ceased in the greater Philadelphia area after 125 years.

Baldwin’s failed conversion to diesel production can be explained in part by the company’s late realization of the importance of the technological change, a policy offering custom-designed units in addition to a standard line, and its use of nonstandard technology (for example, electrical equipment made by Westinghouse instead of GE and, initially, its own form of multiple-unit control). On a global scale, however, none of the major steam locomotive builders that dominated the world market in the early twentieth century successfully made the transition to the construction of diesel and electric locomotives in the twenty-first. The new era simply required technology and skills that differed from steam locomotives. Baldwin, and with it the Philadelphia region’s role in locomotive manufacturing, became a casualty of massive industrial change in the second half of the twentieth century.

John Hepp is Associate Professor of History at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and he teaches American urban and cultural history with an emphasis on the period 1800 to 1940.


[caption id="attachment_24191" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Black and white photograph of two men and a woman. Behind the group, a periodic table hangs on the wall. The man to the left is handing over a plaque that reads "A.C.A Phila. Section" to the man on the right. The Philadelphia Section of the American Chemical Society, founded in 1899 by eighty-three local chemists, grew to a membership of more than five thousand in 2016. (Glenn E. Ullyot Collection, Chemical Heritage Foundation)[/caption]

Philadelphians used chemistry to enhance manufacturing, household practice, and artisan trades, mixing scholarly with practical aims from the outset. Furthermore, chemistry’s relationship to other scientific disciplines, including botany, geology, and medicine, made Philadelphians particularly keen to promote and diffuse chemical knowledge. Encouraged by widespread interest in chemistry between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, a number of cutting-edge chemical societies, research laboratories, and educational institutions dedicated to the advancement of the science made their home in the region.

Eighteenth-century Philadelphians recognized chemistry’s importance to various trades. Chemists prepared and sold chemical substances, functioning much like a pharmacist. Although chemists’ primary relationship was to the medical profession, they also supplied chemicals used in various arts and industries. Artists, printers, and clerks, for example, often required colored inks and paints; these could be made from pigments and compounds available at the local chemist’s shop. This relationship between chemist and community, along with prevailing popular narratives about the importance of “useful knowledge,” helped to foster a belief that chemistry could improve daily life for individuals, the locality, and, after the American Revolution, for the nation. Philadelphians readily embraced the concept that practical application of chemistry could improve one’s labor and, consequently, sought to expand access to chemical education.

Women were at times the beneficiaries of these arguments, insofar as chemistry could be justified as important to their labor. Philadelphia’s flagship female academy, the Young Ladies’ Academy (founded 1787), offered chemistry lessons in relation to household management. An early syllabus suggests that female students learned how to improve cooking, washing, and dyeing by understanding the chemistry behind these tasks. Popular publications echoed the agenda of the academy. For example, in 1789–90, John Penington (1768–93) wrote a number of essays, first for the Columbian Magazine, and later in a treatise called Chemical and Economical Essays, showing chemistry’s usefulness to pottery, soap making, painting, and other arts practiced by women.

Multiple Scientific Institutions

[caption id="attachment_24190" align="alignright" width="232"]Illustrated portrait of Joseph Priestley. Joseph Priestley, who lived for a time in Philadelphia, is best known for isolating and identifying oxygen gas. (Williams Haynes Portrait Collection, Chemical Heritage Foundation)[/caption]

Given Philadelphia’s widespread interest in chemistry education, it is not surprising that the city became home to several learned societies that championed chemical research and helped to professionalize the discipline. Broadly focused scientific institutions, such as the American Philosophical Society (founded 1743) and the Franklin Institute (founded 1824), facilitated the diffusion of chemical knowledge for both practical and scholarly matters. The first dedicated chemical society in America, predating the Chemical Society of London (1841) by nearly fifty years, was the short-lived Philadelphia Chemical Society, founded in 1792. Prominent members included Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, William Bache (1773–1820), who served as president of the society in 1794; James Woodhouse (1770–1809), chair of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania; and Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), best known for isolating and identifying oxygen gas. Priestley had fled England in the 1790s for religious and political reasons, settling for a time in Philadelphia. The society extended honorary membership to the Scottish national Elizabeth Fulhame (active between 1780 and 1794), who experimented in synthesizing cloths of metal and first described the chemical process of catalysis, the acceleration of a chemical reaction. Late eighteenth-century societies participated in debates over phlogiston theory. Practitioners hypothesized the existence of a firelike element released during combustion and evaluated chemical reactions in terms of adding or subtracting phlogiston. Priestley’s discoveries and the work of Antoine Lavoisier (1743–94) in France, helped to disprove phlogiston theory by the 1790s. Early nineteenth-century societies, including the Columbian Chemical Society (founded 1811) became increasingly engaged with atomic theory, which states that all matter is composed of atoms.

Chemical societies offered individuals the opportunity to share their research with a knowledgeable audience, allowing them to refine their ideas and promote their discoveries, ultimately furthering their careers. In 1801, the Philadelphia Chemical Society sought to improve the efficiency of blowpipes, a tool that amplifies the heat of a flame in chemical experiments. Robert Hare (1781-1858), a corresponding member of the society, demonstrated a solution to the problem posed by the society of increasing the concentration of heat available for chemical experiments. Previously experimenters used blowpipes powered by their own lungs to increase the supply of air available to affect the combustion of various materials under study. He developed an oxyhydrogen blowtorch for this purpose, which he recounted in his Memoir on the Supply and Application of the Blow-Pipe (1802). Shortly after, in 1803, the American Philosophical Society elected Hare a member, giving him a wider audience. Other instruments developed by Hare include an improved eudiometer (c. 1820s), an instrument used for gas analysis; a calorimeter (c. 1819), a tool for measuring the heat of chemical reactions; a litrameter (c. 1819), an instrument that determined the specific gravity of fluids; and a galvanic deflagrator, an instrument that uses powerful electrical discharges to create high temperatures. In 1818, Hare became the chair of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, a position he held until 1847. In 1826, Hare published a descriptive account of the various chemical apparatuses used in his chemistry classes, many of which were his own design, to supplement his lectures.

[caption id="attachment_24204" align="alignright" width="229"]Sepia-toned photograph of woman. Rachel Littler Bodley served as chair of chemistry and toxicology (1865–74) and as dean of faculty (1874–88) at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. (Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)[/caption]

Generally, institutions of higher education continued to underscore the importance of chemistry to various scientific professions. Some of these institutions, such as the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (founded 1850) and Polytechnic College of Pennsylvania (founded 1853), an engineering school, offered chemistry to women, and in the case of the medical college, to women of color. Rachel Littler Bodley (1831–88) traveled from Ohio to Philadelphia in 1860 to pursue educational opportunities at both schools. By 1865 Bodley became chair of chemistry and toxicology at the Woman’s Medical College and offered popular lectures at the Franklin Institute regarding applications of chemistry to household management. Bodley taught chemistry while it was undergoing significant change; it was only in 1869 that Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev (1834–1907) put forth a relatively modern version of the periodic table of elements based on atomic weight. She was also instrumental in organizing a group of prominent chemists who met at Joseph Priestley’s gravesite in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the centennial of his discovery of oxygen in 1774. Excitement generated by this meeting contributed to organization of the American Chemical Society in 1876, of which Bodley was a charter member. That same year, Edgar Fahs Smith (1854–1928) became an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Though Smith briefly left to work at Muhlenberg College (1881–88), by 1893 he had assumed directorship of the chemistry laboratory, allowing women to work alongside male students. Because of his liberal policies, the first two women admitted to the University of Pennsylvania, Gertrude Klein Pierce (1859–1953) and Anna Lockhart Flanigen (1852–1928), came to study chemistry.

Discoveries Outside the Academy

Outside the academy, manufacturers fostered a number of important chemical discoveries. DuPont, located in nearby Wilmington, was responsible for some of the more significant twentieth-century discoveries, though the company had a long history of chemical innovation. Founded in 1802 by French chemist Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834) to produce gunpowder, DuPont laboratories became increasingly focused on the discovery and production of new polymers in the 1920s and 1930s. Wallace Carothers (1896–1937), hired in 1928, was instrumental in the development of neoprene in 1930 and nylon in 1935. DuPont produced Teflon, commonly used as a nonstick coating in cookware, in 1938. Joseph Shivers (1920–2014), who began working for DuPont in 1946, produced the synthetic fiber known as Lycra in 1958. In 1909, Otto Röhm (1876–1939) and Otto Haas (1872–1960) moved from Esslingen, Germany, to Philadelphia and founded the pseudonymous chemical company, Röhm and Haas. The company developed Orophon, a synthetic chemical that made the leather tanning process more hygienic, and were the first to bring acrylic glass (as Plexiglas) to market in 1933.

Similar breakthroughs occurred within the pharmaceutical industry, launching local Philadelphia chemists to financial success and philanthropic giving. In 1899, Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951), along with Hermann Hille (1871–1962), developed Argyrol, an antiseptic of silver nitrite that successfully treated gonorrhea. Profits from Argyrol enabled Barnes to buy a number of important works of art, which today are kept at the Barnes Foundation. McNeil Laboratories, founded by Robert McNeil (1856–1933) in 1879, started as a drug store in Kensington and became a full-fledged research facility by 1933. McNeil’s grandson, Robert Lincoln McNeil Jr. (1915–2010), a graduate of Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, began to develop the chemical acetaminophen for use as a painkiller. The company eventually was able to market Tylenol after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1955.

[caption id="attachment_24193" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photograph of the inside of the Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum. The Chemical Heritage Foundation complex in Philadelphia includes this museum. (Chemical Heritage Foundation)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s chemistry-rich history made it a natural home for an institution dedicated to studying the history of the science. In 1982, the University of Pennsylvania and the American Chemical Society jointly sponsored the Center for the History of Chemistry. With the additional support of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the center gained national nonprofit status by 1987 and was renamed the Chemical Heritage Foundation in 1992. The Chemical Heritage Foundation sought to provide resources to researchers interested in chemistry’s societal impact. In the early twenty-first century, the institute offered several scholarly fellowships and maintained a library and museum. Its collections reflected an interest in chemistry’s relationship to manufacturing, but also manufacturing’s relationship to chemistry, a collecting interest most suited to Philadelphia’s scientific past. The region’s historical emphasis on practical applications of chemistry frequently shaped the nature of its contributions and its practitioners.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

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