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Zoning (Philadelphia)

[caption id="attachment_29545" align="aligncenter" width="575"]A color-coded zoning map created by the city of Philadelphia in 2017. A zoning map of Philadelphia in 2017 shows the many categories under which a property can be classified throughout the city based on its use. (City of Philadelphia)[/caption]

From its inception, zoning became a fraught subject. By empowering neighborhood groups and local politicians with power over land use in their communities, zoning brought such groups in Philadelphia and elsewhere into contest with developers, industrial concerns, and sometimes with other people who wanted to move into their neighborhoods. The policy generated results both noble, like removing noxious industrial development from residential areas, and vicious, when it was used as a means to prevent African Americans and lower classes from moving into wealthier and whiter areas. In its multiple uses, zoning helped determine what jurisdictions were and what they could become.  

 Zoning emerged first in early twentieth century New York, although West Coast cities began experimenting with the concept a few years earlier. The purpose of the new policy was to allow local governments to control land use, a marriage of Progressive Era good government ideals and a conservative effort to protect the interests of the upper classes and business owners. Zoning proponents did not want “incompatible” uses (industrial or cheap housing) or certain people (of lower classes and non-white races) in close proximity to their homes and businesses.

[caption id="attachment_29375" align="alignright" width="266"]A black and white photograph of a zoning notice in Philadelphia. A zoning notice, placed outside a building at Rhawn and Jeanes Streets in Philadelphia in 1966, announced a public hearing regarding the zoning of the area. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

By the early 1920s residents in the neighborhoods to the west of the University of Pennsylvania were gathering for meetings about the application of zoning in West Philadelphia in response to high-rise development. At the same time, many of Philadelphia’s inner-ring suburbs—from Lower Merion Township in Montgomery County to Springfield Township in Delaware County—began to consider zoning for fear of increased density and the possibility of new working class—and possibly non-white—neighbors. (These areas of early suburban development were of a density unusual to later suburban developments and confronted many of the same dynamics as the city itself, albeit on a smaller scale.) 

Block-by-Block Zoning Maps

Philadelphia’s original zoning code created a series of residential, commercial, and industrial classifications that largely accorded with the existing built environment. In the beginning, there were twenty different zoning districts, including nine residential, four commercial, and a variety of  other uses, including shopping centers and park land.  Block-by-block zoning maps were established along with the ordinance. Because the types of residential zoning were relatively few—today there are over twenty—multifamily housing was not often entirely zoned out of neighborhoods as it was in the suburbs. But these building types had to conform to the typology of the surrounding buildings and meet requirements for air and light—which often prevented the construction, for example, of, large apartment buildings in rowhouse neighborhoods.

Under the code, any new building constructed in the city, or any substantial alterations to old buildings, first required the developer to obtain a zoning permit. If the project accorded with the zoning map, then the permit was granted and allowed to proceed. If the request for a permit was denied because it did not accord with the specifications of the ordinance, the applicant could appeal to the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA).

The ZBA was comprised of five members, appointed by the mayor. Philadelphia’s ZBA was meant to consider appeals to the code. These were only to be granted if “a literal enforcement of the provisions of the ordinance will result in unnecessary hardship.”  (Such bodies were a common aspect of zoning codes because they allowed such ordinances to avoid a full-on clash between the police powers of the state and the rights of property owners.)

Because the zoning code became a site of contest from the beginning, Pennsylvania courts were forced to make a series of rulings to clarify the ordinance. These rulings established (among other things) that variances could only apply to an area limited to a parcel.

By the mid-1950s, less than three decades after the creation of the code, the ZBA was swamped by requests for variances. With only two inspectors employed to enforce the code in a city of over two million, many cases simply resulted from inadequate code enforcement. Often property owners who had been unaware that they were violating the code applied for variances once they found out. 

Lawyers in Zoning

Zoning lawyers became increasingly important in the process starting in at least the 1950s. It became clear that applicants could use the legal assistance because “a large number of applicants have no conception of what the term unnecessary hardship implies,” a University of Pennsylvania Law Review analysis reported.

[caption id="attachment_29373" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of Mayor Tate signing the new zoning code for Philadelphia. Mayor James Tate, successor to Mayor Richardson Dilworth, signed Philadelphia’s new zoning code in 1962. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Mayor Richardson Dilworth (1899-1974) and master planner Edmund Bacon (1910-2005) were proponents of a zoning overhaul, and in 1962 they helped effect a major overhaul at the tail end of a seismic era of change in the city’s government and its planning apparatus. Those changes, which no doubt stemmed in part from the staggering number of variances, drew more broadly from the work of  Democratic reformers who overthrew the moribund Republican political machine and installed a suite of reforms that included a new city charter and a civil service regimen for much of the bureaucracy. The utility of the zoning code reform of 1962 was rapidly sapped, however, as the political-economy of the city changed radically in the subsequent 20 years, making it the last meaningful revision until the code was overhauled under Mayor Michael Nutter (b. 1957) in 2012.

In many ways, postindustrial Philadelphia turned out to be a dramatically different place than anyone had predicted in the early 1960s. Many of the row-house neighborhoods were originally zoned to allow multifamily housing because it was believed the city would continue growing beyond its 2.1 million people. Instead, that turned out to be the peak of Philadelphia’s population, and developers proposed few multifamily housing projects as more housing demand shifted to the suburbs. Industries were fleeing the city too, leaving much of Philadelphia’s residential and industrial zoning out of sync with shifting construction demand.

Over one thousand changes were made on an intermittent basis, expanding the zoning code from a relatively slim volume into a vast tome.  New tweaks included the creation of new residential districts for uses like trailer parks and more accommodating parking in commercial and residential zones as cars became more common. The only major alteration after 1962 was a major 1988 overhaul of the zoning for Center City alone, which perhaps helped account for the rapid redevelopment and rebirth of downtown in the 1990s and 2000s.

The stultifying nature of the rest of the code acted to repress development in the city. Much of the language was archaic, complex, and highly specific. (There was, for example, a provision that allowed the construction of a factory that made rigatoni, ravioli, and spaghetti but not angel hair pasta.) As the code became more complex, and its content was not altered to fit a changing world, developers had to turn to the ZBA more frequently to get their projects done. By the 1990s and 2000s, anywhere from 40 to 60 percent of development projects required a variance and a trip to the ZBA.

When Council Intervenes

[caption id="attachment_29374" align="alignright" width="250"]A black and white photograph of a rowhouse in Philadelphia to be demolished to make way for the Philadelphia Police Administration Building. A zoning notice on 145 North Eighth Street in Philadelphia in 1960 satisfied the preliminary steps for the demolition of the building to make way for a new police headquarters. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

More rarely, developers with political influence turned to City Council for spot zoning bills, which would legislatively change the zoning of a parcel to fit the developer’s needs—sparing them a trip to the ZBA. This kind of narrowly cast legislative remapping thus long proved controversial because it was by nature a small-scale and imprecise action to change zoning reactively to accommodate a particular project and not proactively as part of a larger public-minded vision for the future. Although it was technically illegal, adroit politicians could usually get around that by remapping some surrounding parcels as well.  This approach contrasted with legislative remapping supported by the Planning Commission, which was often crafted with input of the community, local politicians, and other interests over a months-long open and democratic process.

Political tampering with the zoning code led to further pressure for change. Many good-government advocates and urban experts argued that spot zoning undermined the spirit of the larger zoning code, empowered the politically connected, and incentivized corruption (or at least its appearance). In 2007, the head of the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Praxis, Harris Steinberg, argued that zoning reform was needed to cut down on this kind of legislative remapping, arguing, “It keeps the development world in a constant state of guessing, encourages backroom deals, and keeps community groups on the defensive to protect their little piece of earth.”

As frustration with the code grew in the first part of the twenty-first century, reformers sought to align the code with “smart growth” best practices, including incentives to create density around transit hubs and other central locations, while also simplifying it so that fewer variances or legislative work-arounds would be required. Councilman Frank DiCicco (b. 1946) proved an influential backer of zoning reform, introducing legislation to establish a Zoning Code Commission and convincing Mayor John Street (b. 1943) to sign it despite his skepticism. DiCicco’s support was the result of his stewardship of a district that included swaths of Center City, the southern river wards, and South Philadelphia east of Broad Street—where much of nascent development pressure was concentrated—so he was able to witness just how obtrusive the zoning code had become.

Zoning Revision Begins, 2007

In 2007 Michael Nutter, a City Council member running as a reform candidate for mayor, bested many other better-established political figures in the race. That same year voters approved the creation of DiCicco’s Zoning Code Commission to study potential reforms to the code. The process of revision took years, involving an intricate series of public meetings and behind-the-scenes negotiations. But despite the political machinations involved, the scale of public input was impressive and impossible to imagine at any point in the twentieth century.

It took four years, but the new code was crafted with the intent of making the language much more simple and general. The reformers tried to avoid the highly specific and quickly outdated alterations that cluttered up the old code. This was partly accomplished by codifying more of the language in charts, which were easier to read and more condensed. The end result reduced the code from seven hundred to four hundred pages.

[caption id="attachment_29438" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a building with a zoning notice to become a branch of Philadelphia's public library. A zoning notice placed on a door at the corner of Beulah and Carpenter Streets marked the location for a proposed library branch. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

In 2011, City Council passed the new zoning code and Mayor Nutter signed it into law.  (There was a built-in delayed start of nine months, so it went into full effect in August 2012.) The reformers succeeded in making it easier for new development in the city to be denser and less vehicle-focused. Parking requirements for residential projects were lessened and, in some districts, done away with entirely. The square footage of the minimum allowable lot sizes for new row houses dropped dramatically to allow smaller and, therefore, more affordable housing. It was also made easier to build new, smaller units in existing buildings. Garages that fronted on sidewalks were made more difficult to obtain as well, safeguarding the pedestrian environment, while a new process called Civic Design Review was implemented to guide better building practices. With that change, major projects could trigger Civic Design Review, bringing developers before a board of experts for advice, although the process had no binding power.

In advance of the new code, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission crafted a new comprehensive plan for the city dubbed Phila2035. They then began drafting new district plans, which were also shaped by public meetings and civic engagement, for every area of the city. These offered recommendations for redoing zoning maps, which could then be taken up in City Council. Because these efforts depended on the assent of individual council members, some areas did not adopt new maps when members failed to act.  

Although reform efforts were also meant to reduce the number of cases that come before the ZBA, the body still handled dozens of cases a week, and applicants for variances almost always won them. According to a 2014 City Paper report, in one month eighty-five cases were considered and only ten denials were issued, while between 2008 and 2013 90 percent of 6,946 variance appeals were granted.

The new code also remained heavily contested after its adoption. Many members of City Council attempted, with some success, to increase parking requirements and reduce density incentives in response to constituent complaints about parking, traffic, and the need to preserve their neighborhoods in their current state—much the same concerns that animated their predecessors a hundred years earlier .

This messy reality mirrored the original intention of those who crafted zoning policy a century earlier. Although the players were different, zoning remained a tool used to prevent massive neighborhood change and to protect the interests of those who already lived, or owned, in a community. For those who wished to see zoning utilized as an instrument of rational good government, the state of the policy was immensely frustrating, for zoning, remained, as it had from its origins, a creature of municipal realpolitik.

Jake Blumgart is a reporter for WHYY’s PlanPhilly.

Jewelers Row

Jewelers Row in Center City Philadelphia emerged in the 1880s and over time became home to more than two hundred jewelry retailers, wholesalers, and craftsmen. Many of these businesses were owned by the same families for generations. By the twenty-first century, Jewelers Row had become regarded as the oldest diamond district in the United States, second in size only to the jewelry district in New York City. Located within the East Center City Commercial Historic District, Jewelers Row embodied Philadelphia’s commercial legacy, linking small-scale, family-owned manufacturing businesses with the city’s well-established financial institutions and a retail industry synonymous with quality merchandise.

[caption id="attachment_29235" align="alignright" width="250"]A black and white photograph of 700 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. This building at 700 Sansom Street, one of the remaining original structures of what was once Carstairs Row—named after the architect—was at one time a jeweler’s shop. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Situated in the heart of the original city plan for Philadelphia, on Sansom Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets and on Eighth Street between Chestnut and Walnut Streets, Jewelers Row reflected the architectural and developmental history of the city. These blocks were originally laid out by William Penn (1644-1718) and his surveyor general, Thomas Holme (1624-95). Following Penn's death in 1718, his son Thomas Penn (1702-75) sold the land in 1726 to Isaac Norris Sr. (1671-1735), a prominent merchant and statesman. The property remained in the Norris family for much of the eighteenth century, until its sale in 1791 to merchant and financier Robert Morris (1734-1806). In 1794, Morris began construction of a mansion, designed by the French-born architect and civil engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant (1754-1825), on his newly acquired Chestnut Street lot. However, between the expenses incurred during the American Revolution and a series of failed investments in land speculation, Morris fell into bankruptcy, and his unfinished mansion became known as "Morris's Folly."

After the city government confiscated the land to pay Morris's debts, in 1798 the block of Walnut Street from Seventh to Eighth Streets was purchased in a sheriff’s sale by the Quaker philanthropist and real estate developer William Sansom (1763-1840). He tore down the mansion and bisected the property with an eponymous east-west street. He contracted with Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) to construct speculative housing on the north side of Walnut Street, while the Scottish architect Thomas Carstairs (1759?-1830) was hired to construct housing on the south side of the newly developed Sansom Street. Between 1800 and 1802, Carstairs proceeded to build a block-long series of twenty-two identical Georgian-style row houses known as Carstairs Row, modeled after earlier patterns of row houses constructed in the squares of London, Bath, and Dublin. To attract tenants to this relatively undeveloped area of the city, Sansom paved the street at his own expense.

Over the course of the nineteenth century, increasing industrial and commercial development, spanning an area from Walnut Street in the south to Arch Street in the north, spurred interest in creating new residential districts. Following the consolidation of the city with Philadelphia County in 1854, the city’s wealthier residents moved westward to the more fashionable Rittenhouse Square and new neighborhoods across the Schuylkill River in West Philadelphia. The row houses they left behind in older and increasingly working-class and ethnic neighborhoods became available for commercial uses. The Chestnut and Market neighborhoods became major intersections for horse car, omnibus, and later electric trolley routes from West Philadelphia and Rittenhouse, linking wealthy Philadelphians to the city’s retail and financial institutions.

[caption id="attachment_29234" align="alignright" width="208"]A black and white photograph of the 700 block of Sansom Street in Philadelphia. This view of south side of the 700 block of Sansom Street shows several of the jewelry shops in 1963. The building in the background is the Curtis Publishing Company building, built in 1910. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Before it became a jewelry district in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the 700 block of Sansom Street was the center of a thriving engraving trade, which benefited from its proximity to an established printing industry, including many publishing firms on Sansom Street or nearby on Chestnut Street. The engraving business, with its high level of technical expertise and precision, formed a natural relationship with jewelry and watchmaking crafters and suppliers, who used a similar set of skills and tools. Over time, independent engravers continued to prosper due to the booming publishing industry, but they did not increase in number. Meanwhile, scores of diamond wholesalers, setters, crafters, lapidaries, and similar luxury industries moved onto the Row, bolstered by several waves of Eastern European and Jewish immigrants who settled in Philadelphia between the 1880s and early 1900s. For example, about a dozen engravers plied their trade on the 700 block of Sansom between 1879 and 1908. At the same time, the number of jewelry and diamond sellers and manufacturers exploded from five to more than seventy-five and eventually surpassed two hundred establishments by 1930.

As the jewelry industry flourished, architectural alterations changed the look of the Row, with out-of-fashion Georgian exteriors replaced by in-vogue Victorian styles. More businesses relocated from elsewhere in the city, resulting in the Philadelphia jewelry industry becoming increasingly centered upon the Row. Although prominent jewelry retailers such as Biddle and Co. continued to operate elsewhere, in the early twentieth century more than 50 percent of diamond dealers and more than 80 percent of diamond setters and cutters worked on the Row. Dubbed Jewelers Row in commercial advertisements and local media by at least the late 1910s, the area’s reputation as the locus of Philadelphia jewelry-making was further cemented over the next several decades, culminating in the construction of the Art Deco Jewelry Trades Building on the west end of the 700 block of Sansom Street in 1929.

[caption id="attachment_29092" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of 700 through 708 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. This view of the east end of the 700 block of Sansom Street, photographed in November 2016, shows the various facades of Jewelers Row. (Photograph for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Unlike other local industries, such as styled-textile manufacturing, a combination of factors made Jewelers Row well suited to survive through periods of economic distress and market volatility. Despite cyclical periods of stagnation and contraction, skilled jewelry craftsmen enjoyed a path to proprietorship that was relatively easy and more economical when compared to other industries that relied on rapid technological advances to thrive. At the same time, unlike larger markets such as New York City, Philadelphia's smaller size allowed the luxury industry to better combat over-competition or product oversaturation. Being structurally and functionally divided among final goods makers, component suppliers, and ancillary specialists also benefited Philadelphia jewelers, as it both prevented assimilation by larger predatory entities and avoided disruption during periods of labor activism, while the relatively localized market limited interregional competition. Moreover, Philadelphia's reputation as a thriving and fertile marketplace facilitated the rise of jewelry wholesalers on the Row who redistributed seasonally styled goods to both smaller shops and larger retail outlets. Finally, the presence of established family-owned firms and a deeply rooted Jewish community ensured a strong sense of loyalty among customers who prized Jewelers Row for its imaginative designs and quality craftsmanship.

Once established as Jewelers Row, the various traders and artisans fought to uphold the district's reputation while also competing with larger regionalized retailers. Throughout the early twentieth century, merchants feared losing business to outside the Row. The Sansom Street Business Men's Association formed in 1913 to advance the interests of local shopkeepers and even employed detectives to deter crime. These concerns became increasingly strident over the latter half of the century as suburbanization resulted in a decrease in commercial traffic to Center City businesses. Particularly detrimental to downtown business districts such as Jewelers Row, new shopping malls on the periphery offered many of the amenities and services that had previously attracted consumers to the downtown, but without the burdensome commute. To combat this, local jewelers leveraged their district's storied heritage, forming the Jewelers Row Association in 1986 as a cooperative effort to compete with suburban jewelry retailers by enhancing the visibility, reputation for quality, and aesthetic appeal of the Sansom Street properties.

[caption id="attachment_29091" align="alignright" width="225"]A color photograph of 704 Sansom Street in Philadelphia. 704 Sansom Street, home to Christian Michael Jewelry and Maryanne S. Ritter Jewelers in 2016, displayed signs in the windows of the third story of the building to show support for the Jewelers Row preservation effort. (Photograph for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia[/caption]

In 2016, Jewelers Row became the focus of public attention when a proposed redevelopment of part of the 700 block of Sansom Street by Toll Brothers sought to demolish and replace several of the buildings with a high-rise condominium.  Some of the local businesses and historic preservationists resisted the plan, which developers argued would revitalize the area by attracting new, middle-class residents and also bring much-needed revenue to the city through property taxes. Opponents fought to protect the architectural heritage of the block by nominating three of the five buildings proposed for demolition (704 and 706-708 Sansom Street) to be designated as historic structures by the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places, joining several other addresses on the Row that already possessed landmark status. The battle reflected the complex identity of Jewelers Row itself: a mix of old-world craftsmanship, family-owned businesses, and architectural history, combined with modern concerns of urban decentralization, changing demographics, and privatized development in a city looking to the future while at the same time seeking to preserve the legacy of its past.

Lance R. Eisenhower is a doctoral student in American history at Lehigh University and holds an M.A. in history from Villanova University. He is a Lecturer of History at Montgomery County Community College.

Philadelphia Navy Yard

The history of the Philadelphia Navy Yard has been one of constant struggle, repeatedly staring down imminent closure only to be saved at the last second by stalwart local politicians or a timely military conflict. Fondly remembered as the outfitter of the first American fleet, builder of the first warship under the Constitution, launcher of the largest U.S. battleships, and a frontrunner in aviation experimentation, a less nostalgic look back reveals the Navy Yard as a secondary naval facility throughout most of its active life. Over a period of 120 years, the yard laid keel and launched just seventy Navy and Coast Guard ships. The shipyard was used more to outfit, repair, and overhaul warships. As a naval base, it mainly served as home to the reserve fleet. After closing as an active yard and base in 1996, the Navy Yard rebounded in the twenty-first century as an office park employing eleven thousand people at the end of 2015—less than its peak of fifty thousand workers but close to its historical average.

[caption id="attachment_29025" align="alignright" width="300"]A drawing of the buildings and soliders at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1864. This view of the Navy Yard in 1864 shows several boats and dry docks in which they were built. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

During the eighteenth century, Philadelphia remained the most important economic city in the colonies and employed the most skilled shipwrights in the new nation.  In 1801 the federal government established the Philadelphia Navy Yard in Southwark at the site of a shore battery built in 1748, toward the end of King George’s War (1744–48), which inspired its construction. The site was chosen in large part because it lay just outside the colonial limits of Old Philadelphia, where pacifist Quakers objected to such martial projects. Originally called Wicaco by the Lenni Lenape and settled by the Swedes, Southwark got its name in the 1760s after local shipbuilders petitioned the provincial government to rename the town after London’s famed shipbuilding district.

Just nine years after it opened, the Southwark Navy Yard faced its first shutdown scare when Congress debated closure in 1810. But British naval aggression, which soon led to the War of 1812, saved the nascent facility. This was the first, but far from the last, time foreign conflict proved fortuitous for Philadelphia’s naval firmament.

The war’s end brought renewed worries about imminent closure, held at bay only by the continued construction of the 74-gun Franklin, the Navy Yard’s first major warship, which launched before fifty thousand onlookers on August 21, 1815. The Southwark yard laid keel on another ship-of-the-line, the Pennsylvania, in 1821, but budget cuts delayed its launch until 1837. Redesigned into 136-gun, four-deck behemoth, the Pennsylvania was the U.S. Navy’s largest sailing warship. Ironically, it never saw combat, making just one voyage, from Philadelphia to Norfolk, where it  laid up until burned in 1861 to keep it out of Confederate hands.

Production problems at Southwark’s small, out-of-date facilities were exacerbated during the Civil War (1861-65). The U.S. Navy’s shift to steam power was well underway when Fort Sumter was attacked in 1861, and the war triggered the development of ironclad warships. The cramped Southwark site lacked the space for the machine shops required to build state-of-the-art warships.

League Island Naval Yard

Fearing that the Navy would leave the city, Philadelphia’s political and business establishment offered a new site for the yard at League Island, at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, which they proposed to sell to the federal government for a single dollar in 1862. Politics delayed the deal’s consummation for six years while New England congressmen sought to bring more shipbuilding jobs to their constituents.

In 1869, Camden, New Jersey lawyer George Maxwell Robeson (1829-97) became secretary of the Navy. The local Republican bigwig showered his shipbuilding friends along the Delaware with government contracts. For League Island, he also ordered the construction of a freshwater basin, new machine shops, foundries, and other more mundane improvements, like roads and residences. Blueprints for the new yard’s development drafted in 1871 guided construction for the next 125 years. 

For eight years, the Navy operated the two yards simultaneously. As League Island’s facilities were built, the navy slowly shifted outfitting and repair work from the Southwark yard, which closed with great fanfare during the nation’s Centennial year in 1876.

[caption id="attachment_29024" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of dry dock number one at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Dry Dock No. 1 at the Philadelphia Navy Yard was originally constructed as a wooden structure under the supervision of Robert E. Peary, a Navy officer and explorer of the North Pole. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Just a few years later, Philadelphia faced a future without a naval facility once again, when the Navy decided to close the new yard in 1883 after a corruption scandal involving falsified payment records. But the Navy dropped the plans, and the yard remained busy during a broader naval renaissance between 1881 and 1891 that saw renewed investment in building and expanding the American fleet.

But the lack of a modern industrial plant, machine tools, shipbuilding ways, and dry docks at the League Island site meant the Navy Yard did not build the new steel warships filling the reinvigorated navy’s ranks. Instead, those contracts went to private shipbuilders along the Delaware, who drew upon Pennsylvania foundries for steel and mines for coal. Even as facilities expanded in the 1890s, the Philadelphia Navy Yard assumed the role that became its primary purpose for most of its active life: an outfitting station and reserve fleet storage facility.

Despite a rush of improvements, the Navy Yard still was not a first-class shipbuilding facility when the sinking of the Maine heralded the Spanish-American War in 1898, but the Caribbean and Pacific conflict fueled its expansion: The back channel was dredged, officers quarters built (including the Commandant’s Office Building and the Marine Corps Barracks), and modern, steel shipbuilding shops constructed.

Philadelphia lacked a facility large enough for modern battleships until Dry Dock No. 2 was completed in 1907. A string of accidents and frequent groundings caused by the narrow channels and cramped waterways around League Island landed Philadelphia’s Navy Yard back on another closure list. However, objections to the reorganization raised by a group of naval officers stationed at League Island changed the mind of the new secretary of the Navy, George von Lengerke Meyer (1858-1918). Instead of closing the yard, he then authorized some of the most extensive improvements in its history.

World Wars: The Navy Yard’s Golden Years

Many of the buildings that give the modern Navy Yard its character were built before and during World War I, although the Navy Yard still lacked modern shipbuilding facilities heading into the war. Shipbuilding Ways No. 1 was not finished until June 1915, just months after the sinking of the RMS Lusitania. The new shipbuilding ways went into work immediately to build a marine transport ship, the Henderson, in line with the expanding Marine Corps Reservation at the base.

[caption id="attachment_29011" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of the hammerhead crane at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The 350-ton hammerhead crane at the Philadelphia Navy Yard was the largest in the world when it was completed in 1919. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The Great War brought another expansion wave to League Island, which was effectively split into two: On the western side, a naval shipyard, known as the “new Yard,” with new dry docks, expanded shipbuilding ways, steel shops, a new foundry, and a 350-ton hammerhead crane, then the world’s largest; on the eastern side, a navy base with a new receiving station, training center, and the Marine Corps Reservation.

Around the same time, naval aviation facilities cropped up on League Island. The Aero Club of Pennsylvania had built a hangar and airfield on the island’s eastern end in 1910; seven years later, the Navy added a new hangar there, plus an aircraft factory. The aircraft factory and airfield, later named the Henry C. Mustin Naval Air Facility, focused mainly on seaplanes. 

Despite the improvements, Philadelphia Navy Yard launched just two ships before the Armistice of November 11, 1918. The Reserve Basin once again filled with a mothball flotilla in the interwar period, and the workforce shrank from more than twelve thousand to roughly five thousand, with many put to work converting and scrapping old warships.

The Great Depression, a devastating event for most, signaled good news for the Philadelphia Navy Yard. New Deal programs brought funds to improve its physical plant. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945), who previously had served as undersecretary of the navy, lavished funds on new warships, and Philadelphia turned out a dozen ships between 1934 and 1938.

The German invasion of Poland put sudden steel in the spines of Navy leadership, and the necessary upgrades to turn Philadelphia into a first-class shipbuilding facility were finally funded. Dry Dock Nos. 4 and 5 were built in 1941 and 1942, respectively. In 1940, work began on the battleship New Jersey, which went on to serve with distinction in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, plus U.S. intervention in the Lebanese civil war, making it the most decorated battleship in U.S. history.

[caption id="attachment_28877" align="alignright" width="300"]A photograph of the U.S.S. New Jersey docked on the waterfront in Camden, New Jersey. The U.S.S. New Jersey, constructed in the Philadelphia Navy Yard beginning in 1940, launched in 1942 and has been an attraction on the Camden waterfront since 2001. (Photograph by Rachel Craft)[/caption]

During World War II, the Philadelphia Navy Yard became a self-contained community, replete with its own sports leagues, bands, and newspaper. It was by far the Navy Yard’s most prolific period, when it built 48 new warships, converted 41 more, repaired and overhauled 574, completed and dry-docked 650, and outfitted 600. The Naval Aircraft Factory built 500 planes and the Receiving Station processed 70,000 Navy recruits. Over the course of 1941, the workforce rose from 24,000 to 33,000. In 1944 it hit 47,695 full-time civilian employees; adding in military officers and high school students in the summer, employment topped 60,000.

Unbeknownst to nearly all who worked there, the Navy Yard was home to experiments instrumental to the construction of the atomic bomb. In 1944, a wooden building storing uranium for the Manhattan Project exploded, killing two and burning nine. At the time, few noticed—industrial mishaps were common at the yard, given the frenetic pace of construction and thousands of hastily trained workmen. The Naval Boiler and Turbine Laboratory at the yard was used to separate U-235 isotopes from uranium ore to produce nuclear fuel. “Little Boy,” dropped by the Enola Gay on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, most likely used fissile material produced in Philadelphia.

The deadly accident, plus the Navy Yard’s proximity to Philadelphia’s large population, meant the base would never become a nuclear naval facility. Still, a small atomic plant at the Navy Yard operated until September 1945, and some of the research conducted at the Yard guided the construction of the U.S. Navy’s first atomic-powered submarine. These activities, plus rocket technology experiments and degaussing operations (demagnetizing ship hulls to protect against magnetic mines), may have inspired the urban myth of the U.S. Navy’s efforts to render a ship invisible, known as the Philadelphia Experiment.

Uncertainty returned to the Navy Yard following Japan’s surrender on September 2, 1945. During the Cold War, the newly renamed Philadelphia Navy Base and Naval Shipyard resumed its more traditional role as a port where ships were mothballed and overhauled. The workforce fell to nine thousand by July 1946. The Korean War brought another surge in work reactivating reserve warships. Research and development facilities also expanded, but the shipyard did not construct a single one of the 350 warships built during the conflict.

Vietnam brought another short-lived boom, reactivating more warships (including the New Jersey) and building a few more. But a congressional mandate in 1967 to move new ship construction to private yards meant that the Blue Ridge, a command ship launched in 1969, was the last U.S. naval vessel built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. As of 2017, the Blue Ridge remained active, making it the oldest deployable warship in the U.S. Navy.

[caption id="attachment_29012" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of the Marine Barracks at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The Marine Barracks, constructed on League Island in 1901, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

After Vietnam, the Philadelphia Navy Yard entered the slow, ebbing decline that led to its eventual closing in 1996. The Marine Corps Reservation closed in 1977, ending the Marines’ almost continuous 250-year presence in Philadelphia since its creation in 1775. Periodically, the entire Navy Yard faced closure, only to be saved by the efforts of the Delaware Valley’s congressional delegations.

Programs to upgrade older warships with state-of-the-art weapons systems kept the Philadelphia Navy Yard somewhat busy during the 1980s and 1990s, first with destroyers and cruisers in the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization Program, and later with the aircraft carrier Service Life Extension Program (SLEP).

In 1990, Philadelphia won its last SLEP contract, to overhaul the 80,000-ton aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy, which arrived in 1993 and stayed until work was completed in 1995. Despite the best efforts of local politicians—including a desperate lawsuit by Senator Arlen Specter (1930-2012) that Specter himself argued before U.S. Supreme Court—the base closed on September 26, 1996. Not everything shut down immediately. The Navy continued to operate the Propeller Manufacturing Center, the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, and the Philadelphia Naval Ship Systems Engineering Station.

[caption id="attachment_28995" align="alignright" width="300"]A computer-generated image of the Philadelphia Navy Yard after its redevelopement by GlaxoSmithKline. The Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation purchased the land in 2000 and drafted redevelopment plans, which included those of GlaxoSmithKline, following unsuccessful attempts to bring shipbuilding back to the Navy Yard. (GlaxoSmithKline)[/caption]

After the closure, area politicians scrambled to recruit shipbuilding companies to use the Navy Yard’s large dry docks. Mayor Ed Rendell (b. 1944) pursued a deal with German shipbuilder Meyer Werft that fell through in 1995 after Governor Tom Ridge (b. 1945) rebuffed the proposal’s $167 million in government incentives as “pure fantasy.” Ironically, two years later, Ridge supported a more expensive deal to bring Norway’s Kvaerner (which later merged with Aker, adopting the latter’s name) to Philadelphia.

In 2000, Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) acquired control of the Navy Yard’s remaining 1,200 acres and drafted plans to develop it into an office park. Following a master plan adopted in 2004, PIDC spent $150 million to improve the Navy Yard’s infrastructure. More than 150 companies opened offices at the Navy Yard, spending $750 million on private development—much of it to  renovate historically significant naval buildings.

By 2017, more than twelve thousand employees worked at the Navy Yard, exceeding employment during any other point in the Navy Yard’s history except for World War II. PIDC’s 2013 update to the Navy Yard master plan called for even more private development, eventually to expand to 13.5 million square feet of office, industrial, laboratory, and commercial space employing thirty thousand people.

Jim Saksa is a reporter for WHYY’s PlanPhilly.

Toy Manufacturing

Philadelphia helped define the toy industry in the United States with simple yet engaging toys that became beloved by generations. Although social, cultural, and economic changes produced challenges for the industry, a few iconic toys stood the test of time and continued to promote imagination, creativity, and discovery for people of all ages.

[caption id="attachment_28467" align="alignright" width="212"]A blank and white print of the Franics, Field, and Francis storefront. The company Francis, Field, and Francis, at 80 N. Second Street, began manufacturing toys in Philadelphia in 1838. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s first toy manufacturer, among the first in the United States, opened in 1838 on North Second Street, between Race and Arch Streets. Francis, Field, and Francis, commonly known as the Philadelphia Tin Toy Manufactory, advertised imported French and German toys but also produced what is believed to be the first manufactured toy in the United States: a horse-drawn fire apparatus.

During the nineteenth century, as middle class prosperity grew, mechanical banks rose in popularity. The banks, like the “Boy on a Trapeze” bank made in Philadelphia by the J. Barton Smith Company, made the act of saving money fun for children. At the same time, designs often attracted adult interest with racial caricatures and political satire. A Philadelphia pattern maker, James H. Bowen (1877-1906), helped to make a Connecticut firm, J&E Stevens, the nation’s largest manufacturer of cast-iron toys in the country. The Stevens firm, based in Cromwell, Connecticut, originally sold hardware and a few iron toys but in 1869 manufactured its first cast-iron mechanical bank (Hall’s Excelsior). By 1890, the firm produced more than three hundred models, including Bowen designs such as “Darktown Battery,” “Girl Skipping Rope,” and “Reclining Chinaman.”

Toys by local manufacturers were among the products exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, hosted by Philadelphia in Fairmount Park. Honoring the birthplace of the nation, the Enterprise Manufacturing Company, a North Third Street firm specializing in coffee grinders, exhibited a mechanical bank in the form of Independence Hall. Another local manufacturer, James Fallows and Sons of North Second Street, displayed painted and stenciled tin horse-drawn wheeled vehicles, trains, and boats that judges commended for “economy in cost, adaptation to purpose intended, and durability.”  

Albert Schoenhut’s Influence

[caption id="attachment_28470" align="alignright" width="213"]A photograph of the Albert Schoenhut Toys storefront. Schoenhut Toys, on Frankford Avenue in Kensington, opened in Philadelphia in 1872 when Albert Schoenhut began producing his own toys pianos. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

As cities and industries grew in the nineteenth century, mass production and department stores made an increasing array of toys more readily available for children and their families. Department store pioneer John Wanamaker (1838-1922), who sold miniature pianos and other toys, played a role in expanding local toy manufacturing in 1866 when he brought Albert Schoenhut (1849-1912) to Philadelphia to work at his store. From a family of German toymakers, Schoenhut was familiar with the manufacturing of miniature pianos and he fixed the broken glass bars by replacing them with metal ones. These new pianos had a craftsmanship that rivaled European manufacturers, making them a popular item for children in the Philadelphia area.  

Recognizing the success of his pianos, Schoenhut opened his own storefront in 1872 on Frankford Avenue in Kensington and expanded his products. The company produced a variety of instruments, dolls, wooden dollhouses/furniture, and circus figures that promoted the power of play for childhood development. Around the turn of the century Schoenhut received a patent for clown figures and in 1903 began producing the popular “Humpty Dumpty Circus,” which quickly expanded to include thirty-seven animals, twenty-nine figures, and over forty accessories. By the time of Schoenhut’s death in 1912, the company was the largest toy manufacturer in the United States and the only to export to Germany, helping to build a longstanding reputation as the greatest American wooden-toy manufacturer. 

[caption id="attachment_28464" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of toy camel This camel, part of the “Humpty Dumpty Circus” set of toys, was created in 1907 by the A. Schoenhut Company in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Photograph by Sara Hawken)[/caption]

Like other toy manufacturers, Schoenhut benefitted from a toy revolution that occurred as fewer families relied on children’s work for income. More children entered the creative world of play, creating increased consumer demand and growth for the domestic toy industry. World War I also opened a door for American manufacturing as turmoil in Europe cut off German exports to the United States, leading to record toy sales nationally for Christmas 1919. Increasing year-round demand led to the domestic toy industry producing more than $58 million worth of toys in 1925. In addition to Schoenhut, The Industrial Directory of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for 1922 listed Philadelphia contributors to the industry as Ad-Craft Inc., 305 Walnut Street, a maker of games and puzzles; the Philadelphia Game Manufacturing Company, 335 N. Third Street, whose products included a “Major League Baseball” board game; Elias Goodman, Howard and Palmer Streets; and Reeve and Mitchell Co., 1228 Cherry Street, a maker of wooden toys. The Pennsylvania Manufacturing Company in Hatfield, Montgomery County, also made wooden toys. 

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, however, toys became a luxury and sales dropped, forcing even the A. Schoenhut Co. into bankruptcy in 1935. An additional blow occurred during World War II, when materials previously used to make toys, especially iron, were diverted to war production. As a result of the wartime iron shortage, mechanical banks and other cast iron toys faded by 1950. Instead, similar items were made of tin by companies including J. Chein and Co., a New York-based company that opened a new factory in Burlington, New Jersey, in 1949. The Chein factory turned out banks, globes, sand pails, and other children’s items by the hundreds of thousands before turning to housewares in 1976 and then closing in 1992.

The Slinky Succeeds

After World War II, Philadelphia became home to a new, iconic toy after a mechanical engineer at the Cramp Shipyard in Fishtown, Richard James (1914-74), discovered in 1943 that a device he was working on to keep equipment steady could “walk” off a shelf. Taking the idea home, after two years of experiments James invented the “Slinky,” a metal coil consisting of eighty feet of wire. By Christmas 1945 James and his wife, Betty (1918-2008), spent $500 to manufacture their new toy to be sold at Gimbels department store.  At $1 each, all four hundred Slinkys sold almost instantly. Manufactured in Philadelphia until 1964, the company then moved to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, where it continued to produce more than 250 million Slinkys a year.

[caption id="attachment_28471" align="alignright" width="280"]A color photograph of a slinky. The Slinky was invented by Richard James at Cramp Shipyard in Philadelphia. (Photograph by Arthur Murphy)[/caption]

As product demands grew during the years of the post-World War II baby boom, new manufacturing techniques increased production and decreased production costs. Scale models of airplanes, boats, military vehicles, and trains became popular, and Bachmann Trains on East Erie Avenue used an injection mold technique to produce and debut the Plasticville U.S.A. line in 1947. Bachmann, a firm founded in Philadelphia in 1833 as a manufacturer of hair ornaments, became one of the leading manufacturers for scale-model buildings used on train layouts, adding a variety of buildings to the product line through 1958. By 1963, after slot cars became more popular and the market for model trains decreased, Bachmann introduced a line of slot car accessories.  By the mid-1980s, with domestic manufacturing fading, Bachmann was bought by Hong Kong-based Kader Industries, which moved the manufacturing line to China.

Most toy manufacturing in the United States moved overseas in the late twentieth century, but the Philadelphia area also gained a local toy maker in the 1990s. After fidgeting with disposable straws at a wedding in 1990, Joel Glickman (b. 1940) created K’Nex, a building set of rods and connectors that later expanded to include gears, blocks, and wheels. Made in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, by the Rodon Group, more than 39 billion flexible plastic K’Nex pieces were produced beginning in 1992.  In 2016, K’Nex formed a holding company, Smart Brands International Co., to build its business globally.

Although the Philadelphia region had a limited presence in the industry by the twenty-first century, its toy legacy remained available for new generations in museums such as the Please Touch Museum in Fairmount Park and the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent in Center City. These toys remained some of the most iconic in the world with long-lasting influence on the industry.

Amanda Sherry is a museum professional in the greater Philadelphia region.

Jim Saksa

Jim Saksa is a reporter for WHYY’s PlanPhilly.

Orphanages and Orphans

Philadelphia’s earliest orphanages grew out of social projects intended to help impoverished families. As early the first decades of the eighteenth century, city officials created organizations such as the Overseers of the Poor (later the Guardians of the Poor) to provide relief to those, such as the elderly, widows with children, and orphans, who faced poverty through no fault of their own. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, private groups established orphanages to care for children whose parents could not support them because of poverty or death. By the late twentieth century, group homes and foster care largely replaced orphanages as the primary means of caring for such children.

[caption id="attachment_28153" align="alignright" width="300"]A photo from 1914 of the St. Joseph's Orphan Asylum in Philadelphia. St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum, originally at Seventh and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, was established in 1797 after a yellow fever epidemic swept the city in 1793. The institution operated until 1984. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Prior to the rise of orphanages, orphans often roamed the streets, worked as apprentices through indenture, or faced confinement to almshouses, jails, or insane asylums (State Hospitals). Although many children were orphaned because both parents had died, in other cases orphans still had one or both parents, but due to poverty, illness, widowhood, or other hardship, their parents were unable or unwilling to care for them. Institutions sometimes took in children on the guarantee that a parent would contribute financially to care for their child. Some orphans were indentured out by their extended family, institutions also indentured orphan children. In exchange for labor, these arrangements provided “bound” orphans with gender-specific training, such as agriculture and trades for boys and housewifery for girls. Though rather harsh in nature, these indenture agreements persisted into the early twentieth century.

At the end of the eighteenth century, both war and disease contributed to child homelessness. Local Catholic and Jewish women responded by becoming involved in charitable work. The Sisters of St. Joseph founded St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum (1797–1984) at Seventh and Spruce Streets following Philadelphia’s deadly yellow fever epidemic of 1793. In 1801, Rebecca Gratz (1781–1869), along with a cohort of women volunteers, established the nonsectarian Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances to address the needs of “honest and industrious” families left destitute through no fault of their own; it operated a soup kitchen as well as a home for widows and orphans. Orphanages were largely directed by women, a trend that persisted until the late nineteenth century, when social work became more professionalized.

Orphan Society of Philadelphia

In spite of such efforts, abandoned children were a serious social problem by the early nineteenth century. Disease, immigration, and growing urbanization continued to put a strain on the city’s limited resources. In 1814, a group of Philadelphia women, including Sarah Ralston (1766–1820), Julia Rush (1759–1848), and Rebecca Gratz, founded the Orphan Society of Philadelphia (1814–1965), the region’s first nonsectarian (though Presbyterian-influenced) orphanage, to provide the city’s poor, white, fatherless children of married parents the support and moral education that would eventually render them valuable members of society. Philadelphia was one of the few cities in the United States prior to 1855 that also established orphanages for what were categorized as “special classes” of children. Since white orphanages barred black children, they were housed with adults at local almshouses. To address this concern, Quaker women established the Association for the Care of Colored Orphans, also known simply as “The Shelter,” in 1822, at Forty-Fourth Street and Haverford Road. The Shelter cared for both boys and girls and offered a homelike environment. New Jersey chartered the West Jersey Orphanage in 1874 to care for “destitute colored children,” which was led by Quakers John Cooper (1814–1894) and his wife, Mary. Located at Oak and Chestnut Streets in Camden, it remained operational until the 1920s, at which point the children were moved to the Camden Home for Friendless Children (1865–1979) at the corner of Fifth and Plum (later Arch) Streets.

[caption id="attachment_28155" align="alignright" width="177"]An engraving of Stephen Girard. Stephen Girard, born in Bourdeax, France, moved to Philadelphia and became a successful banker. Upon his death, he left his fortune to charitable institutions in Philadelphia, including funds to establish Girard College. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

By the mid-nineteenth century, reformers viewed orphanages as a progressive alternative to housing children with adults in almshouses, where, they feared, they would be exposed to criminals and social deviants. Girard College, opened in 1848 for “poor white male orphans,” embraced the model of providing young boys instruction in the trades and mechanical training. The school was founded at the direction of Stephen Girard (1750–1831), who left a $2 million endowment in his will to establish the school, situated north of Poplar Street and Ridge Avenue, a location that Girard believed would provide solace from city life and allow boys to escape poverty by obtaining an education that would otherwise have been unavailable to them. Eventually, Pennsylvania (1883) and New Jersey (1899) passed legislation prohibiting the institutionalization of children in asylums designated for adults. Such views led to the creation of several privately funded orphanages, most of which highlighted the need for education, moral reform, and skills training.

Faith-based groups also founded orphanages in the mid-nineteenth century. Rebecca Gratz, who served for forty years as secretary of the Orphan Society of Philadelphia, established one of the nation’s first orphanages specifically for Jewish children. Gratz created the Hebrew Sunday School program in 1838. By the end of the nineteenth century, this program opened branches across Philadelphia and served over four thousand students. Out of fear that orphaned Jewish children would be reared in non-Jewish asylums and be estranged from the Jewish community, she founded the Jewish Foster Home Society (later the Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum of Philadelphia), located at North Eleventh and Brown Streets, in 1855. Catholics also operated institutions to provide care for abandoned children. The Sisters of Notre Dame ran St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum of Tacony, also established in 1855, to serve girls identified as dependent or delinquent.

[caption id="attachment_28150" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photo of a building at 205 Thirty-Fourth Street in Philadelphia. The Foulke and Long Institute for Orphan Girls was originally established for orphaned daughters of soldiers, firemen, and other civil servants. The building that housed the dormitory, refectory, and kitchens at 205 Thirty-Fourth Street in Philadelphia is now part of the University of Pennsylvania. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

By the late nineteenth century, orphanages adopted a rehabilitative model, in keeping with beliefs that philanthropy and charity ran counter to progressive ideals of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. New institutions, commonly referred to as industrial schools, emphasized practical skills. Industrial schools did not aim to elevate the social standing of orphans, but rather, to prepare them for a life of genteel poverty. The Foulke and Long Institute for Orphan Girls, originally established at Twelfth and Arch Streets in Philadelphia in 1882 and funded by the endowment of Eleanor Parker Foulke Long (1792–1882) and her husband, Burgess B. Long (1796–1873), served daughters of soldiers from the Civil War, as well as daughters of firemen and other public servants who had “sacrificed for the public benefit,” in accordance with instructions Long had left for the disposition of her estate. Pennsylvania’s first industrial school for girls, the institute provided residence in a Christian setting as well as a traditional education coupled with training in the industrial, social, and cultural arts. In 1888, it merged with the Industrial Home for the Training of Girls in the Arts of Housewifery and Sewing. Other privately funded and run facilities provided practical education for orphaned and abandoned boys, such as St. Francis de Sales Industrial School (1888), in Eddington, Pennsylvania; St. Joseph’s House for Homeless Industrious Boys (1888), in North Philadelphia; St. Joseph’s Industrial School (1896), in Clayton, Delaware; and the Delaware Orphans’ Home and Industrial School (1899), in Wilmington.

In 1909, the White House Conference on Children embraced the notion that home life was the “highest and finest product of civilization” and that, if possible, children should be placed in foster homes rather than institutions or indentured arrangements. In the early 1900s, social agencies began to pay and supervise foster parents. Home inspections became mandatory, and increasing professionalization in the field of social work called for inspectors to maintain records and evaluate the living situations of individual children. While encouraging reunification of children with their families whenever possible, the foster care system paved the way for additional related child welfare reforms, such as adoption, nutrition and vocational training, and child labor laws. 

Orphanage Restructuring

[caption id="attachment_28154" align="alignright" width="300"]An image of St. Vincent's Orphan's Home on the Delaware River in Tacony, Pennsylvania. St. Vincent’s Orphans Home in Tacony was opened in 1855 by the Sisters of Notre Dame to shelter orphan girls. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Findings presented at the 1909 conference also led to significant restructuring of orphanages. Organizations that previously functioned independently joined under a single umbrella. For example, the Catholic Children’s Bureau, created in 1919, attempted to centralize child welfare efforts. In addition, the increasing professionalization of the social work coupled with increased regulation of childcare institutions and support of the foster care system contributed to the decline of the orphanage.

Such reforms would eventually lead to more comprehensive reforms to protect children from abuse or neglect in the latter half of the twentieth century. In the 1930s, during the Great Depression, the numbers of children needing assistance continued to rise as the prevalence of orphanages declined with the advent of new social programs. The Social Security Act of 1935 represented one federal government attempt to provide financial assistance to families in need. By the end of the Second World War, most orphanages had closed or were replaced by smaller institutions that tried to promote group home environments. Federal legislation concerning child abuse in the 1970s drew national attention to the need for child protection. The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 was created to serve children in their own homes, prevent external placement, and facilitate the reunification of families.

[caption id="attachment_28149" align="alignright" width="300"]An aerial photograh of the Carson College for Orphan Girls from 1922. This aerial photo of Carson College for Orphan Girls from 1922 shows the college and nearby Flourtown, Pennsylvania. In the early twenty-first century the school was operating as Carson Valley Children’s Aid. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Despite such reform, the late 1980s and 1990s experienced increases in child neglect and foster placements. Cuts in public funding led to a decrease in child welfare resources. Church-based organizations such as Catholic Social Services (previously the Catholic Children’s Bureau) stepped in and expanded outreach beyond foster care and adoption to include programs for immigrants, the elderly and medically fragile, and those in need of transitional housing. Catholic Social Services became one of the largest nonprofit providers of social services in Southeastern Pennsylvania, with centers such as Casa del Carmen (originally located at Seventh and Jefferson Streets), created in 1954, which supported the transitional needs of Puerto Rican immigrants. Institutes such as the Foulke and Long Institute and the Carson Valley School broadened their scope. The Foulke and Long Institute merged in 1960 with the Youth Study Center of Philadelphia, an organization that began in 1909 as the House of Detention. Its primary role was to provide education and medical care to abused and neglected children, as well as to those who had been accused of minor delinquency infractions. The Carson Valley School merged with the Children’s Aid Society in 2008 and shifted to serving families in need of drug and alcohol outpatient services and crisis counseling.

By the twenty-first century, community group homes for families in need of transitional housing, family preservation programs, and services such as those offered by the Department of Human Services, delivered in client homes, had largely replace orphanages. Charitable organizations that had formerly provided care for orphans had broadened their agendas to provide services to those suffering from mental illness and homelessness, as well as to those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.

Holly Caldwell received her Ph.D. in history from the University of Delaware, where she wrote her dissertation on the medicalization of deafness and deaf education reform at Mexico’s Escuela Nacional de Sordomudos (National School for Deaf-Mutes). She is an adjunct assistant professor of history at Chestnut Hill College and has also taught at Susquehanna University.

Charter Schools

Privately run but publicly funded charter schools became an important part of the educational landscape in Greater Philadelphia by the beginning of the twenty-first century.  Their advocates across the country argued that they were an antidote to politicized and unwieldy public school systems and a way to move decision-making out of the hands of government bureaucrats and into those of educators, parents, and community leaders. However, charter schools were controversial for a number of reasons.

Like public schools, charters were tuition free and (theoretically) open to all students. However, they were exempted from most government regulations and had to compete with traditional public schools and other charters for students. Theories of choice and competition were central to the charter school movement. Many proponents argued that the public school “monopoly” was bad for students and that charter schools, by infusing market dynamics into the educational domain, promoted more innovative and responsive schools.

[caption id="attachment_28094" align="alignright" width="300"] Wissahickon Charter School's first location, the Fernhill Campus, opened in 2002. Wissahickon Charter maintains a focus on the environment in and out of the classroom with a Sustainable Environmental Curriculum at this location and a second campus in East Mount Airy. (Wissahickon Charter School)[/caption]

In 1991 Minnesota was the first state in the country to pass a law authorizing charters. New Jersey and Delaware passed charter school bills in 1995, and Pennsylvania followed suit in 1997. As in other areas, charter schools in the region were generally a response to urban school failure and were uncommon in suburban and rural areas. Indeed, over half of all the state’s charters were in Philadelphia as the school year began in the fall of 2016, while only five were in the suburban school districts in the four Pennsylvania counties surrounding it. Similar patterns appeared in Chester and Camden.

Charter schools immediately generated controversy, with proponents claiming that they provided important options to students trapped in failing schools and critics maintaining they took resources and students away from public school districts and increased race and class segregation. Republican lawmakers (especially at the state level) championed charter schools, viewing them as a way to counter the power of teachers unions, but even some Democrats also supported them.  For example, Pennsylvania State Representative Dwight Evans (b. 1954) saw charter schools as a way to increase school choice for his African American constituents in Philadelphia.

Charter Schools in Philadelphia

The first charter schools in Philadelphia opened in 1997. The number of charters rose from a handful at first to eighty-four by the fall of 2016, serving approximately 30 percent of the students in Philadelphia. Philadelphia had one of the highest proportions of students in charters in the country, behind only New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Cleveland. Theoretically, charter schools were accountable to the authorizing district, which had the right to close the schools if they did not live up to the terms of their charters. However, Pennsylvania’s charter school law included limited mechanisms for oversight and accountability, and only a handful of charters were closed due to poor student performance or financial mismanagement.

[caption id="attachment_28092" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photo of the Independence Charter School in Philadelphia. Independence Charter School accepts students from across Philadelphia and has two Spanish language programs for its kindergarten through eighth grade students. (Photograph by Lucy Davis)[/caption]

Charter schools in Philadelphia varied widely in mission and program. Some focused on particular cultural heritages, others on workforce development or at-risk populations; still others aimed to provide highly academic, college preparatory experiences. Charters also played a central role in School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s  (1947-2013) reform effort, launched in 2010. Called the “Renaissance Schools Initiative,” the strategy aimed at quickly improving outcomes in some of the city’s lowest-performing schools. As a part of this initiative, seven traditional public schools in the city with especially poor outcomes were turned over to charter providers (with more to come in the following years). Selected providers included Mastery Charter, which ran a network of “no excuses” schools with high expectations for low-income students.

Like charters across the country, some Philadelphia charters produced better student achievement outcomes than traditional public schools, some produced the same, and some produced worse. Such high levels of variation made it difficult to draw absolute conclusions about relative student performance, but, in general, charter schools in the district did not outperform their traditional counterparts. Despite their mixed results, charter schools were popular; parents appreciated having the freedom to choose, and charters were often seen as safer. Scandals involving mismanagement and even fraud did little to discredit them.

Charter Schools and the Funding Crisis

Funding for charter schools in Pennsylvania came from the students’ original districts, with the amount determined by a state formula that distinguished between regular education and special education students. This formula was especially problematic for the School District of Philadelphia given its already low per-pupil spending, inadequate financial support from the state, and large numbers of English Language Learners and special education students who needed additional services. For each student, the district was required to send approximately 70 percent of that year’s per-pupil cost from the district to the receiving charter; each special education student in a charter cost the district significantly more (nearly 180 percent of the per-pupil cost). This plan was designed to leave the sending district some money for fixed expenses, while directing the bulk of each student’s funding to the school he or she would attend. The result, however, was a significant drain on the district’s budget, especially because charter schools served fewer English Language Learners and high-needs special education students, which left district-run schools responsible for educating a costlier population. A state subsidy intended to help districts offset some of the costs of charter schools was eliminated in 2011, further exacerbating the district’s funding problems.

[caption id="attachment_28091" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white image of the construction plans for Frederick Douglass School in Philadelphia. In 1939, Frederick Douglass Elementary was constructed and became part of the School District of Philadelphia. Mastery Charter transformed the school into a Renaissance charter school in 2015. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

By 2012, the shift of students and funds to charters forced the district to close dozens of schools, generally those with declining student populations located in high-poverty areas. Some parents and politicians blamed charters for these austerity measures. Critics also argued that the district moved many students from closing schools to those with worse achievement records and that its decision to shutter schools discounted local traditions, undermined social bonds, and left certain neighborhoods bereft of functional institutions.

Other Regional Charter Schools

The School District of Philadelphia was not the only school district in southeastern Pennsylvania affected by the rise of charters. Half of the students in the Chester-Upland School District attended them. Most were enrolled in Chester Community Charter School (CCCS), the largest in the state. CCCS was a for-profit school that attracted attention not only for the close ties between its founder, Gladwyne attorney Vahan H. Gureghian (b. 1955), and major Republican figures in the state but also for questionable financial dealings, including extravagant charges for special education.

In addition, Pennsylvania law allowed for cyber charters (schools in which most or all of the instruction occurred online), which were authorized at the state level and served thirty-five thousand students in 2015. Although cyber charters were not subject to oversight by school districts and students could attend any cyber charter in the state, cyber charters received the same per-pupil funding from the student’s home district as regular charters. Cyber charters were controversial because they operated with minimal oversight and produced generally poor outcomes.

[caption id="attachment_28093" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photo of the playground entrance to the LEAP Academy University Charter School in Camden, New Jersey. The LEAP Academy University Charter School is located in Camden, New Jersey, and works in conjunction with Rutgers University-Camden. Funding for a strategic plan to create a community school in the city was provided by the Delaware River Port Authority in 1993. (Photograph by Jorge Perez)[/caption]

One of the first charters in New Jersey, LEAP Academy, opened in Camden City in 1997. Operated in partnership with Rutgers University-Camden, LEAP originally served students in K-6th grades and later expanded into a K-12 school. Other charter schools followed in New Jersey, mainly in impoverished cities like Camden, where performance was low. By 2012, there were twelve such schools in Camden, the second-largest number for any city in the state. They served about 3,700 students; Camden’s public schools, on the other hand, enrolled 13,000. 

With Camden school performance continuing to lag, the New Jersey legislature—prompted by State Senator Donald Norcross (b. 1958) and with the influential backing of his brother, South Jersey power broker George Norcross (b. 1957)—passed Renaissance school legislation, loosely modeled on the program by the same name adopted in Philadelphia in 2010. Providing both incentives to private investors, such as higher per-pupil subsidies than standard charters received, and greater flexibility in contracting for services, the program also aimed at strengthening neighborhoods by requiring that students live in local catchment areas designated by the school district.

Both traditional charters and Renaissance schools found strong supporters among community advocates. Academic outcomes, however, were mixed. A 2007 report by the Institute on Education Law and Policy at Rutgers University, the first of its kind, determined that on fourth-grade standardized tests for language and math, New Jersey’s charter schools performed worse on average than other public schools in the same district, although it also found that over time schools that survived review tended to show better results. In 2012 the Center for Research in Education Outcomes at Stanford University provided more encouraging statistics in both reading and mathematics for 2006 to 2011. Although critics expressed concern at the effect Renaissance schools in particular might have in draining students from traditional public schools, with the three Renaissance operators authorized to educate over nine thousand youth, the political weight behind the movement was strong and accelerating.  

Like New Jersey, Delaware passed its charter school law in 1995. By 2016 there were twenty-two charter schools operating in New Castle County, only thirteen of which were in Wilmington. Buchanan v. Evans (1975), which combined parts of Wilmington with nearby suburbs to consolidate schools in New Castle County, may account for the existence of so many charter schools in the Wilmington suburbs.

Beginning in the 1990s, charter schools helped reshape education in many parts of the Philadelphia metropolitan area. As the number of charters increased, it became more and more common for students to spend at least some of their school years in a charter.  Although they were largely intended to improve opportunities and outcomes for students who had been poorly served by traditional public schools, research on charter school outcomes was mixed. Nevertheless, charters continued to be politically popular and to attract large numbers of families seeking options they felt were safer and more personalized than district-run schools. Over the course of several decades, the rise of charter schools meant that in most urban areas of the Philadelphia region “school choice” had moved from slogan to reality.

Maia Cucchiara is an Associate Professor of Urban Education at Temple University. She is the author of Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities: Who Wins and Who Loses When Schools Become Urban Amenities (University of Chicago Press, 2013).

Amanda Sherry

Amanda Sherry is a museum professional in the greater Philadelphia region.

Clocks and Clockmakers

Clockmaking in colonial and early republican Philadelphia and its environs was considered an intellectual profession requiring great artisanal skill and scientific knowledge. Among rural communities surrounding the city, the mathematical precision and mechanical intricacy of the profession put it at a superior rank to the crafts of blacksmithing and carpentry. Clockmakers like David Rittenhouse (1732-96) and Edward Duffield (1720-1801) garnered respect comparable to the likes of political leaders Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) and Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). The combination of science and craftsmanship made the design, assemblage, and manufacture of clocks a first profession for many scientists and statesmen of distinction.

[caption id="attachment_27608" align="alignright" width="150"]A color photo of a clock made by Edward Duffield. Edward Duffield, who worked in Philadelphia, completed this tall clock between 1765 and 1780. The case is made from mahogany and has tulip poplar, white pine, brass, and iron pieces within it. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)[/caption]

Before 1750 the majority of clockmakers in the colonies were trained in England. However, Pennsylvania in particular became noted for the influence of German designs on its clock production. Although English Quakers dominated Philadelphia, William Penn’s “holy experiment” attracted tens of thousands of settlers from Germany, Switzerland, and Ireland. These immigrants included many skilled artisans from northern Europe, including clockmakers, making Pennsylvania a prime site for producing high-quality clocks.

One of the earliest clocks to make its way to the Philadelphia region was the “Dial of Ahaz,” named after the King of Judah who supposedly invented the sundial in the eighth century B.C.E. The Ahaz sundial was made by Christopher Schissler (ca. 1531-1608) in Germany in 1578 and arrived some time before 1700 with a mystical religious group known as the Pietists or the Hermits of the Ridge. This group, dissatisfied with Protestant and Catholic ritual and led by Johannes Kelpius (1667-1708), came to Pennsylvania in 1694 and settled in Germantown. The group’s interests in mathematics and the astronomy used to calculate the time of the millennium made them prime candidates for clockmaking.

The Eminent Christopher Witt

An entire school of clockmakers trained under another Pietist, Christopher Witt (1675-1765), who arrived in Germantown in 1704 and began making clocks as early as 1706. It is believed that Witt gave the Dial of Ahaz to Benjamin Franklin as a gift. Witt went on to apprentice another important clockmaker in the German tradition, Christopher Sauer (1695-1758). A brass dial, tall-case clock made by Sauer around 1735 became the earliest American-made clock in the collections of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania clock production was set apart from New England by the high quality and individual construction of the tall case clock, a design that consisted of parts often made separately in England, France, and America. These included a case, dial, and mechanism and required collaborative work among cabinetmakers, iron founders, engravers, braziers, ornamental painters, and mathematicians. The weight-and-pendulum design housed in a tall case became known as a “grandfather clock,” the name of which can be traced to a Philadelphia songwriter. In 1876, Henry Clay Work (1832-84) wrote these lyrics: “My grandfather’s clock was too tall for the shelf so it stood twenty years on the floor.” In Pennsylvania, clocks were a symbol of family and stability, often passed down as important heirlooms through generations.

Businesses and government relied on clocks to facilitate meeting times and to regulate working hours. As business and trade increased, the variability of watches necessitated the construction of a public clock. The first of these in Philadelphia was housed in the old courthouse built in 1710 at Market and Second Streets. Made by English clockmaker Peter Stretch (1670-1746), the device told time aurally by ringing a bell.

As the city grew and the center of town shifted farther west, Philadelphia needed a new public clock. According to legend, Benjamin Franklin asked his friend Edward Duffield to make a clock for public display after growing tired of being constantly stopped by workmen on the street wishing to know the time. At this time, personal watches were still a luxury item. Duffield’s clock hung outside his shop at Second and Arch Streets from the 1740s until the Revolutionary War. In 1753, a new public clock was installed at the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall). The clock faces on the building’s east and west gable ends were made by Peter Stretch’s son, Thomas (1697-1765). It was not until 1828 that a clock designed and constructed by Isaiah Lukens (1779-1846) and Joseph Saxton (1799-1873) was installed in a new tower, built to replace the long-demolished original.

David Rittenhouse

[caption id="attachment_27605" align="alignright" width="300"]An ink drawing of the Pennsylvania State House from 1778. This view of the northwest side of the State House by Charles Willson Peale shows that the steeple was not originally constructed with a clock face. Rather, the east and west gable ends presented the town clock made by Thomas Stretch in 1753. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

When David Rittenhouse moved from Germantown to Philadelphia in 1770, clock making continued to be his chief source of income. Rittenhouse made approximately seventy-five clocks in his lifetime and, in a distinctly Pennsylvania tradition, each was unique. Thomas Jefferson described one Rittenhouse orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system, as “a machine far surpassing in ingenuity of contrivance, accuracy, and utility, anything of the kind ever before constructed. …He has indeed made a world, but by imitation approached nearer its Maker than many man who has lived from the creation to this day.” The orrery’s clockwork mechanism represented a view of an orderly, clockwork universe, something essential to the values and ideals of the new republic.

By the 1820s clocks ceased to be a luxury item and became so common that they were considered just another piece of household furniture. Around 1835, the Pennsylvania tall clock began to be supplanted by the cheaper, mass-produced New England shelf clock. Consequently, the definition of “clockmaker” began to shift. Various individuals who had no part in the final construction of a clock and who had no knowledge of its mechanisms could separately manufacture individual parts. Under this division of labor, a clockmaker referred primarily to a tradesman who polished a clock’s teeth and steel parts and adjusted the mechanism to maintain accurate timekeeping.

While mass production of clocks flourished in New England, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware remained known for a tradition of artisanal clocks of the highest quality and individual character. In Delaware, between 1740 and 1840, forty-five clock and cabinetmakers had establishments in Wilmington alone. In New Jersey, notable clockmakers included Isaac Brokaw (1746-1826) in Elizabethtown and Aaron Dodd Crane (1804-1860) in Newark. Brokaw was known for his handcrafted clock pieces, down to the hand hammering of brass dials. Crane published several patents for improving clock mechanisms and the market for his clocks extended as far as New York and Boston. These tall case clocks illustrated and reflected the diverse and collaborate nature of the wider Philadelphia region’s artisanal and scientific communities.

Influence of Mass Production

[caption id="attachment_27609" align="alignright" width="167"]A black and white photo of Built in 1892, “Lover’s Clock” was moved from its original location at Broad and Chestnut Streets in Philadelphia to Twelfth and Chestnut Streets in 1901, where it became the meeting place for couples. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

With the proliferations of mass-produced clocks and smaller, inexpensive watches at the beginning of the twentieth century, artisanal clock production slowed. However, public clocks continued to play an important role in shaping the landscape of Philadelphia. The synchronization of time became necessary to coordinate and regularize the flow of rail travel, leading to the 1893 implementation of Standard Railway Time across the United States. Public clocks in Philadelphia could be seen at its many transportation hubs, including the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Broad Street Station built in 1881. In 1892, a twenty-one-foot Victorian-style clock stood at Broad and Chestnut Streets in front of the ticket office for the Reading and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads. After being moved to Twelfth and Chestnut Streets in 1901, the timepiece was nicknamed “Lover’s Clock” since it was used as a meeting place for couples on dates.

Public clocks dramatically shaped the iconography of Philadelphia’s skyline. The city’s most iconic timepiece, the fifty-ton clock at City Hall, 362 feet above Broad and Market Streets, was the largest and highest in the world when installed and put to service at midnight December 31, 1898. Time could be determined from approximately a mile away, allowing citizens to adjust their home clocks to official Philadelphia time. The 150 incandescent light bulbs that illuminated the clock were originally bright white. By the 1940s, the plate glass of the clock faces were yellowed by sulfurous coal smoke, producing the now-iconic amber glow of the City Hall clock. In 1963, the city officially changed the cleaned bulbs to a tinted yellow color, creating the most recognizable fixture of the Philadelphia skyline. Several blocks north on Broad Street, the four-faced clock atop the Inquirer Building, the tallest building north of City Hall when constructed in 1924, could be seen from miles away. Even after cheap wristwatches and cell phones replaced the need for the manufacture of clocks, the public clocks of Philadelphia continued to define the city’s landscape and iconography.

Michelle Smiley is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. Her dissertation considers the history of photography and its technological development in the United States.

Michelle Smiley

Michelle Smiley is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art at Bryn Mawr College. Her dissertation considers the history of photography and its technological development in the United States.

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