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Independence Seaport Museum

The Independence Seaport Museum, originally called the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, addressed the lack of written history of the Port of Philadelphia by collecting, documenting, and exhibiting the region’s nautical legacy. Founded in 1960 by attorney, civic leader, and maritime collector Joseph Welles Henderson (1920-2007), the museum focused on the maritime history of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware and aimed to commemorate the leading role of Philadelphia and surrounding ports in the maritime development of the United States.

As the son of an admiralty lawyer, Henderson’s enthusiasm for maritime history and artifacts began at a very young age. After years of collecting and curating, in 1956 and 1957 Henderson displayed a Port of Philadelphia exhibit at several institutions, including the Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts, and the Free Library of Philadelphia. After exhibiting parts of his collections at other institutions, Henderson established a charitable trust and founded the Philadelphia Maritime Museum on February 6, 1960.

[caption id="attachment_29250" align="alignright" width="300"]An Exhibit at the Maritime Museum Artifacts on exhibit at the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, photographed in 1974, included ship models, ship flags, and depictions of vessels at sea. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Located at first in a rented room at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 219 S. Sixth Street, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum opened on May 19, 1961. Over the next year, the trustees established an advisory board, the members of which were called Port Wardens, and Henderson brought on two part-time directors and a librarian to catalog his collection and design exhibits. Over the next decade, his determination, a growing base of wealthy museum members, and larger-than-expected crowds propelled the museum’s continued development, including further cultivation of collections and professional museum staff. The museum generated public interest by offering lectures, educational workshops, diverse programming, and exhibits.

Continuing Expansion

Seeking to expand, in 1965 the Maritime Museum moved to a former bank building at 427 Chestnut Street. The new location made it possible to add a maritime library, which had been part of the original plan for the museum. With additional training of its personnel and a growing collection, by this time the museum had become firmly established as the preeminent authority on the history of the port of Philadelphia and surrounding ports.

As the size of the Maritime Museum expanded, so did the nature of its programming. In the midst of the Space Race, in 1968 the museum opened an “Underwater Museum” gallery to explore another frontier by focusing on “the activities of a new breed of man—homo aquaticus—the underwater-man.”  In need of increased space and capacity to accommodate its continued growth, the Maritime Museum purchased the former home of the Philadelphia National Bank at 321 Chestnut Street, where it opened to the public on December 12, 1974. Later, in 1982, it added a boat-building facility called “Workshop on the Water” at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. This workspace and exhibit area operated on the covered-steel lighter barge Maple, which was given to the museum in 1980. A practical extension of the museum’s mission, Workshop on the Water preserved and taught the skills and traditions of wooden boat building and sailing. In subsequent years, the workshop continued to support professionals and enthusiasts in maintaining, restoring, and building boats.

[caption id="attachment_29247" align="alignright" width="300"]Becuna and Olympia Two of the Independence Seaport Museum’s most iconic attractions are the submarine Becuna (left) and the cruiser USS Olympia (right), vessels that have long been moored at Penn’s Landing and whose care was assumed by the museum in 1996. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Looking to further expand and be on the water, in the early 1990s the Maritime Museum acquired a building on Penn’s Landing that originally housed the Port of History Museum, which was built in the years following the 1976 Bicentennial.  A $15 million renovation and expansion beginning in 1994 added space for exhibits, educational programs, storage areas, and a library. The newly renamed Independence Seaport Museum opened to the public in July 1995. A few months later, in January 1996, the museum took responsibility for two National Historic Landmark vessels, the cruiser Olympia and submarine Becuna. Preservation and maintenance of these historic ships proved expensive, though, and the Independence Seaport Museum announced in 2010 that the Olympia required over $10 million worth of repairs and maintenance that the museum did not have. After much consideration, partnership-building, and fund-raising, it was determined in 2014 that the museum would remain as the Olympia’s steward. It embarked on a first phase of maintenance to the cruiser, and continued to raise funds for further repairs.

The Independence Seaport Museum fell on hard times in 2007 after a scandal involving its former director, John S. Carter (b. 1950), who was convicted of embezzling over $1.5 million from the institution. Following a period of introspection, the museum returned to its mission of engaging with the Delaware River Watershed through history, science, art, and community. It carried out the mission through programs such as changing exhibits, a community gallery, citizen science labs, environmental programs, summer camp programs, Workshop on the Water, and public and private events. In 2017, the  museum received a $1.2 million grant from the William Penn Foundation to expand its River Alive! exhibition, focused on the science, ecology and stewardship of the Delaware River watershed. The  museum remained a collecting institution and home to the J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library, named for the museum’s founder, seeking to document, interpret, educate, and engage with the Philadelphia region’s waterways.

Grace Schultz earned an M.A. in History with a concentration in Public History from Temple University and is an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

Subway Concourses

Originally built by the Philadelphia Transit Company in the early twentieth century, the underground concourses in Center City Philadelphia played a crucial part in the construction of subway tunnels and then expanded into a network of private and publicly owned pedestrian walkways and storage facilities. In 1912, the City of Philadelphia assumed active development of the system in the first of many transitions of ownership. Over time, the system stretched to three and a half miles of tunnels and hidden hallways from Eighth to Eighteenth Streets and from South Street to Walnut and Locust Streets. Including shops, entrances to buildings above, and even a division of law enforcement, the underground concourse system provided transportation and development opportunities for Philadelphia.

[caption id="attachment_29670" align="alignright" width="225"]Photograph of people walking in concourse with closed umbrellas A concourse between Suburban Station and City Hall provides shelter for pedestrians on a rainy day. (Photograph for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

The underground concourse dates to 1924, but the labyrinth began as part of the construction of the subway system, not as a way for pedestrians to avoid bad weather. To build the subway, workers used picks and shovels to dig trenches, which were then filled with a tunnel and re-covered. To move materials and equipment, they also created parallel walkways at an estimated cost of $10 million. These walkways became the concourses, with the first pedestrian portion completed in 1927 between the Race-Vine Subway Station and a station then at Filbert Street. Further expansions were completed in 1930 with the opening of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s (PRR) Suburban Station—then known as Broad Street Suburban Station. The concourses provided entrances to businesses above ground, such as Wanamaker’s department store and Girard Trust. Other businesses opened below ground, including the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel’s coffee shop in 1927 and several Art Deco-style barbershops.

The concourse slipped into obscurity as confusing signage, lack of light, and general disrepair kept pedestrians above ground. In 1948, however, the city decided to invest in its underground infrastructure and installed over a mile of new tile and illuminated signage to replace the earlier vague, wooden signs. By the 1950s, the executive director of the Philadelphia Planning Commission, Edmund Bacon (1910-2005), proposed a radical expansion including an underground shopping area with covered areas as well as open-air green spaces. This plan, part of the proposed new Penn Center west of City Hall, became hotly debated among city planners because of its expense. Eventually, under pressure from city government, the PRR offered funds to guarantee construction of the shopping concourse below Penn Center. From the onset, however, the underground shopping center failed to meet expectations and struggled financially.

Another opportunity to expand the concourse system emerged with the 1958 proposal by Mayor Richardson Dilworth (1898-1974), Bacon, and R. Damon Childs (1929-98) to build a commuter rail tunnel to connect Suburban Station with the Reading Company’s Reading Terminal. As part of the redevelopment of Market East, the tunnel expansion, with included concourses, was intended to draw suburban middle class visitors into a vast system of retail stores below. The commuter tunnel did not open until 1984, more than twenty-five years after initially proposed, but in the meantime the multilevel Gallery I shopping mall opened on East Market Street in 1977, providing valuable new space for the vendors who occupied the network of underground walkways. When the commuter tunnel finally opened, its accompanying underground walkways connected the Gallery with the earlier segment of concourse around Penn Center and Suburban Station.

[caption id="attachment_29660" align="alignright" width="300"]A guard surveys an empty corridor in a subway concourse An on-duty guard surveys the empty subway concourse east of Broad Street under Market Street in 1977. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

During the prolonged debates about the commuter tunnel, the concourse system passed from the Philadelphia Transit Company to the City in 1968, when the newly formed Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) could not afford to purchase the vast subterranean system from the PTC. The deal excluded Suburban Station and privately-owned shops below Penn Center. In 1969, following a series of crime-related incidents in the subways and concourses, the Philadelphia Police Department commissioned a special subway unit known as the Philadelphia Transit Unit (later renamed the Concourse Unit), which continued even after SEPTA formed its own transit police unit in 1981. In all, the work between the Transit Unit and SEPTA’s own officers decreased major crime in the underground labyrinth by 50 percent by 1985.

Much of the concourse fell into disrepair between 1980 and 2014, and many segments closed. Some sections never opened to the public because of private ownership or lack of funds. Pedestrians who associated the concourse system with crime preferred to stay above ground. However, in 2014 SEPTA leased the concourse system from the City for thirty years. In an effort to revitalize the concourses, SEPTA launched the Center City Concourse Improvement Program, a $68.2 million plan to reenergize the empty concourses along Broad and Market Streets by 2021 with infrastructure upgrades, interactive transit signage, new storefronts, and creative place-making such as public artwork, farmers markets, and special events.

The first of four phases of the Concourse Improvement Program began in 2015 with the replacement of escalators at Eighth Street and Fifteenth Street as well as the elevator connecting Eighth Street Station to street level. Plans for concourse improvements called for 20,000 square feet to be updated, reconfigured, and repaired. Connections with the concourse also were included in plans for the Comcast Technology Center on Arch Street. The work continued the subway concourses’ long history of tracking Philadelphia’s undulating waves of urban decay and revitalization in the city core.

Samantha Smyth studies history at Temple University.

Samantha Smyth

Samantha Smyth studies history at Temple University.

Machining and Machinists

Hundreds of machine shops, large and small, built and maintained Philadelphia’s position as the “Workshop of the World” through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In the city and beyond, especially in Conshohocken, Pottstown, Phoenixville, Chester, and Camden, machining made the Delaware Valley a hub of foundries, craft shops, mills, workshops, and manufactories. During the latter half of the twentieth century, however, rising labor costs and international competition led to the decline of this segment of the region’s economy.

Machining activities in Philadelphia began in the colonial period when craftsmen used hand tools to produce individual items to customer specifications. Furnacemen cast iron, brass, tin, and pewter items that finishers like blacksmiths, tinsmiths, and carpenters turned into consumer goods. One of the first metalworking operations in the city was Johnson Type Foundry, which opened at Seventh and Sansom streets to provide type settings to printers. It operated until 1897, when it became part of the American Type Founders Company, which ceased operations in 1993.

[caption id="attachment_29203" align="alignright" width="300"]Drawing of the interior of an iron forge The labor of a charcoal iron forge from the period 1716-1828 is depicted in this 1928 drawing by George W. Schultz of Bowers, Pennsylvania. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

During the American Revolution a Continental Arsenal employing over one hundred men and women initiated large-scale forging and finishing in the city. Private craftsmen and forges also supplied finished metal products to the army. Numerous regional forges and furnaces produced metal products for Colonial and Revolutionary Philadelphia, including Colebrookdale and Hopewell near Pottstown and Durham near Easton. 

Metalworking and manufacturing in the region grew after the war so that by 1800, 42 percent of Philadelphia’s sixty-eight thousand people worked in industrial activities. Outside the city in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, French Creek Nail Works began operations in 1790. This became Phoenix Iron Works in 1855 and expanded to producing metal consumer products. J. Wood and Son Iron opened in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, in 1832, leading to a blooming of metal working and finishing shops and the town’s nickname, Ironborough. Plate and nail machining mills opened in Pottstown in this period. The Federal Slitting Mill, founded in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, in 1793 laid the foundations that would become Lukens Steel. In this period, only small-scale craft operations developed in Camden, New Jersey, because investors focused more on transportation and trade.

Machining and the Mint

[caption id="attachment_28806" align="alignright" width="300"]The Third incarnation of at Spring Garden Street and Seventeenth Street. Machining work in Philadelphia got a major boost from the U.S. government when the first United States Mint was built in the city in 1792. Four other money-making mints followed, including this building, the third U.S. Mint, on Spring Garden Street at Seventeenth Street. The current U.S. Mint is at 151 N. Independence Mall East. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The national government played a key role in Philadelphia machining after the Revolution. The Federal Mint opened in 1792 on East Seventh Street above Market (later moving to Juniper and Chestnut Streets in 1833, to 1700 Spring Garden Street in 1901, and finally to Fifth and Arch Streets in 1969). The later versions of the mint grew to be the largest such operations in the world and turned out 501 million coins annually. The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, which grew to include numerous machining shops, began operations in 1801 at Delaware Avenue and Federal Street. It moved to League Island in 1871 and produced and repaired naval vessels until decommissioned in 1995. In 1816, the federal government opened Frankford Arsenal, which forged and machined mostly small arms ammunition until its closure in 1977. Its operations, however, also included milling, optical grinding, and electroplating. 

In the nineteenth century the development of machine lathes, milling machines, drill presses, and cutting tools allowed laborers to turn, bore, drill, mill, ream, and shape items faster with more precision. The result in Philadelphia was the rapid expansion of machining operations to match the rise of large manufacturing sites, building construction, and commercialism. Operations like the Baldwin Locomotive Works, the William D. Rogers Carriage Factory, and the Cramp & Son’s Shipyard required support from small item forgers and finishers. For commercial buildings and private housing, machining provided items like pipes, lumber, nails, and other castings. The growing population of the city purchased all types of machined products like irons, kitchen utensils, stove plates, and sewing needles. 

Machining firms that answered the growing Philadelphia economy varied in size and product. The Point Pleasant Iron and Brass Foundry, founded in 1809, and the Cresswell Ironworks, opened in 1835, supplied custom castings for buildings, bridges, plumbing, and transport. Henry Troemner & Company, founded in 1840, manufactured weights, measures, and scales for doctors, pharmacists, and banks. One of its biggest clients was the Philadelphia Mint. S.S. White Dental Works, founded in 1844, made false teeth and other oral health products. In Camden, Richard Esterbrook’s steel pen factory and the Camden Iron Work became suppliers of various consumables. Likewise, in Chester, Pennsylvania, machinists and craftsmen took advantage of the rail line between Philadelphia and Baltimore to furnish items to both markets.

By the time of the Civil War, manufacturing employed nearly half of Philadelphia’s population (roughly 210,000 people in a city of about 500,000). Frankford Arsenal was critical to the war effort, as were firms like Sharp and Rankin, which machined breech-loading rifles, and Cramp & Son’s, which built the USS New Ironsides. During this period machining operations began in Norristown and Bridgeport and worked metal supplied from Pottstown and Phoenixville. Phoenix Iron cast and worked artillery for the Union and in the process developed the Phoenix cylinder, which revolutionized metal construction. It also spun off the Phoenix Bridge Company, which remained in operation until 1962.

Post-Civil War Growth

[caption id="attachment_28802" align="alignright" width="300"]Employees from Tacony Iron Works pose next to a bronze eagle statue they made for City Hall One of the most recognizable pieces crafted by Tacony Iron Works was the William Penn statue atop City Hall in Philadelphia. Perched underneath Penn’s statue is this bronze eagle, also crafted by Tacony Iron Works employees, posing here with their finished product. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The Delaware Valley machining industry continued to grow in the decades following the Civil War. In Philadelphia, new foundries included Yale & Town, American Machine Works, the Eagle Bolt Works, and Fox Foundry. Tacony Iron Works, founded in 1881, cast the William Penn statue that was placed atop Philadelphia City Hall. Penn Steel Casting and Standard Steel Casting opened in Chester during the period, while in Camden Joseph Campbell opened a canning factory and several railroads built repair yards.

The most well-known of Philadelphia’s new machine and casting shops was Disston & Sons Keystone Saw Works, founded in 1872. Disston became the largest saw producer in the world making large commercial saws, carpentry tools, and household saws. Disston became famous for its company housing for workers and community building projects. It was also the first company in the nation, in 1906, to use an electric furnace to cast crucible steel.

Machining, like Philadelphia manufacturing generally, remained close to its crafts roots throughout the nineteenth century. Sixty-two percent of the city’s 9,100 manufacturing firms employed between one and five people. Skills passed from one generation to another within families, or companies trained workers recommended by employees. Guilds of skilled workers protected their rights to manage apprenticeships and training that limited access to machining. Outwork continued to be done at home, and street peddlers were widespread, offering custom products and finishing.

The small size, specialization, and plethora of machine shops had several implications. Machine workers retained craft skills lost by workers in industries adopting factory production. Workers had little power to organize themselves, either by specialty or business. And the number of African Americans, immigrants, and women in machining remained low. By 1900, 55 percent of the machining workforce was still white, native-born men. 

Schools Promote Diversity

Diversity within the ranks of machining workers was driven by the Philadelphia School District and private schools looking to increase access to skilled jobs. In 1880, the district founded the Industrial Arts School to provide public education in trades. Five years later the Philadelphia Manual Training School was founded, and by the 1890s the city had a dozen manual arts schools. By the 1910s most high schools offered vocational training. Girard College created an industrial school to offer higher levels of training, and Drexel Institute was founded in 1891 for the same reason. Educational opportunities competed with guild and corporate training, allowing women, immigrants and African Americans at last to enter the skilled labor force.

[caption id="attachment_28809" align="alignright" width="300"]A Budd Company employee tends the steel frame of an automobile bodt in 1939. A Budd Company employee works on the newly manufactured steel body of an automobile in this photograph from 1939. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

The city’s skilled workforce drove expansion among local firms and investment by regional firms. Max Levy (1857-1926) came to the city from Baltimore and expanded his glass engraving business to photoelectrotyping, acid engraving, grinding, and x-ray plate production. Budd Company started in 1912 to manufacture auto bodies and railroad components. Its most famous product was the original Metroliner car that became the backbone of Amtrak’s passenger train operation. Arthur Atwater Kent (1873-1949) began building telephone components and voltmeters in Massachusetts, but moved into manufacturing radios in Philadelphia in 1923; until 1936 his company machined tubes, receivers, and other radio components. 

Local markets like Camden, Chester, and Pottstown also saw development in this period. In 1901, Eldridge R. Johnson (1867-1945), a machinist working with the Berliner Gramophone Company in Philadelphia, started his own sound recording company in Camden, the Victor Talking Machine Company. RCA (Radio Corporation of America) acquired Victor in 1929. Ford Motor Company built an integrated steel mill and machining plant along the Delaware River in Chester in 1927. Bethlehem Steel entered the regional market by taking over sites in Pottstown and expanding them to supply Philadelphia machinists.

[caption id="attachment_28817" align="alignright" width="245"]A Woman works to drill a metal filling within the aircraft factory of the Philadelphia Naval Yard A woman drills a metal fitting in the aircraft factory of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in a 1918 photograph. The outbreak of World War I, as with World War II, led to the hiring of many women into the machining workforce. Female operators became an integral part of the war effort, producing munitions and building the parts for and assembling U.S military aircraft. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Philadelphia machining reached its pinnacle during the two world wars. Providing a vast array of items for the military ensured a change in the composition of the machining workforce. Atwater Kent produced artillery fire control equipment, while Fayette R. Plumb machined entrenching tools in World War I. Nice Ball Bearing machined ball bearings for trucks, gun mounts, and aircraft pulleys for both wars. World War II spurred creation of the Tacony Ordnance Company and the Tacony Army Plating Plant from companies decimated by the Great Depression. Frankford Arsenal was called on for ammunition, and most firms, like O.P. Schumann, refitted their works to manufacture military goods like tanks, tank guns, artillery, and weapon parts.  Cramp shipyard built several cruisers and destroyers, while Philadelphia Naval Shipyard built the battleships West Virginia, New Jersey, and Wisconsin. And the U.S. Naval Aircraft Factory was charged with producing a remote control turbojet air-to-air missile. Another innovation from the period came from Dodge Steel, which replaced Tacony Iron. Foreman John Williams developed a casting process using an apparatus that maintained the pressure of molten metals during a cast. The level of production necessary to support the war effort required the hiring and training of unskilled labor.  As a result, women, immigrants, and African Americans became a significant part of the machining workforce.

War and Shipbuilding

Other segments of the Delaware Valley also contributed to American efforts in both world wars. Chester’s Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock went into operation in 1917 just in time to build seven cargo ships for the military. Having grown substantially by 1940, Sun produced 318 various types of cargo vessels during World War II. During that war New York Shipbuilding in Camden built, among other ships, nine light aircraft carriers and the battleship South Dakota, while Bethlehem Steel used its Pottstown plant to cast and machine both naval and field artillery.

The rise of larger firms, increasing diversity, and economic collapse during the Depression led to greater organization among machine workers. Skilled workers demonstrated and struck in 1893 and 1903 for better pay and against child labor, but generally, the familial nature of craftwork made unionizing difficult. By the 1910s local guilds became more formalized in organizations like the Iron Molders Union, Amalgamated Steel Metal Workers, and Philadelphia Engravers Union, but they did not have much political influence. The Great Depression, however, challenged the labor status quo and took advantage of changing worker demographics brought on by education. Closures and consolidations cut the number of firms in Philadelphia to 5,760, each with an average of fifty-three workers. This fostered organization and activism among workers. The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and American Federation of Labor (AFL) molded local groups into larger unions such as United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers Union with the power to press for better conditions and pay. They succeeded, securing wage increases totaling 500 percent between 1950 and 1980.

The city’s casting, machining, and finishing workforce of 900,000 in 1950 dropped precipitously by century’s end. Rising wages and foreign competition undermined machining in Philadelphia following World War II. As Europe and Japan recovered from the war, they became producers of custom made consumer goods, and inexpensive machined products. Asia also became a hub for steel production, as first Japan and then China dominated its manufacture. Lower Asian labor rates and access to inexpensive resources led large domestic manufacturers in shipbuilding, electronics, and automobiles to relocate overseas. Machining concurrently declined as fewer large operations remained and labor rates made foreign products more attractive. By 1980, the number of Philadelphians engaged in manufacturing fell to 24 percent, or roughly 380,000. The majority of these lost jobs were skilled finishers and machinists. 

While some urban firms moved to the suburbs, most left the region entirely or went out of business. Henry Troemner moved to West Deptford, New Jersey, in the 1960s at the same time that O.P. Schumann moved to Warminster, Pennsylvania. Baldwin Locomotive, which had left Philadelphia starting in 1928, went out of business in 1972, as did Sun Shipbuilding in 1982 and Budd Company in 2002. Ford left Chester in 1961, relocating its regional manufacturing to Mahwah, New Jersey. Likewise, in 1992 RCA (owned by General Electric) left the Victor plant, consolidating its manufacturing operations elsewhere in New Jersey. In 1997, Lukens Steel was purchased by Bethlehem Steel, which immediately thereafter closed its Pottstown operations and sold Lukens to Mittal Steel. By 2000, an additional 200,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in Philadelphia, and by 2007 the total number of manufacturing jobs left was just over twenty-eight thousand. The majority of the remaining jobs were small shop machine production and finishing for local construction and fabrication firms.

The Philadelphia region was home to numerous machining and custom manufacturing and finishing operations that contributed greatly to the development of the United States and shaped the region as a home for high quality goods. Factors including high wage costs, consolidation, and foreign competition undermined urban operations and the number of regional machining employees. However, machining continued to be an element of the regional economy in suburban locales into the twenty-first century.


In 1917, a group of Jewish high school graduates in Philadelphia formed a basketball team that competed against other local teams. Affiliated with the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) at first, the team soon became known as the SPHAS (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) after the YMHA withdrew its sponsorship because it considered the sport too violent. Except for a couple of seasons in the 1920s, the team kept the name SPHAS until it disbanded in 1959 after achieving a long record of success.

Eddie Gottlieb (1898-1979), Harry “Chickie” Passon (1897-1954), and Edwin “Hughie” Black (1897-1986) organized the team after graduating from South Philadelphia High School. Black and Gottlieb, who then attended the School of Pedagogy at Temple University, joined with Passon and other friends to compete in the minor league American League of Philadelphia for two seasons with the support of the YMHA. Next, the SPHA sponsored the team, and even though the organization soon withdrew its support, the team retained the name. By the early 1920s, the SPHAS no longer needed sponsorship after Gottlieb, Black, and Passon opened a sporting goods store to provide their own uniforms (by the end of the decade, Passon bought out his partners to form Passon Sporting Goods, which became Philadelphia’s leading sporting goods store). The SPHAS played in the American League until 1922, then spent one season in the Manufacturer’s League, which mostly consisted of company teams.

[caption id="attachment_27847" align="alignright" width="300"]A group portrait of the SPHAS (c. 1940) A Philadelphia SPHAS team photo (c. 1940) pictures players along with the team’s coaches and staff. Active as a team from 1917 into the 1950s, the SPHAS were moderately successful in both the Eastern Basketball League and American Basketball League. After being sold by Eddie Gottlieb in 1950, the SPHAS became the Washington Generals, the team best remembered for consistently losing to the basketball entertainment team, the Harlem Globetrotters. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Philadelphia Jews ardently supported the team, which continued to play with a majority of Jewish athletes. Other teams also had Jewish players, but they were most dominant on the SPHAS. Fans packed the ballroom of the Broadwood Hotel on North Broad Street to watch the SPHAS Saturday night games, then went dancing after the games. The team also retained a connection with Temple University, which served as a local college pipeline for players. The team won its first professional title at the end of the 1923-24 season, while playing in the Philadelphia League. Under Gottlieb’s leadership, the SPHAS became one of the top teams in Philadelphia and traveled to play outside the regional league. After one season (1926) in the short-lived Eastern League, Gottlieb scheduled games against teams competing in the American Basketball League and prominent barnstorming teams, including the Original Celtics and New York Renaissance (the Rens).

After playing for one season (1926-27) as the Warriors in the American Basketball League, the team once again became the SPHAS and joined a revived Eastern Basketball League for 1929-30. Clearly the best team in the league, with a new star in future Temple University basketball coach Harry Litwack (1907-99), the SPHAS won the league’s championship in three of the four years of its existence.

[caption id="attachment_27843" align="alignright" width="300"]A comic sketch commemorating the SPHAS 1936-37 championship victory This pen-and-ink cartoon sketch commemorates the Philadelphia SPHAS’ 1936–37 American Basketball League championship victory. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Success continued between 1933 and 1947, as the SPHAS reached the playoffs twelve times and won seven championships in a new American Basketball League (ABL), formed in 1933. The team continued to play in the ABL after it reverted to a minor league following the 1945-46 season, with less success. Meanwhile, Gottlieb became coach and general manager of the Philadelphia Warriors as a franchise in the new Basketball Association of America (forerunner of the National Basketball Association) and he brought some of the SPHAS’ top players with him. Litwack, who also coached Temple’s men’s basketball team, took over as coach of the SPHAS.

In 1950 Gottlieb sold the SPHAS, and former star Louis “Red” Klotz (1920-2014) found a new role for the team as one of three touring opponents for the Harlem Globetrotters. Klotz changed the team’s name, first to the Washington Generals in honor of President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) and later to the Baltimore Rockets. Under Klotz’s leadership, the SPHAS went from being a championship-caliber team to the brunt of the Globetrotters’ hijinks. The SPHAS officially ceased operations in October 1959 but could look back on success as one of Philadelphia’s championship basketball teams from the first half of the century. To the end, the team retained its predominantly Jewish identity.

Karen Guenther is Professor of History at Mansfield University and author of Sports in Pennsylvania, published by the Pennsylvania Historical Association.


Philadelphia became a national center for the thrift movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a high concentration of progressive individuals and institutions promoted values of frugality, industry, and stewardship as a means for poor and working-class people to improve their circumstances. Espoused by white middle-class society, the thrift movement declined when the economic roller-coaster of the twentieth century brought an end to the savings banks and school savings banks at the core of assisting individuals in living thrifty lives.

[caption id="attachment_28082" align="alignright" width="300"]A card depicts the benefits of living a Thrifty lifestyle versus the outcome of spending in large amounts The visual culture of the thrift movement paralleled that of the temperance movement, often changing captions on similar images from “do not drink” to “save more.” The person who saves (or does not drink) lives a happy life, while the person who does not save (or drinks) destroys family and job. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The ethic of “thrift” originated in Europe during the late eighteenth century. Closely aligned with values later called “the Protestant work ethic,” thrift emphasized hard work and strict money saving practices. Private and municipal savings banks were founded throughout Europe.  By 1816, Philadelphia had its first saving bank, the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society (PSFS). Along with other savings banks established during the nineteenth century, the Saving Fund Society encouraged individuals to save money for mortgages and retirement and provided a form of economic insurance in case of debilitating illness or the death of a family’s primary wage-earner. This form of institutional savings became popular in the Philadelphia region, where three other savings fund societies formed by 1853, and in other Northeastern states, where nearly six hundred savings banks were in operation by 1930.

The existence of this type of institution did not guarantee, of course, that people would have the skills or desire to save—or be thrifty. For some, habits could be difficult to change so that saving became a priority over spending money on other luxuries, such as games, alcohol, or tobacco. Some did not trust institutions with their small amounts of hard-earned cash. To inculcate a culture of hard work and frugality, progressive thinkers turned to schools. The Quaker activist Priscilla Wakefield (1750-1832) was the first to organize “frugality banks” for women and children in England during the 1790s. With roots throughout Europe, the idea of teaching children to save through special bank programs was introduced to the United States in the 1880s by John H. Thiry (1822-1911), who then inspired the practice in the Philadelphia area when he spoke to at the American Economic Association hosted by the University of Pennsylvania in 1888.

Sara Louisa Oberhotzer, Zealot of Thrift

[caption id="attachment_28079" align="alignright" width="236"]A portrait of Sara Louisa Oberholtzer, a key figure in the Thrift movement Sara Louisa Oberholtzer, a native of southeastern Pennsylvania, gained national stature through promoting and directing the School Savings Bank Movement. This photograph was taken circa 1892 about the time that she became involved with the thrift moment. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Reformer Sara Louisa Oberholtzer (1841-1930) heard Thiry’s speech and seized upon the concept of thrift. Born into the Chester County Vickers family, she had been weaned on the abolition movement and graduated to temperance, which stressed not only temperance in drink, but also in gaming, the use of tobacco, and dietary habits. The concept of economic temperance as a method to improve the lot of the poor appealed to Oberholtzer, who convinced the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) to take up the cause. As WCTU letterhead later proclaimed, “The inculcation of thrift insures wiser living and decreases pauperism, intemperance, and crime.” 

In 1889, Oberholtzer established the first School Savings Banks in Pennsylvania, mainly in towns around Philadelphia, such as Norristown, Phoenixville, Chester, and Pottstown, though there also was one as far away as Wilkes-Barre. Students brought coins to school and “deposited” them with teachers. The schools then transferred their savings into accounts at local banks, under the children’s names. In 1890, Oberholtzer became the national superintendent of the WCTU’s Schools Saving Bank Committee. The same year, fifty schools in Pennsylvania joined as the movement spread to thirty-one cities across the eastern United States. 

[caption id="attachment_28081" align="alignright" width="207"]A music sheet for Sara Oberholtzer's School Savings Song Sara Louisa Oberholtzer was a master marketer for the School Savings Bank movement, writing numerous articles for women-oriented, educational, and banking journals as well as publishing her own, Thrift Tidings. This musical ditty was written for the student audience, including hand motions to be made while holding the Scholar’s Card where weekly personal savings were recorded. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

A master marketer, Oberholtzer published articles, books, and pamphlets, including Thrift Tidings, a periodical which ran from 1907 through 1923, and How to Institute School Savings Banks (1913), which sold over fifty thousand copies. She created forms, gathered statistics, and even wrote the School Savings Rally song, complete with accompanying hand motions. At the height of the School Savings Banks movement in the late 1920s, one of every six school students in the country participated in a school-based bank. A school-based essay contest organized by the American Society for Thrift in 1913 received over one hundred thousand entries and was won by a girl from Pennsylvania. 

Part of the movement’s success came from its collaboration with educators. The National Education Association established a committee on thrift in 1915 to develop curriculum. In 1917, the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce published Thrift: A Short Text Book for Elementary Schools of Philadelphia. The book was meant for children, probably at the secondary level, but the introduction for teachers reminded adults that forming good saving habits would “make for the success or failure of the city’s enterprises in a decade or two.” The five chapters for the students presented examples of good children who did chores and shopped wisely and, as one chapter title reminded them, to fight against a human desire to “want what we want when we want it.”

Oberholtzer’s ability to garner support from the banking community also contributed to the movement’s success. During the 1910s, the American Banking Association encouraged its members to support the school savings program. In Philadelphia, the venerable PSFS bank took up the cause and continued the program even after school savings banks nationally declined during the Great Depression and World War II from a high of 15,000 in the late 1920s to only 3,500 in 1947. Changes in the banking industry began to impact school savings bank programs. During a last gasp in the 1960s, PSFS in Philadelphia gathered deposits from students, helped them set up school bank branches, and sponsored art contests with the winning entries on display in bank lobbies. The closing of the bank once in the vanguard of the national thrift movement, beginning with a merger in 1982 and culminating in the sale of its assets to Mellon Financial in 1992, ended the systematic incorporation of thrift into local school curriculums, a trend nationwide.

Born during the rise of a cash economy and consumerism in the Atlantic World, the early proponents of the thrift movement desired to help people navigate changing circumstances, but they also imposed their own values about the proper use of money. When Thiry and Oberholtzer introduced school savings banks in the late nineteenth century, they consciously or subconsciously supported efforts to Americanize immigrants, who often lived near poverty in urban areas, into white middle-class society. Changes in the late twentieth century in global economic systems made some institutions of saving obsolete; the subsequent bursting of the tech bubble and recession of 2008 illustrated to many social critics, however, the continued need for teaching thrift.

Beth A. Twiss Houting is the Senior Director of Programs and Services at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. She holds a B.A. in History from Pennsylvania State University and an M.A. from the University of Delaware in the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture with a Certificate in Museum Studies.

Red Arrow Lines

The Red Arrow Lines of the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company (1936-70) became a national model and local brand of marketable mass transit in the 1950s, when few private companies still built, managed, owned, and operated suburban public transportation services, let alone profited from them. At a time when motor-vehicle commuting forced most transit proprietors into bankruptcy, receivership, or acquisition, the Red Arrow Lines--high-speed railways, trackless trolleys, and electrified and diesel buses operated west and south of Philadelphia by Merritt H. Taylor Jr. (1922-2010) and his family of transit managers--outlasted and outshined most national and local competition.

[caption id="attachment_27264" align="alignright" width="300"]People await outside the 69th Street Terminal for a Red Arrow bus At the 69th Street Terminal in the center of Upper Darby, Delaware County, passengers board Red Arrow buses en route to former trolley stations in outlying residential communities of Delaware and Montgomery County such as Drexelbrook. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Paradoxically, the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company cultivated loyal ridership of Red Arrow Lines by curtailing services and closing stations it acquired in 1946 from the beleaguered Philadelphia & Western (P&W) railroad and bus company run by A. Merritt Taylor (1874-1937), Merritt H. Taylor Jr.’s grandfather. Over the next decade, Taylor Jr. removed train services and servicemen from sparsely populated industrial centers of Chester County, Pennsylvania, like Stafford and West Chester, and replaced most trackless trolleys (powered by overhead wires) with diesel-fueled buses better able to navigate the sprawling towns of Montgomery County such as Ardmore and Haverford. Gut renovations of Red Arrow-related real estate in Montgomery and Delaware Counties, including the profitable Norristown High-Speed Line’s Terminals on Sixty-Ninth Street in Upper Darby, Delaware County, and Forty-Ninth Street in Norristown, made room for back-office operations once assigned to branch offices. The redesign of these Art Deco structures left them without amenities like restaurants, lunch counters, barber shops, and passenger waiting rooms, but postwar residents of Philadelphia suburbs patronized Red Arrow Lines regularly enough to support expansion of the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company into New Jersey.

The lean architecture and infrastructure of Red Arrow Lines included a few luxuries that became the Taylor family legacy. Before aerodynamically-designed Silverliner trains graced commuter rail lines of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company in 1963, the Red Arrow Lines boasted “bullet trains”—refurbished rapid transit cars of early modernist style that picked up and discharged passengers every fifteen minutes, every hour of the day, along the 13.7-mile long Norristown High-Speed Line. These Liberty Liner trains featured vibration dampers and waitstaff, which allowed coffee and tea service during the morning rush hour and beer and wine during the evening rush hour. Less-equipped buses and trolleys earned repeat ridership by traveling in dedicated traffic lanes leading to the Norristown High-Speed Line, express bus stops of the Schuylkill Valley Lines Inc., and rapid-transit terminals of the Philadelphia Transportation Company, as well as commuter rail stations of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Reading Railroad, and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad companies. Together, the styling, synchronized schedules, exclusive rail and road rights, and intermodal connections of the Red Arrow Lines kept the company in business, in the pages of industry periodicals such as Railway Age, and in popular television shows like 60 Minutes.

The financial success of the Red Arrow Lines in the 1950s contributed to Merritt Taylor Jr.’s decision to abstain from participating in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Compact (SEPACT) formed by Philadelphia and four surrounding counties in 1961. Taylor, an active member of Delaware County’s conservative-leaning political organizations, eschewed public subsidies for replacing rolling stock and denounced public-private partnerships in real estate reinvestment throughout his twenty-four-year tenure as Red Arrow Lines’ president. Meanwhile, competitors of the Red Arrow Lines—the Pennsylvania Railroad, Reading Railroad, and the Philadelphia Transportation Company, a local subsidiary of National City Lines Inc.—capitalized on the availability of public funds to cover their ballooning debts and compensate for their reduced ridership. Between 1958 and 1970, Taylor refused to redirect Red Arrow buses and trolleys to commuter rail stations in Media or otherwise participate in projects by SEPACT or SEPTA (the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, formed in 1963) to decrease street traffic and offer discounted direct rail service from the suburbs to Philadelphia’s business district.

Taylor’s reticence to join government-business compacts of the 1960s preserved his family’s political alliances in Delaware County, which also opted out of regional transportation compacts orchestrated by Philadelphia’s metropolitan-minded mayors. At the same time, however, the Red Arrow Lines lost revenue to Philadelphia and Montgomery County, which charged the company ever-higher tariffs to use their tunnels, terminals, streets and bridges. Rather than wait until it could no longer compete against the rail ridership recruitment and retention programs of local, state, and federal transportation authorities, Red Arrow leadership elected in 1970 to resell their stake in P&W to SEPTA at a premium of $13.5 million.

[caption id="attachment_27265" align="alignright" width="300"]SEPTA employees striking next to a Red Arrow Line train United Transportation Union members strike at the Sharon Hill station of SEPTA’s Red Arrow Division on May 25, 1971, shutting down buses and trolleys that served this Delaware County terminus plus communities of West Philadelphia and Montgomery County. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Red Arrow-decorated trains, trolleys, and buses rolled into Upper Darby terminal of the Norristown High-Speed Line for the first time under SEPTA leadership on January 29, 1970. Although authorized by the Taylor family, SEPTA’s takeover of Red Arrow Lines sparked a strike lasting more than a month by Red Arrow employees, many of whom had supported the Taylor family’s sustained opposition to public management, subsidies, and regulation. SEPTA conceded only temporarily to one of their most expensive demands—retention of the Red Arrow workforce that operated, maintained, cleaned, and stocked the luxurious Liberty Liners. Seven years after SEPTA adopted the Red Arrow legacy and logo, it abandoned them to address pressing problems with service delivery, facilities management, and systems integration throughout southeastern Pennsylvania.  

As SEPTA reduced the Red Arrow Lines to essential sites and services, SEPTA’s Red Arrow Division grew under its first director, Ronald DeGraw (1942-2006), to include the community-based organizations and anchor institutions that restored or repurposed Red Arrow real estate at SEPTA’s behest. Universities, historical societies, and neighborhood and business associations of Montgomery and Delaware Counties such as the Lower Merion Civic Council and Swarthmore College adapted abandoned rail stations to commercial and civic uses. They converted railways to greenways and sponsored transit services such as shuttles to connect new shopping centers with old Red Arrow stations that had survived budget cuts and abandonment in the early 1980s. Later known as “railbanking,” such nongovernmental efforts to keep Red Arrow infrastructure and architecture in public use enabled SEPTA, their state sponsor, to retain ownership of land that the Taylor family amassed and reserve the right to reuse or redevelop this real estate at a later date. By the end of the 1980s, SEPTA began to reinstate suburban transit routes and services in sprawling towns that the Philadelphia Suburban Transportation Company once served. With each reactivation of a Red Arrow right-of-way, the landscape of private enterprise once again became integral to public transportation provision in Greater Philadelphia.

Fallon Samuels Aidoo, Ph.D., a transportation and land use planning practitioner, scholar, and educator, advises designers, managers, and sustainers of transportation services and spaces--from streets and shuttles to terminals and trails. She is co-author of the Newark River Access Guide (2013), a resource for reinvestment in transportation to and along the Newark, New Jersey, riverfront right-of-way, and co-editor of Spatializing Politics: Essays on Politics and Place (Harvard University Press / Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2016), analyses of architecture and urbanism that shed light on contemporary political conflicts and consensus.

Fallon Samuels Aidoo

Fallon Samuels Aidoo, Ph.D., a transportation and land use planning practitioner, scholar, and educator, advises designers, managers, and sustainers of transportation services and spaces--from streets and shuttles to terminals and trails. She is co-author of the Newark River Access Guide (2013), a resource for reinvestment in transportation to and along the Newark, New Jersey, riverfront right-of-way, and co-editor of Spatializing Politics: Essays on Politics and Place (Harvard University Press / Harvard University Graduate School of Design, 2016), analyses of architecture and urbanism that shed light on contemporary political conflicts and consensus.

Philadelphia Maritime Exchange

In 1875, a group of influential maritime and business leaders who recognized the importance of the Port of Philadelphia’s standing with respect to other North American ports formed the Philadelphia Maritime Exchange. The goal of the exchange was to position Philadelphia as a premier port in North America by increasing the city’s direct trade with foreign countries and ensuring that the Delaware River ports would offer quick turnaround and better ship handling. From these beginnings, the exchange played an active role in the port’s growth and served the Delaware River maritime community into the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_27173" align="alignright" width="240"]The Delaware Breakwater reporting station creted by the Philadelphia Maritime Exchange The Philadelphia Maritime Exchange designed reporting stations to track shipping arrivals and monitor ships bound for the Port of Philadelphia. (Independence Seaport Museum)[/caption]

By the time of the exchange’s founding, the Port of Philadelphia had long been a key aspect of the region’s economic life.  By 1750 Philadelphia had surpassed Boston as the largest city and busiest port in North America and held that position until it was eclipsed by New York in 1825.  During the post-Civil War era, as Philadelphia became an industrial giant and a key hub for commercial trade, demands on the port reached new levels with the rise of iron, steel, coal, and oil production, along with the increasing use of the railroad to transport these materials. To improve efficiency, the exchange built reporting stations along the Delaware to track ship arrivals. The observation stations reported to a central point in the city and from there the information was distributed to any party concerned with the ship while it was in port.

The exchange took an increasingly active role in proposing and instituting rules and regulations governing local shipping after April 29, 1882, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania granted it a perpetual charter to “acquire, preserve, and disseminate all maritime and other business information, and do such other and lawful acts as will tend to promote and encourage trade and commerce of the Port of Philadelphia.” In 1887, the exchange issued its first eighteen Maritime Rules, covering points on which disputes tended to arise, such as ways of determining the readiness of ships or methods for handling hazardous cargo. These and other regulatory actions became the model for many U.S. ports as well as the foundation of international shipping governance.

At the time the exchange was formed, the Port of Philadelphia consistently handled three principal commodities: grain, sugar, and petroleum. The exchange formulated and approved standard practice for the carriage of these goods and became one of the first to adopt forms of charters for specific commodities or trades. These charters defined issues such as the loading, unloading, and discharge of vessels; how many days a ship was allowed in port (lay days) and the port charges resulting from overstay (demurrage); and rules regulating the delivery and receipt of special cargoes. In most ports these were matters decided by Boards of Trade, Chambers of Commerce, merchants, or combinations of the respective groups. In Philadelphia the advent of the Maritime Exchange streamlined the process. 

To assure that the Port of Philadelphia would remain competitive, the exchange also played a role in the development of the Delaware River, the Schuylkill River, and the harbor. Over time, advances in ship design, construction, and operation created the need for the port to accommodate deeper drafts and longer ships. From 1885 through 1938 the exchange promoted actions such as the removal of Smith's and Windmill islands from the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden and projects to widen and deepen the channel. Similarly, the exchange maintained and improved the Schuylkill River, the main tributary to the Delaware River and a key channel for moving commodities from the interior of the country to the port.

The interests and actions of Philadelphia Maritime Exchange always reached beyond the water to related issues such as the railroad transportation of commodities, quarantine of goods and immigrants on land, immigration, outbreaks of yellow fever, and civic affairs. The exchange actively promoted technological advancements such as electricity and telephones that required cables across the river and were key advocates for establishing bridges across the Delaware River in response to population growth in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Over the years, it supported humanitarian aid to foreign countries, endorsed state legislation such as the “Pure Stream Bill” to assure water quality, and opposed the sale or charter of government-owned vessels to foreign countries.

By the late 1980s, the exchange became the primary advocate for all segments of the tristate port industry after a sister organization, the Joint Executive Committee for the Improvement of the Harbor of Philadelphia and the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, closed its doors. In keeping with its broadened geographic scope, the activities of the exchange expanded to more extensive connections to legislators, regulators, policymakers, and other industry members concerned with international transportation matters including trade and quota issues, maritime security, automation, safety, environment, and dredging.

The increase in scope of the exchange led to a name change in the 1990s to the Maritime Exchange for the Delaware River & Bay. The exchange’s mission, however, remained focused on promoting and encouraging commerce and international trade while working closely with public port organizations on issues with impact on the port and related businesses. Maintained by membership dues collected from merchants, importers, ship owners, tug and lighter operators, suppliers, and others connected with the maritime trade of the lower Delaware River, by 2016 the exchange had a membership more than 275 and remained the voice of safe, efficient, and cost-effective commerce on the Delaware River and Bay. 

Terry L. Potter is the Director of the J. Welles Henderson Archives & Library at the Independence Seaport Museum. She holds a Master’s Degree in American History from Rutgers University, Camden.

Magazines, Literary

[caption id="attachment_26632" align="alignright" width="204"]Ladies Home Journal cover from October 1895 Posters and advertisements helped the Curtis Publishing Company and The Ladies’ Home Journal reach a broader audience, and the magazines also contained advertisements for domestic products aimed at the consumer. Carrying advertisements allowed The Ladies’ Home Journal to charge less than some of its competitors. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Philadelphia-based writers and publishers produced literary magazines as early as the 1740s, and, through the nineteenth century, the city was home to a succession of influential publications that supported many local authors and contributed to the establishment of a national literary culture. However, Philadelphia’s greatest prominence in literary publishing was achieved through a series of mass-circulation magazines for middle-class readers, especially women, from the 1830s through the first half of the twentieth century. Gradually, the influence of Philadelphia was diminished by the concentration of publishers elsewhere, primarily in New York, and by competing forms of mass entertainment such as radio and television. Through all those changes, however, Philadelphia sustained a remarkable wealth of societies and academic institutions that fostered the creation of lesser-known literary magazines, reflecting the communities that produced them. In the twenty-first century, with the rise of the Internet, Philadelphia writers gained the ability to exert a global influence unconstrained, as in the past, by the limits of printed publication.

Literary magazines, though they may include a variety of contents, typically are oriented towards the appreciation of artful writing. For most of their history, they were sold at newsstands and bookstores or sent through the mail by subscription. Wider circulation depended on reductions in printing costs and upon the creation of distribution networks. Their gradual, somewhat halting, emergence in the eighteenth century coincided with the growing demand for them created by an expanding middle class with aspirations towards social mobility and the education and resources needed for leisure reading. Literary magazines developed from a culture of genteel amateurism, with authors who were typically lawyers, ministers, and doctors pursuing an avocation, towards a profession that, at its peak, built publishing empires that employed thousands of workers. Perhaps more important, literary magazines helped to create a national culture and, at the same time, to challenge its dominant values.

Philadelphia’s first literary magazines in the eighteenth century struggled to find an audience and did not last long. The Gentleman’s Magazine, published in London beginning in 1731, was a model for Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) to follow, a decade later, in his experimental General Magazine and Historical Chronicle for All the British Plantations in America. Sold in print shops, the General Magazine was a miscellany of republished essays, historical sketches, dialogues, and controversies. Not immediately profitable, it only lasted six issues. William Bradford (1719-91), the nephew of Franklin’s old rival Andrew Bradford (1686-1742), made another attempt in 1757 with The American Magazine, or Monthly Chronicle for the British Colonies. Edited by William Smith (1727-1803), the first provost of the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania), The American Magazine gathered a coterie of largely anglophile writers, including Francis Hopkinson (1737-91), Joseph Shippen (1732-1810), and Thomas Godfrey Jr. (1736-63), who wrote the first drama by an American author to be performed on stage, The Prince of Parthia (1767). The American Magazine mixed politics and poetry, and sought to explain the New World to the mother country; it only lasted for twelve issues, but it was a notable early flowering of the genre.

Port Folio

As the nation established itself in the early nineteenth century, literary magazines became more able to attract readers and sustain themselves. The Port Folio, founded in 1801 by Joseph Dennie (1768-1812) and edited under the pseudonym “Oliver Oldschool,” was a landmark in American literary history with a peak circulation of about two thousand, substantial for its time. It ran as a weekly until 1809, then mostly as a monthly until 1827. Initially, the Port Folio published poems, satires, translations, and literary essays; short stories and critical reviews came later in the series. Dennie was a Boston-born, Harvard-schooled lawyer—and, some would say, a fop—who sent annual birthday greetings to King George III. The Port Folio’s contributors often were drawn from the Tuesday Club, composed of young professionals from prominent local families: Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844), Horace Binney (1780-1875), Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810), Thomas Cadwalader (1779-1841), John Ward Fenno (1778-1802), Joseph Hopkinson (1770-1842), Charles Jared Ingersoll (1782-1862), John Blair Linn (1777-1805), Richard Rush (1780-1859), and Robert Walsh (1784-1859). Other notable contributors included John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), William Dunlap (1766-1839), Thomas G. Fessenden (1771-1837), and Royall Tyler (1757-1826).

Federalist in outlook, neoclassical in taste, imitative of Joseph Addison (1672-1719) and Oliver Goldsmith (1728-74), and dismissive of romantic poets such as William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), the Port Folio also opposed American populism, regarded the American and French Revolutions as illegitimate, and accused Noah Webster (1758-1843) of promoting the decline of the English language with his American dictionary. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was a favorite target for the Port Folio’s ridicule. In 1803 Dennie was charged with seditious libel; he became less incendiary after his acquittal in 1805. Dennie died in 1812, and after a transition period the Port Folio was edited by John E. Hall (1783-1827). During those years, The Analectic Magazine, edited from 1813 to 1815 by Washington Irving and then by Thomas Isaac Wharton (1791-1856), a former associate of Dennie’s, also published a miscellany of increasingly original book reviews, translations, and naval biographies that became known for its engraved illustrations. It lasted until 1821, supported by its own circle of genteel amateurs. Meanwhile, the Port Folio, always struggling financially, never reclaimed the vitality and influence that it formerly held. It turned nationalistic, accelerated by the War of 1812, became supportive of more self-consciously American writers, and began to include engravings, all changes suggestive of what lay ahead for literary publishers.

Several Philadelphia literary magazines navigated the turbulent decades from the 1820s to the 1850s by becoming more commercially savvy: hiring full-time editors, purchasing more original content, nurturing professional writers, and orienting their publications toward developing markets at the national level. Even so, literary publishing remained a risky business. Different approaches were tried, but most failed to last long. Some took the high road. The American Quarterly Review, edited by Robert Walsh (formerly of the Tuesday Club) from 1827 to 1837, was sometimes described by later scholars as “dull” or “establishment.” Modeled on the famous Edinburgh Review and Boston’s North American Review, though favoring more regional authors, The American Quarterly Review addressed a wide range of subjects—politics, poetry, history, biography, science, and fiction, including writers such as Brown, Irving, and James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)—with the ponderous severity of critical professionals, including George Bancroft (1800-91), George Ticknor (1791-1871), and James Kirke Paulding (1778-1860). The Review’s standards were derived from older European models, opposed to romanticism, and there were feuds between reviewers over the newly ascendant writers appearing in New York magazines such as William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) and N. P. Willis (1806-67). When Walsh retired from the editorship in 1836, his son quickly reversed that perspective, embracing the romantics. Still, The Review closed within a year, having done much to make Philadelphia seem like a conservative backwater relative to New York and Boston.

Burton's Gentleman's Magazine

At nearly the same time, in 1837, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine began its three-year run, edited by William Evans Burton (1804-1860), a British-born actor, and assisted for a time by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49). Burton’s covered art, literature, theater, and sports, as well as providing advice to young men. Poe wrote severe criticism of his literary contemporaries and contributed “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “William Wilson” among other original works. In 1841 Burton’s merged with a successful magazine primarily for women called the Casket: Flowers of Literature, Wit, and Sentiment, a publication started in 1826, that had been bought by George Rex Graham (1813-94). Together, Burton’s and the Casket became Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine, which eventually achieved a national circulation of about forty thousand. Graham’s published poetry, biographical sketches, book reviews, literary criticism, and short stories, including Poe’s “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Mask of the Red Death.” Unlike most literary magazines, Graham’s paid well and attracted American contributors such as Bryant, Cooper, Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82), Lydia Sigourney (1791-1865), and Willis. Abolitionists were not included; Philadelphia courted a readership in the South. Unlike The American Quarterly, Graham’s was accessible to more casual and increasingly female readers, much to Poe’s displeasure. It also pioneered the use of original engravings, including some by John Sartain (1808-97), who had his own publication, Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art, edited by Caroline Kirkland (1801-64) and Reynell Coates (1802-86); it ran briefly from 1849-52 and drew upon many of the same authors as Graham’s, most notably Poe (who provided his poem “The Bells” and a critical essay, “The Poetic Principle”).

[caption id="attachment_26637" align="alignright" width="300"]A Trade Card advertising the Godey's Lady's Book Advertised as “the Oldest Lady’s Book in America,” Godey’s Lady’s Book, published in Philadelphia by Louis A. Godey, circulated from 1830 to 1878. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

By the mid-nineteenth century, a design had emerged for the most successful magazines, aimed primarily but not exclusively at the middle-class female reader, with a wide range of literary content, including the original work of new and established American writers in many genres and an increasing quantity of visual material, most notably colored fashion plates. Louis Antoine Godey (1804-78) achieved an even larger scale of success than Graham: Godey’s Lady’s Book, a monthly launched in 1830, was the most widely circulated magazine in the United States before the Civil War. An essential component of that success was Sarah Josepha Hale (1788-1879), who edited Godey’s from Boston from 1837-41, then came to Philadelphia in 1841 to be more directly hands-on, and remained editor until 1877, as the publication grew from a circulation of 10,000 to 150,000. Like Graham’s, it paid well, and, beginning in 1845, Godey’s was the first to provide copyright protection. It championed the work of women writers such as Kirkland and Sigourney, publishing them, and many others, with writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64), Holmes, Irving, Longfellow, Paulding, Poe, William Gilmore Simms (1806-70), Bayard Taylor (1825-1878), and Willis. Godey’s was not self-consciously highbrow, nor was it aesthetically avant-garde or politically radical. It was not directed primarily at male readers, but it published some of the leading authors of its time to the largest audience of its time. Godey’s had a major impact on U.S. cultural practices—helping to invent Thanksgiving and Christmas observances—and it pioneered the construction of what came to be called middlebrow culture. However, its apolitical stance during the Civil War harmed its circulation (Sarah Jane Lippincott, “Grace Greenwood” [1823-1904], was fired for having anti-slavery views), and it increasingly could not compete with better-illustrated publications such as Harper’s.

After Hale’s departure, the magazine lost even more ground to local rivals, such as Peterson’s Magazine, which Graham had launched in partnership with Charles Jacobs Peterson (1818-87) in 1842 to compete more directly with Godey’s by offering similar content at a lower price. Peterson’s (before 1855 it was Peterson’s Ladies’ National Magazine) also contained fashion plates and was an important publisher of women authors such as Rebecca Harding Davis (1831-1910), Francis Sargent Osgood (1811-50), and E.D.E.N. Southworth (1819-99). During the Civil War, Peterson’s overtook Godey’s, with a circulation of about 165,000 in the 1870s, but, by the 1890s, both had lost much of their audience and relocated to New York, where they were absorbed by other magazines.  

Cultivating Writers at Lippincott's

[caption id="attachment_26633" align="alignright" width="226"]A Lippincott's Magazine cover from August Lippincott’s Magazine of Literature, Science and Education was a monthly magazine published from the late 1860s until 1916. Lippincott’s focused primarily on literary content and offered readers works of various styles, including poetry, short stories, and literary criticism. To grab the attention of potential readers, the Lippincott’s covers used bright colors and incorporated images of people reading the magazine in informal settings. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

A similar fate befell Philadelphia’s Lippincott’s Magazine of Literature, Science and Education, which first appeared in 1868, published by Joshua Ballinger Lippincott (1813-86) and edited by John Foster Kirk (1824-1904) and, for a time, by William S. Walsh (1854-1919), the grandson of Robert Walsh, editor of The American Quarterly. From its inception, Lippincott’s aimed for a higher level of literary distinction than Godey’s and Peterson’s; it invested less in visual content (dropping it entirely in 1885) and competed more directly with The Atlantic, Boston’s premier literary magazine and arbiter of taste. It also was more friendly to writers of the American South and Middle Atlantic. Publishing serialized fiction, short stories, travel writing, poetry, and literary criticism, Lippincott’s cultivated a new generation of still-recognizable American writers, including Willa Cather (1873-1947), Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906), Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), Henry James (1843-1916), Emma Lazarus (1849-87), Sidney Lanier (1842-81), S. Weir Mitchell (1829-1914), Frank Stockton (1834-1902), and Owen Wister (1860-1938), as well as English writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), and Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). Perhaps more than any other Philadelphia publication, Lippincott’s achieved a lasting reputation as a literary magazine of the first rank, nationally, but in 1914 it, too, moved to New York, which had emerged as the indisputable capital of U.S. publishing, where it became McBride’s before it was merged with Scribner’s in 1916.

Less intellectual than Lippincott’s but financially far mightier, lasting well into the twentieth century, was Curtis Publishing, whose enormous Beaux Arts building, built in 1910, continued to preside over the southwest corner of Independence Square for more than a century. The company originated during the 1876 Centennial, when Cyrus H. K. Curtis (1850-1933) moved a newsmagazine called The People’s Ledger from Boston to Philadelphia, where printing was cheaper. The Ladies' Home Journal, first edited by his wife, Louisa Knapp (1851-1910), started as a supplement to Curtis’ Tribune and Farmer. By 1886 it was an independent magazine. It had at least 270,000 readers when Knapp was succeeded by Edward W. Bok (1863-1930) in 1889. Bok soon became their son-in-law and the most influential editor in the United States; by 1903, the Ladies' Home Journal had more than a million readers. Genteel, progressive, and elevated in a middle-brow way, Bok was a pioneer in the use of advertising and attracted writers such as Marion Crawford (1909-88), Hamlin Garland (1860-1940), Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908), William Dean Howells (1837-1920), Sarah Orne Jewett (1849-1909), Mark Twain (1835-1910), James Whitcomb Riley (1849-1916), Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1923), and even Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), who became Bok’s friend. A few, such as Howells, Jewett, and Twain remained prominent in American literary history for realism, local color, and humor.  Bok also employed famous illustrators such as Charles Dana Gibson and Howard Pyle. The Ladies' Home Journal changed American domestic architecture, coining the “living room” and promoting suburban development. By 1919, when Bok retired in the wake of women’s suffrage, which he opposed, the Journal had more than two million readers, more than any other magazine up to that time. Circulation continued to grow, but the next half century marked a gradual decline in status for the Journal. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) became a contributor, so did Edna Ferber (1885-1968), but it increasingly seemed out of step with the times. It was something one’s elders read, and the movies and television seemed more engaging to more people. Curtis sold it in 1968, and, after multiple redesigns, it continued as an unpretentiously popular magazine. The Ladies' Home Journal, like Godey’s and Peterson’s, had many male readers, and part of its decline owed something to the stricter segmentation of the market for readers by gender.

The Saturday Evening Post

[caption id="attachment_26791" align="alignright" width="240"]A Saturday Evening Post cover by artist Norman Rockwell Believed to have first been published in 1821, the Saturday Evening Post was produced in Philadelphia by the Curtis Publishing Company that operated at Walnut and South Sixth Streets. The Post’s covers often carried the work of painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell, who drew this cover for the July 31, 1920 issue, featuring a family taking a drive in a motor car. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The Saturday Evening Post had a long local history, possibly going back to 1821, but Curtis Publishing made it nationally popular as a more masculine or at least family-oriented counterpart for The Ladies' Home Journal in 1897. It serialized The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1876-1916) in 1903 and later became known for covers by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). It eventually published writers such as Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), Agatha Christie (1890-1976), William Faulkner (1897-1962), F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), John Steinbeck (1902-1968), and Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007), but, by the end of the 1960s, when it, too, was sold, the Saturday Evening Post had become a byword for the “square” and “corny” among the younger generations of readers. Philadelphia-based magazine publishers never again attained the national status and influence that they held between the 1850s and the 1950s, but the literary culture of the city continued to grow and, in many respects, to reclaim its origins in smaller publications and coteries supported by academic institutions and private societies. Penn Monthly, first edited by Robert Ellis Thompson (1844-1924) in the 1870s, continued in the early twenty-first century as an online publication, The Penn Review, affiliated with the Kelly Writer’s House at the University of Pennsylvania, with an extensive program in support of creative writing and scholarship. Nearly every college and university in Philadelphia, especially those with Master of Fine Arts programs, launched its own literary magazine: Crimson and Gray at Saint Joseph’s University, StoryQuarterly at Rutgers University in Camden, and TINGE Magazine at Temple University represented the genre. Many of those magazines had long histories of print publication, but increasingly they published only online. Beyond the many publications sponsored by institutions of higher learning, the literary scene in Philadelphia grew to include several notable journals, such as The American Poetry Review, founded in 1972, which became the most widely circulated poetry magazine in the U.S., also publishing literary essays, translations, fiction, reviews, and interviews. Other publications included Painted Bride Quarterly founded in 1973, the Philadelphia Poets Journal, founded in 1980, and Schuylkill Valley Journal and the Mad Poets Review, both launched in 1990. Philadelphia Stories began publishing local writers in 2004, and Apiary first appeared in 2009.

In the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries the Internet disrupted publishing in ways that recalled the upheavals of the mid-nineteenth century. Many magazines closed or abandoned print entirely, but literary culture continued to expand and develop new audiences, mediums, and styles. At the same time, digital archives made the literary history of Philadelphia, in all its complex forms and intersecting communities, more accessible than ever for readers and scholars.

William Pannapacker, who holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Harvard University, is the DuMez Professor of English at Hope College. He is the author of Revised Lives: Walt Whitman and Nineteenth-Century Authorship (2004) and numerous articles and reviews on American literature and culture.

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