Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia


Artifact: Model for William Penn Statue

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Cast aluminum model for sculpture of William Penn for Philadelphia City Hall, 1886, by Alexander Calder. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, gift of Mrs. Henry C. Forrest, 1930, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

This 28.5-inch aluminum model of the statue of William Penn (1644-1718) shares its intricate detail with the full-scale piece atop Philadelphia City Hall, down to the lace cuffs and decorated buttons. Penn’s right hand, whose full-size fingernails are three inches long, points gracefully out at the city in a gesture of blessing. His left hand holds the Charter of Pennsylvania, which features readable text. His arm rests on a tree stump meant to symbolize the first of many trees cut in his “green country town.” This model is a scaled-down version of the larger one designed by Alexander Milne Calder (1846-1923).

One curious aspect of this model is that it is made of aluminum, which was only commercially available after 1884. As such, the metal was still a relatively expensive medium to cast in by the time the model was made—making it likely that the model was made for a specific reason or patron. This particular model was given to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in May 1930 by Mrs. Henry C. Forrest, whose husband directed the casting and erection of many of City Hall’s sculptures, including the full-sized William Penn Statue.

[caption id="attachment_17814" align="alignright" width="223"]The full-sized statue of William Penn is shown on display in the City Hall court yard in this photograph from 1893. (PhillyHistory.org) The full-sized statue of William Penn is shown on display in the City Hall court yard in this photograph from 1893. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

Designed by Calder, the statue of William Penn and the dome it sits upon began as a public works project in 1889. Calder’s attention to detail is evident in this statue, which is perhaps his most well-known work. He consulted with the Historical Society of Pennsylvania about what attire would be most appropriate for the era, eventually settling on buckled shoes, stockings, knee britches, a long buttoned jacket, a cravat, and a broad-brimmed hat.

In designing and constructing his statue, Calder was assisted by his son, Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945). Tacony Iron and Metal Works secured the contract to cast the large bronze work in 1889, and the fourteen-piece final product was lifted to the top of the City Hall dome in November 1894. At twenty-seven tons in weight and thirty-seven feet tall, the full-sized statue of William Penn atop City Hall looms large over Philadelphia, much like the man it depicts once did.

Much ado was made about the final orientation of the statue. To the chagrin of its designer, the statue was installed facing northeast, toward the site where Penn reputedly signed a treaty with the Lenni-Lenape. Calder asserted that the statue was supposed to face south, as its northeastern orientation means that Penn’s face is perpetually cast in shadow and thus obscures the sculpture’s detail.

Over the next two decades, Calder designed more than 250 other sculptures for the building, many of which portray abstract ideas like virtues, seasons, and cardinal directions. Other sculptures on the exterior of City Hall speak to an international theme, depicting immigrant and native peoples who helped found the Americas. Still others represent animals and mythological figures. Throughout, these sculptures “express American ideals and develop American genius.” Three generations of Calder sculptors left their mark on Philadelphia. Calder’s son and grandson, Alexander “Sandy” Calder (1898-1976), went on to become famous sculptors in their own right, providing fountains, sculptures, and mobiles in various areas of the city, including Logan Square and near Memorial Hall. The evolution of Philadelphia sculpture can be traced through the Calder family.

[caption id="attachment_17815" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of Philadelphia skyline Although surpassed in height by skyscrapers after 1987, William Penn remains a distinctive feature of the Philadelphia skyline. (Photograph by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Of the five statues of William Penn in the city, the one at City Hall is the largest and most renowned. For ninety-three years, the city stuck to its “gentlemen’s agreement” to disallow buildings higher than the brim of Penn’s hat—a whole 538 feet above street level. This agreement dictated a major attribute of the city’s architecture for almost a century. Many buildings approached the hat’s brim, but none broke the level until the construction of One Liberty Place in 1987. Fears of what this construction meant for the city gave rise to the so-called “Curse of Billy Penn.” For twenty years, none of Philadelphia’s major professional sports teams was able to secure a championship win. In 1997, the statue was even dressed in a tailor-made Flyers jersey in the hope that it might help them to the Stanley Cup Finals. The Phillies broke the supposed curse in 2008 when they won the World Series.

Superstitions aside, the statue continues to give rise to many conversations about Philadelphia’s founder and his hopes for the City of Brotherly Love. William Penn was a Quaker and strong advocate of democracy and religious freedom. In remuneration of a debt, Charles II granted Penn the substantial tract of land that became Pennsylvania. Within this colony, Penn planned to build Philadelphia, the “green country town” of large lots and open squares..

Seeking more than just a beautiful landscape, Penn envisioned a “Holy Experiment” of religious tolerance in his new colony. Historian Emma Lapsansky-Werner of Haverford College has asserted that Penn “raised” Philadelphia almost like he would a child, hoping to teach and guide the city and its residents along a path of tolerance and faith without coercion. This idea of the colony as a family was further enforced by the city’s very name, Philadelphia—a city based on brotherly love could surely look past religious tensions to a shared belief in democracy and tolerance.

Text by Kelsey Ransick, a museum professional in the Philadelphia area with an MA in History from the University of Delaware.


Artifact: Caltrops

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Caltrops from the era of the American Revolution. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

Four-pointed wrought iron devices known as caltrops, or crow’s feet, have been used by militaries since antiquity and are still occasionally used today. When dropped, like the cluster shown here, three of the caltrop’s points act as a base while one point sticks up, making it dangerous to humans and horses alike. When placed in groups, caltrops effectively deter enemies from approaching or traveling through areas, much like modern-day land mines.

Caltrops have been found in pre-Revolutionary sites of the English colonies in America, including Jamestown and Ticonderoga, but not in large numbers. This may be because they were re-used as scrap iron, but it is more likely that they are scarce because they were not imported in large numbers nor were they made in the colonies. Most caltrops found in the United States were used during the American Revolution by British defenses. They have been found near Boston and in abundance around New York City, typically near sites of British fortifications and outposts.

Caltrops were not used widely, however, and would have been novelties to many people in the colonies. In January 1776, for example, American surgeon James Thacher (1754-1844) was intrigued when he first saw them in Massachusetts: “I accompanied several gentlemen to view the British fortifications on Roxbury neck, where I observed a prodigious number of little military engines called caltrops, or crow-feet, scattered over the ground in the vicinity of the works to impede the march of our troops in case of an attack. The implement consists of an iron ball armed with four sharp points about one inch in length, so formed that which way soever it may fall one point still lies upwards to pierce the feet of horses or men, and are admirably well calculated to obstruct the march of an enemy.”

It is unknown whether caltrops such as these in the collection of the Philadelphia History Museum might have been used during the British occupation of Philadelphia during 1777-78. That winter, British and American troops attempted to raid each other’s positions, and caltrops would have been useful in preventing such attacks. Caltrops are not mentioned in the papers of Pennsylvania Council of Safety or George Washington, suggesting that Pennsylvania and the Continental Army did not make or employ them. The British would have been more likely to use them to defend and command fixed positions and the approaches to Philadelphia.  As such, these caltrops are evocative reminders of the long winter of 1777-78, the tenuous grasp the British Army had on Philadelphia, and ultimately the end of British occupation.

Text by Matthew C. White, who earned his M.A. in history at Rutgers University-Camden.

[caption id="attachment_22346" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Map  of Philadelphia in 1778 showing lines of defense This map, created in 1778, shows lines of defense north of Philadelphia during the American Revolution. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Artifact: Street Sign

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Street sign, c. 1950. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

By the early twenty-first century, Philadelphia had more than 3,600 distinct named streets, alleys, lanes, places, boulevards, expressways, roads, courts, mews, and avenues. The city Streets Department maintained 2,180 miles of city streets, 35 miles of roads in Fairmount Park, and 360 miles of state highways, which created about 24,000 traffic intersections in the city.

In this maze of streets, how do we know where we are?  How do we find our way to where we want to go?  Street name signs, one of the many types of signs found on urban streets, point the way and provide direction and order in our lives.

[caption id="attachment_22757" align="alignright" width="350"]Photograph of intersection with street sign. A 1951 photograph of the southeast corner of Forty-Eighth Street and Paschall Avenue includes a street sign--possibly the sign featured at the top of this page. (PhillyHistory.org)[/caption]

This cast iron sign from the intersection of Paschall Avenue and South Forty-Eighth Street in Philadelphia’s Ward 40 is an example of one such guide. This artifact was mounted on the top of a sign pole standing on the southeast corner of the intersection, oriented so that each nameplate was parallel to the street it named. Rotating the sign on this page shows that one side of each nameplate became more corroded from prevailing weather conditions. These nameplates were designed for easy visibility: the street names (odonyms) are spelled out in capital letters. The sign is spare in offering information, providing only the names of the two streets crossing each other at this intersection. Even compass directions are omitted: the sign does not indicate that this portion of Forty-Eighth Street is officially designated as South Forty-Eighth Street.

This physical artifact symbolically connects the intersection, originally in Kingsessing Township west of the Schuylkill River in the County of Philadelphia, to the original Philadelphia city grid laid out by Thomas Holme (1624-95) at the request of William Penn (1644-1718). When the surveyor superimposed a network of streets at right angles over the rural landscape of scattered farms, he was not documenting an existing landscape but envisioning orderly and comprehensible future urban development. Penn named the east-west streets after native trees and flora and numbered the north-south streets. The two exceptions were Broad and High Streets, the main north-south and east-west streets running through the center square.

In conjunction with maps and early travel guides, often called “stranger’s guides,” signs provided urban navigation assistance. The first street name signs were often carved into the masonry of buildings that stood at intersections. Later, wooden boards with street names were affixed to building walls. Rarely seen today in American cities, street names incised into masonry building walls or signs affixed to walls are still common in European cities. The author of A Handbook for the Stranger in Philadelphia of 1849 noted that “At the corners of the principal streets, will be noticed their names painted on a board, with the prefix of No. or So., as the case may be.” This comment also emphasized the challenges of navigating a city where often less-prominent streets or newer blocks had no signs at all.

[caption id="attachment_5688" align="alignright" width="240"]A map of the city of Philadelphia, with colored sections separating sections of the city. The Consolidation Act of 1854 brought the future location of the street sign within the city limits. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

After the 1854 Act of Consolidation enlarged the city, civil engineer A. E. Rogerson published the fourteen-page Alphabetical List of the Streets in the City of Philadelphia (1859), listing streets and giving locations by identifying their easternmost point. He also provided a second table of street name changes. Sign changes, though, often lagged behind name changes, so signs could be undependable guides. For this reason, the author of the 1849 stranger’s guide had suggested that visitors might have to figure out on a map where they were and where they wanted to go, then count the blocks as they walked. Numbered streets were of course easier to track than streets otherwise named, where pedestrians could easily lose count and thus their sense of place. 

In the enlarged industrial city of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, this inconsistent and incomplete system of street name signs caused even greater confusion. In her 1926 textbook on land planning, Harlean James (1877-1969) observed that street name signs in American cities were variously placed on walls of buildings, on lamp posts, on special posts of their own, or were often carved into curb stones, where people rarely noticed them. This latter type of sign was dangerous for pedestrians, who needed to look up rather than down, and useless for drivers.

By the 1920s, the automobile’s dominance of urban transportation demanded standardized road signs. In 1905, fewer than 500 automobiles were registered in Philadelphia; by 1918, there were 100,000. Urban planners paid greater attention to the design and placement of street name signs, emphasizing that signs should be easily visible to both pedestrians and drivers. In Philadelphia and other American cities, this prompted the change to street sign poles. For greatest visibility, overhead signs were eventually placed at the busiest intersections.

This street sign also represents a deeper history. Brought within the city’s boundaries by the Act of Consolidation, Forty-Eighth Street denotes the distance from the Delaware River – forty-eight blocks. Paschall Avenue traces its name to Paschallville, a village in lower Kingsessing Township established in 1810 by Dr. Henry Paschall, a physician and descendant of Thomas Paschal, who purchased 500 acres from William Penn. After the Act of Consolidation, the area developed gradually near the new Philadelphia and Darby passenger railroad line along Woodland Avenue, although the Gibson family, large Kingsessing landholders, held on to the farmland surrounding the future intersection.  

Atlases documented quickening development of roads and residences in the 1880s. By 1892, an intersection existed at Forty-Eighth and Paschall and was surrounded on three corners by densely crowded blocks of rowhouses, built to house the employees of newly arriving companies to the vicinity, such as the Brill Street Car Co., Fels Naptha Soap, and then General Electric. The triangular northeast block, truncated by the diagonally running Grey’s Ferry Avenue, filled in by World War I.

The rectangular sign above dates from around the 1950s. About 1970, the city adopted a green six-sided sign, often affixed to street light poles, with space that allowed additional—but still legible--information. Signs indicated the block hundreds of the blocks flanking the intersection and, in some cases beginning in the 1990s, the identity of culturally or historically significant neighborhoods. Signs for Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, approved by Mayor John Street (b. 1943) in 2007, carried riders (a descriptive level of information below the street name designation) in a rainbow of colors. Street signs in Chinatown included riders with Chinese characters.

[caption id="attachment_22759" align="alignright" width="300"]Photograph of street sign with rainbow colors. At Camac and Latimer Streets in Center City, a street sign carries the rainbow colors designating the Gayborhood. (Photograph by M. Edlow for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Visibility remained a concern. Beginning in 2012, new Philadelphia street signs featured Clearview font with a combination of upper- and lower-case lettering. The recyclable vinyl signs, made by city employees in the Sign Shop at G and Ramona Streets in Juniata Park (opened in 1958), had an average life expectancy of only seven to ten years.

In 2015, at the intersection of Pascall Avenue and South Forty-Eighth Street, green vinyl signs mounted on a utility pole on the southwest corner provided direction for drivers and pedestrians. But the intersection itself was altered.  In the late twentieth century, the block of Forty-Eighth Street north of Paschall Avenue extending to Gray’s Ferry Avenue disappeared. The road could be detected, but after surrounding dwellings were demolished, it had partly vanished, as unused roads tend to do. On the southeast corner, the old iron pole and base of the circa 1950 sign were left rusting in front of several empty lots, forlorn indicators of deterioration.  

Text by Anne E. Krulikowski, an Assistant Professor of History at West Chester University.


Artifact: Swedish Helmet

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Swedish steel helmet, c. 1640-1700, found in 1873 in Washingtonboro, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

The rust and corrosion visible on the surface of this artifact give us a clue to its age. Buried for centuries, this helmet was left by some of the earliest European explorers of Pennsylvania. But who owned it, and why did he come to the New World?

This Swedish steel helmet, found in 1873 near the Susquehanna River in Washington Boro, Lancaster County, dates to the mid- to late seventeenth century, when Swedish and Finnish colonists settled in the Delaware and Susquehanna River valleys. The helmet is a type commonly referred to as a “morion” or pike-man’s pot, variations of which were popular in Europe from the mid-1600s to early 1700s. The story of its journey to North America begins in Sweden, with King Gustav II (1594-1632).

King Gustav II, also known as Gustavus Adolphus, ruled Sweden from 1611 to 1632. He is credited with modernizing the Swedish state and making the country a major force in European politics. At the time of his ascension to the throne, Sweden was at war with Denmark, Poland, and Russia. Drawing on his extensive education in the science and philosophy of warfare, as well as history, engineering, and European languages, Gustav developed a systematic approach to mobilizing and managing troops.

One of Gustav’s many reforms concerned the production of arms and armor. In the early seventeenth century, arms were made by individual blacksmiths, while armor was made in the state armory at Arboga. In 1620, Gustav moved the best blacksmiths into large cities and towns and added several new armories to increase the supply of equipment to his armies. He also introduced the pot style of helmet for use by pike-men, or foot soldiers who carried long, thin spears. The helmet unearthed in Pennsylvania was crafted by a Swedish blacksmith operating in one of Gustav’s workshops.

[caption id="attachment_21051" align="alignright" width="300"]This earthenware tile, made in the Netherlands c. 1625-60, depicts a pikeman's armor, including the pot-style helmet. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) This earthenware tile, made in the Netherlands c. 1625-60, depicts a pike-man's armor, including the pot-style helmet. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

The pike-man’s pot helmet was named for its distinctive appearance, likened to an upside-down metal cooking vessel. It was constructed out of two rounded steel pieces, forged together in a raised comb that ran the length of the helmet’s peak. A down-turned brim provided limited protection for the wearer’s face and neck. These pot helmets were made and used across Europe and sent with explorers, soldiers, and colonists to the New World. This example from the Philadelphia History Museum matches Swedish pike-man pot helmets, having a short comb and a row of raised circles added to resemble the rivets that held together earlier metal armor pieces.

The helmet likely came to the shores of North America with Swedish colonists in the mid-seventeenth century. By the 1630s, the expansionist military policy of Gustav II resulted in an expanded Swedish sphere of influence, with territories in present-day Russia, Poland, Latvia, Estonia, and Germany. The logical extension of this success was to the New World. A group of Swedish, Dutch, and German stockholders formed the New Sweden Company and sent ships to North America in 1638. The company landed at mouth of the Delaware River later that year.

Swedish settlers in southeastern Pennsylvania primarily focused on obtaining furs and tobacco through trade, goods that they could sell for profit in Europe. They obtained land and interacted peacefully with local Native Americans for nearly two decades. About 600 Swedish and Finnish colonists traveled to the area around the Delaware River, though not all of them stayed. New Sweden was less profitable than shareholders had expected, and when the Dutch governor of New Amsterdam laid claim to the colony in 1655, it was turned over after limited local resistance.  

The Dutch administration allowed the remaining Swedes a high degree of self-governance as a separate nation within their growing American empire. In 1681, when William Penn (1644-1718) received the patent for Pennsylvania from the English government, incoming Englishmen also incorporated the Swedes into their society. Capitalizing on their success in peaceful interaction with Native Americans, Penn utilized Swedish fur traders as interpreters in his negotiations with local Delaware and Susquehannock.

The steel helmet was likely brought to North America by a Swedish settler during the short life of the New Sweden colony. Over two centuries later, in 1873, John B. Staman (1841-1925) found the helmet at the Lancaster County location known as the Frey-Haverstick site,  occupied intermittently since the Middle Woodland period (1,000 B.C.-1,000 A.D.) and yielding artifacts dating between 3,500 B.C. and 1650 A.D. Several sources assert that the helmet was found with human remains in a Susquehannock cemetery, but the longevity of the site and the relatively remote date of its excavation in the late nineteenth century cast doubt on claims that the helmet was buried with a Native American. However, considering the friendly relationship between Swedish traders and the Susquehannock, it is possible that a Native American received the helmet in exchange for pelts or as a gift of goodwill.

This artifact is a reminder that Pennsylvania played an essential role in early-modern geopolitics. As Europeans competed to extend their spheres of influence farther across the globe, North America became a contested land. During the early colonial era, men and women from Sweden, England, and the Netherlands arrived along the shores of eastern Pennsylvania’s rivers. These immigrants hoped to prosper by settling fertile farmland and trading with Native Americans for goods to send back to Europe. The story of New Sweden illustrates how these people lived among each other and contributed to the ethnic fabric of the colonies that became the United States.

Text by Nina M. Schreiner, a graduate student at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, where she studies the archaeology of colonial North America.


Artifact: George Washington’s Epaulet

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Epaulet worn by George Washington, c. 1770s. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

This epaulet, worn by George Washington (1732-99) as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, evokes many of the military and social challenges of the Revolution. Made primarily of woven gold lace, with gold fringe that would hang over the shoulder, the epaulet was part of Washington’s military uniform. Why did Washington need an epaulet, and why was it made of gold? How did a badge of rank fit into a revolution rooted in language like “all men are created equal?”

[caption id="attachment_13659" align="alignright" width="250"]A portrait of George Washington, standing, painted by Charles Willson Peale George Washington is portrayed in uniform, with epaulets, in this portrait painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1784 and depicting Washington at the 1777 Battle of Princeton. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)[/caption]

As Commander-in-Chief, Washington wore two epaulets, one on each shoulder, as seen in numerous portraits made during the war. As an indication of rank, epaulets such as this one embodied the concerns of Washington and other leaders for legitimacy, authority, and respect in a period of tremendous upheaval. 

Though epaulets were worn by enlisted men with rank, particularly corporals and sergeants, epaulets made of fine metals such as silver or gold primarily indicated officers’ ranks. Officers, unlike enlisted men, provided their own uniforms, arms, and equipment, including the appointments required by their rank. This was the norm in European armies, and the Continental Army derived its practices from many of the same traditions.

Unfortunately for Washington, early in the war the army greatly lacked uniforms and associated badges of rank. As he wrote in 1775, shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill, “As the Continental Army have unfortunately no uniforms, and consequently many inconveniences must arise from not being able always to distinguish the commissioned officers from the non-commissioned, and the non-commissioned from the privates, it is desired that some badges of distinction be immediately provided.” He suggested red or pink cockades for the hats of field officers, yellow or buff for captains, and green for subalterns (junior officers). Epaulets on the right shoulder would distinguish sergeants (denoted by being made of red woolen cloth) and corporals (green).

Uniforms and proper rank insignia were important not only to distinguish ranks but also to make the Continental Army legitimate. The Continental Army was a force engaged in rebellion and treason and considered by many, including potential European allies, to be inherently illegitimate. To combat that sense, uniforms helped establish the authority of the Continental Army (and its officers) and its purpose and legitimacy as the military arm of a civil power, the U.S. Congress.

From the very beginning of the war Washington, as Commander-in-Chief, wore a uniform of blue trimmed with buff. His uniform gave legitimacy to his command, and he acted as a legitimate army commander. For example, he refused correspondence from British Commander-in-Chief William Howe (1729-1814) when letters failed to address him by rank. Because Washington’s uniform had gold buttons, he accordingly wore epaulets of gold. Other officers, too, usually acquired uniforms. By mid-war it was typical to find the officers of Continental regiments serving in uniforms that corresponded with the uniforms of their men, but with one or two epaulets on their shoulders, with the highest-ranking officers wearing two. In this the Continental Army was not dissimilar from the British Army, whose officers also wore epaulets, the number typically determined by rank.

Epaulets marked not only military rank but also social rank. Although officers in the Continental Army did not purchase their commissions, as was the norm in the British Army, and sometimes even were elected to their positions, they still tended to be (and were expected to be by their superiors and inferiors) of higher social status than their men. As in the British Army, Continental Army officers were supposed to provide their own uniforms and equipment, most states expected them to have the financial wherewithal to afford it. As a reflection of their social rank, officers typically wore finer things than enlisted men. Washington, as a gentleman, naturally wore the best he could obtain. His uniform was expertly and personally tailored for him, made of the best English woolens he could obtain, and trimmed with gilt buttons. The epaulets on his shoulders, no less than the coat they were attached to, reflected Washington’s social and military rank in that they were made with gold and privately purchased.

This social distinction, however, became increasingly problematic over the course of the Revolution. Americans inherited from their British past a distinct fear of armies as being potentially dangerous tools by which tyrants could come to and wield power, the historical examples of Caesar Augustus (63 BCE-14 CE) in Rome and Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) in England foremost in their minds. Though many of those concerns quieted when Washington resigned his commission at the close of the war, and when the Continental Army was disbanded in 1783, those fears contributed to the United States choosing not to adopt a significantly sized standing army until well into the nineteenth century.

How could the importance of social rank in determining military rank be squared with a republican society? How could republican society be established without an army that could function cohesively and win the support of foreign allies, such as France? Such questions set the tone for the political debates during and after the Revolution in Philadelphia, which in 1790 became the capital of the newly created United States.

Text by David Niescior, M.A. in American History from Rutgers-Camden, historical interpreter at the Old Barracks Museum in Trenton, New Jersey, and winner of the 2016 American History Award for graduate study from the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.


Artifact: Republican Convention Barbie

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Collector’s item from the Republican National Convention held in Philadelphia in 2000: an African American Barbie doll dressed as a delegate. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, gift of the Republican National Committee, 2000, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

This souvenir Barbie doll dates from the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. All delegates to the late August convention received a gift bag that included a box of elephant-shaped Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, a beanie baby, and one of four different versions of Barbie, all dressed in the same red suit. These four dolls, which were specially made and donated by the Mattel Corporation, included a traditional blonde Barbie, a Latina version with brunette hair, an Asian-American Barbie with black hair, and this African American version of the doll.

The first Barbie doll, blonde and blue-eyed, was produced in 1959. Almost a decade passed before the Mattel Corporation added an African American version. From the 1970s through the 1990s, the company continued to face criticism for the relative lack of diversity in its line of Barbie dolls. This may explain why Mattel donated such diverse dolls to the 2000 Republican National Convention delegates as well as to the Democratic National Convention delegates who met in Los Angeles weeks earlier.

[caption id="attachment_20762" align="alignright" width="169"]Photograph of macaroni box. Delegates also received customized boxes of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. (Philadelphia History Museum, Photograph by Sarah Hawken)[/caption]

For the Republicans, diverse Barbies in the delegate gift bags aligned with a desire to portray the party as a “Big Tent.” Republicans had first invoked the phrase in 1989, partly as a way of rebutting criticism of racially tinged television attack ads aimed at 1988 Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis (b. 1933). This doll, therefore, represents a much larger effort on the part of the Republican Party to reach out to women and minority groups during the 2000 election cycle. Ultimately, however, the nominee George W. Bush (b. 1946) was elected in one of the closest races in American history by a coalition dominated by whites (55 percent of whom voted for the Republican candidate) and men (54 percent).  Nationally, 44 percent of women, 41 percent of Asian-Americans, 35 percent of Hispanics, and 9 percent of African Americans voted for Bush. The choice to hold the convention in Philadelphia seems to have had little  impact on the outcome in Pennsylvania, where Democrat Al Gore (b. 1948) prevailed.

Republican delegates received their commemorative dolls in red boxes while the Democratic delegates’ boxes were blue–the emblematic colors of the parties—but the dolls themselves were identical. The sign held by the Barbie includes only the words “Convention 2000” and universal red, white, and blue colors, and Barbie’s badge (easily seen by rotating the image above to the right and enlarging it) lacks a party affiliation. The lack of differentiation between Republican and Democratic Barbies, as well as their Caucasian feminine features, reflect major party politics in this period. Many Americans in 2000 complained that few ideological differences existed between Democrats and Republicans, especially after the primary defeats of Bill Bradley (b. 1943) and John McCain (b. 1936). Some opted to support the third-party candidacy of Ralph Nader (b. 1934), who garnered nearly 3 percent of the popular vote.

With gold earrings and long straight hair, the doll might also be interpreted as reinforcing traditional gender roles and suggesting Caucasian features as the norm for politically active women, regardless of party affiliation. In this regard the doll did not reflect the realities of political difference between the two major parties in 2000, when the Democratic Party platform focused extensively on the need to increase economic and political opportunities for both women and minorities but the Republican Party platform had little to say about issues of gender and race.  

Text by Levi Fox, a Ph.D. candidate in public history at Temple University and former Allen F. Davis fellow at the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent.


Artifact: Horizontal Steam Engine Model

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Model of a horizontal steam engine, c. 1880, represents Philadelphia’s manufacturing prowess in the late nineteenth century. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, gift of A. Atwater Kent, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

We know very little about this model of a horizontal steam engine, beyond the information that it conveys. Probably made in the late nineteenth century, it may have come out of a vocational training class. Or perhaps an apprentice machinist, training in a working shop, made the model to demonstrate his new-found skills. It models an engine used to drive factory machinery. Such “mill engines” typically had a foundation of brickwork; here the “brick” is actually made from wood.

[caption id="attachment_16049" align="alignright" width="206"]Advertisement depicting a steam engine. A steam engine is shown powering the work of the Wagner & McGuigan printing firm in this advertisement published c. 1855. Symbols such as the American flag-adorned shield suggest a patriotic foundation for the industry and artistry of this Philadelphia firm. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In the Philadelphia of 1880, hundreds of shops and factories making everything from hats to locomotives had a full-sized engine, a larger version of this model, often hidden away in a basement. So its anonymity is appropriate. Also in the basement was a pile of anthracite coal, brought from northeast Pennsylvania through the Schuylkill Navigation canal or by the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad, then delivered to shops and factories across the city by horse-drawn wagon. A boiler, fired by coal, produced steam which, piped to the engine, drove its cylinder and flywheel at fifty to 200 revolutions per minute. A continuous leather belt transferred the engine’s power to one or a dozen machines in the shop. Those lathes and presses, carding machines and textile looms, stamping mills and polishing machines were always tended by human workers – often quite skilled.

In thinking about machinery and industrial development, we often forget about the human element of the steam engine. Before steam power became widespread (before 1830), saw mills, gristmills, and textile factories required the water of falling rivers and streams to power waterwheels and water turbines. Therefore mills located in the countryside, where “waterpowers” were commonplace. Simple steam engines like this one brought a revolutionary change to the United States in the early nineteenth century, transforming cities into centers of manufacturing. With steam power, factories came to town, drawing from the expanding working classes of the city to produce a dazzling array of goods.

[caption id="attachment_16057" align="alignright" width="300"]Steam engines powered the massive Baldwin Locomotive Works, pictured here in the 1880s. (Illustration in John Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, published in 1884) Steam engines powered the massive Baldwin Locomotive Works, pictured here in the 1880s. (John Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, published 1884)[/caption]

This combination of workers’ skills and effort, coupled to steam power, gave Philadelphia its proud claim as “workshop of the world.” In truth, New York City had more manufacturing jobs in the decades following the Civil War, alongside its strengths in finance, railways, and shipping. By contrast, Philadelphia focused on making the goods demanded by a nation embracing industrial and urban life. Along the Schuylkill River, and in pockets across the city, textile mills made everything from knitted hosiery to figured carpets. These firms often started out with waterpower from the river, then expanded over the years by adopting steam engines to drive looms. By 1882, the John B. Stetson Company in Kensington had grown to international renown, its 700 workers producing high quality hats in dozens of styles. Steam engines drove lines of production machinery that removed felt from animal skins, blowers to create felt mats, and box-making machines to package the finished product. In the Nicetown section, Midvale Steel made specialty steel castings and armor plate for the U.S. Navy. Specialized steam engines turned the plate rolls that produced the armor. Two famous companies, Bement & Dougherty and William Sellers & Co., made precision machine tools for railroads and metalworking plants across the country. Their own production of these complicated mechanisms drew equally on workers’ skills and production machinery driven by steam. At the Baldwin Locomotive Works in the 1880s, stationary engines powered metal lathes, boring machines, trip hammers – even a dynamo to make electricity for the new lights in the production shops. At all of these plants and hundreds of smaller shops across the city, the powered machines advanced three broad goals – bolstering overall output, improving product quality, or enabling entirely novel operations unknown in the pre-industrial world.

[caption id="attachment_16055" align="alignright" width="300"]Photographs taken at the I.P. Morris iron works in 1869 depict the growing scale of Philadelphia industry in the second half of the nineteenth century. (Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library) Photographs taken at the I.P. Morris iron works in 1869 depict the growing scale of Philadelphia industry in the second half of the nineteenth century. (Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library)[/caption]

Philadelphia engine builders were also important to the city’s reputation. A basic mill engine like the model had fewer than a dozen moving parts, so small machine shops found them comparatively easy to make once the designs and techniques of machine building in iron spread after the 1820s. During the Gilded Age, some Philadelphia companies such as the Bush Hill Iron Works still made simple horizontal engines. But engineers and shop proprietors had learned over the century to craft much more sophisticated steam engines, bolstering efficiency and power output while customizing engines for specialized applications. In a sprawling factory in the Port Richmond neighborhood, I.P. Morris & Co. made custom blowing engines upwards of thirty feet tall, to create the continuous air blast needed to smelt steel in a Bessemer converter. I.P. Morris also did a good business building large pumping engines as cities across the country built out their systems of piped public water. On the Delaware River in the Kensington neighborhood, the Penn Steam Engine and Boiler Works made custom marine steam engines for the propeller-driven steamboats that were also a Philadelphia specialty.

Gilded Age makers of pumping engines or marine steam plants focused on improving efficiency and reliability. In particular, they adopted multi-cylinder engines that used steam first in a high-pressure cylinder, then reused it in adjacent cylinders at medium and low pressures. After 1880, such “compound” or “triple expansion” engines finally made steamships efficient enough to challenge sailing vessels in trans-oceanic freight. The economical engine designs developed for urban pumping stations in the 1880s were adapted a decade later to drive the new generating stations making electricity for city lighting and electric trolley services. From small beginnings came power supplies that enlarged city populations, turned night into day, and reached around the globe.

Text by John K. Brown, Associate Professor of History, University of Virginia, and author of The Baldwin Locomotive Works, 1831-1915: A Study in American Industrial Practice (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995).


Artifact: Street Car Model

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Model of a nineteenth-century horse-drawn streetcar. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, transferred from Philadelphia Transportation Company, 1942, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

This fascinating model of a horse-drawn streetcar links with the transportation history of late-nineteenth-century Philadelphia as well as the social and cultural history of the city over the last two centuries. Although we do not know precisely who produced this model or exactly when it was made, we can learn a great deal from studying it. The model was donated by the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) to the then-new Atwater Kent Museum in 1942, just a year after the museum opened, and was likely produced for the PTC (or its corporate predecessor, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit) to illustrate improvements made in the city’s public transportation system over the previous century.

[caption id="attachment_21704" align="alignright" width="300"]A horse-drawn streetcar of the same type depicted by the model is portrayed here traveling on Tenth Street north of Walnut (passing the original building of Jefferson College and Hospital). (Library Company of Philadelphia) A horse-drawn streetcar of the same type depicted by the model is portrayed here traveling on Tenth Street north of Walnut (passing the original building of Jefferson College and Hospital). (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

What can we learn about horse-drawn streetcars in Philadelphia from the model? First, in common with many mid-nineteenth-century horse-drawn streetcars, this is a single-ended vehicle with a driver’s platform at front and its only passenger access at the rear. This would have required a two-person crew (driver and conductor) and either a track loop or a turntable (not common) in order to reverse the vehicle at the end of its trip. On the front platform we can see the driver’s brake, which was used on most routes like a parking brake on a modern car, not to control the speed (the horses did that) but to hold the streetcar in place after the horses were detached. The fact that the car is pulled by two horses suggests it is a heavier or larger vehicle than streetcars pulled by one horse. The clerestory roof provided light and ventilation, as well as some welcome extra headroom over the aisle. We can even identify the car’s route because of the lettering on its side. Under the windows, the line is identified as the busy “Tenth & Eleventh” streets route (the “3” at center is the car number).

The horse-drawn streetcars represented by this model were the second of three transportation revolutions that transformed the residential patterns of Philadelphia in the nineteenth century for the middle and upper classes, who could afford the fares on a daily basis. The first transformation occurred in 1831, with the introduction of the horse-drawn omnibuses that allowed business owners and senior “clerks” (salaried workers) to live more than walking distance away from their firms the central business district (then centered on Second and Third streets). One of the omnibus routes (Jacob Peter’s Citizens Line) connected North Tenth Street with the business district and served a small part of the line that would become the streetcar route depicted by the model.

[caption id="attachment_21705" align="alignright" width="222"]Horse-drawn streetcars, as seen at Twelfth and Filbert Streets in this c. 1870 advertisement, changed the residential organization of the city. (Library Company of Philadelphia) Horse-drawn streetcars, as seen at Twelfth and Filbert Streets in this c. 1870 advertisement, changed the residential patterns of the city. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The horse-drawn streetcars of the late 1850s were an evolutionary change from the technology of the omnibuses, essentially omnibus bodies that traveled on rails laid in the streets instead of the street surface. This small change allowed for a smoother and a faster journey. Operators could cover an expanded range with fewer horses and cars. The final nineteenth-century transportation change came when these horse-drawn streetcars were replaced by electric trolleys in the 1890s.  The route represented by this model was electrified on May 1, 1894, by the Electric Traction Company.

This model is a streetcar from the Citizens’ Passenger Railway Company, which initially ran from Tenth Street and Montgomery Avenue in North Philadelphia to Eleventh and Reed streets in South Philadelphia. Started on July 29, 1858, it was the third line in the city to begin service as a street railway. Above the windows of the model (you may have to zoom in to read the gold lettering on cream background) is emblazoned the northern terminus of this line as “Susquehanna & Dauphin” in North Philadelphia. This seeming geographic error (Susquehanna and Dauphin are parallel streets) actually helps to date with some precision the period depicted by the model. The Citizens’ Passenger Railway Company extended the northern terminus of the line to Colona Street (between Susquehanna and Dauphin streets) in December 1890, when it opened a new depot there to house the cars and horses. The route was converted to electric trolleys on May 1, 1894, so this model depicts the last three and a half years of the line’s use by horse-drawn streetcars.

[caption id="attachment_17373" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photo of an Italianate twin mansion built as part of Woodland Terrace, West Philadelphia. Streetcars opened new areas to development. One of the earliest streetcar suburbs in Philadelphia, shown here, was Woodland Terrace, designed by Samuel Sloan in 1861. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Beyond the realm of public transport and real estate development, this model also has two interesting connections with the civil rights movement in Philadelphia. Initially, all of the city’s horse-drawn streetcar companies restricted ridership by race. Some required African Americans passengers to ride on the outer platforms, and others segregated entire cars by race. In 1867, following lobbying by African American civil rights activists William Still (1821-1902) and Octavius Catto (1839-71), a new state law ended transit segregation in Pennsylvania. Just three days later, however, on a Lombard Street car similar to the model, a conductor refused service to Caroline LeCount (1846-1923), an African American women and civil rights activist. She had the police arrest the conductor for violating the new law.

The long battle to end segregation was just beginning in the late-nineteenth century. Just two years after the PTC donated this model to Atwater Kent Museum, the company became subject to the largest labor action during World War II when its all-white unions struck for a week to prevent the PTC from hiring African American motormen and conductors. Because of the strike’s impact on war production, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) authorized the Army to take control of the transit system and five thousand troops were sent to Philadelphia to end the strike.

This simple model tells us a great deal about not just public transportation in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century after 1854 but everyday life in the city as well. Technological change was a constant; the horse-drawn streetcars that were emblematic of the Centennial City of 1876 were completely replaced by electric trolleys just twenty-one years later. These horse-drawn streetcars allowed the middle classes to leave the heterogeneous neighborhoods of the walking city and begin the development of what would later be known as streetcar suburbs.

Text by John Hepp, associate professor of history and co-chair of the Division of Global Cultures: History, Languages & Philosophy at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where he teaches American urban and cultural history with an emphasis on the period 1800 to 1940.


Artifact: Toy (Schoenhut Company)

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Toy dromedary camel, c. 1915, manufactured by the A. Schoenhut Company. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent purchase, 1980, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

Arabian, or dromedary, camels would have been exotic creatures to the American public in 1907, when this wooden toy was introduced by the A. Schoenhut Company of Philadelphia. Part of a set of circus animals, the camel with its glass eyes, open mouth with painted teeth, leather ears, and woven tail is a link to a remarkable story of a young immigrant coming to the United States and creating an empire.

[caption id="attachment_14215" align="alignright" width="199"]The Women's Home Companion carried Shoenhut's advertisement for the Humpty Dumpty Circus Set just in time for Christmas 1913. (Women's Home Companion via Google Books) The Women's Home Companion carried Schoenhut's advertisement for the Humpty Dumpty Circus Toys just in time for Christmas 1913. (Women's Home Companion via Google Books)[/caption]

Born in 1848, Albert Schoenhut came from a toy-making family in Wurtenberg, Germany. He was invited to come to Philadelphia in 1866 to repair toy pianos for the John Wanamaker department store. By 1872 he started his own toy piano company. This small company expanded to make other musical instruments, wooden “character” dolls, circus figures, doll houses and doll furniture, push and pull toys, and a wide variety of other toys. The Schoenhut factory grew from a small building on Frankford Avenue to larger quarters at Sixth and Adams Streets. By 1907 the factory expanded to five stories at Adams and Sepviva Streets, eventually enclosing five and a half acres of floor space. The factory employed 400 workers. Before World War I, the period in which Philadelphia developed its reputation as the “Workshop of the World,” the Schoenhut toy company was the largest toy company in the United States.

One of Schoenhut’s most popular toys was the Humpty Dumpty Circus set, sold from 1903 until 1935, when the company declared bankruptcy. Schoenhut used his genius for creating new toys to capture the interest of the buying public. The hand-painted circus toys connected to everyone’s love of the American circus with acrobats, clowns and preforming animals.

The early animals had glass eyes and real hair for manes or tails. Performers had real hair and decorated costumes. The Ringmaster was the more elaborate of the performers; he wore a black top hat and clothing very much like an English fox hunting costume. The early elephant was one of the most decorative circus animals with painted leather tusks and ears. It wore a colorful howdahs blanket edged in metallic braid. All the animals and figures were jointed strung together with elastic bands, allowing them to be placed in a variety of positions only limited by imagination. The animals and performers could hold poses, stand on balancing ladders, and do a wide variety of "tricks" following the poses found in Schoenhut catalogs.

Schoenhut sold the circus figures and accessories individually, in small boxed sets, or in large sets. The accessories could include performers, circus tents, circus wagons, and a wide range of animals. A child could receive a starter set and through continued gifts eventually own a complete circus of thirty-seven animals, ten performers (plus a band, which was an extra set), accessories and a circus tent. The toys provided hours of fun and had a whimsical charm that invited anyone to play.

Text by Susan Drinan, who retired in 2015 as registrar of the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent.

Artifact: “Free Labor” Pinafore

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Pinafore, c. 1845, labeled “free cotton” to assure that the item was not produced by slave labor. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Friends Historical Association Collection, 1987, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

[caption id="attachment_14200" align="alignright" width="233"]In this children's book illustration from the 1850s, the girl on the right is wearing a pinafore like the one pictured above. (From The Naughty Girl Won; or, The Story of Kitty Willis, Sunday School Union, courtesy of Philadelphia History Museum) In this children's book illustration from the 1850s, the girl on the right is wearing a pinafore like the one pictured above. (From The Naughty Girl Won; or, The Story of Kitty Willis, Sunday School Union, courtesy of Philadelphia History Museum)[/caption]

There are several ways of looking at the image of this little pinafore, a garment meant to be worn over a child’s dress. Made around 1845, it is an object related to the free-labor movement prior to the Civil War, an article of clothing that may have been made by someone for an abolition fair, and perhaps a connection to the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society.

The pinafore, hand-stitched with pleated edging around each armhole, has the original price tag of 12 cents still attached to the front. Turn the object to the back to find a clue to the pinafore’s significance for its maker and purchaser: an original paper tag that says “free labour cotton.” This meant that it had been made without the use of slave labor, part of an anti-slavery boycott movement that originated in England and spread to the United States in the 1820s. The movement came to Philadelphia in 1827 when Thomas M’Clintock (1792-1876) and others founded the Free Produce Society. In theory the idea of boycotting goods and selling only ‘free’ produce and goods was an excellent weapon against slave holders. In reality the cost of the non-slave goods, whether cotton or candy, was very high and many citizens did not feel the need to protest the use of slave-made goods.

This pinafore came to the Philadelphia History Museum in 1987 from the Friends Historical Association, which received it from local Quaker family. It is believed to have been made for or purchased at an abolition fair, a type of event organized by women to raise money to produce anti-slavery materials and to help free African Americans. A close look at the stitching and style of the pinafore suggests that it may have been made by someone not very knowledgeable about sewing. The stitches are uneven and one pleated sleeve edging was put in backwards. It is very small pinafore and may have been made as a sample. Most girls were taught to sew plain seams at the age of five or six and then gradually to learn to sew clothing. Stitching this small pinafore could have been within the scope of a child.

[caption id="attachment_14199" align="alignright" width="300"]Philadelphia merchant George Taylor advertised free labor goods for sale with this trade card, c. 1864. (Library Company of Philadelphia) Philadelphia merchant George Taylor advertised free labor goods for sale with this trade card, c. 1864. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Among the organizations involved in local abolition fairs was the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society (PFASS), Philadelphia’s first integrated abolitionist organization, founded in December 1833. The group’s primary fundraiser was an annual fair where handcrafted items such as needlework with abolitionist inscriptions, free labor goods, and anti-slavery materials were sold.

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), a Philadelphia Quaker, was one of the founder of PFASS and a vocal critic of slavery. Other members included Charlotte Forten (1785-1884), wife of prominent African American James Forten (1766-1842), and her three daughters. After working for the cause of ending slavery in the United States the society disbanded in 1870 after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment. Margaretta Forten (1806-75) proposed this resolution: “Whereas, the object for which this Association was organized is thus accomplished, therefore resolved, that the Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society, grateful for the part allotted to it in this great work, rejoicing in the victory which has concluded the long conflict between slavery and Freedom in America, does hereby disband.”  

Developing the society as a functioning fund-raiser changed the way these women thought about their lives at a time when women were expected to lead quiet, domestic lives. They learned to speak out in public view, explain ideals to strangers, handle money, and work within a group to form plans and carry them through to fruition. These new ways of thinking and doing carried them on toward activism for women’s rights and suffrage.

Text by Susan Drinan, who retired in 2015 as registrar of the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent.

Click on the waistband of the pinafore to learn more about abolition and slavery in Philadelphia.

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