Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Jack McCarthy

Glassmakers and Glass Manufacturing

Glassmaking was one of Philadelphia’s earliest industries. Although it never became a major part of the city’s economy to the extent that industries such as textiles and metalworking did, a number of large glass manufacturers operated in and around Philadelphia from the early eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. The industry went into decline within the city itself in the mid-twentieth century, but it remained a key part of the economy of southern New Jersey. Beginning in the 1730s, areas such as Alloway and Glassboro, New Jersey, became important glassmaking centers, while Millville was home to large-scale glass manufacturing from the early nineteenth through early twenty-first century. 

[caption id="attachment_33474" align="alignright" width="300"]Color map indicating locations of major glass makers in the Greater Philadelphia Region Glass manufacturing, one of the region's earliest industries, developed in South Jersey as well as within the city of Philadelphia. (Map by Michael Siegel, Rutgers Geography Department)[/caption]

Of the dozen or so glassworks in colonial America, four operated in the Philadelphia region. The first was established in 1683 by the Free Society of Traders. Society treasurer James Claypoole (1634–87) wrote in July 1682 of the company’s intention "to set up a glass house for bottles, drinking glass, and window glass,” and the following year William Penn (1644–1718) noted that the society’s glasshouse was “conveniently posted for Water-carriage.” In September 1683 English glassmaker Joshua Tittery (?–c. 1709) arrived in Philadelphia as a servant of the Free Society, presumably to operate or work at the society’s glasshouse.

The location of this glassworks is uncertain; it could have been near the village of Frankford, where the Free Society owned a large tract of land and Frankford Creek would have provided water transport, or along the Delaware River in Shackamaxon (later the Kensington/Fishtown area), where there were several glasshouses in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Free Society failed as a business enterprise after only a few years, apparently including its glassworks. The July 1685 minutes of Philadelphia Meeting, the area’s ruling Quaker institution, included a complaint from “Joshua Tittery a glass maker belonging to the Society … that they deny him his wages.” By the 1690s Tittery was working as a potter.

Wistarburgh Glass Works

The most successful glassmaking operation in colonial America was that of Caspar Wistar (1696–1752), an entrepreneurial German immigrant based in Philadelphia who in 1739 set up the Wistarburgh Glass Works in partnership with four German glassblowers in what is now Alloway Township, Salem County, New Jersey. By the mid-1750s Wistarburgh had twenty-eight workers who primarily made bottles and window panes, along with tableware such as drinking glasses and decanters (although most table glass was imported in this period). In the 1740s Wistar worked with his neighbor Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) on making tubes and globes for Franklin’s scientific experiments.

In a 1768 report to Britain on manufacturing in New Jersey, Governor William Franklin (Benjamin’s son, c.1730–1813) noted that “The Profits by this [Wistarburgh] Work have not hitherto been sufficient … to induce any Persons to set up more of the like kind in this Colony.” Given political tensions at the time, Governor Franklin was probably deliberately downplaying Wistarburg’s success to prevent England from perceiving it as a threat to its own glass-making industry. Following Caspar Wistar’s death, his son Richard (1727–81) continued the glassworks until it closed during the Revolutionary War.

Wistarburgh served as a training ground for a number of colonial glassmakers, many of whom stayed in the area.  With an established community of skilled glassmakers, rich local deposits of sand and clay that were the primary raw materials for glass production, and plentiful oak trees to fuel the wood-fired furnaces, southern New Jersey became an important glass manufacturing region. German immigrant Soloman Stanger (1743–94) worked at Wistarburgh for several years before establishing his own glassworks eighteen miles away in 1781. Financial difficulties forced Stanger to sell the business after only a few years, but he and his descendants continued working in the area, while the community they founded became Glassboro, New Jersey, longtime home to a number of important glassworks.

German immigrants played a key role in colonial glassmaking elsewhere in the broader Philadelphia region as well. When the ship Nancy arrived in Philadelphia in August 1750, onboard were Johann Georg Musse (d. 1760), who built a glassworks in 1752 in Hilltown Township, Bucks County, that operated until 1784, and Heinrich Wilhelm Stiegel (1729–85), who eventually settled in Lancaster County, where he prospered as an ironmaster and glassmaker. Stiegel established two glassworks in the 1760s, one of which, the Manheim Glassworks, later known as the American Flint Glass Manufactory, became the largest flint glass factory in America. Flint glass was a high-quality glass generally used for making fine tableware. Despite initial success, Stiegel went bankrupt in the mid-1770s and his glassworks ceased operations soon thereafter.

Kensington, Hub of Glassmaking

Several workers from the Manheim Glassworks eventually found employment at what came to be called the Kensington Glass Works, founded in 1771 by leather tanner Robert Towars and watchmaker Stephen Leacock. It was the first of several glass factories established in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the area where Gunner’s Run emptied into the Delaware River. Then part of Kensington but later called Fishtown, this area would be the hub of Philadelphia glassmaking for over a century. Ownership of the Kensington Glass Works changed hands several times, and it operated only intermittently from 1777, when it closed during the Revolutionary War, through the late 1790s, when production became more regular again. Meanwhile, on the Schuylkill River, financier Robert Morris (1734–1806) and his partner John Nicholson (1757–1800) established a glassworks in the 1780s at Falls of Schuylkill (later East Falls), part of a larger industrial complex and factory town they sought to create at the site. The enterprise failed in the 1790s following the collapse of Morris and Nicholson’s other business ventures.

The Union Glass Works was another important company in Kensington’s early glassmaking hub.  Established in 1826 by a group of partners from Kensington and the Boston area, the Union Glass Works grew to over one hundred workers who made blown, pressed, and cut glass. The company exhibited its products at the Franklin Institute in the late 1820s and early 1830s. Legal issues and dissension among the partners led to its closing in 1844. Another firm took over the plant in 1847 and made bottles there for many years.

In 1816, a company headed by Kensington calico printer John Hewson (1744–1821) announced plans to build a new glassworks “on the lot adjoining the old glass works in Kensington.” The latter referred to the 1771 glass factory, which had apparently ceased operations or been converted to another use. The new factory was also called the “Kensington Glass Works.” The earlier glassworks may have been revived at some point—the historical record is unclear—but in the 1830s Thomas Dyott (1777–1861) acquired both properties and incorporated them into his Dyottville Glass Works, the nation’s largest bottle-making enterprise of the early to mid-nineteenth century.

[caption id="attachment_33471" align="alignright" width="300"]Watercolor depicting Dyottville glass works factory on the Delaware River with boats in foreground. Dyottville Glass Works, depicted in this 1831 watercolor, was the nation’s largest producer of glass bottles by the mid-nineteenth century. Thomas Dyott started his glassworks to make bottles as packaging for his line of patent medicines. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Born in Britain, Dyott settled in Philadelphia about 1805 and became a successful maker of patent medicines, over-the-counter elixirs of dubious effectiveness that were marketed with exaggerated claims of their medicinal qualities. Patent medicines were very popular in this period and by the 1810s Dyott was selling his products in multiple states. Needing a reliable source of bottles for his medicines, Dyott invested in several glassworks in Philadelphia and New Jersey in the 1810s and 1820s, including the Kensington Glass Works, which he purchased outright in 1833. He expanded the business, renamed it the Dyottville Glass Works, and created the company town of Dyottville, a self-sufficient community based on his vision of morality, work, and clean living. Some four hundred employees worked in five glasshouses at Dyottville, which also included worker housing, a chapel, school, hospital, shops, and stores. Dyott required employees to adhere to his principles of temperance, cleanliness, exercise, and other virtuous practices. Locals called the town “Temperanceville.” Despite great initial success, Dyott went bankrupt in 1838 and spent time in prison for fraudulent business practices.

The Dyottville factories sat idle for a few years before French immigrant Eugene Roussel (1811–78) acquired them in 1842. Roussel had a perfume shop in Philadelphia in the late 1830s, from which he branched into making flavored mineral and soda waters. Largely credited with creating the American mineral water industry, Roussel’s products proved very popular and his business prospered. Like Dyott before him, Roussel purchased the Kensington/Dyottville glassworks to ensure a reliable source of bottles for his company. He sold the business in 1867, and the glassworks continued under various owners until closing around the turn of the twentieth century.

Glassworks in South Jersey

Across the river, glassmaking remained a major industry in southern New Jersey throughout the nineteenth century. Around 1817, William Coffin (d. 1844) established a glassworks with a partner in a community in Atlantic County they founded as Hammondton (later Hammonton). This was the first of eight glass works operated by Coffin and his descendants in the region over the years. Harmony Glass Works, founded in Glassboro in 1813, merged in the 1820s with the nearby Olive Glass Works, which had been started by the Stanger family in the late eighteenth century, before being acquired by the Whitney Glass Works. Operated by the Whitney family from 1838 until it closed in 1929, Whitney Glass Works was the largest and longest running of the various Glassboro manufacturers, with over a thousand workers at its peak. Dozens of other glassmakers operated in southern New Jersey in the nineteenth century as well.

[caption id="attachment_33473" align="alignright" width="176"]Photograph of blue glass vase decorated with white fruits and flowers This vase, produced by Gillinder & Sons between 1886 and 1887, features white decoration made using a frosting acid technique. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

In addition to Dyott, Philadelphia’s other large-scale nineteenth-century glass manufacturer was William Gillinder (1823–71), a skilled immigrant English glassmaker who in 1861 settled in Philadelphia, where he worked in area glasshouses before opening his own factory. Gillinder made a variety of products but specialized in lamps and lighting fixtures. By 1867, his company was the largest glassmaker in Philadelphia, with a workforce of two hundred at its factory in Kensington. For the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, the company, then known as Gillinder & Sons, built an elaborate working glasshouse on the festival grounds that was a very popular attraction. Gillinder & Sons opened a large plate-glass factory in Tacony in 1883, which it sold in 1887 and then purchased another glass factory in Tacony in 1901. By 1909, the company employed approximately eight hundred workers and was the largest of four glass manufacturers operating in Philadelphia. 

Natural Gas Arrives in Glassmaking

Glassmaking requires intense heat and glass manufacturers often sought locations close to energy sources. Coal was the main fuel in the nineteenth century. While keeping its Philadelphia operation, Gillinder & Sons opened a plant in the coal region of southwestern Pennsylvania in 1889. The Gillinders merged the western plant with the United States Glass Company in the 1890s before selling their interest in it several years later. Natural gas replaced coal as the main energy source in the early twentieth century, and in 1912 three Gillinder brothers, grandsons of the founder, left Gillinder & Sons to operate a glassworks in Port Jervis, New York, home to rich natural gas deposits. The new company was Gillinder Brothers, separate from Gillinder & Sons in Philadelphia. The latter company abandoned its Kensington factory in 1913 and consolidated operations in Tacony, but a devastating fire in 1929 put it out of business. Gillinder Glass in Port Jervis remained in operation, however; in the late 2010s it was managed by the sixth generation of the family. 

The demise in 1929 of two of the area’s largest glassworks, Gillinder in Tacony and Whitney in Glassboro, was part of an overall decline in the region’s glassmaking industry in the first half of the twentieth century. The invention of the automatic bottle machine in 1904, the relocation of large glassmakers like Gillinder to other areas, and the introduction of plastic bottles in mid-century were among the contributing factors. 

[caption id="attachment_33476" align="alignright" width="211"]Black and white photograph depicting two men blowing glass. At Wheaton Glass in Millville, New Jersey, photographed in 1937, a bottle is produced by a blower (standing) as a "mold boy" opens and closes the mold. (National Archives and Records Administration)[/caption]

However, one city—Millville, New Jersey—continued as an important glassmaking center into the twenty-first century. Pharmacist Theodore Wheaton (1852–1931) founded Wheaton Glass in Millville in 1888 to make medicine bottles. The company grew into a multinational corporation with a large local workforce that made a variety of glass products. Operating in the late 2010s as DWK Life Sciences following a series of mergers and acquisitions, it employed about two hundred workers in Millville who made laboratory products. Millville’s largest glassmaker in the early twenty-first century was Durand Glass Manufacturing Company, a tableware maker founded in 1979 that employed over a thousand workers. Its parent company, French multinational firm ARC International/Durand Glass, undertook a $40 million upgrade to the Millville facility in 2012.

Millville notwithstanding, large-scale glass manufacturing had mostly left the Philadelphia area by the early twenty-first century. Although the large glasshouses were gone, a number of small artisan glassmaking companies operated in the region, while in Millville the Glass Studio at WheatonArts, a cultural center founded by Theodore Wheaton’s grandson, continued southern New Jersey’s centuries-old glassmaking tradition.

Jack McCarthy is an archivist and historian who specializes in three areas of Philadelphia history: music, business and industry, and Northeast Philadelphia. He regularly writes, lectures, and gives tours on these subjects. His book In the Cradle of Industry and Liberty: A History of Manufacturing in Philadelphia was published in 2016 and he curated the 2017–18 exhibit Risk & Reward: Entrepreneurship and the Making of Philadelphia for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. He serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mann Music Center and directs a project for Jazz Bridge entitled Documenting & Interpreting the Philly Jazz Legacy, funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Bakeries and Bakers

Baking, one of the earliest businesses in Philadelphia, did not become a major part of the local economy until the late nineteenth century. It remained a viable industry throughout the region’s history, however, ranging from small neighborhood bakeries to large baking companies with national product distribution.

Philadelphia supported several commercial bakers from the beginning. A list of businesses in the city in 1690 included seven “Master Bakers,” while a 1700 report to the Commissioners of Customs noted that the fertile farmlands of southeastern Pennsylvania allowed for the export of large quantities of bread and flour, staples of Philadelphia’s substantial trade with the West Indies. As the city grew in its early years, bakers were among the many providers of essential goods and services to the expanding population. Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) recalled that one of the first things he did upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1723 was to purchase “three great puffy rolls” from a baker on Second Street.

Philadelphia’s leading trading firms sold large amounts of bread and hard crackers to Caribbean and European customers in the colonial period. The region’s bakeries sometimes had to supply other groups as well. In September 1757, during the Seven Years’ War, the city’s largest trading company, Willing and Morris, wrote to associates in Barbados that it was difficult to procure bread for export because “the Bakers are all engaged in Baking Bread for the different Fleets & Troops in America.” Commercial bakers also did the baking for poorer families that did not have the facilities to bake at home; women would make the dough themselves and pay the local baker a small fee to bake it.

One of the region’s earliest large-scale bakers was Evan Thomas (1690-1746), a Quaker miller who in 1735 bought a tract of land on the Delaware River at the northern edge of Philadelphia County, where he built a very large bake oven. The “Bake House,” as it was known, was a major operation that supplied bread and biscuit to ships that plied the river. When Thomas died, his son Evan (b. 1724) continued the business. Although there is no documentary evidence, tradition holds that the Bake House provided bread for American troops in the area during the Revolutionary War.

Bread for the Troops

Cyrus Bustill (1732–1806) also supplied bread to continental troops during the war. A mixed race African American born a slave in Burlington, New Jersey, Bustill was purchased by a Quaker baker who taught him the trade. After his owner freed him in 1769, Bustill set up a bakery in Burlington, from which he supplied troops in the area with bread. He later moved to Philadelphia, where he operated a bakery on Arch Street above Second Street and became a leader in the city’s African American community.

Germans were among the largest immigrant groups to bring baking traditions from their homeland to the Philadelphia area in the colonial period. German-born Christopher Ludwig (1720–1801) was one of the most successful such immigrant bakers. The son of a baker, he served in that capacity in various militaries in Europe and later received culinary training in London before immigrating to Philadelphia in 1754. Ludwig established a prosperous bakery and confectionary shop in Letitia Court, between Market and Chestnut and Front and Second Streets. Although a wealthy entrepreneur in his mid-fifties at the time of the Revolutionary War, Ludwig nevertheless volunteered for service and in 1777 the Continental Congress appointed him Superintendent of Bakers for the Continental army.

A few large-scale operations notwithstanding, the region’s baking industry was comprised primarily of small shops in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For example, there were three biscuit makers and four cake bakers among Philadelphia’s self-employed free African American women in 1838. An 1857 report on Philadelphia manufacturers found that while there were many bread makers in the city, only two or three produced enough to be considered wholesalers. A new bread-making firm incorporated in 1856 as the Pennsylvania Farina Company built a large steam-powered bakery at Broad and Vine Streets, but it failed within a few years. The 1857 report noted that baking of pies had recently developed into a considerable business, but that overall, the city’s only major commercial baking activity involved making biscuits, crackers, and ship bread (the latter known as “hard tack”). Nine such establishments operated in Philadelphia in 1857, employing a total of 125 men who made 120,000 barrels of crackers annually.

Biscuits, Crackers, and Cookies

[caption id="attachment_32286" align="alignright" width="300"] T. Wattson & Sons, the largest biscuit and cracker maker in Philadelphia in the mid-nineteenth century, occupied the four-story building on Front Street depicted in this 1846 lithograph. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The city’s largest mid-nineteenth-century biscuit and cracker maker was T. Wattson & Sons, which occupied a four-story building on North Front Street. Thomas Wattson (1788–1874) started the business in 1846 and in 1852 sold it to his son-in-law John T. Ricketts (1805–63). One of Rickett’s chief employees was German immigrant Godfrey Keebler (1822–93), who came to America at age ten and at nineteen settled in Philadelphia to learn the baking trade. Keebler operated a small bakery in the city in the early 1840s, moved out of the area for several years, and returned in 1850 to work for Ricketts. In 1862 he went out on his own, first opening a small bakery at Twelfth and Christian Streets in South Philadelphia and then a large factory, Godfrey Keebler’s Steam Biscuit, Cracker and Cake Bakery, at Twenty-Second and Vine Streets. By 1890 Keebler had one hundred employees. He entered into a partnership that year with Augustus Weyl (1835–1926), son of a German-born baker, to form Keebler-Weyl Baking Company, which became one of the nation’s largest cookie and cracker makers.

Another mid-nineteenth century Philadelphia baking company, J.S. Ivins & Sons, rose to prominence on the strength of its cookie products. Founded in 1846 by Job S. Ivins (d. 1894), the company had various locations on North Front Street before moving in 1898 to a large factory on North Broad Street below Ridge Avenue. Ivins produced a variety of cakes and cookies, including Spiced Wafers, a cookie that became a longtime regional favorite after its introduction in 1910.

Vienna Model Bakery of 1876

At the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, the Fleishmann brothers, natives of Austria-Hungary who were based in Cincinnati, Ohio, exhibited their “Vienna Model Bakery,” which featured a bread-baking process using packaged compressed yeast cake they had invented. The Fleishmann’s process greatly improved the commercial production of bread, and when the Exposition closed they moved the Model Bakery to Broad Street near Vine Street. From there they expanded into a nationwide baking and restaurant company, while their packaged yeast became widely used in commercial baking, ushering in the era of mass-produced, store-bought bread.

An 1882 census of Philadelphia manufacturers noted that the city was home to 934 baking establishments, employing a total of 3,240 workers, including 2,363 men, 396 women, and 481 children. Curiously, only ten of the establishments were listed as “steam” bakeries; the rest were listed as “hand.” Steam was used to heat baking ovens as well as to power machines that kneaded, mixed, and rolled dough. At a time when most industries were powered by steam engines and many manufacturing processes were automated, baking in Philadelphia was still done primarily by hand. By 1909 Philadelphia boasted 1,208 baking establishments employing 4,598 workers and ranked third in the nation in bread and bakery products.

[caption id="attachment_32283" align="alignright" width="300"] Following the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, a horse-drawn float in the Peace Jubilee Parade on Broad Street carried portraits of the Freihofer Baking Company brothers framed by loaves of bread. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

One of the most successful local baking firms was the Freihofer Baking Company, established by brothers Charles (1860–1942) and William (1858–1932) Freihofer in Camden, New Jersey, in 1893. The company moved to Philadelphia several years later and in 1900 merged into the larger Freihofer Vienna Baking Company. By the mid-1910s Freihofer was one of the largest bread makers in the nation, with nine hundred workers in two large plants in North Philadelphia.

In 1927 Keebler-Weyl merged with a nationwide group of bakeries to form the Union Biscuit Company, whose headquarters were in Chicago. Although part of national conglomerate, Keebler-Weyl maintained major baking operations in Philadelphia. In 1934, the company began making cookies for the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia Council. Local Girl Scout troops throughout the nation had been selling cookies as a fund-raising activity since the 1910s, but Keebler-Weyl was the first commercial bakery to bake and package cookies for the Girl Scouts on a council-wide scale. Other area councils joined the arrangement and Keebler-Weyl became the official baker of what soon came to be known as “Girl Scout Cookies.”

Ethnic Bakeries

The types of baked goods available in the area expanded significantly in the early twentieth century with the influx of large numbers of southern and eastern European immigrants who brought their ethnic baking traditions with them. Italian and Jewish bakeries became especially common, joining German bakeries, which had long been part of the area’s food landscape. Area residents could now purchase a wide range of baked goods in countless neighborhood ethnic bakeries throughout the region.

Local Italian bakers supplied the rolls for Philadelphia’s unique hoagie and cheesesteak sandwiches. The area’s largest roll maker, Amoroso’s Baking Company, was founded by Italian immigrant Vincenzo Amoroso (1862–1927) and his two sons in Camden, New Jersey, in 1904. In 1914 the company moved to West Philadelphia, first to Sixty-Fifth Street and Haverford Avenue and then in 1960 to South Fifty-Fifth Street, where it grew to over four hundred workers. Still family-owned in the mid-2010s, Amoroso’s moved to Bellmawr, New Jersey. In nearby Glassboro, New Jersey, Liscio’s Bakery, another large family-owned Italian bread maker, began in 1994.

German bakers introduced pretzels in the nineteenth century. By the twentieth century pretzels were a signature Philadelphia snack, widely available and popular throughout the area. The Oakdale Baking Company, established in 1903 at North Tenth Street and West Susquehanna Avenue in North Philadelphia, was a major pretzel maker in the first half of the twentieth century. Under the direction of businessman L. J. Schumaker (1878–1948), it merged with several pretzel makers nationwide to form the American Pretzel Company, which by the late 1910s controlled about 80 percent of the U.S. pretzel business.

National and Multinational Bakers

In addition to local companies, Philadelphia was home to the production facilities of large national and multinational baking firms in the twentieth century. Bond Bread, a brand name of the General Baking Company conglomerate based in Rochester, New York, established several plants in Philadelphia early in the twentieth century, including operations in Lower Northeast, South, and West Philadelphia. Cookie and cracker maker National Biscuit Company (later Nabisco) opened a plant at Broad and Glenwood Streets in North Philadelphia in the early twentieth century, then moved in the 1950s to a large plant on Roosevelt Boulevard in the Far Northeast. After going through several ownership changes, the plant closed in 2015. By this time, much of the industry had consolidated and moved out of the area, leaving just one large-scale bakery in the city, the Tasty Baking Company.

Philip Baur (1885–1951), a baker from Pittsburgh, and Herbert Morris (1882–1960), an egg salesman from Boston, founded the Tasty Baking Company in Philadelphia in 1914 with the novel idea of selling individually wrapped, fresh-baked snack cakes. Their first bakery on Sedgley Avenue in Germantown was successful, and in 1922 Baur and Morris opened a large plant on Hunting Park Avenue in Nicetown. The company’s “Tastykake” products became longtime area favorites. In 2010 the Tasty Baking Company moved to a new modern production facility at the Philadelphia Naval Business Center in South Philadelphia, where it employed eight hundred workers. In 2011 Georgia-based food conglomerate Flowers Foods acquired Tastykake and began to distribute its products nationwide.

From modest beginnings in the late seventeenth century to the growth of large-scale baking operations in the twentieth century, the Philadelphia area has a long, rich history of bakers and bakeries. The region's signature baked goods--Italian rolls, pretzels, and snack cakes--were still made locally in the early twenty-first century, while the area continued to support a wide range of baking operations from small family-run bakeries to large industrial bakers with regional and national distribution.

Jack McCarthy is an archivist and historian who specializes in three areas of Philadelphia history: music, business and industry, and Northeast Philadelphia. He regularly writes, lectures, and gives tours on these subjects. His book In the Cradle of Industry and Liberty: A History of Manufacturing in Philadelphia was published in 2016, and he curated the 2017–18 exhibit Risk & Reward: Entrepreneurship and the Making of Philadelphia for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. He serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mann Music Center and directs a project for Jazz Bridge entitled Documenting & Interpreting the Philly Jazz Legacy, funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Gospel Music (African American)

Long an important center of African American musical life, Philadelphia played a key role in the development of black gospel music. One of the seminal figures in developing the gospel style, Charles Albert Tindley (1851-1933), moved to Philadelphia during the Great Migration of the early twentieth century and became a well-known gospel songwriter. As the region’s African American population grew and black churches flourished, Philadelphia served as home base for many of the music’s biggest stars who settled in the city during the mid-twentieth century “golden age” of gospel.

[caption id="attachment_32602" align="alignright" width="241"]A black and white portrait of Richard Allen. Richard Allen, founder of the Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, published the first American hymnal compiled for a black congregation in 1801. The hymnal and its later editions featured primarily traditional Protestant hymns, but also several songs composed by Allen. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Gospel music emerged from urban African American churches in the early twentieth century, growing out of longstanding sacred black music traditions. In colonial Philadelphia, African Americans sang sacred songs from their African homelands as well as European-derived psalms and hymns that they infused with African elements. The music became more formalized in the city’s first black churches in the 1790s, particularly Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1794 by Richard Allen (1760-1831). In 1801 Allen published a hymnal for his congregation titled A Collection of Spiritual Songs and Hymns Selected From Various Authors by Richard Allen, African Minister, the first American hymnal compiled for a black congregation. Allen later issued expanded editions of the hymnal, which included primarily traditional Protestant hymns along with some he wrote himself.C

While gospel music first developed in urban black churches in the North, its roots lay in the rural South. Prior to the Civil War, the harsh conditions of slavery in the South produced two major African American vocal traditions: the blues and the Negro spiritual—the former secular, the latter sacred. Spirituals, the great body of African American religious folk songs, served as the foundation for gospel.

Following the Civil War, African Americans migrating from the South brought their musical traditions to northern cities, where the urban environment gave rise to a new kind of worship music, the gospel song. In contrast to spirituals, which were improvisatory folk songs passed down orally, gospel songs were composed, formally structured tunes that incorporated elements of popular music and blues. Their lyrics reflected the new realities of urban black life.

[caption id="attachment_32603" align="alignright" width="214"]a black and white portrait of Rev. Charles A. Tindley Reverend Charles Albert Tindley, sometimes called the “Father of Gospel Music,” moved to Philadelphia in 1902 to become pastor of Bainbridge Street Methodist Episcopal Church. Pictured here in 1910, he wrote several hymns that became gospel standards, including “I’ll Overcome Some Day” which served as the basis of the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” (New York Public Library)[/caption]

Charles Albert Tindley

One of the creators of the gospel style, Charles Albert Tindley, moved to Philadelphia during the increasing wave of African American migration from the South at the turn of the twentieth century. Born into a slave family in Maryland and largely self-taught, Tindley became pastor of Bainbridge Street Methodist Episcopal Church (later renamed Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church) in South Philadelphia in 1902. Under his leadership, the congregation expanded significantly and in 1906 moved to its longtime location at Broad and Fitzwater Streets (where it was later renamed Tindley Temple). Tindley wrote gospel hymns, which he began publishing in 1901, the first such songs in the new style to be published. He later issued several gospel hymn collections, published by companies he helped to establish. Through preaching and singing, songwriting, publishing, and radio broadcasts, Tindley became an important figure in gospel music in Philadelphia and beyond. Several of his hymns became gospel standards, including “I’ll Overcome Someday,” which served as the inspiration for the well-known civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Six of his hymns appeared in Gospel Pearls, a collection published in 1921 that was the first hymnal geared toward African American congregations to use the word gospel in the title.

Tindley sometimes has been called the “Father of Gospel Music,” but most historians give this title to Thomas Dorsey (1899-1993), the Chicago-based pianist and songwriter who originally worked in blues before turning to gospel in the early 1930s. Following in Tindley’s footsteps, Dorsey became a prolific gospel songwriter and promoter. An astute businessman as well as musician, he successfully marketed his songs, founded gospel choirs and conventions, and promoted the career of Mahalia Jackson (1911-72), the most famous gospel singer of the twentieth century. Dorsey and other gospel songwriters of the period, most of whom acknowledged Tindley’s influence, helped to usher in the “golden age” of gospel in the 1940s and 1950s, a time when black congregations across the nation sang gospel music in their worship services and gospel recording artists and performers enjoyed great popularity.

Several distinct musical styles developed within black gospel. More-traditional Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal congregations generally took a reserved approach. Their performances, while spirited, retained traditional song forms and harmonies and they rendered the songs in a dignified manner. Conversely, in Pentecostal or “holiness” churches, the music was highly charged and improvisatory, with exuberant shouting, hand clapping, and dancing. The Church of God in Christ, a denomination founded in the 1890s, became the chief home of the Pentecostal style. The repertoire of these churches varied, from centuries-old Protestant hymns, to Negro spirituals, to the gospel songs of Tindley, Dorsey, and others. The use of instruments also varied. Some congregations and performers sang a cappella, eschewing instruments as too secular. Others employed instrumental accompaniment, from just a guitar or tambourine to a full band.

One of Philadelphia’s preeminent churches in the Pentecostal style emerged under the leadership of Ozro Thurston Jones (1891-1972), who moved from Arkansas to Philadelphia in 1925 to assume the pastorship of Holy Temple, a small Church of God in Christ congregation located in West Philadelphia. Holy Temple was originally located at Fifty-Seventh and Vine Streets before moving to Sixtieth and Callowhill Streets in 1935. For a time, the congregation included Elizabeth Dabney (c.1890-1967), a Virginia native who became a leading figure in the Church of God in Christ. She later helped her husband, a singing preacher, establish another prominent Church of God in Christ congregation, Garden of Prayer, in North Philadelphia. Gertrude Ward (1901-81), who moved to Philadelphia from her native South Carolina around 1920, attended the lively services at both Holy Temple and Garden of Prayer regularly, bringing her daughters Clara (1924-73) and Willarene (Willa, 1920-2012). The three later formed the nucleus of the Ward Singers—also known at various times as the Famous Ward Singers and Clara Ward and the Ward Singers—one of the most popular gospel groups of all time.

Singers Drawn to Philadelphia

By the mid-twentieth century, gospel emanated from the numerous churches in the growing black neighborhoods of South, North, and West Philadelphia, as well as other cities in the region with significant African American populations. Some of the biggest names in gospel music moved to Philadelphia from the South in this period, including the nationally popular male quartets the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Sensational Nightingales. Soon after settling in the city in 1942, the Dixie Hummingbirds secured a daily program on radio station WCAU, laying the groundwork for a long, successful career. In the mid-1940s, Hummingbirds singer Ira Tucker (1925-2008) began staging gospel shows at the Metropolitan Opera House at Broad and Poplar Streets in North Philadelphia. Featuring his own group and other local and national gospel acts, these very successful shows made “the Met” an important gospel venue.

Philadelphia became known especially for its female gospel groups, including the Ward Singers, Davis Sisters, Stars of Faith, and Angelic Gospel Singers. Of these, the Ward Singers achieved greatest success. Performing in elaborate gowns and hairstyles, they took gospel into nightclubs and jazz festivals, which enhanced their popularity but alienated more-conservative gospel adherents. Marion Williams (1927-94) moved to Philadelphia from Florida in 1947 to join the Ward Singers and sang with them for eleven years before breaking away to form the Stars of Faith and later embarking on a solo career. Considered one of the greatest gospel singers of all time, Williams was honored by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1993. Mary Johnson Davis (1899-1982), an influential singer and group leader who moved in the 1950s from her native Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, maintained an active performing career and, with her friend Gertrude Ward, nurtured gospel talent in the area.

[caption id="attachment_32604" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of Sister Rosetta Tharpe performing in 1944. She is holding a guitar and singing into a microphone. A group of three men in suits sing behind her. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, pictured in 1944, became successful in both gospel and secular music styles. Her distinctive guitar style earned her the title “Godmother of Rock and Roll.” (New York Public Library)[/caption]

Singer/guitarist Sister Rosetta Tharpe (1915-73), perhaps the most successful—and unusual—female gospel artist of the period, moved to Philadelphia in 1957 after years of touring and living in other cities. Major gospel artists routinely received tempting offers to cross over to the more lucrative secular world of jazz, rhythm and blues, and popular music. While a number of prominent gospel singers refused to abandon sacred music, many did make the transition, to the consternation of their more traditional audiences. Uniquely, Tharpe moved back and forth between secular and sacred music several times in the course of her career, enjoying great success in both realms. Tharpe also developed a distinctive virtuoso guitar style, earning her the title “Godmother of Rock and Roll.”

Changes in society, musical tastes, and the music business in the 1960s signaled an end to the golden age of gospel, as well as other black music styles. While traditional gospel remained popular, a new “contemporary” gospel style began to emerge, incorporating elements of modern popular music and often featuring elaborate musical arrangements and sophisticated recording techniques. Gospel music, both contemporary and traditional, remained an active, thriving tradition into the early twenty-first century in the Philadelphia area. It formed an integral part of the services of black churches throughout the region and gospel artists continued to enjoy the support of loyal audiences who listened to local gospel radio stations and attended concerts at churches and major venues such as the Robin Hood Dell and Temple University’s Liacouras Center.

Jack McCarthy is an archivist and historian who specializes in three areas of Philadelphia history: music, business and industry, and Northeast Philadelphia. He regularly writes, lectures, and gives tours on these subjects. His book In the Cradle of Industry and Liberty: A History of Manufacturing in Philadelphia was published in 2016 and he curated the 2017–18 exhibit "Risk & Reward: Entrepreneurship and the Making of Philadelphia" for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. He serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mann Music Center and directs a project for Jazz Bridge entitled Documenting & Interpreting the Philly Jazz Legacy, funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Saws and Saw Making

Philadelphia ranked as one of the nation’s foremost saw manufacturing centers for much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Large-scale saw making began locally in the early nineteenth century, and by midcentury a number of major saw manufacturers operated in the city, including the world’s largest, Henry Disston’s Keystone Saw Works. Disston created a unique company town around his saw works and joined other industrialists in making Philadelphia one of the world’s premiere manufacturing cities. Saw making remained strong through the mid-twentieth century, after which it went into decline, part of a broader deindustrialization of the region.

[caption id="attachment_31883" align="alignright" width="300"]This black and white photograph shows a factory worker wearing goggles and pressing a metal saw blade against a spinning wheel to smooth out one side. Saw makers must ensure that one side of the tool is sharpened while the other remains smooth. In this 1939 photograph, a Disston & Sons worker uses a spinning wheel to smoothen a group of saw blades. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Saw making required a particularly high level of craftsmanship. Few artisans in early America possessed the technical skills needed to produce a quality saw with the right proportions of strength, flexibility, and smoothness of surface. As a result, most saws were imported. The few saw makers in the Philadelphia region in the eighteenth century included English immigrant Isaac Harrow (?–c. 1745), who advertised in 1734 that he had set up a plating and blade mill in Trenton, New Jersey, to make a wide range of tools and utensils, including saws; John Harper, who had a saw-making shop at Sixth and Cherry Streets in Philadelphia in the early 1790s and one in Trenton in 1795, but who was most notable for doing some of the earliest work for the United States Mint; and English immigrant Francis Mason (d. 1802), who first appeared in a 1799 Philadelphia directory as a saw maker on South Fifth Street and who advertised frequently in local newspapers for a few years until his death.

Philadelphia’s first successful large-scale saw manufacturer was William Rowland (1780–1857), who first appeared in a city directory as a saw maker on High (later Market) Street, near Fifth Street, in 1804. He may have previously apprenticed to Francis Mason; he appears to have occupied the same location as Mason, and in 1806 he advertised himself as “Successor of Francis Mason.” While several sources erroneously credit Rowland as America’s first saw manufacturer, more accurately, he established the nation’s first large-scale, long-running saw factory. By the 1820s Rowland had moved to Filbert Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets, where he employed twenty workers and made saws that the Franklin Institute recognized for their excellence. In 1845 Rowland began making his own steel, and by the mid-1850s he had fifty workers and was producing two hundred saws daily.

Many Small Saw-Making Shops

[caption id="attachment_31881" align="alignright" width="292"]This black and white illustration shows saw manufacturer Henry Disston. He is framed within the shape of a saw and his signature is shown directly below him. Henry Disston was one of Philadelphia’s leading saw makers throughout the mid- to late nineteenth century. By the Civil War, his Keystone Saw Works had become the largest saw manufacturer in the United States. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Rowland was one of several major saw manufacturers in Philadelphia in the mid-nineteenth century. An 1844 city directory listed twenty saw makers. Most had small shops, but within a decade a few had grown into large operations. They originally concentrated in the highly industrialized downtown area north of Market Street and east of Eighth Street, although most eventually moved to larger quarters elsewhere. Among the saw makers who opened small shops in this part of the city in the 1840s and became major manufacturers by the 1850s were Henry Disston (1819–78), who in 1840 opened a shop on Bread Street near Second and Arch Streets that later became the Keystone Saw Works; Charles Johnson (d. 1852) and William Conaway (b. 1822), who formed a partnership in 1846 that became the Union Saw & Tool Manufactory at Fourth and Cherry Streets; and Walter Cresson (1815–93), who began making saws in the late 1840s and had a shop on Commerce Street (a small street just above Market) between Fourth and Fifth Streets. In 1850 Cresson opened a saw factory on the Schuylkill River in Conshohocken, Montgomery County, while also keeping his Old City location. One of Cresson’s chief saw makers, Irish immigrant William McNiece (1844–1904), left Cresson’s employ in 1863 and with a partner established the company that became the Excelsior Saw Works at Fifth and Cherry Streets.

[caption id="attachment_31879" align="alignright" width="300"]This black and white photo shows a close-up of three blades from a large Disston Company saw. This 1923 photograph provides a close-up view of a 108-inch Disston circular saw, one of the largest ever made. The Disston company seal is visible above the middle blade. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Of these leading mid-nineteenth-century Philadelphia saw makers, one—Henry Disston—emerged as the most successful, building his Keystone Saw Works into a massive enterprise that became the largest saw manufacturer in the world. Born in England, Disston came to Philadelphia with his father at age thirteen. His father died three days after arriving, however, and Henry eventually apprenticed with a local saw maker. After opening his own shop in the downtown industrial area in 1840, he moved a few times before settling in 1846 at Front and Laurel Streets in Northern Liberties, where his business prospered. A gifted mechanical engineer with an unwavering commitment to quality, Disston developed several new products and techniques in saw manufacturing, including introducing the first crucible steelmaking process in the nation in 1855. Disston actively recruited skilled workers from England’s famed Sheffield metal-working district; many of his key employees were immigrants from this area.

By the Civil War, Disston’s Keystone Saw Works had become the largest saw manufacturer in the United States, employing over 150 workers in four buildings totaling twenty thousand square feet of space. He grew his business by acquiring many of the region’s other saw manufacturers, including William Conaway’s Union Saw & Tool Manufactory in 1857, Walter Cresson’s saw works in 1865, and the successor company to William Rowland’s Saw Works in 1870. By this time, Disston had outgrown his Northern Liberties location. To accommodate his expanding operation, he purchased a large tract of land along the Delaware River in Tacony and began moving the company there in 1872.

Disston’s Huge Complex

The Disston saw works in Tacony grew to be an enormous, sprawling complex. To provide a safe, family-centered environment for his employees, Henry and his wife, Mary (1822–95), created the Disston Estate, a 158-acre tract in Tacony west of the industrial area that they designated as a residential community. The company also made a wide range of other tools, mostly notably files, which it produced in the millions annually. Within the Estate, separated from the industrial section by railroad tracks, the Disstons provided affordable housing for company workers, offering quality homes for sale or rent at reasonable prices. They also placed deed restrictions on land sold within the Estate to prohibit the sale of alcohol and the operation of factories, slaughterhouses, or other activities that would compromise the residential character of the neighborhood. (The prohibition on the sale of alcohol within the Disston Estate was upheld after a legal battle in the 1990s and remained in effect in the early twenty-first century.) Of an estimated 2,500 company towns established in the nineteenth-century United States, the only other paternalistic town of this nature within an urban area was George Pullman’s (1831–97) community in Chicago. The National Park Service designated both the Pullman District and the Disston Estate as National Historic Districts, the latter in 2016.

[caption id="attachment_31882" align="alignright" width="285"]This black and white photo shows a factory worker bending a metal saw blade to ensure its sturdiness before shipment. In this 1939 photograph, a Disston & Sons factory worker performs final sturdiness tests on a group of saws before they are shipped to buyers. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

By 1909 the Disston company occupied fifty-seven buildings on fifty acres. Its four thousand workers produced nine million saws annually, from traditional handsaws used by carpenters and do-it-yourselfers to huge circular and band saws employed by the lumber industry and in industrial settings. The company also made a wide range of other tools, mostly notably files, which it produced in the millions annually.

While Disston sold its products worldwide and dominated the industry, a few smaller companies in the greater Philadelphia area made saws in the early twentieth century.  The American Saw Company in Trenton, New Jersey, manufactured saws and other tools and employed fifty workers in 1901. The Alston Saw & Steel Company in Folcroft, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, specialized in making hack saws in the 1910s.

Henry Disston died in 1878 and did not live to see the vision for his company or community come to full fruition. His widow managed the Estate, while his sons and grandsons ran the company, which they incorporated as Henry Disston & Sons in 1886. It remained a profitable family-run firm until the mid-twentieth century, when, like many of Philadelphia’s heavy industries, it began to experience serious business challenges. In 1955 family members sold the firm to H. K. Porter, Inc., a holding company that largely broke up the enterprise, closing or relocating various departments and significantly reducing its scale of operations. After several subsequent ownership changes, the company continued operating, at a greatly reduced scale, at the Tacony plant into the early twenty-first century. Known as Disston Precision, in the late 2010s it employed a few dozen workers who made precision saw blades, custom metal plates, and other specialty items, using both century-old machines still in place at the plant and modern computer-driven equipment. Disston remained the only major manufacturer from Philadelphia’s late nineteenth and early twentieth-century industrial heyday still in operation in the city.

Jack McCarthy is an archivist and historian who specializes in three areas of Philadelphia history: music, business and industry, and Northeast Philadelphia. He regularly writes, lectures, and gives tours on these subjects. His book In the Cradle of Industry and Liberty: A History of Manufacturing in Philadelphia was published in 2016 and he curated the 2017–18 exhibit Risk & Reward: Entrepreneurship and the Making of Philadelphia for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. He serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mann Music Center and directs a project for Jazz Bridge entitled Documenting & Interpreting the Philly Jazz Legacy, funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Paper and Papermaking

Home to the first paper mill in the British American colonies, Philadelphia was the nation’s primary papermaking center through the early nineteenth century. The region lost its national preeminence in papermaking in the late nineteenth century, but it continued to host important makers of paper and paper products.

Skilled papermakers, including William Rittenhouse (1644–1708), a German-born Dutch Mennonite, and Thomas Willcox (c. 1689–1779), an English Catholic, were among the immigrants who came to southeastern Pennsylvania in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries seeking religious freedom and economic opportunity. Rittenhouse settled near Germantown, where fellow Mennonites had founded a community and the Wissahickon Creek and its tributaries provided water power for papermaking. Willcox settled in Concord Township, Chester County (later part of Delaware County), where Chester Creek provided the same. In addition to their importance in early American papermaking, both men were religious leaders in their communities.

William Rittenhouse established British America’s first paper mill on the Monoshone Creek, a tributary to the Wissahickon, in 1690. It was the only paper mill in the colonies for twenty years. Claus Rittenhouse (1666–1734), William’s son, managed the mill with his father and became its proprietor following his father’s death. In 1710, Claus’s brother-in-law, William DeWeese (1677–1745), also a Dutch immigrant, built a second paper mill on the Wissahickon Creek nearby. Claus and several partners purchased the mill from DeWeese in 1713, while DeWeese and his son went on to build other paper mills in the Germantown area in the 1730s and 1740s. Several generations of the Rittenhouse family made paper at the original mill site through the mid-nineteenth century. Later renamed Historic Rittenhouse Town, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992.

[caption id="attachment_31726" align="alignright" width="300"] Rittenhouse manor (pictured right) and a small outbuilding are portrayed c. 1922 in this sketch by Frank H. Taylor. The Rittenhouse family built several paper mills near these buildings over the years, beginning with the first mill in 1690.(Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The colonies’ third paper mill was that of Thomas Willcox (c. 1689–1779), who in 1729 built what became known as Ivy Mills on Chester Creek in Concord Township, Chester County. Willcox was a key supplier of paper to Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) and other local printers. He and his descendants later specialized in making currency for colonial governments, the United States Treasury, and various South American and European countries. They also made checks for major banks. The Willcox family built another paper mill in nearby Glen Mills in 1836 and ran Ivy Mills until it closed in 1866. The Ivy Mills site, including the mill ruins and surviving nineteenth-century houses, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Expanding Industry

Philadelphia’s rapidly growing population in the eighteenth century created a major demand for paper. By 1739 there were five paper mills in southeastern Pennsylvania; ten years later there were eleven. Powered by the region’s many waterways and the developing technical expertise of its mill operators, the Philadelphia area remained the center of America’s papermaking industry throughout the colonial period. Of the twenty-six paper mills operating in the thirteen colonies by 1769, twenty were in the Philadelphia area. Domestic production was not enough to meet local demand, however; most paper was imported in the eighteenth century.

Colonial Philadelphia was an important publishing center, and the city’s printers and publishers often had financial stakes in local paper mills to ensure a reliable source of paper for their businesses. Pennsylvania’s first printer, William Bradford (1663–1752), was a partner in the 1690 Rittenhouse mill, which was originally a partnership between Rittenhouse, Bradford, and two others before Rittenhouse bought out the other three. Germantown printer Christopher Sauer (1695–1758), the first German-language publisher in North America, and his son owned or had an interest in several mills in the Philadelphia area, while Benjamin Franklin was affiliated with at least four local paper mills by the late 1740s.

Another related industry was the manufacture of paper moulds, the screened frames used in early papermaking. Philadelphia engineer Nathan Sellers (1751–1830) began making paper moulds as early as 1776. The firm he established with his brother in 1779, N & D Sellers, was the nation’s primary manufacturer of paper moulds through the early nineteenth century. Sellers was a leading figure in a group of Philadelphia-area mechanical engineers and inventors that made the region a key center of technological innovation in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Papermaking was one of many industries that saw major mechanical breakthroughs through the efforts of this group.  

Innovation and Automation

Paper was generally made by hand in America until the introduction of mechanized production in the early nineteenth century. In 1816, Thomas Gilpin (1776–1853) patented the nation’s first papermaking machine and the following year put it into operation at his family’s Brandywine Paper Mill, which had been established in 1787 by Thomas’s brother Joshua Gilpin (1765–1841) on the Brandywine Creek, near Wilmington, Delaware. Thomas constructed the machine based on English models, using information provided by Joshua, who had toured Europe in the early nineteenth century and sent back materials on new papermaking technologies being developed in England. Early on, the Gilpins conferred with Benjamin Franklin on developments in the industry and later they supplied paper to another prominent Philadelphia publisher, Mathew Carey (1760–1839). The Sellers family also played a key role in the mechanization of papermaking. Coleman Sellers (1781–1834), Nathan’s son, took over the N & D Sellers firm in 1817 and invented various papermaking devices in the 1820s and a complete papermaking machine in 1832. By the 1830s, machine-based production had largely replaced traditional hand papermaking in America.

Although machines replaced water power in this period, paper makers continued to establish mills on waterways. A number of paper mills operated during the nineteenth century along the Brandywine Creek and its tributaries, running through central Chester County and northern Delaware. In 1833, James Guie (?-1893) opened the mill later known as Eagle Paper Mill on Beaver Creek, a tributary to the Brandywine Creek near Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Specializing in waterproof buckskin paper, the mill remained in operation for over 100 years. In 1843, Augustus Jessup (1797-1859) and his son-in-law Bloomfield Moore (1819-78) started the Jessup and Moore Paper Company on the lower Brandywine Creek in Kentmere, Delaware, not far from the Gilpin’s Brandywine Paper Mill. Jessup and Moore acquired other paper mills, both along the lower Brandywine and throughout the greater Philadelphia region, and the company eventually became one of the largest makers of book and magazine paper in the nation.

Demand for paper grew dramatically in the antebellum period, as America’s printing and publishing houses, many based in Philadelphia, produced an increasing number of newspapers, magazines, and books. Paper mills were established throughout the greater Delaware Valley to meet the demand. The Roxborough-Manayunk area became an especially important papermaking center in this period. This part of the city saw dramatic industrialization in the early nineteenth century, with the Schuylkill River and Manayunk Canal powering textile, paper, and other mills that were later converted to steam-production. Among the major paper producers in this area were the Flat Rock Paper Mill, owned by the Nixon family (descendants of William Rittenhouse); the Wissahickon Paper Mill, owned by the Megargee family; and the McDowell Paper Mills. All were family-run operations that were established in the 1820s through 1840s and continued in various capacities into the early twentieth century. Family members built new mills or established partnerships with other mills in the region over the years, resulting in a web of interrelated family-run paper businesses throughout the greater Philadelphia area.

[caption id="attachment_31724" align="alignright" width="300"] An oil painting advertisement by William E. Winner, c. 1858, shows the Wissahickon Paper Mills, originally constructed by William Dewees  in 1731 and expanded by Charles Megargee in 1853. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The introduction of paper made from wood pulp in the 1860s transformed the American paper industry. Paper had traditionally been made from cotton or linen rags, which were pulverized into fibers that were then formed into paper. Papermakers depended on rag collectors for their raw materials, and rags were often in short supply. In some cases, they were actually imported. Wood pulp proved a cheaper and more plentiful raw material and largely replaced rag-made paper over the course of the late nineteenth century, although straw was also used as a raw material. The American Wood Paper Company built the Manayunk Pulp Works adjacent to the Flat Rock Paper Mill in 1864. Martin Nixon (1818–88), part owner of the Flat Rock mill, managed the new pulp works.

Transition and Specialization

The industry’s transition from rag to wood pulp production coincided with Philadelphia’s decline as the nation’s preeminent papermaking center. Much of the paper industry’s growth in the late nineteenth century occurred in New York and New England, particularly Holyoke, Massachusetts, which became known as “The Paper City.” While no longer the national leader, the Philadelphia area continued to support a significant papermaking sector. In 1880 there were seven paper mills in Philadelphia, employing 452 workers; in 1912, there were eight, four in the Roxborough-Manayunk area. Among the largest were the McDowell and Dill & Collins mills. The latter firm had a mill in Port Richmond and also took over the Flat Rock mill. There were also dozens of paper mills operating in the surrounding counties in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Philadelphia was also an important center for specialty papermakers, including manufacturers of wallpaper and roofing paper in the nineteenth century, and later, in the twentieth century, cardboard, toilet tissue, and paper towels. Scott Paper, founded by brothers Edward Irvin (1846–1931) and Clarence (1848–1912) Scott in Philadelphia in 1879, was among the nation’s largest makers of toilet paper, paper towels, and tissues for much of the twentieth century. From 1971 to the mid-1990s the company headquarters was in Tinicum Township, Delaware County. John Connelly (1905–90) worked in the Philadelphia plant of Container Corporation of America in the 1940s before starting Connelly Container, a very successful cardboard box–making company, originally located on the site of the former McDowell Paper Mill in Manayunk. Both Scott Paper and Connelly Container eventually stopped local manufacturing operations and were acquired by other companies in the 1990s.

[caption id="attachment_31725" align="alignright" width="300"] An advertisement postcard depicts the McDowell Paper Mills in Manayunk, c. 1910. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

By the early twenty-first century, most of the Philadelphia-area paper mills had closed, leaving only a few major papermakers in the region. Newman Paper Board Company, established in 1919 and located on the Delaware River in lower Northeast Philadelphia, remained a family-run business into the early twenty-first century and was Pennsylvania’s leading recycler and supplier of rigid paperboard. Paperworks Industries, established in 2008 through the merger of several paper companies and headquartered in Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, operated a historic Manayunk paper mill for several years before closing it in 2017.

Although the industry declined in the twentieth century and operated at a fraction of its nineteenth-century heyday, Philadelphia played a key role as the birthplace and longtime center of early American papermaking.

Jack McCarthy is an archivist and historian who specializes in three areas of Philadelphia history: music, business and industry, and Northeast Philadelphia. He regularly writes, lectures, and gives tours on these subjects. His book In the Cradle of Industry and Liberty: A History of Manufacturing in Philadelphia was published in 2016 and he curated the 2017–18 exhibit Risk & Reward: Entrepreneurship and the Making of Philadelphia for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. He serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mann Music Center and from 2011–16 directed a major archival project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the collections of the region’s many small historical repositories.

Silk and Silk Makers

Philadelphia’s silk industry began in earnest in the early nineteenth century. There had been efforts since the early eighteenth century to cultivate the silk worm and establish silk-making operations in the region, but they had proven unsustainable or were carried out on a small scale. Philadelphia’s first successful silk manufacturer began operating in 1815, and by the mid-nineteenth century the city was a major silk producer. Philadelphia’s silk industry remained strong through the early twentieth century, after which it declined dramatically, along with the region’s overall textile industry.

[caption id="attachment_31514" align="alignright" width="300"]This black and white drawing shows a silkworm resting on a leaf. The silkworm has thick hairs on its body and appears to be eating the leaf's stem. This c. 1878 Japanese drawing depicts a silkworm on a leaf. Silkworms have been fully domesticated for silk production, or sericulture, and can no longer be found in the wild. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Efforts to establish a silk industry in America date from the earliest periods of colonial settlement. Many colonial business and political leaders believed that climate and soil conditions in the Atlantic colonies were conducive to cultivation of the mulberry trees on which silk worms fed and that growing raw silk and manufacturing silk products could be lucrative enterprises. In Pennsylvania, James Logan (1674–1751) promoted the idea to the Penn family, proprietors of Pennsylvania, in 1725 and noted the following year that silk made in Pennsylvania had been sent to England. In the late 1760s, Benjamin Franklin (1706–90), who had long been interested in silk cultivation and was then living in England, advocated starting a silk industry in Philadelphia. With support from Franklin and others, the American Philosophical Society established a Society for the Cultivation of Silk, which in 1770 opened a filature­—an establishment for reeling silk—on Seventh Street between Arch and Market Streets. Some of the raw silk it processed was grown in New Jersey. (While other raw textiles such as cotton and wool were “spun” into fibers, silk was “reeled,” because each cocoon held just a single thread, often a mile long, which had to be unraveled then twisted together with other threads to form yarns.)

Noted Quaker writer and activist Susanna “Suzy” Wright (1697-1784), a woman of many talents and a correspondent with Logan and Franklin, raised silkworms in the 1770s and made a variety of silk products, some of which were reportedly sent to England. The Philadelphia Medical and Physical Journal published her article “Directions for the Management of Silk-Worms” posthumously in 1804.

The Revolutionary War interrupted Philadelphia’s nascent silk industry, but efforts revived in the Federal period. In the early 1790s prominent merchant and financier Robert Morris (1734–1806) planted thousands of mulberry trees for silk worm cultivation at his estate at the Falls of the Delaware (later Morrisville) in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, part of a plan to initiate large-scale silk manufacture. Elsewhere, farmers and enterprising businessmen grew silk that was processed locally, usually in homes or small shops, and made into clothing and other textile products. These tasks were generally done on a small scale and mostly by women.

Limited Success

Overall, these efforts had limited success. The Philadelphia region did not produce raw silk in large enough quantities to sustain an ongoing industry, while processing the silk it did produce was labor intensive and often not very profitable. Nevertheless, efforts to promote local silk cultivation continued. Civic leader Peter DuPonceau (1760–1844), president of the American Philosophical Society, zealously advocated for the silk industry in the early 1830s. He personally supported local silk growing and production initiatives and petitioned the U.S. Congress, unsuccessfully, for federal support for a nationwide industry. Other prominent Philadelphians who attempted silk cultivation in the 1830s include financier Nicholas Biddle (1786–1844), who invested heavily in mulberry trees at his estate, Andalusia, in Bucks County, and lawyer Philip Syng Physick Jr. (1807–48), who erected a building, known as The Cocoonery, for silk cultivation in Germantown.

In the mid-1830s a new species of mulberry tree was introduced into America that purportedly grew much faster and could feed significantly more silkworms than the native species. This gave rise to a brief silk craze, with increased, widespread attempts at domestic silk cultivation and much financial speculation in the industry. The eventual discovery that the new species was unsuitable for the American climate, together with the nationwide financial panic of 1837, put many silk growers out of business and effectively ended the large-scale cultivation of silk in the United States. Small-scale cultivation continued, but from the mid-nineteenth century on, large-scale manufacturers of silk products mostly imported their raw materials.

[caption id="attachment_31515" align="alignright" width="205"]This black and white portrait depicts textile manufacturer William H. Horstmann. He wears a black suit, black bow tie and white undershirt. William H. Horstmann (1785–1850) pioneered the use of mechanical looms in the United States and founded a textile factory that became one of the nation’s largest silk manufacturers. (New York Public Library)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s first major silk goods maker was William Horstmann (1785–1850), a German immigrant who settled in the city in 1815 and established a successful silk-weaving shop specializing in making tassels, fringe, and lace. In 1824 Horstmann was the first American textile manufacturer to use the Jacquard loom, a mechanical loom controlled by punch cards that became widely used in the textile industry. Around 1831 he built a factory at Germantown and Columbia (later Cecil B. Moore) Avenues in Kensington, and in 1854 the company, then run by his sons, built a large five-story factory at Fifth and Cherry Streets in Old City that eventually employed as many as five hundred workers. The Horstmann company later specialized in making silk materials for the military such as flags, braids, and ornamental trimmings, becoming the nation’s largest producer of such goods. Two other major silk manufacturers were located near the Horstmann plant in the this period:  J. C. Graham, established in 1850 near Fifth and Cherry Streets , and Hensel, Colladay, & Company, established in 1851 on Fourth Street above Market.

Women Dominated the Workforce

A large percentage of the city’s silk workers were women. By 1850 there were six silk manufacturers in Philadelphia, employing a total of 227 workers, of whom 146 were women. The work primarily entailed tending machinery, as silk production was mostly mechanized by this time. Women also participated in silk-worm cultivation, which continued on a small scale. In 1880 a group of Philadelphia women formed the Women’s Silk Culture Association of the United States. They presented a silk American flag to the U.S. Senate in 1885, noting that its silk was raised “in American homes by American women and children, reeled by the Women’s Association of Philadelphia (who are the only reelers of commercial silk in the country up to this time), spun, dyed, woven, and mounted in the city of Philadelphia.”

Philadelphia’s silk industry grew significantly in the late nineteenth century. An 1883 general census of Philadelphia manufacturers listed over sixty makers of silk products in the city, as well as several silk dyeing operations. Most of these companies employed anywhere from a handful to a few dozen workers, but seventeen of the firms had over one hundred workers and ten had over 250. Many of the companies were located in what became known as Philadelphia’s Silk District, the northern section of Old City between Market and Vine Streets, east of Sixth Street. Major silk manufacturers were located elsewhere in the city as well. Sauquoit Silk Manufacturing Company, based in upstate New York, built a factory in 1879 on Columbia Avenue in North Philadelphia that in 1888 employed 330 workers, four-fifths of whom were girls. (As in the broader American textile industry, child labor formed a significant part of Philadelphia’s silk workforce.) Orinoka Mills, in Kensington, had eighty-five looms and 250 workers in 1891. By 1900 one-third of the silk products made in America were produced in eastern Pennsylvania, both in Philadelphia and in the coal regions of the northeastern part of the state, where the wives and children of coal miners and railroad workers often worked in local silk mills to supplement the family income.

[caption id="attachment_31511" align="alignright" width="300"]This black and white photograph shows a group of fourteen women seated on a bench outside the Apex Hosiery factory as they prepare for a strike. In 1937, employees at Philadelphia’s Apex Hosiery went on strike to demand unionization. Apex President William Meyers, known for using anti-union intimidation tactics, eventually allowed the workers to organize. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Hosiery items—stockings and socks—were the primary products of Philadelphia’s silk industry in the early twentieth century. Trends in women’s fashion during the 1920s “Jazz Age” created a huge demand for silk stockings, giving rise to a number of large Philadelphia hosiery mills that by the late 1920s employed thousands of workers. The largest were Apex Hosiery, with over 1,700 workers; Gotham Silk Hosiery, with over 1,500 workers; and H. C. Aberle Company and Triumph Hosiery Mills, both with over 1,100 workers. Labor unrest struck the industry in the 1930s. In April 1937 workers staged a successful sit-in at Artcraft Silk Hosiery, another major producer, when management resisted their efforts to unionize.  A few weeks later, a prolonged, violent strike at Apex Hosiery also resulted in success for the workers. Unions played a powerful role in the city’s silk industry at this time, but later lost their power when the industry’s fortunes ebbed.

The Rise of Nylon

Philadelphia’s silk industry remained strong through the early twentieth century but began to decline in the years prior to World War II, part of a major reduction in silk production nationwide. In 1930 approximately one hundred thousand silk looms were operating in the United States; by 1950 the number had dropped to about three thousand. Subjected to the same adverse factors that eventually impacted many kinds of textile manufacturers in urban areas of the mid-Atlantic and northeastern United States—cheaper labor and energy costs elsewhere, competition from producers of cheaper goods, and increasingly strained relations between labor and management—several large Philadelphia silk manufacturers ceased operations or moved their factories out of the city in the 1930s and 1940s.

[caption id="attachment_31512" align="alignright" width="300"]This black and white photograph shows a worker adjusting the threads of a large nylon machine. There are several large round spools close to him leading to a polished steel structure above. This c. 1940 photograph shows a worker adjusting machinery at the E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. nylon plant in Seaford, Delaware. The silk industry experienced a sharp decline in the early twentieth century due to the advent of nylon, a cheaper and more durable synthetic alternative. (Delaware Public Archives)[/caption]

Two other mid-twentieth-century developments—one temporary, one permanent—also adversely affected the American silk industry. During World War II, supplies of raw silk, already curtailed by the interruption of its importation from Japan, were commandeered by the military for parachutes and other war needs. Of more lasting impact was the introduction in the late 1930s of the new synthetic material Nylon by the DuPont Company of Wilmington, Delaware. Nylon provided a cheaper, more durable alternative to silk for everything from women’s stockings to textiles for military applications. Its widespread use beginning in the late 1940s resulted in a huge decline in the demand for silk. By the late twentieth century, the heyday of silk manufacture in Philadelphia, like that of the region’s broader textile industry, was over.

Jack McCarthy is an archivist and historian who specializes in three areas of Philadelphia history: music, business and industry, and Northeast Philadelphia. He regularly writes, lectures, and gives tours on these subjects. His book In the Cradle of Industry and Liberty: A History of Manufacturing in Philadelphia was published in 2016 and he curated the 2017–18 exhibit Risk & Reward: Entrepreneurship and the Making of Philadelphia for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. He serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mann Music Center and from 2011–16 directed a major archival project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the collections of the region’s many small historical repositories.

Pharmaceutical Industry

Philadelphia played a key role in the birth of the American pharmaceutical industry in the early nineteenth century, and the region remained a major pharmaceutical center into the early twenty-first century. Home since the colonial period to many of America’s leading scientific, educational, and medical institutions, Philadelphia was well-positioned to support the emergence of a pharmaceutical industry. The nation’s first drug mill was established in Philadelphia in the 1810s, and the city hosted a significant concentration of drug makers over the years, as well as related industries such as chemical manufacturing and supporting institutions such as research universities and hospitals.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, doctors and pharmacists generally made their own medicines, grinding and mixing materials into powders and extracts themselves. Most medicines were imported from England, however, until the War of 1812 interrupted the supply and spurred domestic drug manufacturing. It was at this point that the American pharmaceutical industry began in earnest. Several Philadelphia pharmacists and chemists branched into small-scale drug manufacturing, and some of these evolved into wholesalers or larger manufacturers.

[caption id="attachment_31088" align="alignright" width="300"]This black and white lithograph shows Charles Hagner's drug mills at East Falls. The central focus is a large factory building with a tall smokestack. A few people and carriages are visible on the adjacent streets. In 1812, Charles Hagner (1796–1878) used his East Falls mill to grind pharmaceutical ingredients for a local druggist, accomplishing in a single day a process that would have taken months by the traditional mortar and pestle method. Hagner’s success allowed him to build larger mills in Northern Liberties, such as the one shown in this 1875 lithograph. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s first large-scale drug manufacturer was not a pharmacist or chemist, but mill owner Charles Hagner, who in 1812 used his water-powered mill in East Falls to grind several tons of cream of tartar into powder for a local druggist. Hagner’s milling process accomplished in one day what would have taken months by the traditional mortar and pestle method, a feat that generated great interest in the nation’s emerging drug industry. Hagner thereafter focused on grinding materials for medicines, establishing America’s first drug mill at his East Falls location. In 1820 he moved his business to Manayunk, and in 1839 he built a large steam-powered plant in Northern Liberties.

Dozens of Manufacturers Arise

The antebellum period saw the establishment of dozens of pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturers in Philadelphia, fostered by the city’s strong medical, scientific, and educational communities. Powers & Weightman, founded in 1818 by English immigrants, and Rosengarten & Sons, founded in 1822 by a German immigrant, became two of the world’s largest manufacturers of quinine in the nineteenth century. Advertising themselves as “manufacturing chemists,” the two companies made a wide variety of chemicals and medicines before merging in the early twentieth century. John Smith & Company, founded in 1830 by John Smith (d. 1845), and John Wyeth & Brother, founded in 1860 by brothers John (1834–1907) and Frank Wyeth (1836–1913), were two other drug companies established by pharmacists in antebellum Philadelphia. Both began as small-scale operations and grew into pharmaceutical giants. Following various mergers and acquisitions over the years, both remained active in the Philadelphia area in the early twenty-first century.

Robert Shoemaker (1817–96) was yet another early nineteenth-century Philadelphia pharmacist turned drug maker. Shoemaker took over a local pharmacy in 1837 and shortly thereafter began developing glycerin. In 1846 he became the nation’s first commercial manufacturer of the drug. In 1856 William Warner opened a drug store in Philadelphia, where he developed a process for coating medicine tablets with sugar to improve their taste. Warner later gave up his retail business to focus on manufacturing medicines. His company eventually became Warner-Lambert, a major national pharmaceutical firm. 

[caption id="attachment_31087" align="alignright" width="212"]This black and white drawing shows the exterior of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. A few 1920s-era cars are parked on the street and some people pass by on the sidewalk. The Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, founded in 1821 and shown here in a 1922 drawing, was the nation’s first pharmacy school. Many leading pharmaceutical executives in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries graduated from PCP, later renamed the University of the Sciences. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s status as America’s preeminent early drug manufacturing center was further enhanced by the founding in 1821 of the nation’s first pharmacy college, the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (PCP), later renamed the University of the Sciences. In addition to training pharmacists, the college’s mission was to “invite a spirit of pharmaceutical investigation and research.” Many of the nation’s leading pharmaceutical executives of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries graduated from PCP.

Philadelphia dominated the American pharmaceutical industry throughout the antebellum period. Forty Philadelphia firms accounted for approximately 30 percent of the total value of the medicines, drugs, and extracts produced in the United States in 1860. Many of these companies benefited significantly from supplying medicines for the Civil War effort and saw considerable growth in the postwar period. In 1872 Wyeth employee Henry Bower (1833–96) developed a rotary tablet machine that allowed for mass production of medicines with precise dosages. The machine greatly expanded Wyeth’s manufacturing capacity and won awards at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia.

Growth of McNeil and Mulford

Local pharmacists continued to branch into drug manufacturing in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In 1879 Robert McNeil (1856–1933), a PCP graduate, became proprietor of a drug store in Kensington, from which his son established McNeil Laboratories. The company grew to be one of the region’s major drug makers. Pharmacist Henry Kendall Mulford (1866–1937), also a PCP grad, founded the H. K. Mulford Company in the 1880s from his drug store in downtown Philadelphia. Mulford later focused on making vaccines and in 1895 offered the first commercially available diphtheria antitoxin produced in America. The company built a large plant in Glenolden, Delaware County, which produced several types of vaccines.

[caption id="attachment_31086" align="alignright" width="220"]This black and white photograph shows Albert C. Barnes on the deck of a boat. He wears a large winter coat, gloves and hat and leans against the railing. Two smaller boats can be seen in the background. Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951), shown here in a 1900 photograph, founded the A. C. Barnes Company in 1908. His wealth allowed him to collect art and establish the Barnes Foundation. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Young chemist Albert Barnes (1872–1951) took a job at H. K. Mulford in 1898, but left the following year to form a partnership with another chemist to make a new antiseptic they developed. After the partnership dissolved in 1908, Barnes created the A. C. Barnes Company to manufacture the product. The company was very successful, and Barnes used the wealth he amassed to collect art and establish the world-renowned Barnes Collection.

Philadelphia was also a major center for the production of “patent medicines,” commercially available over-the-counter nostrums that were sold under brand names. Although their effectiveness was often dubious, patent medicines were marketed with colorful, exaggerated claims of their therapeutic qualities and were very popular in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Thomas Dyott (1771–1861), America’s first successful patent medicine manufacturer, made and sold a variety of elixirs and ointments in Philadelphia in the early nineteenth-century. In the 1810s he built a substantial glass works in Kensington to make bottles for his products. At the turn of the twentieth century, Philadelphia was home to two major patent medicine manufacturers, Dr. D. Jayne & Sons and Johnston, Holloway, & Company.

By 1909, there were 174 drug makers in Philadelphia, along with numerous chemical companies and several major research universities and hospitals. The concentration of these industries and institutions made the region a key center for pharmaceutical research and development throughout the twentieth century. In the early 1940s, West Chester, Pennsylvania, chemist G. Raymond Rettew (1903–73) developed a method for mass producing penicillin, based on his work with mushrooms (mushroom growing was a major industry in Chester County). Sponsored by Wyeth (then operating as American Home Products), Rettew’s Chester County Mushroom Laboratories in West Chester became the world’s leading producer of penicillin, which was put to immediate, extensive use during World War II.

Pharmacy College Influence Persists

Graduates of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy continued to play leading roles in the local pharmaceutical industry, particularly in family-run companies. At McNeil Laboratories, Robert McNeil, Jr. (1915–2010), grandson of the company founder, joined the firm after graduating from PCP in 1938. In the 1950s he oversaw development of the pain reliever Tylenol, a very successful medicine that became the company’s signature product. Similarly, at William H. Rorer, Inc., founded in 1910, Gerald F. Rorer (1908–76), son of the founder and a 1931 PCP graduate, took over the family-run drug company, based in Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, and transformed it into a major pharmaceutical firm, largely on the strength of its popular antacid, Maalox.

[caption id="attachment_31089" align="alignright" width="300"]This color advertisement shows the full campus of the Powers-Weightman-Rosengarten Company at Schuylkill Falls. Many lage factory buildings with smokestacks are visible. The image also includes small close-ups of the Tartaric and Citric Acid Department and the Laboratory for Fine Chemicals. Powers & Weightman Co. (est. 1818) was the first company to manufacture quinine, an antimalarial drug, in the United States. The company merged with Rosengarten & Sons in 1905 to form Powers-Weightman-Rosengarten, shown here in an advertisement from the same year. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Mergers and acquisitions, common in the pharmaceutical industry from its earliest years, continued over the course of the twentieth century. Powers-Weightman-Rosengarten, formed through the merger of two Philadelphia pharmaceutical giants in 1905, consolidated with Merck & Company in 1927 and moved to northern New Jersey. H. K. Mulford merged with Sharp & Dohme in 1929, which in 1953 was also acquired by Merck & Company. John Smith & Company became Smith, Kline, & French in 1929, and in 2001 merged with English drug maker Glaxo to form GlaxoSmithKline. French multinational firm Rhone-Poulenc acquired Rorer in 1990. Wyeth was acquired in 1932 by American Home Products, parent company to a number of pharmaceutical, home care, and food product manufacturers. American Home Products later divested itself of its non-pharmaceutical companies to focus specifically on drug making and in 2002 adopted the Wyeth name for the entire company. In 2009 Wyeth was acquired by Pfizer, a multinational pharmaceutical company with headquarters in New York City. Nine years earlier, Pfizer had acquired Warner-Lambert.

Increased consolidation among drug makers in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries gave rise to “Big Pharma,” a select group of very large multinational pharmaceutical firms that dominated the industry. The Philadelphia area was home to several of these pharmaceutical giants. Some had originally been founded in the city and remained in the region; others moved to the area later in their development. Of the former, the only company still located within the city itself was GlaxoSmithKline, which in 2013 moved one of its two North American headquarters from Center City to the Navy Yard in South Philadelphia. Both Wyeth and McNeil remained in the area but moved to the suburbs, McNeil to Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, in 1961 after being acquired by Johnson & Johnson in 1959, and Wyeth to various suburban locations before consolidating in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, in 2003.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Philadelphia stood at the center of a mid-Atlantic pharmaceutical corridor stretching from Delaware to northern New Jersey that included many of the world’s Big Pharma companies. In addition to GlaxoSmithKline, Wyeth, and McNeil, the Philadelphia region was home to Endo Pharmaceuticals in Malvern, Pennsylvania, originally established in 1920, later acquired by DuPont, and spun off as a separate company in 1997; AstraZeneca in Wilmington, Delaware, established in 1999 through a merger of two large English and Swedish pharmaceutical companies; and Teva, an Israeli generic drug maker that established a North American headquarters in Montgomeryville, Pennsylvania, in the early 2000s. Numerous other pharmaceutical companies, large and small, were based in the broader Philadelphia metropolitan area in the early twenty-first century as well. They ranged from traditional drug makers to biotechnology firms to research and development companies, all part of the expansive “Life Sciences” sector that comprised a major part of the regional economy. A 2016 report commissioned by a consortium of local business and industry organizations noted that the sector encompassed 1,200 life sciences companies across the region, employed 48,900 workers, and was responsible for $24.6 billion in output.

From its key role in the creation of the American pharmaceutical industry in the early nineteenth century to its position as home to a number of major drug companies in the early twenty-first, the greater Philadelphia region was an important pharmaceutical center for over two hundred years.

Jack McCarthy is an archivist and historian who specializes in three areas of Philadelphia history: music, business and industry, and Northeast Philadelphia. He regularly writes, lectures, and gives tours on these subjects. His book In the Cradle of Industry and Liberty: A History of Manufacturing in Philadelphia was published in 2016 and he curated the 2017–18 exhibit Risk & Reward: Entrepreneurship and the Making of Philadelphia for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. He serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mann Music Center and from 2011–16 directed a major archival project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the collections of the region’s many small historical repositories.

Textile Manufacturing and Textile Workers

Textile manufacturing began in Philadelphia soon after the city’s founding in 1682 and grew to be one of its chief industries. By the turn of the twentieth century Philadelphia was one of the world’s greatest textile manufacturing centers, with tens of thousands of workers making a wide range of products. The industry declined dramatically in the late twentieth century, part of a broader deindustrialization of the Philadelphia region at that time.

As early as 1690 three woolen weavers were working in Philadelphia, and in 1691 William Penn (1644–1718) wrote of “very good German linen” being made in Germantown. By the mid-eighteenth century, Philadelphia textile workers were making a variety of products. Andrew Burnaby, an Englishman who visited the city in 1759–60, noted the high quality of thread stockings made in Germantown, that Philadelphia’s Irish settlers made very good linens, and that some wool products had been fabricated in the city. While textile manufacturing increased as Philadelphia’s population grew, it was carried out mostly on a small scale—spinning, weaving, and knitting done primarily by hand in homes and small shops in the colonial period.

The late eighteenth century saw the first attempts at machine-based textile production in factory settings. The April 1775 issue of the Pennsylvania Magazine featured a drawing of a new “Machine for spinning twenty-four threads of cotton or wool at one time.” The magazine noted that the machine, built in Philadelphia by Christopher Tully, was the first one made in America. The United Company of Philadelphia for Promoting American Manufactures, established in 1775, used Tully’s machine in a factory it set up at Ninth and Market Streets and also employed some four hundred local women in hand spinning and weaving. The company’s initiatives were part of an effort by colonial leaders to spur domestic manufacturing in order to compete with England militarily and economically. The United Company ceased operations when the British occupied Philadelphia in September 1777 during the Revolutionary War. One of the members of the company was Samuel Wetherill (1736–1816), an early Philadelphia industrialist who carried on a substantial textile manufacturing business and was a major supplier to the Continental Army. Wetherill later focused on manufacturing chemicals and paint and founded a family-run paint and varnish company that remained in business in Philadelphia into the twentieth century.

Surreptitiously Imported Technology

[caption id="attachment_30766" align="alignright" width="230"]This black and white photograph shows a three story house on Locust Street in Philadelphia. It is made of brick and has eight windows on the front as well as seven on the side. Political economist Tench Coxe lived in this house, located at 413 Locust Street and shown in a 1933 photograph, from 1804–1807. Some historians refer to Coxe as “the father of the American cotton industry” for his efforts to industrialize textile production in the United States. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

After the war, Wetherill was active in another Philadelphia organization that sought to undertake large-scale textile manufacturing, the Pennsylvania Society for the Encouragement of Arts and Domestic Manufactures, established in 1787. The society’s chief spokesman was Philadelphia merchant and economist Tench Coxe (1755-1824), an influential advocate for the development of American manufacturing. The society set up a textile factory in 1788 in the same building the United Company had used, but the factory was destroyed by fire in 1790 and not rebuilt. In 1791, Philadelphia merchant William Pollard (d. 1801), an English immigrant, was awarded the first U.S. patent for a machine for “Spinning and Roving Cotton.” His attempt to set up cotton factories in the city was thwarted by the business failures of his financial backers, however. Much of the technology for these initiatives was imported surreptitiously from England, where the Industrial Revolution was already well underway, but where government authorities, in an effort to protect England’s industries from competition, enforced strict rules against machines or workers with mechanical expertise leaving the country.  

New England was the early leader in the industrialization of the American textile industry in this period. English immigrant Samuel Slater (1768–1835) established the nation’s first successful textile mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, in 1793, using mechanical expertise he had secretly brought to America from England. Slater developed the “factory system” of textile production in the United States, a system that a group of Massachusetts businessmen adapted and expanded in the early nineteenth century with huge factories in Waltham, Lowell, Fall River, and other parts of the state. Unlike the later textile mills of Philadelphia, which were generally smaller and specialized in a particular type of work, the New England mills were large, fully integrated operations that mass-produced materials and housed all aspects of the manufacturing process.

While eighteenth-century attempts at large-scale mechanized textile manufacturing in Philadelphia were largely unsuccessful, textile mills proliferated in the region in the early nineteenth century. England’s restrictions on the transfer of technology to America were increasingly circumvented, and numerous European immigrants with expertise in textile production settled in the region and set up factories. The invention of the cotton gin in Georgia in 1793 made possible the processing of enormous amounts of raw southern cotton for shipment to Philadelphia mills, while the introduction of steam power and rail transportation in the 1820s and 1830s spurred further expansion of the local textile industry. Industrial communities such as Manayunk and Frankford, which had developed on the strength of their early water-powered mills, became major textile centers in the antebellum period, joining Germantown, which had long been a locus of the hand-frame knitting industry, and the emerging industrial powerhouse of Kensington.

Other textile centers developed throughout the greater Delaware Valley region as well. In the early 1830s the Trenton Delaware Falls Company built a canal in Trenton, New Jersey, to provide water power for a number of that city’s textile mills. In Wilmington, Delaware, in 1831, Joseph Bancroft (1803–74) established Bancroft Mills, which grew to be one of the nation’s largest textile manufacturers. Textile mills operated throughout the region in the early nineteenth century, particularly in towns that grew up along rivers and creeks, where water power fueled industries until the introduction of steam engines in the 1820s and 1830s.

Machinery Propels Textile Industry

The United States at this time was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. Philadelphia was a key leader in this development, emerging as one of the most highly industrialized cities in the world, with textile manufacture as one its largest industries. An important group of mechanical engineers and inventors developed new manufacturing technologies in a number of industries in this period, particularly in textiles. While hand weaving and home-based textile production continued, machine-based manufacturing in mills became the foundation of Philadelphia’s rapidly expanding textile industry. By the Civil War the city was one the nation’s premier textile centers.

[caption id="attachment_30770" align="alignright" width="300"]This black and white photograph shows a group of large factories bordering a river. A few houses and trees are visible on hills in the background. One of the factories has an opening in the middle that spills into the river. This 1856 advertising print depicts Joseph Ripka’s mill in Manayunk. Although Ripka found great financial success in the early nineteenth century, working conditions in the mill were notoriously poor. Production at Manayunk ceased during the Civil War. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

The mechanization of textile manufacture gave rise to serious labor issues. Work that had previously been done by hand in homes and shops was now centralized and automated in large mills that employed hundreds or thousands, such as those of William Logan Fisher (1781-1862) in Germantown and Joseph Ripka (1789-1864) in Manayunk. Both men and women comprised the workforces in these mills; women had always played a significant role in textile production. Working conditions in the mills were often miserable. Employees worked twelve- or fourteen-hour days, six days a week, doing monotonous tasks in unhealthy conditions for low pay. Strikes and other labor actions were common, as were aggressive, sometimes violent responses by mill owners. Child labor was another major issue. Children made up a considerable percentage of the textile workforce and were also subjected to terrible working conditions. There were also conflicts between factories and Philadelphia’s many independent handloom operators, who viewed mechanization as a threat to their livelihood. In the 1830s a group of Kensington handloom weavers tried to burn down a Manayunk mill that had installed new labor-saving machinery.

Labor issues notwithstanding, the mid-nineteenth century saw tremendous growth in Philadelphia’s textile industry. This gave rise to a number of local textile family dynasties: the Fisher family with factories in Germantown; the Campbell, Schofield, and Dobson families in East Falls and Manayunk; Ripka’s extended family in Manayunk and along the Pennypack Creek in Northeast Philadelphia; the Bromleys in Kensington and Frankford; the Dolans in North Philadelphia; and others. As titans of the local textile industry, many of these families became part of Philadelphia’s social elite, taking active roles in city business and political affairs. Some of them suffered significantly during the Civil War, when their connections with southern cotton growers were severed by the conflict. While most survived, one who did not was Joseph Ripka, who closed his Manayunk cotton mills during the war and died in 1864.

In 1850, Philadelphia had approximately twelve thousand textile workers. By 1882, it had over sixty thousand, employed by nearly one thousand different firms. Many of these workers were low-skilled immigrants, particularly Irish Catholics who settled in Kensington in large numbers in the mid-nineteenth century and made up a significant percentage of that neighborhood’s mill workers. Religious tensions between Kensington’s Catholic and Protestant textile workers led to Philadelphia’s deadly 1844 nativist riots.

The Appeal of Specialty Companies

[caption id="attachment_30767" align="alignright" width="225"]This photograph shows a page from a book of fabric samples. Each of the twenty samples has a different pattern, but they all have a brown and white color scheme. William Simpson (1853–1942) owned the Washington Print Works, later the Eddystone Manufacturing Company, located on the west side of the Schuylkill River. Simpson exhibited these cotton fabric samples at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

While the city had its share of large mills that employed thousands of workers, the real strength of its textile industry was its many small to midsize specialty firms. Textile products made in Philadelphia often went through a multi-site process in which different companies did different types of work. Textile fibers were spun in one factory, woven in another, dyed in a third, and finished in a final one. This interconnected network of smaller, specialized textile firms was a defining characteristic of Philadelphia’s textile industry in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Another key aspect of Philadelphia’s textile industry was the great variety of products it generated. Whereas other major American textile centers usually focused on a single product, Philadelphia’s textile sector produced a wide range of materials. The 1912 book Manufacturing in Philadelphia, 1683–1912, listed among the city’s textile products carpets, cordage, jute, linen goods, nets and seines, cotton goods including small cotton wares, hosiery and knit goods, shoddy (a recycled wool product), silk fabrics, woolen and worsted products, wool pulling and wool scouring, felt goods, wool hats, and fur felt hats. 

Of the many areas of the city where these products were made, the largest by far was Kensington, the sprawling industrial neighborhood to the northeast of Center City.  Home to hundreds of textile mills, large and small, and a vast, primarily immigrant workforce, Kensington boasted one of the greatest concentrations of textile activity in the world. By 1910 there were four hundred textile firms employing thirty thousand workers in Kensington. Manufacturing in Philadelphia, 1683–1912, noted that from the tower of the Bromley Mill in Kensington there were more textile mills within the range of vision than in any other city in the world.

Labor strife continued in Philadelphia’s textile industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as mill owners periodically cut wages or work hours in response to changing economic conditions and workers responded with strikes and other actions. The Knights of Labor, which began in Philadelphia in 1869 as a secret society of city garment workers and grew into a huge nationwide labor organization, organized several strikes in Philadelphia in the late nineteenth century. There were major strikes in the early years of the twenty-first century as well, including particularly large strikes in 1903 and 1910. The shifting dynamics of power between labor and management was a key factor shaping Philadelphia’s textile industry in this period.

In 1900, a City of Firsts

This was the heyday of textile manufacturing in Philadelphia. The city was first in the nation in 1900 in total value of products in several textile categories: hosiery and knit goods, carpets and rugs, dyeing and finishing, upholstery materials, and recycled wool. In 1909 this value reached $153 million, greater than any city in the world and more than double that of any other American city. Longtime Philadelphia family textile dynasties such as Dobson and Bromley employed thousands of workers, while hundreds of smaller companies provided specialty services. The Great Depression of the 1930s curtailed the industry significantly and led to the decline of some of the city’s major textile companies, but many survived and several important new ones were established.

[caption id="attachment_30768" align="alignright" width="300"]This black and white photograph shows a worker fixing spinning machines in a textile factory. His sleeves are rolled up as he replaces large spools of thread. In this 1936–37 photograph, a factory worker fixes weaving machines at the Millville Manufacturing Company of Millville, New Jersey. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

While traditional textile manufacturing continued in Philadelphia, firms elsewhere in the region developed new types of materials in the early twentieth century. In 1908 immigrant English businessman Samuel Agar Salvage (1876–1946) founded the American Viscose Corporation to make rayon, a type of artificial silk. In 1911 he built a large plant in Marcus Hook, Delaware County, to make the product. He also built a planned English-style worker community, known as Viscose Village, for his employees. In Wilmington, Delaware, the DuPont Company transformed the textile industry with the introduction of synthetic fibers in the 1930s and 1940s. DuPont-developed products such nylon, Orlon, and later Dacron revolutionized how textiles were made and used in the mid-twentieth century. Some of these products were manufactured in DuPont plants in Delaware, but many were made in company plants in other parts of the nation.

Philadelphia’s textile industry remained strong through the mid-twentieth century, but, like much of the city’s industrial sector, it declined significantly in the post–World War II period. A number of economic and social factors—cheaper labor and energy costs in other parts of the nation or world, competition from producers of lower-cost products, changing urban demographics—led to most Philadelphia textile factories closing or moving out of the city in the latter part of the century. Some stayed local, however; scores of mills transferred operations to surrounding counties, especially in expanding areas of South Jersey.

By the early twenty-first century, Philadelphia’s textile industry was comprised of mostly small niche firms making specialized products for well-defined markets. While overall, the sector operated on a fraction of its massive early twentieth-century scale, about 150 textile manufacturers operated in the city in the mid-2010s. These included firms such as Ehmke Manufacturing Company in Juniata, which made fabric products for the defense industry; Boathouse Sports, also in Juniata, maker of specialized sports apparel; Grip-Flex Corporation in Port Richmond, which made braided cords and uniform trimmings; and Humphrys Textile Products in Kingsessing, makers of industrial tarps and canvas. These and other local companies continued Philadelphia’s longstanding textile manufacturing tradition, a tradition that dated to the late seventeenth century and brought the city international recognition as one of the greatest manufacturing centers in the world.

Jack McCarthy is an archivist and historian who specializes in three areas of Philadelphia history: music, business and industry, and Northeast Philadelphia. He regularly writes, lectures, and gives tours on these subjects. His book In the Cradle of Industry and Liberty: A History of Manufacturing in Philadelphia was published in 2016 and he curated the 2017–18 exhibit Risk & Reward: Entrepreneurship and the Making of Philadelphia for the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. He serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and Mann Music Center and from 2011–16 directed a major archival project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the collections of the region’s many small historical repositories.

Rock Music and Culture (Late 1960s to Present)

Although Philadelphia was a national trendsetter in rock and roll in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it lost its preeminence in the mid-1960s as tastes changed and the music moved in new directions. While a new home-grown style of African American soul music emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s that once again put Philadelphia at the forefront of popular music, the city’s rock-and-roll scene took on a different identity. The earlier, simpler rock-and-roll style that brought Philadelphia prominence in the late 1950s evolved a decade later into a hard-driving, experimental type of music. In Philadelphia and other cities, rock and roll morphed into “rock”—psychedelic rock, progressive rock, hard rock—and a new underground culture developed around it.

The new music took shape in clubs and coffeehouses, including the Trauma on Arch Street, the 2nd Fret on Sansom Street near Rittenhouse Square, and the Kaleidoscope in Manayunk, but the focal point of the emerging culture was the Electric Factory, a rock club that opened in February 1968 at Twenty-Second and Arch Streets. Owned by local club proprietors the Spivack brothers—Herb (b. 1932), Jerry (1929-84), and Allen (b. 1938), and their partner for a brief time, Shelley Kaplan (1939-2016)—and managed by young promoter Larry Magid (b. 1942), in the late 1960s the Electric Factory featured groups such as the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin (1943–70), Jimi Hendrix (1942–70), the Who, and Pink Floyd. In addition to headlining national and international rock artists, the club usually had a local act on each bill. Groups from Philadelphia’s underground rock scene appeared frequently, including the American Dream, Mandrake Memorial, Elizabeth, Edison Electric, Woody’s Truck Stop, Sweet Stavin Chain, and Nazz. The leader of Nazz, Upper Darby native Todd Rundgren (b. 1948), later achieved fame as a solo artist.  

The Electric Factory lasted less than three years, closing in late 1970, but it gave birth to Electric Factory Concerts, which became one of the premier rock-concert promotion companies in the nation. Magid and the Spivack brothers continued to run the company, with Magid, who was made a full partner in 1969, eventually taking on primary management responsibilities. Rock music grew to be big business in the 1970s; groups that played to twenty-five hundred at the Electric Factory in the late 1960s could a few years later play to twenty thousand at the Spectrum, the South Philadelphia sports arena that opened in 1967 and served as the region’s main large-scale rock concert venue for many years. This was the beginning of “arena rock.” With a large and passionate fan base and Electric Factory Concerts booking the acts, the Spectrum became an important stop on the big-time rock concert circuit.

Rise of Rock Festivals

[caption id="attachment_28982" align="alignright" width="200"] The Tower Theater in Upper Darby, built in 1927, was as one of Upper Darby’s first movie theaters, but in time it became a routine venue for rock-and-roll artists. (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

In the late 1960s, rock festivals also came into vogue. Electric Factory Concerts sponsored several Quaker City Rock Festivals at the Spectrum and in the summers presented “Be-Ins” at Belmont Plateau in Fairmount Park. These free outdoor events offered music, food, and vendors. In early August 1969 Electric Factory Concerts produced the Atlantic City Pop Festival, a major three-day rock festival at the Atlantic City Race Course that featured dozens of artists and drew over one hundred thousand people. The Atlantic City Pop Festival preceded the more famous Woodstock festival in upstate New York by two weeks and featured many of the same performers.

While major rock acts played the Spectrum in the 1970s and 1980s, many types of venues, large and small, offered rock music throughout the Philadelphia region. Rock moved out of the underground and into the mainstream in this period and could be heard everywhere from corner bars to midsize clubs to movie theaters and vaudeville houses that were converted into concert halls. Venues converted for rock concerts included the TLA and Trocadero in downtown Philadelphia, the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, and, somewhat later, the Keswick Theatre in Glenside. Ripley’s on South Street and the Chestnut Cabaret in West Philadelphia were popular midsize rock clubs, while the Empire Rock Club in Northeast Philadelphia became an important large venue for heavy metal and glam rock in the 1980s. J.C. Dobbs and the Khyber Pass, small downtown rock clubs, achieved legendary status in the 1970s and 1980s as places where both local acts and emerging national and international artists could get a start and cultivate a following. Another venue, the Hot Club, featured punk and new wave rock. For ten years beginning in 1972 the Electric Factory team operated the Bijou Café, a 275-seat downtown venue that featured rock music, along with folk, jazz, and comedy, in a more sophisticated club setting. The Main Point, the region’s premier folk club that opened in Bryn Mawr in 1964, often featured rock and folk rock artists in the 1970s before closing in 1981.

[caption id="attachment_29058" align="alignright" width="241"]Photo of crowd near stage watching Bruce Springsteen perform. Bruce Springsteen performed at Citizens Bank Park, home of the Phillies, in September 2016. The show was Springsteen's longest-running concert performed in the United States, lasting 4 hours, 3 minutes and 43 seconds. (Photograph by Donald D. Groff for The Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia)[/caption]

Out of this dynamic environment came a number of local rock artists who achieved national success in the 1970s and 1980s, including Hall & Oates, the Hooters, George Thorogood (b. 1950) & the Delaware Destroyers, Robert Hazard (1948–2008) & the Heroes, Cinderella, Tommy Conwell (b. 1962) & the Young Rumblers, Pretty Poison, and the Dead Milkmen, the latter Philadelphia’s best-known punk rock group. Artists who enjoyed strong local followings but whose popularity did not extend much beyond the Philadelphia region included the A’s, Beru Revue, Johnny’s Dance Band, Kenn Kweder (b. 1952), the Alan Mann (1954–87) Band, and the Vels. Emerging rock stars from nearby areas who had their first significant success in Philadelphia or whose careers received a major early boost in the city included Billy Joel (b. 1949) and Bruce Springsteen (b. 1949), while British artists David Bowie (1947–2016), Elton John (b. 1947), and the group Yes achieved early career success in Philadelphia as well. Local rock radio stations WMMR, WIOQ, and WYSP promoted these artists and played a key role in the city’s flourishing rock scene, particularly WMMR, the preeminent Philadelphia rock station in the 1970s and 1980s.

Rock Diversifies

There was no characteristic “Philadelphia sound” of rock music in this period, as there was with the city’s soul music or as there had been a decade earlier when Philadelphia was a national trendsetter in rock and roll. Rock music had diversified into a wide range of styles: progressive and “art” rock, heavy metal, glam, dance and pop rock, funk rock, folk rock, country rock and rockabilly, blues-based rock and roll, punk and new wave, reggae and ska rock. All of these styles became part of the Philadelphia rock scene to some degree. Some groups specialized in a particular style while others incorporated elements of several. Unlike other cities—San Francisco and the psychedelic sound, Los Angeles and folk and country rock, Seattle and grunge rock—Philadelphia after the mid-1960s did not produce a high-profile group of artists identified with a particular rock style.

[caption id="attachment_28980" align="alignright" width="248"] With the continued popularity of music festivals such as Made In America—a two-day festival held each Labor Day weekend since 2012 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway--fans of many tastes gather to watch popular artists perform rock, hip-hop, R&B, and Latin sounds, and more. (Photograph by A. Ricketts for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

In the late 1970s, arena rock gave way to stadium rock, as venues and audiences grew even larger. Philadelphia’s two largest stadiums, John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Veterans Stadiums, hosted a number of large-scale rock concerts promoted by Electric Factory Concerts. The biggest by far was Live Aid, a benefit to fight world hunger, held on July 13, 1985, at JFK Stadium, with a simultaneous concert at Wembley Stadium in London. Some 100,000 attendees in Philadelphia heard dozens of the biggest names in rock while a worldwide audience of almost two billion watched a TV simulcast of the concerts. The event was reprised twenty years later when Philadelphia and several other cities worldwide hosted Live 8 concerts on July 2, 2005. Philadelphia’s Live 8 concert took place on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which became the main site for the city’s large-scale outdoor music festivals.

Several midsize rock venues opened and closed throughout the region in the 1980s and 1990s, while small clubs and local bars continued to serve as vital outlets for the music. New concert promoters also entered the business, challenging the primacy of Electric Factory Concerts. In 1995 Larry Magid and his partner Allen Spivak opened a second Electric Factory, a rock club in Northern Liberties similar in size to their original 1960s venue. In 2000, while keeping their namesake club, they sold Electric Factory Concerts to a conglomerate concert promotion company that eventually became Live Nation Entertainment. In 2015 Live Nation opened Fillmore Philadelphia, yet another major rock club, not far from the second Electric Factory.

These larger clubs were key venues in presenting established and emerging rock artists to Philadelphia audiences in the early twenty-first century, as were long-running theaters such as the TLA, Trocadero, and Keswick. Major rock concerts took place at the Wells Fargo Center, the sports arena that opened in 1996 to replace the Spectrum (which continued hosting rock concerts until it was demolished in 2011), and mega concerts with top-tier rock artists were staged at Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park, the football and baseball stadiums that replaced Veterans Stadium in the early 2000s. Large outdoor venues that hosted rock concerts have included the Mann Music Center, which opened in 1976 in Fairmount Park, and the BB&T Pavilion, which opened in 1995 in Camden, New Jersey. Outdoor festivals, held primarily on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway or Penn’s Landing, offered yet another setting in which to hear rock music in Philadelphia.

From corner bars to stadium mega concerts, Philadelphia remained a vital center for rock music in the early twenty-first century. It also continued to be a fertile training ground for young rock musicians, regularly producing artists who contributed to the vibrant local rock music scene and in many cases went on to national and international fame.

Jack McCarthy is a music historian who regularly writes, lectures, and gives walking tours on Philadelphia music history. A certified archivist, he recently directed a major project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focusing on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical repositories. Jack serves as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Mann Music Center and worked on the 2014 radio documentary Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio. He gave several presentations and helped produce the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s 2016 Philadelphia music series, “Memories & Melodies.”

Opera and Opera Houses

Opera has played an important role in Philadelphia arts and entertainment since the mid-eighteenth century. The city has long been a key center for opera and holds several important distinctions in opera history, including being the site of the first serious opera performances in America, birthplace of the first major American opera composer, and home to the nation’s oldest continuously operating opera house.

The term “opera” has been used to denote several types of musical theater in America over the centuries: grand or serious opera, ballad opera, operetta, and even Ethiopian opera, the latter another name for blackface minstrelsy. With some notable exceptions, grand opera—the type of large-scale musical theater production that has generally come to define to the term “opera”—was rarely performed in America until the 1820s.

[caption id="attachment_27912" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white illustration of the Southwark Theater The Southwark Theatre, built in 1766, was the first permanent theater in the American colonies. An English troupe, the Hallam company, built the venue and performed plays and ballad operas there. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The most popular form of musical theater in early America was ballad opera. An English form of entertainment that was similar to musical comedy, ballad operas were lighthearted plays with satirical songs and dances inserted, usually performed as “after pieces” following a dramatic play. The Beggar’s Opera, the best-known ballad opera of the eighteenth century, was probably on the bill in the first documented theater performances in Philadelphia, given by a traveling English troupe in January 1749 in a converted warehouse on the Delaware River near Pine Street.

In April 1754, another English theater troupe, the Hallam company, began giving plays and ballad operas in the same warehouse and then in 1759 erected a temporary theater on the southwest corner of Cedar (later South) and Hancock Streets, between Front and Second Streets. In 1766 the Hallam company built the Southwark Theatre, the first permanent theater building in America, on Cedar Street west of Fourth Street (later the southwest corner of South and Leithgow Streets). Cedar Street was then the southern boundary of the city of Philadelphia and the theater was deliberately built on the south side of the street, just outside the city limits and beyond the jurisdiction of conservative Quakers and city officials opposed to theater on moral grounds. The Southwark Theatre was the primary venue for theater and ballad opera in Philadelphia until the mid-1790s.

Chestnut Street Theatre

[caption id="attachment_27956" align="alignright" width="300"]A color illustration of the second Chestnut Street Theater, a large white building in the Greek Revival style. Philadelphia’s first dedicated opera venue was the Chestnut Street Theater, opened in 1794 by actor Thomas Wignall and lyricist Alexander Reinagle. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

In 1793, two immigrant English impresarios, actor Thomas Wignell (1753–1803) and musician Alexander Reinagle (1756–1809), built the Chestnut Street Theatre on the north side of Chestnut Street west of Sixth Street, although its opening was delayed until the next year after yellow fever struck the city. The nation’s most elaborate theater at the time, the Chestnut Street Theatre became a major center for opera. Ballad operas still predominated in this period, usually productions written in England and adapted for American tastes. Benjamin Carr (1768-1831), an English musician who settled in Philadelphia in 1797 and became a prominent performer, composer, and music publisher, wrote The Archers in 1796, the first musical drama to be written and professionally performed in the United States. Carr and Reinagle were prolific Philadelphia composers whose ballad operas and other compositions were performed frequently in the city in the federal period.

While ballad operas were the usual fare in eighteenth-century Philadelphia, there were occasional musical theater productions of a more serious nature, including performances that represented significant milestones in American opera history. In early 1757 the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) gave several performances of the musical drama The Masque of Alfred by English composer Thomas Arne (1710–78), as adapted and directed by college provost William Smith (1727–1803) and performed by his students in the College Hall at the southwest corner of Fourth and Arch Streets. A dramatic production that integrated acting, music, scenery, and costumes, some historians consider The Masque of Alfred the first presentation of a serious opera in America. One of the student performers, Francis Hopkinson (1737–91), later became a key figure in Philadelphia’s musical life, as well as an important political leader and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His oratorical work, The Temple of Minerva, was given an elaborate performance in Philadelphia in December 1781 in celebration of America’s alliance with France in the Revolutionary War. Featuring music and dramatic acting to a Hopkinson libretto that was sung throughout (with no spoken dialogue), The Temple of Minerva has been called the first grand opera in America.

Their significance notwithstanding, The Masque of Alfred and The Temple of Minerva were isolated dramatic musical presentations; they were not part of a broader trend toward serious or grand opera, which did not come to Philadelphia on a regular basis until the 1820s. Grand opera, characterized by large casts and orchestras, lavish stage effects, plots based on dramatic or historic themes, and a multi-act libretto sung throughout, originated in Italy in the late sixteenth century and gradually spread to other parts of Europe. Lorenzo Da Ponte (1749–1838), the Italian librettist who wrote the librettos for several of the best-known operas by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91), moved to the United States in 1805 and lived in Philadelphia for a period in the 1810s. Da Ponte lamented the predominance of English ballad opera in the city, and nation, and in later years actively worked to bring grand opera to America.

The earliest attempt at true European grand opera in Philadelphia was the December 1818 production at the Chestnut Street Theatre of The Libertine, an English adaption of Mozart and Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni. Such adaptations—with librettos translated into English—were common in early nineteenth-century America. The Libertine proved very popular in Philadelphia; after the Chestnut Street Theatre burned down in March 1820 and was being rebuilt, The Libertine was performed several times at the Walnut Street Theatre, which was built as a circus at the northeast corner of Ninth and Walnut Streets in 1809 and converted to a theater three years later. Primarily a venue for plays, the Walnut Street Theatre also hosted some grand opera in the nineteenth century.

Musical Fund Hall

In addition to the Walnut and Chestnut Street Theatres (the latter having reopened on the same site in December 1822), several other venues presented opera in antebellum Philadelphia. Musical Fund Hall, built by the Musical Fund Society of Philadelphia in 1824 on Locust Street west of Eighth Street, was primarily a hall for symphonic concerts and recitals, but occasionally presented grand opera, including the American premiere of Mozart’s The Magic Flute in February 1841. Likewise, the Arch Street Theatre, built in 1828 on the north side of Arch Street west of Sixth Street, was mainly a venue for plays, but also hosted opera performances. The National Theatre, which opened on Chestnut Street east of Ninth Street in 1840, and P. T. Barnum’s Museum, which opened two blocks away at the southeast corner of Seventh and Chestnut Streets in 1849, both presented operas for a brief period before burning down, the latter in 1851 and the former in 1854. The Chestnut, Walnut, and Arch Street theaters remained the primary opera venues in Philadelphia for most of the antebellum era.

The operas presented at these theaters in the 1820s through 1850s were a mix of productions by local resident companies and performances by touring troupes from Europe and New Orleans, the latter the first American city in which grand opera gained a foothold. Grand opera gradually replaced ballad opera in popularity in this period, with the latter largely disappearing by midcentury. From 1827 to 1833, John Davis (1773–1839), a French-born New Orleans opera impresario, brought his company to Philadelphia and other northern cities each summer, presenting French opera in French. In the 1830s, Italian troupes, some managed by Da Ponte, began visiting Philadelphia, while local companies began presenting European operas in their original languages. By this time, Philadelphians could hear grand opera at several local venues on a fairly regular basis.

Americans generally looked to Europe for art music in this period, but in 1845 Philadelphia composer William Henry Fry (1811–64) and his brother Joseph (1812–65), a librettist, produced Leonora, the first true grand opera written by an American to be performed. Leonora premiered on June 4, 1845, at the Chestnut Street Theatre and had some fifteen subsequent performances in its initial run. It was produced several times at the Walnut Street Theatre in 1846 and a few times in New York in 1858, but eventually fell out of favor. William Henry Fry, who was also a journalist and music critic, was an outspoken advocate for American music at this time.

Academy of Music Opens, 1857

[caption id="attachment_27908" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of the interior of the Academy of Music showing stage, proscenium, and audience seated under a large chandelier. The Academy of Music’s ornate interior was modeled on La Scala Opera House in Milan, Italy. (Photograph by B. Krist for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

In the early 1850s local civic and cultural leaders began planning a new world-class opera house for Philadelphia. Construction began in 1855 on the American Academy of Music, as it was originally called, at the southwest corner of Broad and Locust Streets. Later shortened to Academy of Music, the building was modeled on the famed La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy, and when it opened on January 26, 1857, it was the largest and most ornate opera house in the city and one of the finest in the nation. Original plans for an opera training academy to be housed in the building were never realized. The first complete opera performance in the Academy of Music was Il Trovatore by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) on February 25, 1857, an opera that had its American premiere at the Walnut Street Theatre the previous year. The Academy of Music immediately became the center of opera in Philadelphia, a distinction it never lost, and in the early twenty-first century remained the oldest continuously operating opera house in the United States.

As grand opera grew increasingly popular in the late nineteenth century, new opera houses were built throughout Philadelphia to accommodate the expanding audience. The Chestnut Street Theatre burned down again in 1855 and was replaced by a third theater of that name in 1863, built on the north side of Chestnut Street west of Twelfth Street. Two new opera houses were built in 1870: the Arch Street Opera House on the north side of Arch Street just west of Tenth Street and the Chestnut Street Opera House on the north side of Chestnut Street west of Tenth Street. (Both Arch and Chestnut streets had separate venues called “theatre” and “opera house” at this time.) During this period, additional opera houses opened as opera spread throughout the region. In West Chester, Pennsylvania, Horticultural Hall (built in 1848) became an opera house in 1869. In Wilmington, Delaware, the Masonic Hall and Grand Theater opened in 1871 as a venue for opera and other entertainment. (Later renamed the Grand Opera House, the theater reopened as a performance venue in the 1970s.)

[caption id="attachment_27910" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white photograph of a large opera house with a billboard-style sign above reading The Met Oscar Hammerstein I, grandfather of the Broadway lyricist, opened the Metropolitan Opera House on North Broad Street in 1908. Originally called the Philadelphia Opera House, it was renamed after Hammerstein sold it to New York City’s Metropolitan Opera, which performed there until 1920. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

In Philadelphia, North Broad Street became an important corridor for grand opera in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century with the construction of two major opera houses. In 1888 beer brewing magnate John Betz (1831–1908) built the Betz Germania Opera House at the southwest corner of Broad Street and Montgomery Avenue, and in 1908 opera impresario Oscar Hammerstein I (1846–1919) built the huge Philadelphia Opera House at the southwest corner of Broad and Poplar Streets. Both venues initially had resident opera companies, but neither company lasted very long. The Metropolitan Opera of New York City, which had been performing in Philadelphia since the 1880s, took over the Philadelphia Opera House, changed its name to the Metropolitan Opera House, and gave regular performances there from 1910 to 1920, after which it returned to the Academy of Music. In 1931 the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company gave the high-profile American premiere of the modern opera Wozzeck by Austrian composer Alan Berg (1885–1935) in the Metropolitan Opera House, with Philadelphia Orchestra music director Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977) conducting.

Theaters were also built for the various types of vernacular musical theater popular in Philadelphia from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century, such as minstrelsy, vaudeville, burlesque, and ethnic theater. While these “low brow” types of entertainment generally aimed for a different audience than grand opera, their venues were sometimes called “opera houses.” Sanford’s Opera House, later known as the Eleventh Street Opera House, located on the east side of Eleventh Street just below Market Street, was a popular minstrel hall in this period. Sometimes vaudeville houses hosted grand opera as well; the local vaudeville houses of national vaudeville impresario Benjamin Franklin Keith (1846–1914) hosted grand opera on occasion.

The Rise of Operetta

[caption id="attachment_27909" align="alignright" width="300"]a black and white photograph of four costumed opera perfomers, two male and two female. The males are dressed in suits of armor and hold swords. They stand on either side of the women who are also in medieval dress. The Savoy Opera Company was formed in 1901 to perform the operettas of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. As of 2017, the Savoy Opera Company was still active and was the oldest opera company in the world dedicated to performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s works. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The late nineteenth century saw the rise of operetta, a lighter, simpler form of musical theater that aimed primarily to amuse (as opposed to the loftier aspirations of grand opera). Also known as light or comic opera, operetta occupied a place between grand opera and the more respectable forms of vernacular musical theater. The Operatic Society of Philadelphia, an amateur group that operated from 1906 to 1934, performed mostly operetta, although it also occasionally offered grand opera. The Savoy Company, founded in Philadelphia in 1901 to perform the English operettas of the famed composing team of librettist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900), remained active in the early twenty-first century as the oldest amateur theater company in the world dedicated solely to Gilbert and Sullivan works.

A number of new Philadelphia grand opera companies formed in the early twentieth century, while outside companies maintained a presence in the city. The Metropolitan Opera of New York City continued its regular weekly performances in Philadelphia and the new Philadelphia Chicago Grand Opera Company split time between the two cities from 1910 to 1914. Both companies used the Metropolitan Opera House. Among the local opera companies established in the first decades of the twentieth century were three different ones called Philadelphia Grand Opera Company (operating at various times from 1916 to 1932), the Pennsylvania Grand Opera Company, Philadelphia Civic Opera Company, and Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company. Many were short-lived groups, lasting from one to six seasons before folding. They performed mostly in the Academy of Music, although some used the Metropolitan Opera House. Many ceased operations during the Great Depression of the 1930s. To fill the void left by their demise, the Philadelphia Orchestra offered a series of ten grand operas in the Academy of Music as part of its 1934–35 concert season.

[caption id="attachment_27906" align="alignright" width="237"]a black and white photograph of a costumed male opera singer practicing in the mirror. The photograph is taken from behind the actor so only his reflection is visible. La Scala Opera Company was one of several that merged to form the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company in 1954. This 1947 photograph shows baritone Enzo Mascherini of La Scala rehearsing in his dressing room before a performance. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The mid to late twentieth century was a period of consolidation for Philadelphia opera companies, as well as overall contraction of opera activity in the city. The Metropolitan Opera of New York City discontinued its regular Philadelphia appearances in 1961. Philadelphia La Scala Opera Company (1925–54) and Philadelphia Civic Grand Opera Company (1950-54) merged in 1954 to form the new Philadelphia Grand Opera Company. In 1975 Philadelphia Grand Opera Company merged with Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company (1958–74) to form Opera Company of Philadelphia. Most of these local companies were based in the Academy of Music (the Metropolitan Opera House had become largely inactive as a music venue by the late twentieth century), although another company, Pennsylvania Opera Theatre (1975–93), was based primarily in the Merriam Theatre on South Broad Street (originally built in 1918 as the Schubert Theatre to host Broadway shows) and in the early 1980s presented some operas in the former Arch Street Opera House, which had been renamed the Trocadero.

In 2013 the Opera Company of Philadelphia, the city’s only remaining grand opera company, changed its name to Opera Philadelphia. Based in the Academy of Music, Opera Philadelphia presented both traditional grand opera as well as new operatic works, some commissioned by the company. Curtis Opera Theatre, a program of the Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia’s world-renowned music conservatory, also presented grand opera in this period, continuing a Curtis tradition of public opera performance begun in 1929. Both the Curtis Institute and the Academy of Vocal Arts, a vocal training school founded in Philadelphia in 1934, served as premiere training grounds for opera singers in the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

Changing musical tastes and competition with other types of entertainment forced the majority of Philadelphia’s opera houses to close or be converted to other uses, musical or otherwise. Most were eventually demolished. By the early twenty-first century, only three remained: Academy of Music, Arch Street Opera House/Trocadero, and Metropolitan Opera House. Of these, only the Academy of Music was still an opera house.

From its beginnings in Philadelphia in the mid-eighteenth century, opera grew to be an important part of the city’s cultural life. Its popularity ebbed and flowed as tastes changed over time, but it remained a vital art form. In the early twenty-first century, Philadelphia audiences continued to avail themselves of performances from both the traditional opera repertoire as well as new works in the still evolving genre.


Jack McCarthy is a music historian who regularly writes, lectures, and gives walking tours on Philadelphia music history. A certified archivist, he directed a project for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania focused on the archival collections of the region’s many small historical repositories. He has served as consulting archivist for the Philadelphia Orchestra and the 2014 radio documentary Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio and gave several presentations and helped produce the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s 2016 Philadelphia music series “Memories & Melodies.”

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