Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Levi Fox

Korean War

Although active hostilities during the Korean War lasted for little more than three years (1950-53), the conflict had a lasting impact on the Philadelphia area. The war provided a boost for the shipbuilding industry on both sides of the Delaware River, and military bases played a major role in preparing soldiers and supplies for deployment. The sizable human toll in southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware, however, helped to encourage an anti-war movement in Philadelphia and attempts by students to circumvent the draft. In the aftermath, fatalities also motivated monuments to local citizens who served in the Korean War.

[caption id="attachment_22244" align="alignright" width="275"]A black and white photograph of men standing in formation in the Schuylkill Arsenal The Korean War saw men across the greater Philadelphia region drafted into military service. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The Korean War resulted from conflict that followed the division of the Korean Peninsula after World War II into two political units, north (supported by communist Soviet Union and China) and south (backed by the United States). During the late 1940s, at the same time that similar ideological conflicts led to the “Iron Curtain” dividing Europe, these divisions as well as the Chinese Civil War fostered the advent of the Cold War in East Asia. The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when the North Korean military invaded South Korea, and the internal conflict became international in the fall of 1950 after the United States persuaded the United Nations to send troops to stop the spread of communism by defending the South. While American public opinion supported the Korean War during the early months of the conflict, by January 1951 as the Chinese and North Koreans captured the southern capital, Seoul, for the second time, nearly half of those polled opposed American involvement, and support never fully rebounded.

[caption id="attachment_22243" align="alignright" width="295"]A black and white photograph of the USS Norfolk launching at the New York Shipbuilding Company of Camden New Jersey Local shipyards including the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, shown here, and the Philadelphia Navy Yard joined the Korean War effort, building and repairing navy vessels. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

For Philadelphia and the surrounding region, the onset of the Korean War brought about a spike in local employment. The Philadelphia Navy Yard experienced a temporary upsurge of 3,700 new jobs by the end of 1951, which led to a total workforce of more than 12,500 people. Primarily preparing United Nations ships for service in the Pacific Ocean, Navy Yard workers also modified seaplanes and submarines from World War II with modern technologies. The return of vessels from the front kept Navy Yard workers employed through the mid-1950s. The New York Shipbuilding Corporation in Camden experienced a similar surge in employment for constructing new ships and converting existing vessels.

Military bases in New Jersey, Delaware, and eastern Pennsylvania also played a major role in the Korean War. Soldiers from across the northeastern United States reported to Fort Dix in New Jersey for basic training. During the first two years of the Korean War, jet fighter squadrons trained for combat at Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base, which also became the location for Air Mobility Command support services and strategic aerial defense of Washington, D.C. North of Philadelphia, the United States Naval Air Station at Willow Grove was home to the 111th Attack Wing of the Air National Guard, which trained on bombers such as the B-29 Superfortress before being assigned to the Strategic Air Command and deployed to Korea. The Philadelphia region also felt the human toll of the war. More than six hundred deaths in the war, over one-fourth the total for Pennsylvania, came from Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties. In addition, forty-three Delawareans and nearly eight hundred New Jerseyans died in Korea.

The region’s sizable local sacrifice, along with the presence of a socialist community that had supported Progressive Party candidate Henry Wallace (1888-1965) for president in 1948, helps to explain why Philadelphia became one of the centers of organized protest against the Korean War. The protest movement also drew strength from the longstanding local influence of Quakers and other pacifist denominations, such as the Mennonites, as well as from the large number of universities in the area. Throughout the Korean War the Philadelphia-based Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) counseled young people about their religious rights under the Selective Service System to avoid active combat, a protection not available for politically motivated pacifism. In order to be able to choose their branch of service, such as the Navy or Air Force rather than the Army, many Philadelphia-area college students volunteered to serve in the Korean War rather than wait to be drafted.

Doylestown native James Michener (1907-1997), who covered the war for The Saturday Evening Post, was one of the first people to use the term “Forgotten War” because he believed that by the latter half of the conflict the American public was wholly ignoring Korea. Although armistice negotiations to end the Korean conflict began in mid-1951, they took two years to conclude in part due to disagreements over the repatriation of prisoners of war who claimed that they did not wish to return to the Chinese or North Korean militaries. The war formally ceased on July 27, 1953, with the signing of an armistice ending active hostilities, but no permanent peace treaty was ever negotiated.

[caption id="attachment_22400" align="alignright" width="300"]a color photograph of the Korean War Museum at Penn's Landing Philadelphia's Korean War monument was dedicated in 2002 near Penn's Landing. (Photograph by Levi Fox)[/caption]

Local monuments dedicated to the deceased soldiers of the Korean War dot the landscape of southeastern Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, and northern Delaware. The names of all Delawareans and New Jerseyans who died fighting in Korea are engraved on a wall in New Castle, Delaware, at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Park, dedicated in 1956. Monuments in Coatesville, Doylestown, and Philadelphia all remind residents and visitors of the sacrifices made during the Korean War. The Philadelphia Korean War Memorial at Penn’s Landing, dedicated in 2002, included four pillars containing the names of the war dead from the counties surrounding Philadelphia listed by year and two side walls with images including children, grandparents, nurses, and ministers as well as scenes of combat. Local memorials in southern New Jersey, the New Jersey State Korean War Veterans Memorial in Atlantic City, and museums at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey and Dover Air Force Base in Delaware similarly provided platforms for remembering the lasting impacts of the Korean War on Greater Philadelphia.

Levi Fox is a Ph.D. Candidate in Public History at Temple University and a former Allan F. Davis fellow at the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent. Fox is also a blogger for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center for the Humanities (MARCH) and teaches courses at Temple, Rutgers, and Stockton Universities.

Artifact: Republican Convention Barbie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Artifact: Compass

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Compass used to lay out boundaries for West Jersey, between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and possibly in the City of Philadelphia, c. 1680. (Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, Historical Society of Pennsylvania Collection, transferred from Chicago History Museum, 1981, Photograph by Sara Hawken)

A close examination of the face of this compass demonstrates the great care James Ramsey of Dublin took in crafting a piece that includes 360 lines marking degrees, ordinal as well as cardinal directions, and an elaborate image denoting North.  This careful construction suggests this compass, which was made sometime before 1680, was engineered to the highest scientific standards of the seventeenth century.  In addition to spending hours to make the compass, Ramsey probably would have constructed other pieces of surveying equipment to work in conjunction with the compass, including sight vanes (which look like tiny telescopes) and a protractor.

[caption id="attachment_19712" align="alignright" width="300"]A map of Pennsylvania in 1687 showing land purchases and town and county borders Thomas Holme's 1687 map of Pennsylvania shows tracts surveyed for the first purchasers. A map of Philadelphia is inset in the top center. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

This compass was first used by John Ladd (1657-1740), a Quaker who immigrated to America in the early 1680s, to lay out boundaries for the colony of West Jersey. It was also likely used to help lay out the city of Philadelphia, although documents from that period do not definitely prove it. In 1688, six years after the founding of Philadelphia, William Penn (1644-1718) awarded land to Ladd in return for surveying work done in Philadelphia. However, there is no record that Ladd labored with Surveyor General Thomas Holme (1624-95) on the official land assessment project. Therefore, it seems more likely that this compass was used to lay out individual lots or blocks within Philadelphia than to mark boundaries of the new city. The original borders of the city, from South Street to Vine Street and between the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, remained in effect until the Consolidation Act of 1854, which merged the city with the rest of Philadelphia County.  

This original footprint of Philadelphia, the area that came to be called Center City, was purposefully laid out with straight lines and especially wide avenues dividing the city into quadrants at the intersection of Market Street (initially called High Street, the traditional British term for a town’s main thoroughfare) and Broad Street. Penn, who had lived through the Great Fire of London in September 1666, designed his model city in order to minimize the risk of a conflagration spreading from one Philadelphia neighborhood to the rest. As another fire suppression measure, the original city plan designated five squares as common public spaces in the center of the city (later the site of City Hall) and  in the center of each quadrant  (creating the public spaces later named Franklin Square, Washington Square, Rittenhouse Square, and Logan Circle).

As an especially valuable piece of equipment within the colonies, this compass later passed to Ladd’s son, John Ladd Jr.  It was used again in 1740 to help lay out the temporary boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland, decades before the surveying of the Mason-Dixon Line.  The compass ended up in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society, on loan from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania for an exhibition, but it returned to the HSP in 1981 as a sort of anniversary present just before the three-hundredth anniversary of Philadelphia. The compass came into the collection of the Philadelphia History Museum in 1999 as part of a transfer of more than 10,000 artifacts from the Historical Society.  This compass represents both the conscious creation of early Philadelphia as a green country town and the use of then-modern technologies to re-order the environment.

Text by Levi Fox, a Ph.D. candidate at Temple University.


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