Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Twentieth Century after 1945

In the second half of the twentieth century, an era of social change, manufacturing in the Philadelphia region plummeted as northeastern states lost factories and jobs to the Sunbelt and international competitors. Philadelphia’s longtime major industry, textiles, also was hit by product changes, for example the change in consumer preferences for nylon hosiery rather than silk and for carpets made from nylon or other synthetics instead of wool. By the end of the century, most of the factories in Philadelphia, Camden, and other cities stood vacant. Shipyards closed. Instead, the region’s major employers included health care, pharmaceuticals, business services, education, and government.

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As many middle-class residents, primarily whites, moved to postwar suburbs, civic leaders and urban planners pursued projects to stabilize and revitalize cities. Initiatives in Philadelphia included the Greater Philadelphia Movement (formed in 1948) and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (formed 1958). Urban redevelopment projects sought to clear slum areas and create a central city more attractive to the white middle class. Recognizing that the region’s common challenges required regional action, Pennsylvania and New Jersey formed alliances such as the Delaware Valley Urban Area Compact (1965-66) and Delaware Valley Planning Commission to address issues such as transportation, environmental quality, and economic development.

Topics: Twentieth Century after 1945

Gallery: Twentieth Century after 1945

Rocky on the Parkway
Rocky on the Parkway

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Rocky).

Morris Animal Refuge
Morris Animal Refuge

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries (Explore in Animal Protection).

Cecil B. Moore and Dr. King
Cecil B. Moore and Dr. King

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries (Explore in African American Migration).

City Avenue, 1988
City Avenue, 1988

John J. Wilcox LGBT Archives of Philadelphia (Explore in AIDS and Activism).

American Bandstand
American Bandstand

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries (Explore in American Bandstand).

Edmund Bacon
Edmund Bacon

Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries (Explore in Bicentennial (1976) ).

Behind the Grill
Behind the Grill

Visit Philadelphia (Explore in Cheesesteaks).

Lee Dexter
Lee Dexter

Channel 3 [KYW] Children’s Programming Art (Explore in Children’s Television)

The Italian Market, 1954
The Italian Market, 1954

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Italian Market).

Phillie Phanatic
Phillie Phanatic

Visit Philadelphia (Explore in Sports Mascots).

Parading for the Constitution
Parading for the Constitution

PhillyHistory.org (Explore in Constitution Commemorations).

Timeline: Twentieth Century after 1945

Expressways enable commuters to reach new housing developments in Northeast Philadelphia (shown here) and counties of southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Delaware. With suburbanization and industrial decline, cities lose population and jobs.

1940-70s: In second wave of the Great Migration, Philadelphia’s African American population more than doubles in the decades following Second World War.

1947-51: Reformers challenge Republican Party’s hold on Philadelphia government, leading to 1951 approval of new City Charter and election of Joseph S. Clark as mayor, first Democrat to hold the office since 1884. He is succeeded by Richardson Dilworth (1956-62) and James Tate (1962-72).

1947 and 1956: Philadelphia Warriors are NBA champions.

Image credit: PhillyHistory.org

1948: Democrats, Republicans, and Progressives all hold national conventions in Philadelphia.

1949-70: As director of City Planning Commission, Edmund Bacon oversees projects including Penn Center, Independence Mall, and Society Hill.

1950-58: Construction of Schuylkill Expressway.

1950s: Textile industry hit by product changes, from silk and wool to synthetics; clothing industry also begins decline.

1950s-1970s: Local television stations broadcast original children’s shows like Bertie the Bunyip (shown here, 1965-75).

1950s-1980: Philadelphia’s Puerto Rican population expands from 3,000 to nearly 55,000.

1951: Delaware Memorial Bridge connects Delaware and South Jersey.

Image credit: Channel 3 (KYW) Children’s Programming Art

1952: Development of Levittown in Lower Bucks County begins as U.S. Steel opens its Fairless Works. In 1954, William Levitt begins similar residential development in Willingboro, New Jersey (formerly the rural community of Wellingborough).

October 6, 1952: DJ Bob Horn hosts a television show called Bandstand  on WFIL-TV. When he is replaced in 1956 by Dick Clark, the show is renamed American Bandstand. It is broadcast from Philadelphia until 1964.

1953-68: Campaign to desegregate Girard College (shown here in 1966) culminates in victory with Supreme Court decision.

1954-58: With the baby boom and migration to suburbs, public school enrollment in Pennsylvania counties surrounding Philadelphia grows by 18 percent. By 1970, suburban enrollment rises by more than two-thirds.

Image credit: Temple University Libraries

May 16, 1955: Walt Whitman Bridge is second suspension bridge over the Delaware River, and first bridge in U.S. named after a poet.

1956: Delaware River Bridge renamed for Benjamin Franklin on 250th anniversary of his birth.

1959: Percent for Art Program is first in nation to require developers to commission public art.

1959-79: I-95 built through Philadelphia (shown here at Woodhaven in 1971).

1960s: Mount Airy gains recognition as successful, intentionally-integrated neighborhood.

1960-70: In one decade, Camden loses 48 percent of its manufacturing base.

1960s-70s: Fifty-four former students from Philadelphia’s Edison High School die in Vietnam, the most of any high school in the nation.

Image credit: PhillyHistory.org

1960s-80s: Region’s local department stores decline; many are acquired by national chains such as Macy’s.

1960s-90s: Major shipyards close (New York Ship, shown here, in 1967; Penn Ship in 1989; Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1996).

1961-63: Enclosed shopping malls open in Delaware Township, New Jersey (Cherry Hill Mall, 1961) and King of Prussia, Pennsylvania (1963). Plaque at King of Prussia mall entrance: “Dedicated to the American Way of Life in This the Nation’s Most Historic Community.”

1963: First 76ers basketball game (originated as Syracuse Nationals, 1937).

August 28-30, 1964: Tensions between African Americans and police erupt in a riot on Columbia Avenue in North Philadelphia. Riots also occur in Wilmington, 1967-68.

Image credit: National Archives and Record Administration

1965: South Eastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) established.

1965: Sit-ins at Dewey’s restaurant near Rittenhouse Square protest refusal of service to homosexuals. Gay rights demonstrations held at Independence Hall each Fourth of July, 1965-69.

1967: Sixers are NBA champions; first Flyers hockey game.

November 17, 1967: More than 3,000 Philadelphia students walk out of classes to protest discrimination in curriculum and hiring.

1969: Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO) Speedline opens (shown here).

1970-81: The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers strikes six times for improved salaries, benefits, and working conditions, improvements which nearly double the school district’s budget.

Image credit: Photograph by Kristen M. Rigaut

1971-80s: Philadelphia International Records produces “The Sound of Philadelphia.”

August 19-22, 1971: Riot in Camden accelerates departure of whites for the suburbs.

June 11, 1972: Philadelphia’s first Gay Pride Parade draws approximately 10,000 marchers.

1972-80: Frank L. Rizzo is mayor of Philadelphia.

1974 and 1975: Flyers win the Stanley Cup (’74 celebration in South Philadelphia shown here).

1976: Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. Queen Elizabeth presents Liberty Bell replica cast at Whitechapel Bell Foundry.

April 30, 1976: Betsy Ross Bridge opens.

November 1976: Rocky, chronicling life of fictional Kensington boxer Rocky Balboa, opens.

Image credit: PhillyHistory.org

1977: The Reverend Leon Sullivan outlines principles for corporate social responsibility.

1977: The Gallery at Market East, suburban-style shopping mall (shown here), opens at Ninth and Market Streets.

1978: Police confront radical group MOVE in West Philadelphia; one officer dies.

April 25, 1978: Phillie Phanatic debuts.

1979: Independence Hall named UNESCO World Heritage Site.

1979: FBI Abscam operation ends; leads to convictions of six members of Congress, including three from New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the mayor of Camden.

1980-84: William J. Green III is mayor of Philadelphia.

Image credit: Temple University Libraries 

1980: Phillies win the World Series.

1981: Delaware passes Financial Center Development Act; more than thirty banks open offices in Delaware, transform Wilmington skyline.

September 1981: First reported case of AIDS in Philadelphia occurs.

1983: Sixers are NBA champions.

1983-98: Philadelphia loses place as commercial banking center through mergers and acquisitions.

1984: W. Wilson Goode (shown here) becomes Philadelphia’s first African American mayor; serves two terms.

1985: Second police confrontation with radical group MOVE begins with warning, “This is America!” and ends with bombing of neighborhood. Eleven in MOVE compound die.

Image credit: Temple University Libraries

1987: As part of a national focus on conditions in state institutions, Pennhurst State School and Hospital and Philadelphia State Hospital at Byberry are closed.

1987: One Liberty Place breaks tradition that no building should be taller than the William Penn statue atop City Hall.

1987: Constitution bicentennial commemoration.

1990s: South Broad Street arts district (shown here) dubbed “The Avenue of the Arts.”

May 12, 1990: Last automat in area closes.

1992-2000: Edward G. Rendell is mayor of Philadelphia.

1993: Pennsylvania Convention Center opens (expanded, 2011). 

Image credit: G. Widman for Visit Philadelphia

Map: Twentieth Century after 1945

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