Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Twentieth Century to 1945

photograph of the stained glass window of the Victor BuildingOne of the original 1915 stained glass windows of Nipper the dog listening to his master’s voice, the iconic image of the Victor Talking Machine Company and later RCA in North America. (Camden County Historical Society)

Greater Philadelphia, the “Workshop of the World,” felt the impact of national and international events during two world wars and the Great Depression. Although the region’s rate of industrial growth slowed in the first half of the twentieth century, the demands created by war energized manufacturing, particularly in shipyards on both sides of the Delaware River. The textile industry also boomed during the 1920s before being undercut by the onset of the Depression.

By the 1920s, movements of people and industries signaled a new era. The surge of immigration from eastern and southern Europe that had begun in the late nineteenth century came to an end with the First World War and immigration quotas imposed in 1924.  The region did not lack for newcomers, however, as the employment opportunities created during the world wars helped to spur the Great Migration of African Americans from the South. African Americans formed new communities, churches, and cultural institutions in much of West and North Philadelphia, in Camden, and in other cities of the region.

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At the same time, there were signs of a suburbanizing trend in business and industry. Notably, Baldwin Locomotive moved its production lines from Philadelphia to Eddystone, Delaware County, in 1929. Knitting and lace plants opened in the suburbs in the 1920s, some relocating from Philadelphia.  Department stores, the anchors of central business districts, also began to open suburban branch stores. Although an “arsenal for democracy” for World War II, Greater Philadelphia was coming to the end of its industrial prime.

Topics: Twentieth Century to 1945

Gallery: Twentieth Century to 1945

Timeline: Twentieth Century to 1945

Map: Twentieth Century to 1945

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