Nineteenth Century after 1854


The nation celebrated the one-hundredth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876 in Philadelphia with the Centennial Exhibition, the first full-scale world’s fair held in the United States. As the exhibits in Fairmount Park demonstrated, the cause for celebration was not primarily history but industrial progress. In the decades after the Civil War, large-scale industrialization and new waves of immigration produced massive growth in Philadelphia, Camden, and other cities in the region. The region’s major industries included textiles, locomotive manufacturing, shipbuilding, iron and steel production, and sugar refining. With the discovery of petroleum in western Pennsylvania, Philadelphia became an oil storage and refining center.

Away from the noise, pollution, and congestion of industry, new suburban neighborhoods developed along the routes of streetcars and commuter rail lines. Streetcars, introduced in 1858, allowed middle class families to move to streetcar suburbs in West and lower North Philadelphia and in Camden County. Electrification in 1892 further extended the range for commuting. Skilled workers also commuted by ferry from new housing developments in Camden, such as Cramer Hill, to Philadelphia industries. Meanwhile, commuter railroads opened up suburban enclaves for the wealthy west of Philadelphia along the Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad, in Chestnut Hill, and in Camden County, New Jersey, communities such as Merchantville and Collingswood. The railroads and streetcars also provided suburban dwellers with access to thriving central business districts anchored by rail stations, department stores, and concert halls.

As many of the wealthy and middle class left older neighborhoods, new generations of immigrants populated alleys and courts crowded with the region’s oldest housing stock. By the 1890s, slum conditions attracted the attention of reformers who followed British examples to create settlement houses and public bath houses to address the needs of the urban poor.

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Related Reading

Bjelopera, Jerome P. City of Clerks: Office and Sales Workers in Philadelphia, 1870-1920. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2005.

Clark, Dennis. The Irish in Philadelphia: Ten Generations of Urban Experience. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973.

Contosta, David. Suburb in the City: Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, 1850-1990. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1992.

Davis, Allen F. and Mark H. Haller, eds. The Peoples of Philadelphia: A History of Ethnic Groups and Lower-Class Life, 1790-1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973.

Dilworth, Richardson, ed. Social Capital in the City: Community and Civic Life in Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2006.

Gregg, Robert. Sparks from the Anvil of Oppression: Philadelphia’s African Methodists and Southern Migrants, 1890-1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993.

Hepp, John Henry IV. The Middle-Class City: Transforming Space and Time in Philadelphia, 1876-1926. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

Juliani, Richard N. Priest, Parish, and People: Saving the Faith in Philadelphia’s “Little Italy.” South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.

McCaffery, Peter. When Bosses Ruled Philadelphia: The Emergence of the Republican Machine, 1867-1933. University Park, Pa.: Penn State University Press, 1993.

Scranton, Philip. Figured Tapestry: Production, Markets and Power in Philadelphia Textiles, 1885-1941. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
—–. Proprietary Capitalism: The Textile Manufacture at Philadelphia, 1800-1885. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.

Silcox, Harry C. A Place to Live and Work: The Henry Disston Saw Works and the Tacony Community of Philadelphia. University Park, Pa.: Penn State University Press, 1994.

Farley, James J. Making Arms in the Machine Age: Philadelphia’s Frankford Arsenal, 1816-1870. University Park, Pa.: Penn State University Press, 2008.

Gallman, J. Matthew. Mastering Wartime: A Social History of Philadelphia During the Civil War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Lane, Roger. Violent Death in the City: Suicide, Accident, and Murder in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979.

—–. William Dorsey’s Philadelphia & Ours: On the Past and Future of the Black City in America. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Licht, Walter. Getting Work: Philadelphia, 1840-1950. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992.

Rzeznik, Thomas F. Church and Estate: Religion and Wealth in Industrial-Era Philadelphia. University Park, Pa.: Penn State University Press, 2013.

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