Twentieth Century to 1945


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.

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.

Related Topics





Related Reading

Arnold, Stanley. Building the Beloved Community: Philadelphia’s Interracial Civil Rights Organizations and Race Relations, 1930-1970. Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2014.

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

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.

Henrich, Thomas R. Ships for the Seven Seas: Philadelphia Shipbuilding in the Age of Industrial Capitalism. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

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

Kuklick, Bruce. To Every Thing a Season: Shibe Park and Urban Philadelphia, 1909-1976. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

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

Luconi, Stefano. From Paesani to White Ethnics: The Italian Experience in Philadelphia. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press, 2001.

Lukacs, John. Philadelphia: Patricians and Philistines, 1900-1950. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980.

Masters, Patricia Anne. The Philadelphia Mummers: Building Community Through Play. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2007.

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

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

Scranton, Philip. Figured Tapestry: Production, Markets and Power in Philadelphia Textiles, 1885-1941. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
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.

Related Collections

Connecting the Past with the Present, Building Community, Creating a Legacy