Philadelphia History

Philadelphia (city, United States)

Philadelphia, city (1990 pop. 1,585,577), coextensive with Philadelphia co., SE Pa., on the Delaware River c.100 mi (160 km) upstream at the influx of the Schuylkill River; chartered 1701. It is the fifth largest city in the United States and has been a leading commercial and cultural center since the 18th cent. An important trading and manufacturing hub even before the Revolution, it maintains a diversified industrial base. Chemicals; metal, paper, and plastic products; foods; textiles; apparel; machinery; electrical and electronic products; transportation equipment; scientific instruments; and furniture are among its manufactures. The metropolitan area's newer industries include health-care and biotechnology firms. Its printing and publishing industry is important, and there are major oil refineries. Philadelphia is also a banking center.

Institutions and Landmarks

A nucleus of American culture in colonial times (among its prominent citizens at that time was the scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin), Philadelphia is still the seat of many philosophical, artistic, dramatic, musical, and scientific societies. Among these are the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1805); the Academy of Natural Sciences (1812); the American Philosophical Society (1743); and the Science Museum of the Franklin Institute (1824), which now includes the Benjamin Franklin Memorial (1933), an important unit of which is the Fels Planetarium. In nearby Merion is the Barnes Foundation, with an extraordinary collection of paintings. Musical activities flourish in the city, whose outstanding symphony orchestra plays in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts. In Fairmount Park, the largest city park in the United States, are the Philadelphia Museum of Art, zoological gardens, and many historic monuments and shrines.

Many early historic shrines are also in Independence National Historical Park (est. 1956). Among them are Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed; the Liberty Bell; the neighboring Congress Hall, where Congress met from 1790 to 1800 and where Washington gave his farewell address; and Carpenters' Hall, where the First Continental Congress met. The modern National Constitution Center also is here. Near Elfreth's Alley, a narrow street that has retained its colonial air, is the Betsy Ross House, where, according to one story, the first American flag was made.

City Hall, one of the nation's largest, is a conspicuous building with a tower surmounted by a statue of William Penn. Also of interest are the Rodin Museum; the Gloria Dei (Old Swedes') Church; and Christ Church (begun in 1727), a representative example of Colonial architecture. Edgar Allan Poe's house has also been preserved. The historic 18th-century houses in the Society Hill section are additional tourist attractions, as is the restored Revolutionary War Fort Mifflin.

Philadelphia has over 30 educational institutions, including the Univ. of Pennsylvania, Temple Univ., Drexel Univ., La Salle Univ., Chestnut Hill College, St. Joseph's Univ., Curtis Institute of Music, Thomas Jefferson Univ., the Univ. of the Arts, and Philadelphia Univ. A sports complex in S Philadelpha is home to the National Basketball Association's 76ers, the National Hockey League's Flyers, the National Football League's Eagles, and the National League's Phillies. A casino opened on the Delaware NE of Center City in 2010.

Installations of the U.S. Mint, the Federal Reserve System, and the Internal Revenue Service are in the city. The U.S. Naval Shipyard, once the most prominent of Philadelphia's military installations, was closed in 1995; a commercial shipyard and other businesses are now on the site.


Early History

The site was first occupied by Native Americans. In the 17th cent. there was a Swedish settlement; the land was soon claimed by the Dutch and then contested by the British. William Penn acquired it through a grant from Charles II of England and in 1682 founded Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love," intended as a refuge for the peaceable Quakers—hence the nickname Quaker City. Its commercial, industrial, and cultural growth was rapid, and by 1774 it was second only to London as the largest English-speaking city. It was the seat of the Continental Congress and served as the American capital from 1777 to 1788, except during the British occupation (Oct., 1777–June, 1778) after the battle of Brandywine. It was the capital of the new republic from 1790 to 1800, as well as the state capital (to 1799). The two Banks of the United States (1791–1811; 1816–36) were there (see Bank of the United States). The bank buildings are examples of Greek revival architecture.

Modern Philadelphia

Despite an ambitious program of urban redevelopment initiated in the 1950s, the city experienced the decay of its economic base and a sharp decline in population through subsequent decades. Longstanding tensions erupted in race riots in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner with a political base among the city's working-class whites, was elected mayor. Wilson Goode became Philadelphia's first black mayor in 1983. His administration was shaken by the controversial firebombing of a city block containing the home of an armed organization of black radicals. The decline of the central city was met in part by the construction of new office buildings downtown and development projects on the Delaware River waterfront, but the metropolitan area, long noted for its wealthy and exclusive suburbs (especially along the fabled Main Line), witnessed dramatic growth. Since 1986, however, when developers were first permitted to build higher than Penn's statue atop the city hall, the center city skyline has undergone dramatic changes. The city government came close to bankruptcy in 1990.


See S. B. Warner, Jr., Private City (1968); R. S. Wurman and J. A. Gallery, Man-Made Philadelphia (1972); P. O. Muller et al., Metropolitan Philadelphia (1976); W. W. Cutler III and H. Gillette, Jr., ed., The Divided Metropolis (1980); T. Hershberg, ed., Philadelphia: Work, Space, Family and Group Experience in the Nineteenth Century (1981); A. A. Summers and T. F. Luce, Economic Development within the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area (1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Philadelphia History: Selected full-text books and articles

Philadelphia Divided: Race & Politics in the City of Brotherly Love By James Wolfinger University of North Carolina Press, 2011
The Private City: Philadelphia in Three Periods of Its Growth By Sam Bass Warner Jr University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987 (2nd edition)
Philadelphia: Neighborhoods, Division, and Conflict in a Postindustrial City By Carolyn Adams; David Bartelt; David Elesh; Ira Goldstein; Nancy Kleniewski; William Yancey Temple University Press, 1991
The Turbulent Era: Riot & Disorder in Jacksonian America By Michael Feldberg Oxford University Press, 1980
Librarian’s tip: Especially Chap. 1 "The Philadelphia Native American Riots of 1844: The Kensington Phase" and Chap. 2 "The Philadelphia Riots of 1844: The Southwark Phase"
Black American Street Life: South Philadelphia, 1969-1971 By Dan Rose University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987
Christ Church, Philadelphia: The Nation's Church in a Changing City By Deborah Mathias Gough University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995
Imagining Philadelphia: Edmund Bacon and the Future of the City By Scott Gabriel Knowles University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009
Cities in American History By Kenneth T. Jackson; Stanley K. Schultz Alfred A. Knopf, 1972
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "The City of Brotherly Fear: The Poor in Late-Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia," CHap. 20 "The Specialization of Leadership in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia"
The Maritime Commerce of Colonial Philadelphia By Arthur L. Jensen Department of History, University of Wisconsin, 1963
The Transformation of Criminal Justice, Philadelphia, 1800-1880 By Allen Steinberg University of North Carolina Press, 1989
Embodied History: The Lives of the Poor in Early Philadelphia By Simon P. Newman University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Author Advanced search


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.