United States of America
Philadelphia, largest city of Pennsylvania. Founded in 1682 by English Quaker William
Penn, Philadelphia is known as the Birthplace of the Nation
because of its
role in America’s struggle for independence from Britain. Both the Declaration of
Independence and the Constitution of the United States were drafted in the city.
The name Philadelphia was derived from the Greek words meaning “city of brotherly
love,” and Penn opened his city to people of many different religious and ethnic
backgrounds. Modern Philadelphia has worked hard to maintain that diversity while
becoming one the great commercial, cultural, and educational centers in the United
The city of Philadelphia, which since 1854 has had the same boundaries as the county
of Philadelphia, is located in the southeastern corner of the state, at the junction
of the Delaware River and Schuylkill River. A major port, the city lies about 160
km (about 100 mi) inland from the Atlantic Ocean and is situated approximately halfway
between New York City and Washington, D.C. It has hot humid summers and moderately
cold winters. In January, temperatures average 1°C (34°F) and in July 25°C (77°F).
The average annual precipitation is 1,050 mm (41 in).
Philadelphia and its Metropolitan Area
Philadelphia’s original street plan, as laid out by William Penn and his surveyor
general, Thomas Holme, established a pattern of rectangular blocks called a grid
system. The grid included four public squares that defined each of the city’s sectors,
as well as a central square that eventually became the site of City Hall. Numbered
thoroughfares ran north and south, while east and west streets were named mainly
for trees, such as Chestnut, Walnut, Locust, Spruce, and Pine streets. Large building
lots freed residents from the problems of overcrowding experienced by other 17th-century
cities and also encouraged more real estate development.
As Philadelphia grew in different directions, the grid system was extended to the
city limits. Along these streets, developers constructed row houses in two-, three-,
and occasionally, grand four-story models. These houses fronted on the street, but
because of the size of the original lots, 18th-century landowners then added new
alleys and courts behind them. There they built rental units, including the three-story
tenements that became home to thousands of the city's poor Irish, Jewish, and black
immigrants during the 19th century.
The portion of William Penn’s original town site that extended west from the Delaware
River also included many important commercial and government buildings. This area,
often called Center City, now contains the Independence National Historical Park.
The park includes more than 20 sites associated with early American history. Perhaps
the most famous is Independence Hall, originally completed in 1753 as the home of
the Pennsylvania colonial government. The Declaration of Independence was adopted
in this building, and it was also the location of the debate over the Articles of
Confederation, and the Constitution of the United States. Other historic buildings
nearby include Carpenters’ Hall, where the First Continental Congress met in 1774;
the First and Second Banks of the United States; and Old City Hall which housed
the Supreme Court of the United States from 1791 to 1800. The Liberty Bell, which
originally hung in Independence Hall, now rests in its own glass-walled pavilion,
and Franklin Court, the site of Benjamin Franklin’s home, includes an underground
Center Square, later known as Penn Square, marked the exact geographical center
of Philadelphia’s original plan and the intersection of the city’s two main thoroughfares,
Broad and Market streets. At this site in 1871 the city began construction of a
massive new City Hall, which, when it was completed 30 years later, became the largest
municipal building in the United States. A towering statue of William Penn stands
on top of the structure. To preserve it as a focal point of downtown Philadelphia,
an informal agreement that remained in effect for more than a century banned any
new buildings that would exceed the height of City Hall.
Since the 1950s Philadelphia has embarked on major redevelopment and restoration
projects for this downtown area of the city. In eastern Center City, the Society
Hill area was transformed from a decaying district of mixed housing and commercial
structures into an affluent urban residential village with numerous restored 18th-
and early 19th-century townhouses. Penn Center, across from City Hall, became the
first of several new commercial and office complexes to be completed. Not until
1987, however, with the construction of One Liberty Place did Philadelphia developers
abandon the old height restriction and begin to add skyscrapers to the city skyline.
Philadelphia’s transformation distinguished itself by the preservation of the old
and the integration of the new; thus, a restored 18th-century town house may sit
comfortably in the shadow of modern metal-and-glass high-rise buildings.
An enduring feature of Philadelphia is its mosaic of neighborhoods, reminders of
the original villages, townships and districts that were eventually incorporated
into the city. Maps of Philadelphia identify as many as 100 commonly agreed-upon
subdivisions of the city, and local residents often break down these areas even
further. Many of these neighborhoods retain the character of the racial and ethnic
groups who settled in them. South Philadelphia, for example, is known as an Italian
section of the city. The district known as Chinatown developed around Ninth and
Race streets as early as the 1860s and continues to have a strong Asian influence.
Southwark, which stretches along the Delaware River, had one of America’s first
large free black populations in an urban area and remains an important center for
Philadelphia’s black community. An important Southwark landmark is Mother Bethel,
the home of the African Methodist Episcopal Church founded in 1816.
Four Pennsylvania counties surround Philadelphia on the north, south, and west.
These four counties support a booming retail trade and pharmaceutical manufacturing
businesses. They also contain Philadelphia’s suburban communities, which are largely
populated by upper-middle class families. Among the best-known suburbs are Bryn
Mawr, Haverford, Merion, Ardmore, Wayne, and Villanova. Through the 1990s the city
of Philadelphia has remained the vital center of a large metropolitan region called
by the U.S. government the Philadelphia Primary Metropolitan Statistical Area (PMSA).
The PMSA, which is 9,986 sq km (3,856 sq mi), includes not only the five Pennsylvania
counties of Philadelphia, Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware, but also four
counties in New Jersey: Camden, Gloucester, Burlington, and Salem. The county and
city of Philadelphia cover a land area of 350 sq km (135 sq mi).
During Philadelphia’s first century, its population grew rapidly as William Penn’s
policy of religious tolerance and his city’s thriving economic and intellectual
life attracted many settlers. Penn’s new urban center attracted a variety of ethnic
groups including Scots-Irish, Irish, Welsh, and Germans. Its population also contained
a diverse mix of religious groups including Quakers, Catholics, Jews, Presbyterians,
Anglicans, Baptists, Amish, and Mennonites.
Philadelphia historically prided itself on being known as a city of immigrants,
and much of the population increase in the 19th and early 20th centuries came from
overseas immigration. Between 1820 and the American Civil War (1861-1865), over
80,000 Irish migrated to Philadelphia and settled throughout the city. Immigrants
from Poland moved to industrial sections like Richmond and Manayunk. By the late
19th century the city also contained a large Italian and Russian-Jewish population
in South Philadelphia. German bakers and tool and die makers crowded North Philadelphia
neighborhoods. While immigration halted in the 1920s, after World War II (1939-1945)
thousands of displaced Ukrainians and Lithuanians found refuge in Philadelphia.
In the 1970s Vietnamese and Koreans pressed into North Philadelphia making areas
such as Olney among the most ethnically diverse in America.
This inner-city diversity often created tensions. Racial fears and neighborhood
blight caused a significant portion of Philadelphia’s white population to leave
the city for surrounding suburban counties after World War II. Other factors adding
to a decline of the city’s population included the erosion of Philadelphia’s industrial
base and a national trend of migration from eastern cities to the warmer climate
of the Sun Belt. Whereas in 1950 Philadelphia contained over 2 million people and
ranked as the third largest city in America, the city's population plunged to 1,517,550
by 2000. While the city proper was decreasing in population, the metropolitan area
centered on Philadelphia grew. In 2000 the region had 6.2 million inhabitants. Philadelphia
ranked as the nation’s fifth largest city in 2000; the metropolitan area was the
nation’s sixth largest.
Philadelphia’s population decline also resulted in increased ethnic separation between
whites and minorities, such as blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. While by 2000 blacks
comprised 43.2 percent of the city of Philadelphia's population, they represented
just 7.8 percent of the population in four neighboring counties. Hispanics made
up 8.5 percent of Philadelphia’s population, and Asians 4.5 percent. But both groups
together represented only 5.3 percent of the total population in these same suburban
According to the 2000 census, whites made up 45 percent of the city’s population;
blacks, 43.2 percent; Asians, 4.5 percent; Native Americans, 0.3 percent; and people
of mixed heritage or not reporting race, 7 percent. Native Hawaiians and other Pacific
Islanders numbered 729 at the time of the census. Hispanics, who may be of any race,
were 8.5 percent of the people.
Education and Culture
From the beginning of the 18th century, education and culture formed very important
parts of life in Philadelphia. One of the colony’s most learned early settlers was
James Logan, William Penn's private secretary. Logan mastered numerous languages
as well as higher mathematics, and also conducted botanical experiments. He assembled
a library that formed the basis for the Library Company of Philadelphia, one of
the nation’s earliest subscription libraries, founded in 1731 and still operating
as a research facility today.
The diverse achievements of Benjamin Franklin gained Philadelphia recognition as
the "Athens of America," a center of learning and culture. Franklin’s accomplishments
as a practical philosopher and political scientist were accompanied by scientific
innovation such as his work in astronomy, his experimentation with static electricity,
and his invention of bifocal lenses and the heating stove.
Franklin also joined with Philadelphia physician Thomas Bond to found the first
public hospital in America, the Pennsylvania Hospital, in 1751. Philadelphia has
since remained at the center of both the teaching and the practice of medicine in
the United States. It currently is the home of four medical schools, the University
of Pennsylvania, Jefferson Medical College, Allegheny University of the Health Sciences
(formerly the Medical College of Pennsylvania and Hahnemann University), and Temple
Philadelphia colleges and universities also offer courses of study in a variety
of other fields. For example, the University of Pennsylvania, which had its roots
in the Academy of Philadelphia opened by Benjamin Franklin in 1751, excels as a
center of research and teaching. Temple University, founded in 1884 by the minister
and philanthropist Russell Conwell, began as an evening institution but now includes
15 major divisions and a full range of programs. Drexel University emphasizes the
use of technology in the classroom and operates one of the largest cooperative education
programs in the country. Philadelphia is home to more than a dozen other prestigious
colleges and universities including La Salle University, Thomas Jefferson University,
the University of the Arts, and Moore College of Art and Design.
In the 1780s the Philadelphia painter Charles Willson Peale opened his Repository
for Natural Curiosities, which in addition to his portrait art, contained mastodon
bones and other animal specimens displayed in their natural settings. In 1802 his
expanded collection occupied the second floor of Independence Hall. Peale inspired
a public interest in art and science that has endured in Philadelphia. The Academy
of Natural Science, founded in 1817, is considered the oldest scientific research
center in the Western world, and the Franklin Institute Science Museum, dating from
1824, is the oldest museum of applied science in the United States. The Franklin
Institute Science Museum features displays illustrating important scientific principles
and also contains the Fels Planetarium.
The city has also maintained its reputation as a center for the arts. The Pennsylvania
Academy of Fine Arts, founded in 1805, includes the oldest art school in the nation
and also a Museum of American Art that is regarded as the first public art museum
in the United States. The Philadelphia Museum of Art originated as an art exhibit
at the 1876 Centennial held in Philadelphia, and its huge collections are now housed
in a building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Another important Philadelphia institution,
the Rodin Museum, features the works of the famous French sculptor (Francois) Auguste
Rene Rodin. History museums include the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia history,
the Balch Institute, which focuses on the city's ethnic history, and the Afro-American
Historical and Cultural Museum.
Several institutions reflect Philadelphia's rich musical heritage. The city built
an Academy of Music that opened in 1857 at Broad and Locust streets. In 1900 the
academy became the home of the Philadelphia Orchestra, which received international
recognition under conductors Leopold Antoni Stanisław Stokowski and his successor
Eugene Ormandy. The Curtis Institute of Music, founded in 1924, is the only major
conservatory in the United States offering promising young musicians full-tuition
scholarships based solely on merit.
Philadelphia also has a rich theatrical heritage. The city's Walnut Street Theater
dating from 1809 may be the oldest theater in continuous operation in the United
States. The University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Center is a major new performing
arts facility that also offers courses in drama and music.
Philadelphia's local cultural traditions include parades, ethnic festivals, and
celebrations. From the more common street parades emerged Philadelphia’s celebrated
mummers events that feature masked mimes. This tradition had its origins among early
Swedish and Finnish settlers in South Philadelphia who greeted the New Year by wearing
costumes and firing guns. Organized clown clubs arose in the 1840s, and by 1900
the city officially sponsored a Mummers Parade. This event is still held annually
on New Year’s Day with elaborately costumed bands, clowns, and mummers marching
along Broad Street to the Philadelphia City Hall.
William Penn’s vision of a “Greene countrie towne” which balanced urban opportunities
with rural atmosphere is best realized in Philadelphia’s extensive network of parks
and recreational facilities. In fact, the city has the largest municipally owned
landscaped park in the world, Fairmount Park. The Fairmount Park system contains
well over 3,500 hectares (8,700 acres) of land, and the major portion of the park,
which extends along both sides of the Schuylkill River on the city’s western side,
includes well over 2,000 hectares (4,000 acres). It contains forests, meadows, an
8.9 km (5.5 mi) gorge as well as tennis courts and athletic fields. Also in the
park are some of Philadelphia’s old mansions, which are now managed as museums by
the city or community groups. Philadelphia's Zoological Gardens, first opened in
1874, also lie within the boundaries of the Fairmount Park system. The historic
Bartram’s Gardens in southwest Philadelphia are America’s first experimental botanical
gardens developed by the father of American botany, John Bartram. In addition, the
city is home to the Morris Arboretum, designed in an English Victorian-era style
and donated to the University of Pennsylvania by a local family in 1833.
In the 1890s Philadelphia boasted two professional baseball teams, the Athletics
and the Phillies, and became one of the most avid baseball towns in the country.
The Phillies, who were first organized in 1883, continue to play in Philadelphia.
The Phillies use Veterans Stadium along with the Philadelphia Eagles, the city’s
professional football team. Since 1963 Philadelphia’s professional National Basketball
Association (NBA) team has been the Philadelphia 76ers. Led by Wilt Chamberlain,
one of the NBA’s leading scorers and a Philadelphia native, the 76ers won the NBA
championship in 1967. They also participated in four more NBA finals, winning the
title again in 1983. The 76ers play in the First Union Center, also home to the
Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League. Other professional sports teams
in the city include the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League and the
Philadelphia KiXX of the National Professional Soccer League.
The basis of Philadelphia’s economy has changed substantially through time. In the
17th and 18th centuries Philadelphia grew as a major Atlantic seaport, receiving,
processing, and shipping flour, meat, and forest products. A dozen shipbuilders
operated in 1754 along with other maritime businesses including sail manufacturers,
chandleries for selling boating equipment, and ropewalks for the production of rope.
In the 19th century, the value of manufacturing increasingly surpassed commercial
shipping. Grain milling was important, along with cotton and wool processing. By
the latter part of the century, textile and carpet factories, iron foundries, steel
mills, shipbuilders, and saw manufacturing plants dominated a highly diverse economy.
Although much textile production moved to the South beginning in the early 20th
century, new industries such as chemicals and food processing sustained the economy
until the hard times brought by the Great Depression of the 1930s caused a general
decline. Despite the revival of metal manufacturing during and after World War II,
the postwar era witnessed the virtual elimination of Philadelphia's once profitable
In the 1990s government offices, banks, hospitals, and the city's universities were
among its major employers. Manufacturing accounted for barely 30 percent of salaried
employment in the city in 1992; instead, over one-third of the workforce labored
in service industries such as hotels, automobile repair, and health and human services.
Despite these changes, the Philadelphia regional economy continues to benefit from
its central Atlantic Coast location and efficient transportation network. Chemicals,
pharmaceuticals, medical services, printing and publishing, and banking flourish.
Philadelphia has also taken a leadership position in the high-technology revolution.
In the area of pharmaceuticals and biotechnology, there were more than 120 firms
in the region that employed more than 865,000 people in 1995. With four medical
schools, two dental schools, two pharmacy schools, and numerous pharmaceutical firms
and biomedical research labs in the area, Philadelphia has become one of the centers
of the health care industry in the United States.
William Penn intended to build a city that encouraged private business and provided
all citizens with equal opportunities for success. From the colonial period to the
mid-19th century, municipal government was kept to a minimum, and most civic issues
such as street repair or public health were handled locally by small public commissions,
usually dominated by the city’s wealthy merchants. The city’s rapid expansion and
industrialization in the 19th century,
however, led to concern that a
stronger and more efficient form of city government was needed. Public services,
including schools and law enforcement, could not keep pace with the growth. A reform
charter adopted in February 1854 brought all the boroughs of the County of Philadelphia
within the City of Philadelphia, effectively uniting these two levels of government.
Despite this consolidation, individual city and county governments persisted, and
it was not until 1951 that a new initiative called the Home Rule Charter fully merged
city and county offices. That same 1951 charter gave Philadelphia a more powerful
mayor and restructured the city council form of government. The mayor’s principal
assistant is the managing director, who appoints the commissioners to head the various
city departments. The city council is made up of 17 members, of whom 10 are elected
from specific districts and 7 are elected at large.
Since the 1970s, however, the mayor’s authority, granted by the 1951 charter, has
weakened. Some of the city government’s responsibilities have been taken over by
increasingly important grassroots political groups like the Neighborhood Action
Councils, and semipublic bodies such as the Philadelphia Industrial Development
Corporation. Philadelphia's elected mayor serves a four-year term and may be reelected
once; council members are elected at the same time and also have four-year terms.
Efforts at regional planning and cooperation date from the 1920s, but the success
of regional governance initiatives has been modest. By interstate compact, New Jersey
and Pennsylvania in 1965 created the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
(DVRPC) to coordinate federally funded projects. The DVRPC includes the eight Pennsylvania
and New Jersey counties within the Philadelphia Metropolitan Statistical Area, plus
Mercer County, New Jersey. Another regional body, the Southeastern Pennsylvania
Transportation Authority (SEPTA), operates the regional transportation system. The
Delaware River Port Authority oversees a sizeable interstate toll-bridge system,
and the Philadelphia Regional Port Authority manages the area's extensive port facilities.
The land that William Penn and Thomas Holme laid out for the city of Philadelphia
was originally part of the territory of the native North American Lenni Lenape or
Delaware tribe. William Penn received title to the land from the British King Charles
II in 1681 as a proprietary grant in payment of a debt owed Penn’s father. Penn
decided to locate his city at a site that would cause minimum disruption to established
residents and to treat the Lenni Lenape as generously as possible by paying them
to give up their claims to the land.
Penn then began to plan the city that would embody his so-called Holy Experiment,
in which men of all races and creeds would govern themselves in complete religious,
political, and intellectual freedom. As a result the city became a haven for Quakers
and other religious and political dissenters. Philadelphia also became the center
for many profitable commercial ventures. Eighteenth century Philadelphia merchants
built ships and developed a lively trade in flour, cured meat, and barrel staves
with the West Indies.
When Penn and his surveyor general first laid out the city, they planned large building
lots to avoid the fire and plagues that ravaged crowded 17th century cities like
London and to make Philadelphia an attractive real estate venture. Penn also intended
that most houses in the city would have their own gardens and orchards, a novel
concept in urban development. Penn’s street plan, which was based on a rectangular
grid pattern, was also an innovation in colonial America.
Pennsylvania's Quaker-dominated government emphasized peace and refused to equip
a militia. Like other colonial seaport towns, however, Philadelphia did feel the
effects of Britain's effort to reassert economic control over her American possessions
at the end of the French and Indian War (1754-1763). Colonial rebellion followed,
and Philadelphia hosted the First Continental Congress at the city's Carpenters’
Hall. The Second Continental Congress in 1775 met at Independence Hall and elected
George Washington general and commander in chief of the Continental Army. A year
later the Declaration of Independence, drafted and adopted in Philadelphia, triggered
the American Revolution (1775-1783).
The Revolutionary War period proved tumultuous for the city of Philadelphia. A number
of prosperous Philadelphia merchant families sided with Britain’s King George II
during the war and became known as Tories. When British General William Howe seized
the city in 1777, the delegates to the Continental Congress were forced to flee
Philadelphia. During the occupation of the city, Tories entertained British troops
with dinners and dances, while Washington's army encamped in freezing huts with
scant provisions northwest of the city at Valley Forge. When the British left the
city, some Tories also departed. Many of those who stayed faced harassment and physical
violence, and a few were even tried for treason. Once America had achieved victory
at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, and wartime hostilities subsided, the city slowly
began to regain its political and commercial stability.
The new nation was firmly established after the British signed the Treaty of Paris
in September 1783. Philadelphia continued to be an important political center as
America struggled to build a strong governmental foundation. The Articles of Confederation
were developed in Philadelphia, and when they proved too loose a binding, Congress
reassembled in Philadelphia in 1787 to draft the Constitution of the United States.
In 1790, a year after President George Washington’s inauguration, Philadelphia became
the capital of the United States. It remained the capital until the federal government
moved to the newly constructed city of Washington, D.C., in 1800.
The last decades of the 18th century also shaped Philadelphia politically and socially.
Shipping ventures ranging from China to the Mediterranean Sea enriched many of the
city's young merchants. New immigrants arrived, including many fleeing from the
Haitian slave revolt in 1791. The city's population swelled from just under 24,000
to nearly 70,000 between 1765 and 1800. In fact, by 1800 Philadelphia had become
the nation’s largest urban center. Philadelphia’s most influential citizens lived
in the area around the State House near the center of the city. The poor crowded
the courts and alleys hidden behind the brick houses of the wealthy. When a devastating
yellow fever epidemic swept the city in 1793, killing thousands, these alley dwellers
suffered the most.
History - Growth of Industry
During the 19th century Philadelphia grew from a colonial-scale city into a gritty,
industrial metropolis of almost 2 million people. Its redbrick row houses spread
across the urban space between the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers. This urban area
quickly expanded north and south in a half-moon shape along the Delaware River,
which was the major transportation route during the city’s early years. By 1854
these outer boroughs or districts were incorporated into the present city and county
of Philadelphia. The boroughs became future neighborhoods such as Germantown, Chestnut
Hill, Overbrook, Fishtown, and Southwark.
Transportation was vital to the city's destiny. Philadelphia competed with Baltimore,
Maryland, and New York to develop a transportation system westward, and imitated
New York in initially focusing its attention on canals. In 1856, however, the Pennsylvania
Railroad replaced the Main Line Canal as Philadelphia’s primary western link, tying
Philadelphia not only to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but also to Chicago, Illinois,
and St. Louis, Missouri.
A diversified specialty manufacturing economy emerged based on high quality goods
from hosiery to ships. Industrialization transformed neighborhoods such as Kensington
into hubs of textile and metal manufacturing, but also into areas of social conflict.
In the 1830s and 1840s English handloom weavers battled unskilled Irish Catholics
who threatened their jobs.
Violence against blacks also flared during the same period. Angry whites attacked
an abolitionist rally in 1838 and burned Pennsylvania Hall, the meeting place for
Philadelphia’s antislavery reformers. Three years later a white mob fired on a meeting
of blacks who advocated either temperance or the banning of alcohol. Despite this
violence, Philadelphia’s blacks and Quakers built a sizeable antislavery movement,
and Philadelphia became the home to several prominent figures in this crusade, including
In 1854 Philadelphia hosted the first convention of the Republican Party. The party’s
platform not only opposed slavery, but also favored a high protective tariff or
tax on imported goods, a policy popular with the city’s business community. During
the Civil War, Philadelphia manufacturers supplied the northern Union with uniforms,
ships, canons, and other war material.
War energized Philadelphia's already bustling economy and added to the importance
of rail transportation. The Pennsylvania Railroad dominated Philadelphia in the
late 19th century. Its tracks drove into the heart of the city, shifting downtown
activity from the State House and Independence Square to Center Square and Broad
Street Station, the railroad’s massive redbrick terminal. At the city’s new urban
core, department stores were built along with great hotels, banks, and other civic
At the same time business tycoons built an extensive streetcar system that was electrified
by the 1890s. During the 1920s Philadelphia dug a subway on Broad Street. The city's
textile and metal manufacturing economy remained vigorous through World War I (1914-1918),
although the textile industry began to show signs of weakening soon after the war
ended. Yet, Philadelphia remained an optimistic city in 1926 when it hosted the
nation's Sesquicentennial Exposition, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the signing
of the Declaration of Independence. The exposition gained some fame because it hosted
the first heavyweight championship match between boxers Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney,
but rain and poor attendance marred its overall success.
History - Local Politics
After the Civil War Philadelphia's Democratic Party, which had once represented
the city’s poor and working class, barely existed. The Republicans had developed
a strong local organization or political machine that became known as the Gas Ring
because it controlled the city-owned Gas Company and its $2 million in annual contracts.
The head of the Philadelphia Republican machine, Boss James McManus, ruled the city's
politics and its police force and used his position to make illegal profits until
1885. That year reformers secured a new city charter and ousted him. Nevertheless,
other Republican bosses followed, and by the 1890s the political machine controlled
10,000 city jobs. The bosses maintained notoriously fraudulent voting lists that
counted horses and even the dead.
Philadelphia residents soon tired of the national attention focused on the city’s
corrupt politics by investigative journalists like Lincoln Steffens and tried to
initiate change. In 1911 Philadelphia voters elected as their mayor Quaker Rudolph
Blankenburg, who had been involved in municipal reform movements for decades. Reform
climaxed in a new 1919 city charter that created a one-house city council of 21
paid members with four-year terms. The new charter also forced the mayor to submit
an annual budget, forbade council members from holding other jobs, and brought most,
but not all, city employees under the control of the civil service.
During the 1920s Philadelphia continued to elect Republican mayors. Although the
Republican machine weakened in the 1930s when it failed to act quickly to aid the
unemployed during the Great Depression, it was not toppled until 1950 when reformers
of the postwar era convinced voters that there was flagrant corruption and financial
mismanagement in city government.
History - Philadelphia in the Modern Era
The Great Depression struck Philadelphia severely. By 1932 over 281,000 unemployed
people in the city vainly searched for work. Hundreds of homeless men crammed the
empty Baldwin Locomotive Works building which served as a city shelter. On the national
level, Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected and began to initiate
the New Deal programs to provide relief from the country’s economic crisis.
Philadelphia’s Republican mayor, J. Hampton Moore, doggedly resisted participation
in many of these programs. As a result, Philadelphia initially received little benefit
from New Deal measures. Even so, Philadelphia residents voted overwhelmingly for
Roosevelt’s reelection in 1936. Mayor Moore’s successor, S. Davis Wilson, also scorned
the New Deal in his election campaign. After he took office in 1936, however, he
enthusiastically used funding from agencies such as the Public Works Administration
and the Works Progress Administration to initiate relief projects in Philadelphia.
These federal programs enabled the city to construct new schools, streets, sewers,
and an airport and boost local employment. Locally, Philadelphia’s once dormant
Democratic Party also sprang back to life.
Philadelphia’s industries, which had faced severe setbacks during the depression
years, also revived during the late 1930s and the World War II era. After the war
demand ended, however, industrial production again declined. Once invincible manufacturing
giants—Stetson Hat Company, William Cramp and Sons shipbuilding, and the Frankford
Arsenal—locked their gates. By the 1980s fewer than 12 percent of Philadelphia's
work force was employed in manufacturing.
The movement after World War II of thousands of white, middle-class families from
Philadelphia to the suburbs aggravated the problem of industrial decline. Black
migrants from Virginia and the Carolinas took their place, seeking opportunity in
the city's declining manufacturing economy. Philadelphia politicians and planners
combated these trends by seeking to alter the blighted image of the downtown and
lure businesses and residents back into the city.
Changing Philadelphia's image involved both political and physical renovation. Several
young Democratic reformers, led by Joseph S. Clark, Jr., and Richardson Dilworth,
challenged the battered Republican political machine and pushed for significant
changes in city government. The 1951 Home Rule Charter created a stronger mayor,
a managing director, and several new departments including welfare. Clark became
Philadelphia’s first mayor elected under this new system, taking office in 1952.
Dilworth was elected district attorney and then followed Clark as mayor in 1956.
During this time the city also began physical improvements, aided by city planner
Edmund Bacon and new federal urban redevelopment legislation under the Housing Act
of 1949. Urban renewal efforts included demolishing the old Broad Street Station
and undertaking the historic preservation of the Society Hill neighborhood.
Urban redevelopment stabilized the downtown, but worsened conditions in the North
and West Philadelphia neighborhoods. These areas had suffered from the decline of
their industrial base and the deterioration of residences built in the 19th
century. A severe housing shortage after World War II led to overcrowding
and to increased racial segregation as white residents continued to move out to
the suburbs. Although several large public housing programs encouraged the development
of low-rent units and the removal of some decaying or abandoned structures, these
efforts did not adequately address issues of neighborhood stability and the displacement
of the area’s poorest residents.
Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and other immigrant groups found themselves isolated in decaying
urban ghettos. Reform efforts helped to improve public health and welfare services,
but these programs were still plagued by growing needs and a shortage of funds.
The number of welfare cases in Philadelphia nearly tripled between 1946 and 1969.
A huge increase in crime during this period taxed both the law enforcement and judicial
systems. Protests over worsening urban conditions and rising racial tensions in
schools and neighborhoods led to rioting during the 1960s. Philadelphia Police Commissioner
Frank Rizzo became known for his strong show of force to stop disturbances and combat
crime. His law and order emphasis appealed to a large segment of the city’s white
voters, but his election as mayor in 1971 and again in 1975 alienated many other
groups within Philadelphia’s diverse population. Racial tensions continued to remain
Rizzo's successors, financially conservative William J. Green, Jr., and Philadelphia's
first black mayor, W. Wilson Goode, lessened the ethnic and racial conflict that
had bristled during the Rizzo administration. Elected in 1983, Goode accelerated
the transformation of Philadelphia into a modern center for service industries such
as financial, real estate, and legal businesses.
Yet Goode could not entirely escape from racial issues, and his handling of a controversial
black radical group called MOVE marred his record of civic improvement. Since the
1970s MOVE and the Philadelphia police had engaged in a long series of conflicts,
which included the death of a police officer and claims of police brutality. In
May 1985 neighborhood complaints about MOVE led Goode to approve a plan to bomb
the headquarters of this group. However, the police action resulted in 11 deaths
and the destruction of over 60 neighboring homes. Despite this incident, Goode won
reelection and served a second term from 1988 to 1992. He was followed in the mayor’s
office by Edward G. Rendell, who also was reelected and began his second term in
1996. In 2000 John F. Street, an ally of the popular Rendell, succeeded him as mayor.
Philadelphia's historical sites, shopping galleries, hotels, restaurants, and numerous
parks, make the city a popular tourist destination. Beyond the downtown area, however,
in neighborhoods of North and West Philadelphia, high unemployment, poverty, and
poor schools persist and offer the city new challenges for the future.