One of the original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn as a haven for his fellow Quakers. Pennsylvania’s capital, Philadelphia, was the site of the first and second Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775, the latter of which produced the Declaration of Independence, sparking the American Revolution

After the war, Pennsylvania became the second state, after Delaware, to ratify the U.S. Constitution. In the American Civil War (1861-1865), Pennsylvania was the site of the Battle of Gettysburg in which Union General George Meade defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee, bringing an end to the Confederacy’s Northern invasion, as well as Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address

Tourists are drawn to Pennsylvania by its monuments to America’s revolutionary history, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. Famous Pennsylvanians include patriot and inventor Benjamin Franklin, frontiersman Daniel Boone, painter Mary Cassatt and inventor Robert Fulton.

Pennsylvania’s Early Colonial History

The first English charter to colonize land in the New World that is today known as Pennsylvania was set forth by King Charles II as a way to repay William Penn, a member of upper-class nobility, whose father had lent the king money before his death. Penn was a supporter of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, a controversial religion at the time that rejected rituals and oaths and opposed war. Penn wanted to create a haven for his persecuted friends in the New World and asked the King to grant him land in the territory between the province of Maryland and the province of New York.

On March 4, 1681, King Charles signed the Charter of Pennsylvania, and it was officially proclaimed on April 2. The king named the colony after Penn’s father, Admiral Sir Penn. In October 1682, Penn sent a proprietor to Pennsylvania who visited the capital city Philadelphia, created the three original counties and summoned a General Assembly to Chester on December 4.

Native Americans in Pennsylvania

Before Penn was granted land rights to build his colony, King Charles and his heirs bought the claims of the Native Americans who lived in the region. By 1768, all of present Pennsylvania except the northwestern third was purchased. Despite a seemingly peaceful transition of land, after multiple battles and failed attempts to live harmoniously, many of Pennsylvania’s Native Americans gradually left and migrated west.

Penn, on behalf of the Quakers, initially sought peace with the Lenape, one of the most prominent Native American tribes that occupied the region. The two groups signed the Treaty of Shackamaxon in 1682 which effectively formalized the purchase of the land and declared peace between the two groups. 

The relationship between natives and settlers soured over the years as a result of miscommunication, an increase in the number of English colonizers coming to Pennsylvania, outward land expansion, disease and, most notably, a transfer of power. After he died, Penn gave control of the land to his sons, John and Thomas, who were known to sell parts of the land without consent from the local tribes. Eventually, colonial officials called on the Iroquois, another prominent local Native tribe, to help remove the Lenape from the land in 1741. From there, the Lenape to Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma before further splintering into different groups.

Industrialization in Philadelphia

During the late 1800s, Philadelphia was the leader in industrial production, especially in manufacturing. The city was the world’s largest and most varied manufacturer of textile weaving including Weavers at the Quaker Lace Company, the Pennsylvania Woven Carpet Mills and the New Glen Echo Mills. The Cramp Shipyards, a producer of passenger steamships and warships, also helped pave the way for the state’s industrial profile. The Cramp Shipyards built the St. Louis, St. Paul and the USS Maine and supplied numerous federal governments with armored warships including the United States, Turkey, Russia and Japan.

Fueling the industry at this time relied heavily on Pennsylvania’s natural resources. The state became a major oil refinery and storage center. Reading Terminal became a hub for locomotive transportation and innovation across the country. The terminal often featured Baldwin’s steam locomotives, which were considered state-of-the-art and manufactured for countries including Russia, Finland, New Zealand, Brazil and Chile.

Population Shifts During the 1900s

Pennsylvania’s industry extended overseas and brought over more people from Germany, the Far East and South America. More than one million people arrived in Pennsylvania between 1870 and the early 1900s. Similar to other major cities at the time, immigrants grouped themselves by income and ethnicity. (Neighborhoods such as Southwark, Spring Garden and Northern Liberties comprised a larger population of Latin American residents, many of who worked as cigar makers and at Baldwin Locomotive Works.)

Newspapers in foreign languages and mutual aid networks sprouted as more immigrants moved into Pennsylvania. Amateur and professional baseball teams, department stores, a new free library system and theaters also came about around the same time. (The African American-led Pythian Baseball Club and the Cuban Giants emerged in the 1860s and 1880s, respectively, around the same time as the Philadelphia Phillies.)

Around the early 1900s, educational opportunities became more readily available through expanding colleges and universities. The University of Pennsylvania, for example, added several graduate programs, admitted women to them, and enrolled students of color. Meanwhile, the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania brought African American women from the south and students from India, Japan and Syria. It was the only college in the world at the time to train female physicians.

Philadelphia: The Birthplace of Independence

The “City of Brotherly Love” as it's known is where the Continental Congress held its first meeting and where the Declaration of Independence, U.S. Constitution and the Gettysburg Address were written. Philadelphia was home to Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Paine, members of the Founding Fathers and many of America’s early thinkers. The city is also the site of many firsts including the first mass celebrated in an American Catholic church and the first U.S. hospital.

Pennsylvania: The Chocolate State

When Isaac Hershey purchased four tracts of land in what is today known as Dauphin County, chocolate hadn’t yet been invented, let alone popularized. But in just a few decades, his great-grandson, Milton Hershey, would become one of the most famous chocolatiers in the world and transformed their homestead into the unofficial chocolate capital of the country.

Milton ended his formal education in 1871 and worked with a printer before starting an apprenticeship with Joseph R. Royer, a confectioner in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After learning the trade, Milton opened his first business making and selling candy on Garden Street in Philadelphia in 1876. However, the business closed in 1882, and Milton traveled the country honing his trade before opening a location in Lancaster for his third confectionery business specializing in caramels. 

In 1884, Milton made the Hershey Chocolate Company a subsidiary of the already established Lancaster Caramel Company. Not long after, he sold the Lancaster Caramel Company to focus on making chocolate and broke ground on the first Hershey chocolate factory in his hometown in Derry Township, Pennsylvania. Hershey Chocolate was first sold commercially on April 17, 1895, and the company began marketing its signature Milk Chocolate bars in 1900. The Hershey Chocolate Factory was completed in 1905.

Because of Hershey's success, Milton was able to fund the town of Hershey and his Hershey Industrial School for orphan boys. At the same time the company was coming up and its park was being built, the town of Hershey flourished with its own post office, fire department, bank, hotel, public school, churches, parks and golf courses. 

Today, the Hershey name decorates numerous buildings in the town known for its chocolate factory, hotel and theme park as well as its community and cultural and educational institutions.

Date of Statehood: December 12, 1787

Capital: Harrisburg

Population: 12,702,379 (2010)

Size: 46,055 square miles

Nickname(s): Keystone State

Motto: Virtue, Liberty and Independence

Tree: Hemlock

Flower: Mountain Laurel

Bird: Ruffed Grouse

Interesting Facts

  • Named by Governor William Penn after his arrival in the New World in 1682, Philadelphia combined the Greek words for love (phileo) and brother (adelphos), engendering its nickname of “the city of brotherly love.”
  • Although born in Boston, Philadelphia claims Ben Franklin as one of its sons as the renowned statesman, scientist, writer and inventor moved to the city at the age of 17. Responsible for many civic improvements, Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731 and organized the Union Fire Company in 1736.
  • On September 18, 1777, fearing that the approaching British army would seize and melt the Liberty Bell for ammunition, 200 cavalrymen transported the iconic symbol of freedom by caravan from the Philadelphia State House to the basement of the Zion Reformed Church in Allentown, where it remained until the British finally left in June of 1778.
  • Now the largest city in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia served as the nation’s capital from 1790 until a permanent capital was established in Washington, D.C., in 1800. Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were signed in Philadelphia.
  • In July of 1952, Jonas Salk developed the first polio vaccine from the killed virus at the University of Pittsburgh. First tested on himself and his family, the vaccine was made available nationwide a few years later. The vaccine reduced the number of polio cases from nearly 29,000 in 1955 to less than 6,000 in 1957.
  • In 1903, the Boston Americans and Pittsburgh Pirates competed against each other in the first official World Series of Major League Baseball at Exposition Park in Pittsburgh. In the best-of-nine series, Boston won five games to three.
  • The worst nuclear accident in United States history occurred on March 28, 1979, on Three Mile Island near Harrisburg. Caused by a series of system malfunctions and human errors, the plant’s nuclear reactor core partially melted, and thousands of residents were evacuated or fled the area, fearing exposure to radiation.
  • William Penn initially requested his land grant be named “Sylvania,” from the Latin for “woods.” Charles II instead named it “Pennsylvania,” after Penn’s father, causing Penn to worry that settlers would believe he named it after himself.

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