The Rattle-Snake As A Symbol Of America

Only one man would have had the wit, the audacity, and the self-confidence to make the case

At the end of 1775, when fighting had already begun between the Americans and the British, an essay about the character of rattlesnakes appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal signed by “An American Guesser.” The Guesser, obviously a patriot and a witty one, has just recently been identified as Benjamin Franklin. This piece, and fifty-six other newly attributed writings, which have never before been collected, are included in the recently published Library of America volume Benjamin Franklin: Writings.Read more »

Unexpected Philadelphia

A fond, canny, and surprising tour of the town where the Constitution was born

Two hundred years ago Philadelphia was the natural place for the constitution-makers. There was nothing unexpected about that. Philadelphia had one hundred years behind her that were as respectable as they were impressive. Two generations after her solitary founder, William Penn, had set foot on the right bank of the Delaware, Philadelphia had become the largest city in North America, and the fourth (perhaps the third) largest city in the entire British Empire.Read more »

Our Town, 1900

A recently discovered collection of glass-plate negatives offers a remarkable look at our grandparents



THE DAYS WHEN this country was made up of people who were born, lived, and died in small, self-sufficient towns seem impossibly remote. But a set of photographs that turned up recently—a collection unusual in its size as well as its quality—gives an extraordinarily vivid portrait of the residents of one such town in the early years of this century. Read more »

Family Platters

From Germany and Switzerland, farmer-potters transplanted their skills to Pennsylvania and produced a distinctive ceramic found nowhere else in America


THE YEAR 1983 marks the three hundredth anniversary of the initial German settlement in the United States at Germantown, Pennsylvania. To celebrate, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Winterthur Museum have mounted a comprehensive exhibit of Pennsylvania German art dating from 1683 to 1850. The show includes everything from furniture and weapons to printed books and Fraktur .Read more »

Patchwork Primitives


The teasingly familiar scene above is not, as one would suppose, the work of an anonymous nineteenth-century folk artist. It is a painting done in 1951 by none other than the first lady of American folk art, Jean Lipman, who, for over thirty years as the editor of Art in America and author of countless articles and books on the subject, has done more to make folk art “a major chapter in the history of American art” than any other enthusiast of the genre. Read more »

Big Grizzly

Gargantuan, gross, and cynical, the patrician boss Boies Penrose descended from aristocracy to dominate Pennsylvania Republican politics for thirty years

The history of politics is a history of words. “Boss” is as American as “Santa Claus,” both words being Dutch in origin. “Boss,” wrote the English captain Thomas Hamilton, was a peculiar Americanism, a substitute for “master.” Hamilton’s book, Men and Manners in America , was published in 1831, roughly coincident with the rise of machine politics in the United States. It was during the 1830’s, too, that “big” became a favorite Americanism, an adjective suggesting quality as well as quantity; power and prestige, not merely size.Read more »

Books We Think You’ll Like

Ernest Hemingway and His World

by Anthony Burgess Charles Scribner’s Sons, 144 pages, photographs, $10.95 Read more »

Asylum In Azilum

Refugees from the French Revolution, many of them of noble birth, built a unique community in the backwoods of Pennsylvania—and hoped their queen would join them

On October 7, 1798, the streets of Philadelphia were ominously deserted. A yellow-fever epidemic was at its height. Anyone who could had fled the city, and few would enter it voluntarily. Nevertheless thirty-three-year-old Aristide Aubert Dupetit-Thouars, a captain in the French navy, arrived there on foot from Wilmington and was anxiously seeking The Mansion at Spruce and Third streets.Read more »

Candid Camera

Horace Engle’s An amateur photographer surreptitiously captured the mood of unsuspecting neighbors—with affecting results

“I photograph for my own pleasure and culture.” Thus Horace Engle—agriculturist, mineralogist, electrical “experimenter”—summed up what was an avid hobby for most of his eighty-eight years. Engle took his most unusual photos when in his late twenties in 1888-89. They were the product of a “spy” camera, a round can six inches in diameter and less than two inches thick. It had a fixedfocus lens and single shutter setting—but no viewfinder.Read more »

The Cantankerous Mr. Maclay

William Maclay, elected by the Pennsylvania Legislature to the Senate of the United States, left his farm near Harrisburg early in March, 1789, and journeyed to New York to attend the first session of the First Congress. He took board and lodging for two dollars a week at a Mr. Vandolsom’s near the Bear Market, and for the next month he waited for the two houses to form a quorum, meeting informally each morning with other members at Federal Hall on Wall Street.Read more »