Philadelphia PA

‘The ingenious Captain Peale” sired a dynasty of painters and started America’s first great museum.

The penitentiary was invented in the United States as a more rational and humane way of punishing. It quickly ran into problems that still overwhelm us.

Prisons are a fact of life in America. However unsatisfactory and however well-concealed they may be, we cannot imagine doing without them. Read more >>

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. Read more >>

Artfully composed still-life photographs from a rare 1871 album transform brushes, sponges, and stationery supplies into symbols of a proud, industrial society

Five years before the 1876 Centennial Exposition celebrated the nation’s confidence in its technological prowess with towering displays of manufactured goods, a group of Philadelphia photographers, lithographers, and printers produced an elegant, leather-boun Read more >>

Slovenly, impulsive, impoverished, and grotesque, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque was the greatest naturalist of his age. But nobody knew it.

It is quite fitting,” wrote a Philadelphia journalist in 1804, “that the name ‘Rafinesque’ rhymes with ‘picturesque’ and ‘grotesque,’ because so the little man is.” The subject was a struggling twenty-one-year-old scientist named Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, who actually was Read more >>

Did the fifty-five statesmen meeting in Philadelphia at the Constitutional Convention know that a witch-hunt was taking place while they deliberated? Did they care?

Saluting a departing general, the British dazzled Philadelphians with the grandest party the city had ever seen; the tiny army that had toppled the general bided its time nearby

In the spring of 1778 William Howe, commander in chief of His Majesty’s forces in North America, received orders to return to London and justify his actions, or rather his inactions, for he had gained no conspicuous victory in three years of war. Read more >>

Although it has been disparaged as “General Washington’s Sewing Circle,” this venture was the first nationwide female organization in America

When news that the British had taken Charleston, South Carolina, reached Philadelphia in May of 1780, merchants and government officials reacted to the disaster by taking steps to support the inflated Pennsylvania currency and solicit funds to pay new army re Read more >>

The Messiah of Time and Motion

Toward the end of the last century an idea took form in the mind of a Philadelphia factory engineer that was destined to change, in profound and troubling ways, the nature of work in the modern world. Read more >>

How the Philadelphia waterworks became a potent symbol of our lost belief that nature and technology could live together in harmony

Charles Dickens apparently found little to beguile him when he visited Philadelphia in the 1840’s. Read more >>

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. Read more >>
Miss Eleanor Custis … has more perfection of expression, of color, of softness, and of firmness of mind than I have ever seen before or conceived consistent with mortality. Read more >>
Pornography seems to be doing very well these days. Every fair-sized town has its “adult-book store,” and x-rated feature films have advanced from their first big-city beachheads of the midigGo’s to occupy theatres in suburban shopping centers. Read more >>
The bell is old and it is badly cracked and it has not been rung for years, nor will it ever be rung again. But although it is quite useless from a practical standpoint, it is perhaps the most prized possession we have. Read more >>

Vain, snobbish, distinctly upper-class in his libertine social habits, Gouverneur Morris nevertheless saw himself justifiably as "A Representative of America"

Of all the remarkable men who forgathered in Philadelphia in the spring of 1787 to revise the Articles of Confederation, and perhaps to do even more, Gouverneur Morris was certainly the most talkative. Read more >>

Fifty European nations came to America on her hundredth birthday—and, for the first time, took her seriously

Centennials don’t make sense. It should be evident that a hundredth anniversary is a mere numerical happenstance without historic significance. Read more >>

Under duress in a British prison, Richard Stockton of New Jersey had the singular misfortune to become

Various legends linger around the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the circumstances of the signing. Read more >>

They were botanists, but not of the dull variety: William’s journals inflamed the imaginations of the European romantics, and John may have inadvertently touched off the American Revolution

You can sum up the beginnings of natural history in America in one name: Bartram. John Bartram and his son William laid the groundwork for American botany and either directly or indirectly taught most of our early naturalists. Read more >>

“ To spend and be spent for the Good of Mankind is what I chiefly aim at ”

One of Benjamin Rush’s biographers has compared him to quicksilver, the brilliant and elusive element mercury that changes so unpredictably yet so curiously reflects the images around it. Read more >>

HISTORICAL REGISTER of the CENTENNIAL EXPOSITION 1876.

Philadelphia’s vast Fairmount Park stretches acre after acre, plateau after ravine, all empty now under the brittle blue of a winter sky. Read more >>
Every schoolchild knows that the Liberty Bell is cracked; the crack is almost as famous as the bell itself. But just when and why the crack appeared is a much more esoteric matter. Read more >>

OR DON’T PUT OFF UNTIL TOMORROW WHAT YOU CAN RAM THROUGH TODAY

Dr. Benjamin Rush believed the hand of God must have been involved in the noble work. Read more >>
Back in 1883, when girls were still considered young ladies, the Chestnut Street Female Seminary moved to a new home—a palatial mansion outside Philadelphia that was surrounded by 180 acres of tree-studded hills. Read more >>

The law was against the poor printer. The governor wanted his scalp. His attorneys were disbarred. Could anything save him—and free speech?

On the morning of August 4, 1735, a cross section of New York’s ten thousand citizens clustered outside the city hall at the corner of Wall and Nassau streets. English and Dutch, men of all classes and trades, waited and argued tensely. Read more >>

The simple, affectionate water colors of an unassuming Scots immigrant, David J. Kennedy, bring back the Philadelphia of 1876 and our first great world’s fair

President Ulysses S. Grant opened the United States Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia on May 10, 1876. Read more >>

Time is taking its toll of the romantic covered bridge, where once you could exchange gossip, argue politics, or court your lady fair.

Maria Monk’s lurid “disclosures” and Samuel Morse’s dire warnings launched a crusade of bigotry that almost won the White House

A leading American historian challenges the long-entrenched interpretation originated by the late Charles A. Beard