Philadelphia has played an important role in our country, from being our nation’s first capital to being a major influencer in today’s society. Philadelphia is home to a variety of “firsts” for the United States, some of the most historically significant attractions, and to a number of inventions that helped shape how our country has grown. These 20 facts are a must-know for any person who calls Philadelphia home, or is just interested in the history of how America was shaped.
Birthplace of Democracy
Independance Hall, located on Chestnut St., is where our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, and the United States Constitution 11 years later on September 17, 1787.
Inventors of the Cheesesteak sandwich
In the early 1930s, brothers Pat and Harry Olivieri owned a hot dog stand in South Philly. Legend says that the brothers decided to throw chopped beef, grilled onions and cheese on an Italian roll. As Pat was eating it, a cab driver stopped and asked for the same sandwich, and the rest is history.
“The Philadelphia Packet and Daily Advertiser”
This newspaper, which was started in 1771 by John Dunlap, became the first ever daily newspaper in the US, starting in 1784. The Philadelphia Packet is credited for being the first publication to publish George Washington’s Farewell Address on September 21, 1796. This daily paper ran for six years, from 1784 to 1790, before changing owners.
The Stars and Stripes
Sewn by Betsy Ross, Philadelphia is where the she designed and created the first American Flag. Creating this flag for General George Washington, Ross was the originator of using a 5-point star instead of six, and using 13 equal, alternating red and white stripes to represent the 13 original colonies. The flag has been altered since, adding in a star for each state, but the original concept designed by Ross is still in use.
ENIAC was the first ever fully electronic computer in the world, designed and built right here in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. The United States Army funded this endeavor, which started during WWII, and on February 14, 1946, it was announced that the computer was finished and worked successfully, more than 1,000 times faster than any other computing device at the time.
The Liberty Bell
One of the most significant symbols of American Independence, the Liberty Bell, also calls Philadelphia home. The infamous crack in the bell was caused when it was first rung in 1752. Used originally to alert the public of meetings and announcements being held, the Liberty Bell now sits in Independence Hall, and is a tourist attraction for people all over the world. Inscripted on the Liberty Bell is part of Leviticus 25:10, which states “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
Philadelphia Stock Exchange
The “Board of Brokers” is the oldest stock exchange in the United States. Founded in 1790, this stock exchange was located at the corner of 2nd and Walnut St., at a place called Merchants Coffee House. In 2008, NASDAQ finalized the deal to buy the stock exchange for $652 million, and since has been moved to 1900 Market St. in the heart of Center City.
Birthplace of Museums
In 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts opened its doors, becoming the nation’s first museum, as well as providing an art school. Today, the academy is known all around the world, especially for its collections of 19th- and 20th-century American paintings, sculptures, and paper works. Also, our country’s first natural science museum, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia was founded in 1812. Now known as The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, it is home to over 17 million biological specimens and thousands of journals, photos and archival information relating to natural sciences.
University of Pennsylvania
Benjamin Franklin, a huge advocate for more educational programs, founded UPenn in 1740. Penn is one of the nine original Colonial Colleges and also one of the 14 founding members of the Association of American Universities. University of Penn, now a top-teir Ivy League school, is credited with giving birth the the first school of medicine, the PErelman School of Medicine in 1765, the first college-level school of business, the Wharton school in 1881, and the first student union, Houston Hall founded in 1896.
The Philadelphia Zoo was the first zoo in the United States. Although it was approved on March 21, 1859, the Civil War delayed the opening until July 1, 1874. Starting at just 25 cents for admission, the Philadelphia Zoo is currently the home for over 13,000 animals, most of which are rare or endangered, on 42 acres.
Library Company of Philadelphia
Founded by none other than Benjamin Franklin in 1731, it is rumored that this was the first library in the United States. The library currently holds 500,000 books and 17,000 other items, including a collection of 2,150 items that belonged to Ben Franklin.
Philadelphia Naval Yard
Started on what is now Front St. in Center City, the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard was the first of the United states. Creating America’s first navy, the Colonial Navy in 1762, it was declared in 1801 as the official site of the US Navy. Although it is no longer used by the United States Navy, the Navy Yard is still a large tourist attraction in Philly.
The Philadelphia Mint
The best way for a new country to create its own sense of identity is through creating their own form of national currency. Quickly after the Constitution was ratified, the Founding Fathers had an urgency to create a national mint, which they placed in Philadelphia in 1792, which was the nation’s capital at the time. The mint has now moved onto Spring Garden St. in 2009, making it the largest mint when it was built.
Birthplace of American Opera
Philadelphia was home to our nation’s first play, the Prince of Parthia by Thomas Godfrey in 1767. In 1809, our nations first theatre, the Walnut Street Theatre, was built, and held our country’s first grand opera, William Fry’s Leonora, in 1845.
Home of Modern Hospitals
Once again, Benjamin Franklin created another necessary business in Philadelphia first, opening the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1752 along with Dr. Thomas Bond. Also, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, CHOP, was the first hospital focused on the health and wellness of children, established in 1855.
First Professional Football Game
On November 7, 1934, Temple Stadium hosted to first professional football game. The Philadelphia Eagles demolished the Cincinnati Reds, shutting them out 64-0, scoring 10 touchdowns.
First Continental Congress
When our country was founded and Philadelphia was the unofficial capital, the country’s first Continental Congress was held at Independence Hall in 1774, where our nation’s first governmental figures drafted and signed both the Declaration of Independance and the Constitution. Philadelphia was also home to the first Republican National Convention, which was held in 1856.
First Protest Against Slavery
Almost 200 years before our country was divided in half, mainly due to slavery, the Germantown section of Philadelphia was home to the first protest against slavery. If you go to 5109 Germantown Ave., there is a plaque dedicated to this monumental event, which occurred in 1688.
First Department Store
Located on the corner of Broad and Chestnut St., Wanamaker’s was built in 1877, establishing our country’s first department store. Now a Lord & Taylor, this location will forever be remembered as the starting place of major sellers and retailers.
Self-Proclaimed Mural Capital of the United States
Philadelphia is well known for its art and murals, which can be seen all throughout the country. Philadelphia has over 2,000 outdoor murals, more than any other city in the United States.
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