Louis Kahn and Midcentury Modern Philadelphia

“A city should be a place where a little boy walking through its streets can sense what he would someday like to be.” For Louis I. Kahn, arguably the most influential American architect of the late 20th century, that city was Philadelphia. Kahn spent nearly his entire life in Philadelphia, attending grade school through college, teaching, practicing and designing a number of...
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The Lady in Charge

In its heyday, Philadelphia’s Arch Street Theatre seated approximately 2,000 patrons for each performance who came to see the renowned thespians of the 19th century. Popular performers – Fanny Davenport, Joseph Jefferson and Charlotte Cushman – played “The Arch” at 819 Arch Street. Even actor John Wilkes Booth took his turn there as Macbeth two years before he became one of the...
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Free-Thinking, 19th-Century Style

Francis Ellingwood Abbot (1836–1903) was nothing if not determined. In 1872, as editor of The Index, the nation’s leading free-thought magazine, he began to muster the full force of his small army of subscribers against what was being called “the God-in-the-Constitution amendment.” A philosopher and theologian, he sought to reconstruct theology in accordance with scientific methodology. From the...
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Historian of Pennsylvania Exceptionalism: Samuel W. Pennypacker

Reflecting on “the play of forces” that propelled him to Pennsylvania’s governor’s office in 1903, Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker (1843–1916) confidently declared, “there is no such thing as an accident” (a notion popularized by Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis). This was not to say chance plays no part in history because he pronounced with equal certitude: “To every man certain...
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Wilson Eyre: The Philadelphia Domestic Ideal

At the turn of the twentieth century, Wilson Eyre was at the height of his architectural powers. For sixteen years he had had a successful practice in Philadelphia, one of America’s major architectural centers. The United States bad become a world power, with money to give con­crete evidence of this in the buildings of her great cities, and Philadelphia’s blend of conservative...
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Aeronauts to Aviators: Pennsylvanians and Flight, 1784-1950

Millions of us have used the airplane to earn a living, to travel from place to place or simply to amuse ourselves. Among twentieth-century innovations, the airplane has most dramatically changed the way we think about time and distance; people now consider transcontinental or transoceanic journeys in terms of hours rather than days or weeks. The airplane is a familiar technology. Yet historians...
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Benjamin Henry Latrobe: The Artist as Commentator

Benjamin Henry La­trobe (1764-1820) is generally acknowl­edged to be America’s first professional architect and engineer, practicing in the United States from 1796, when he immigrated from England, until his untimely death from yellow fever in New Orleans in 1820. He worked, during that period, in cities as diverse as Richmond, Philadelphia, Balti­more, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and...
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Celebrating a Century and a Half: The Geologic Survey

The Pennsylvania Geo­logical Survey, offi­cially known today as the Bureau of Topo­graphic and Geologic Survey, and one of the bureaus of the Department of Environmental Resources, is one of only a very few of the Common­wealth’s executive branch agencies whose history can be traced to the first half of the nineteenth century. Created in 1836, the survey spawned three subsequent geologic...
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Siegmund Lubin: The Forgotten Filmmaker

In Philipsburg, the summer of 1914 ended with a crash that could be heard for miles and seen around the world. On the slopes of Centre County’s Collision Field, a stadium formed by nature, five thousand festive, flag-waving spectators gathered to watch the wrecking of two great Pittsburgh & Susquehanna Railroad locomotives. Bands entertained the Labor Day celebrants with musical...
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Pennsylvania’s First Television Station: “Loving What We Were Doing”

No champagne corks popped at Philadel­phia’s old Philco plant on October 17, 1941, to celebrate. The achievement failed to rate even a few lines in local newspapers as reports of the increasingly grim drama unfolding in Eu­rope took chilling precedence. Like so many of the seemingly minor events that herald major changes in our way of living, America’s first commercial network...
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