“The Not So Good Old Days”: Disease and the Struggle for Public Health in Pennsylvania

In 1930 A. J. Bohl was proud to work in the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH). After 25 years there, he wrote an article in Pennsylvania’s Health in which he recalled growing up in the 1880s, when disease and illness ravaged the state. “There wasn’t much attention paid to the communicable diseases. Everybody, as a matter of course, had measles, chicken pox, whooping cough and mumps, and...
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The Inventor from Ercildoun: William Chester Ruth

It is apt to remember inventor William Chester Ruth (1882–1971) as a pinion in both his community and his machine shop and as a bridge between cultures and eras. The son of a man who had been enslaved until his 13th year and a woman from a distinguished free Black family, “Chester” displayed both confirmation of talent inherited from his parents and his own innovative path to the future. Steeped...
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Ahead of Her Time: Pennsylvania Aviator Helen Richey

It was the era of plucky barnstorming aviators. Charles Lindbergh had flown across the Atlantic in 1927 and in the ensuing decade the romance of the skies was in full flower. Flight records were being chased and broken with regularity. Faster, sleeker airplanes were being introduced. Air races with cash prizes were in vogue across the country. The public, fed by an eager press, was fascinated....
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The Easter Egg: A Flourishing Tradition in Pennsylvania

The hen cackled in the early morning light as the door of the chicken coup opened and the boy walked in with his basket. He had risen before dawn to help with the farmwork as usual. But on this most suspicious of days, Karfreidaag, or Good Friday, gathering the eggs was no mere ordinary task. As on all other mornings, the boy deftly reached under the clucking hens, soothing the birds with a few...
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Pennsylvania Polymath: Samuel Stehman Haldeman

Samuel Stehman Haldeman was a pioneer in American science with an uncompromising empirical bent who made definitive contributions in geology, metallurgy, zoology and the scientific study of language. His groundbreaking lifework touched nearly seven decades of science and included identification of one of the oldest fossils in Pennsylvania, elucidation of a plan for an anthracite coal furnace for...
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WWII Target: Altoona

The tale of the bold but fizzled 1942 Nazi plot to sabotage the Horseshoe Curve railroad landmark near Altoona, Pennsylvania, has been told in books and articles almost since the day the spy-thriller story began to unfold. First came a juvenile-fiction account in 1944 titled The Long Trains Roll by Stephen W. Meader. It recounts the story of Operation Pastorius, a wry allusion to the theme of...
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Indomitable: Ora Washington, Philadelphia’s Ultimate Sports Trailblazer

On June 5, 1971, the African American newspaper Philadelphia Tribune published an obituary for an individual it called “Superwoman.” Although it was a fitting homage, few who read the Tribune that day would have appreciated the level of deference granted to the individual at the center of that tribute. Her name was Ora Mae Washington (1898–1971). Another African American paper, the Pittsburgh...
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High on a Mountain: Pennsylvania’s Legacy of Country Music

In 1607 Great Britain commenced the establishment of two colonial plantations. One of these was Jamestown in Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in North America. The other was much closer to home. The Ulster plantation was formed in the nine northern counties of Ireland. The goal of the colony was, in part, to extend British and Anglican hegemony over the Catholic and...
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Three Generations on the Underground Railroad: The Gibbons Family of Lancaster County

Shortly after sunset, a fugitive slave from Maryland tapped on a window of a modest farmhouse near Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. Daniel and Hannah Gibbons walked swiftly to the door. The Quaker couple escorted the young man to the barn to sleep and in the morning summoned him back to the house. If the fugitive’s owner was in close pursuit, they would send him to another farm. If there seemed to be...
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Soldiers of Production: Berwick’s Honey Tanks Contribute to the Allied Victory in World War II

  One hundred years before Adolf Hitler’s troops invaded Poland, Mordecai William Jackson and George Mack established a foundry in Berwick, in Pennsylvania’s Columbia County, to manufacture farm implements. From these humble beginnings grew a larger company that by the turn of the century joined 12 railroad equipment-manufacturing firms (in six other states) and became the American Car...
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