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city guy


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Philadelphia, because of it's place in American History has been known as

the "City of Firsts". No other American city can claim as many historic firsts

as Philadelphia, ofcourse we got a big jump on everyone else, so it is only

natural. And most Philadelphians know of the big ones, I compiled this list

for a report in college, updated it a little. Some "Firsts" are common place and

then others might not be.

Which ones did you know?

**WARNING*** The list is really long, few will make it to the very end, so I stopped after

1932, the invention of the computer.

First Planned City in North America (1682) William Penn, designed on a grid with 5 public squares

First Treaty with Indians (1682) William Penn and Shackamaxon Indians. It remains

the only American-Indian Treaty not broken and revolutionary that Penn paid the Indians for

land where most settlers did not. For Philadelphians you may know this because Strawbridges old logo was Penn Shaking Hands with the Indian Chief to show their

customers we will never break our promise to you.

First Brick House (1682) William Penn's House

First Grammar School (1689) William Penn Charter School (still going)

First Paper Mill (1690) William Rittenhouse

First Public School (1698)

First Life Insurance Company (1717) The Presbyterian Minister's Fund

First Organized Labor Union (1724) Carpenters' Company of Philadelphia

First Botanical Garden (1728) Bartram's Gardens


First Public Library (1731) Library Company of Philadelphia, is the nation's oldest cultural

organization and the only colonial library that remains intact today.

library company

First Fire Department (1736) The Union Fire Company

First Magazine (1741) The American Magazine, edited by John Webbe,

for once Ben Franklin was bested, Franklin's magazine came out three days later.

First University (1749) University of Pennsylvania, founded by Ben Franklin

First School for African American Children (1750) The Benezet School

First Hospital (1751) Pennsylvania Hospital founded by Franklin and Thomas Bond

First Street Lights in N. America (1751)

First Fire Insurance Company (1752) Philadelphia Contributionship

First policy was to John Smith $1.00, his home was valued at $1,000.00

First Stock Exchange (1754)

First Public Paved (cobblestones) Streets (1761), before this time Merchants would instal cobblestones in front of their business before city took over.

First Theatre (1766) Southwark Theatre, First American Play here on April 24, 1767

The Southwark Theatre is long gone, but Philadelphia still lays claim to the oldest theatre in

continuous use in the English Speaking World...Walnut Street Theatre (1809)

First Mustard (1768) Benjamin Jackson

First Lottery (1777) Continental Congress held the first national lottery. Money was used by

Philadelphia city council to remodel existing government buildings to entice the federal

government to stay in Philly. Well, it didn't work.

First U.S. Cavalry (1774) First Troop Philadelphia Escort to Washington and still

serving in PA Army National Guard.

First Marine Corps (1775) Tun Tavern on Front Street (the building was destroyed to

make way for I-95)

First U.S. Navy (1775) Ship building had been going on in Philadelphia for sometime but

the Continental Navy needed fighting ships so following ratification of the Constitution the

first two frigates, the United Sates and the Constitution were built.

First Student Newspaper (1777) William Penn Charter School, actually this was the very

first student newspaper published in English in the world

First Flag (1777) Betsy Ross betsy ross house

First July 4th Celebration (July 4, 1777) A grand procession of high-stepping

horses pulled floats in the shape of an eagle. Massive ships lined the Delaware

River firing 13 cannon shots to honor the new states. It was reported that 17,000 people attended. Only 54,000 people lived in Philadelphia at the time.

First U.S. Parade (Late 1700s) New Year's Mummers Parade

Philadelphia's first settlers, no not the British but the Swedes who came to Philly

in 1620 brought the tradition of visiting friends on "Second Day Christmas". The celebration

was extended to the New Year with masquerades and parades. Still going today.


First Bank local (1780) Pennsylvania Bank

First U.S. Bible Published in English (1782) Robert Aitken

First Newspaper (not daily) (1728) Pennsylvania Gazette

First Law Firm (1783)

First Sugar Refinery (1783) 3rd and Vine

First Newspaper (daily) (1784) Pennsylvania Packet

First Wage Strike (1786) Philadelphia printers struck for a minimum wage of $6 per week.

First White House (1790) (526-530 Market Street) The Park service is now conducting

a campaign to rebuild the house. It will cost about $4.5 million. It most recently has been

in the press because President Washington housed slaves in the home.

president's house

First Supreme Court (1791)

First Bank (national) (1791) First Bank of the United States

Used to help finance the new federal government. The method used in central

banking started the Federal Reserve System.

First Carpet Mill (1791)

First US Mint (1792)

Also, the first government owned building and first standardized coin

(1801) Mint presented silver peace medals to American Indians to solidify treaties.

The coins pictured the face of the current President...thus started the Presidential Medal


First Circus (no not Barnum and Bailey but John Ricketts in 1792) George Washington

was a regular patron to this new extravaganza at 12th and Market Streets, tumblers, acrobats, fancy horsemanship. It attracted 600 to 700 patrons to every show.

First Ballon Flight (1793) Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Blanchard traveled a distance of

15 miles from Philadelphia to Deptford Township, NJ. President Washington watched.

First Paved Road (1793) Philadelphia to Lancaster 62 miles long

First Municipal Water System (1799)



Because of Penn's Revolutionary 1701 Charter of Privileges, Philadelphia was his "Holy Experiment" which welcomed all religions. There are to many First in Religions to mention but these are my top picks:

The First private "Almshouse" or outreach for the poor opened in 1732 by the Quakers, The First municipal almshouse opened in (1752) and also was a hospital for the sick and insane at 3rd and Spruce.

It was in Philadelphia alone in all of the English speaking world where Catholic Mass could be celebrated freely. And Philadelphia was the only city in the Colonies to have

two synagogues. You can still visit the first Methodist Church, First Black Protestant Church,

First Augustinian Church, View body of First American Male Saint John Neumann.

First System of Catholic Parochial Schools started here and spread across America. First Baptist, First Mennonite, First Presbysterian, First Jewish College, First Jewish Chaplin (1862) and so on.

First American Jewish Museum (now building a brand new $100 expansion on the Mall)

check it out... new jewish museum

First Steamboat Service in the world (1790) You think of steamboats on the Hudson river but they were inaugurated on July 14, 1790 at the Arch Street Ferry. John Fitch, inventor, first

navigated a 45-foot steamboat on August 22, 1787 as members of the Constitutional Convention looked on. He wanted to demonstrate to Washington that steam could power a boat. This first steamboat ran on the Delaware, with stops in Philly, Burlington, Bristol, Chester, Wilmington and others. 17 years before Robert Fulton's steamboat on the Hudson.

First Ice Cream (1801) Peter Bosse from a candy store he owned on S. 5th Street

First Law Society (1802) Philadelphia Bar Association,

the American Bar Association ABA was organized in 1878.

First Law Dictionary 1839

First Law Library 1802

First Art School & Museum (1805) PA Academy of the Fine Arts

founded by Charles Willson Peale

First Natural History Museum (1812) Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences

In 1868 they exhibited the first dinosaur skeleton on public display.

First U.S. Patent (1813) For elastic gum to waterproof shoes.

First Mutual Savings Bank (1816) PSFS, Philadelphia Savings Fund Society

First College of Pharmacy (1821) Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science

First Science Museum (1824) Franklin Institute, in (1934) the first public demonstration of T.V.

took place in the Stearns Auditorium.

First Bottled Water (1825) Elie Durand, 6th & Chestnut Street

First Women's Magazine (1829) Godey's Lady's book, edited by Sarah Josepha

Hall, author of ("Mary Had a Little Lamb").

First Flower Show (1829) PA Horticultural Society is the oldest horticultural society

First U.S. Prison built for reform and rehabilitation, not only punishment. (1829)

The idea from the Quakers was redemption achieved through isolation.

Eastern State was considered revolutionary in concept, but didn't work. Charles

Dickens, after a visit, described the system of solitary confinement as "cruel and

wrong." But it operated for 142 years, now a museum.

First Baldwin Locomotive (1831) Still on display today at the Franklin Institute

First Savings and Loan Association (1831)

First Eye Hospital (1832) Wills Eye Hospital

First Book Store (1837) Leary's on Ninth Street, funny side note, when the store

closed on Novemeber 20, 1969 a customer sorting books found a copy of the first printed edition of the Declaration of Independence in an old scrapbook. It sold at auction for $404,000.00

First Magazine for the Blind (1837) Using embossed, raised capital letters.

First Art School for Women (1848) Moore College of Art & Design

First Children's Hospital (1855) Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

CHOP has many first here are my top picks:

First formal training of pediatrics, First Nursery Incubator,

First Neonatal Intensive Care, Cough Serum was invented here, First

Vius Laboratory, First plastic surgery for cleft lips & palates.

First Republican Convention (1856)

First Teachers Convention (1857)

First Cable Cars (1858) San Francisco made them famous but Philly had them first.

First Ice Cream Mass Producer (1861) Bassett's

First American Department Store (1861) John Wanamaker, other firsts included: First store

to offer guarantee quality in print, (1865) First to offer guarantee refund policy, (1867) First

restaurant in department store, (1878) First department store to be illuminated by electricity.

(1879) First telephone to be used in a store. (1882) First elevators in department store. Also,

First White Sale.

First Professional Baseball (1863) Until 1863 Baseball was a game of amateurs. The

Philadelphia Athletics hired Alfred Reach, second baseman for a salary of $25 a week and

the sport was changed forever.

First Telephone Introduced to World (1876) Centenial Exhibition in Fairmount Park,

the instrument had been sent to Philadelphia by Alexander Graham Bell a Boston elocution

teacher who came to the exhibit on impulse. Following this demonstration, investors entered

the picture and the Telephone Company of Philadelphia was formed. (Bell's name was not

added until later).

First Rabinic School (1867) Jewish institute of higher learning

First Professional Architects Organization (1867) American Institute of Architects

First Merry-Go-Round (1867)

First art club (1868) Philadelphia Sketch Club

First Advertising Agency (1869) N.W. Ayer & Sons (next to The St. James on Washington Sq)

First Kidnapping for Ransom (1874) 4 year old Charles Brewster Ross was held for

$20,000 ransom. Two robbers were aprehended and shot in NY later that year.

The boy was never found.

First Zoo (1874)

First World's Fair (1876) The Centennial Exhibition to mark 100th Anniversary of U.S.

First National League Game (1876) Philadelphia Athletics vs. Boston Red Stockings

Boston won 6-5.

Univeristy of Penn Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (1887)

First Archaeology Expedition to the Middle East.

Greatest collection of Babylonian and Assyrian relics in the world.

First museum to excavate in Iran.

First museum to develop underwater archaeology.

First Business School (1881) U of P (Joseph Wharton gave $100,000 to found his namesake)

First Revolving Door (1888)

First Catholic High School (1890) Roman Catholic for Boys

First Commodities Exchange (1891) Philadelphia Bourse

First Electric Streetcars (1892)

First Medical Research Facility (1892) The Wistar Institute

First Escalator (1900) Gimbel's Flagship Department store, Mr. Gimbel saw the invention at the 1900 Paris Exposition and brought it to his store. People were afraid to get on the moving


First Licorice (1900)...First Bubble Gum (1928)

First Fast Food (1902) Self-service restaurants - The Automat

First Cancer Hospital (1904) Fox Chase

First Mothers Day (1907)

First School of Podiatry (1915) Temple University

First Thanksgiving Day Parade (1920) Gimbels (4 years later not to be outdone

by its competitor Macy's started the NY parade in 1924)

First Tuition Free Conservatory (1928) Curtis Institute of Music

First Girl Scout Cookies (1932) The girlscouts were invited to bake and sell cookies in the

window of the Philadelphia Gas and Electric Company. The idea was to get people to

buy ovens but it led to the creation of Girl Scout Cookie week in 1934.

First Modern Sckyscraper (1932) PSFS Building, also first to be completely air-conditioned

and first to include lighted advertising on top of the building (large neon PSFS)

First Computer in the World (1946) ENIAC, University of Pennsylvania

Now some Philadelphians might say what about Elfreds Alley and Gloria Dei Church, Italian Market and Reading Terminal Market and so many others not mentioned.

Yes, Elfreds Alley is the oldest street in America (1690) and the Oldest Church (1698) Gloria Dei, Old Swedes' Church is the oldest church in America and Philadelphia's oldest building still standing and yes the Italian Market is the oldest open air market and Reading Terminal the oldest farmers market, but they were not the first and I am only listing Firsts and not oldest. There are many American Firsts in Boston etc.

You made it to the end...finally!

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cityguy that's a very impressive list, I find that a list of "firsts" or "famous" is very relevant in viewing a cities whole character, and Philadelphia has been the site of almost everything this country has come to stand for, I am certain that a list like your could very easily be tripled or more. However don't forget Pittsburgh's contributions . . . I have made it a pet project of mine over the last few years: ;)

I still contend that although Philly had Franklin and William Penn and bascially is the chief city of all things "made in America" Pittsburgh I feel could go round for round with it anyday.

Also a small town in W.V. (closest "metro" to it is Pittsburgh) claims the very first Mother's Day, so Philly may not have that claim ;).

These lists are always very interesting to me, just gives you a great sense of place and heritage. :)

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