Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

Historical surveys of over 150 industrial sites in Philadelphia, PA, from "Workshop of the World" (1990), "Workshop of the World Revisited" (2007), and other sources, organized in seventeen neighborhoods (listed at left), by industry classification or alphabetically. Links are included to the stunning Hexamer General Surveys (high resolution, on screen, in full color), the Historic American Engineering Records, historic and contemporary photos, plus extensive footnotes and bibliographies. Enjoy.

Pasted Graphic
The Philadelphia of To-Day, The World's Greatest Workshop: America's largest Home City with more home owners than any other City in the world. (W.T. Littig & Co., N.Y., 1908).

WORKSHOP OF THE WORLD—A Selective Guide to the Industrial Archeology of Philadelphia
Oliver Evans Press, 1990; adapted for the internet in 2007.

FOREWORD (1990), John R. Bowie, A.I.A., Managing Editor

"Workshop of the World"—such a fitting description of Philadelphia and its 300 year tradition of industrial greatness. Unlike other American cities where industrial development centered on one particular product—such as Lowell with its textile industries, or Pittsburgh with its steel mills—Philadelphia is the home of an incredible, grand spectrum of developments that have influenced the very essence of American life. Since the early 1700s, Philadelphia has seen inventions, products, machines, and ideas come from its people—first from German immigrants like William Rittenhouse, who operated the first paper-making mill in the Colonies in 1690, and daring mechanics like Oliver Evans, who revolutionized and totally automated the grain milling industry around the world in 1795, and visionaries like Henry Disston, whose millions of "Keystone" saws were produced by men who lived in company-provided housing units throughout Tacony from the 1870s until recently, and the scientists and engineers at the University of Pennsylvania, who created ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator And Calculator, the world's first large-scale digital computer in 1946.
 
Philadelphia is a very large city with an equally large industrial infrastructure; from it has come virtually every type of manufacturing and production. Hard goods, such as tools, furniture, automobile bodies, locomotives, ships, precision instruments, and toys have come from small and large plants across the city. Soft goods, such as clothing, linens, blankets, rugs, hats, and hosiery have come from small "cottage" mills as well as the massive city-block-wide plants scattered from Germantown and Manayunk to Kensington and Frankford. Chemical plants, refineries, and heavy industrial production in Philadelphia developed along the waterfronts of the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers. Transportation of raw materials and finished products, whether anthracite coal brought from the mountains via the Schuylkill Canal, or bulk tonnage handled at the Reading Railroad's sprawling Richmond yards, interconnected the city and created neighborhoods and zones of industrial activity.
 
Philadelphia is changing rapidly as the twenty-first century approaches. The city's economy is no longer tied as strongly to its industrial greatness. Companies are leaving the city; jobs are going elsewhere and blocks of buildings that once housed some of Philadelphia's biggest industries are sitting vacant or being demolished. As the city moves toward the year 2000, the manufacturing industries that made it great are steadily being replaced by service industries and the form of the city is evolving to reflect these changes.
 
WORKSHOP OF THE WORLD reflects on some of Philadelphia's industries by examining the city on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis; it then provides examples of some of the industries found across the city. Sites included in the text were selected based on three criteria:
1. That they were determined to be significant culturally (for historic, architectural, engineering, or industrial reasons)
2. That they typified or represented industries that were prominent to a specific neighborhood, or
3. That they were in imminent danger of demolition or collapse.
 
These sites represent a "sampler" of Philadelphia's industrial cross-section; however, they are only a small part of the total number of sites the city has to offer.  Because of the enormous size of the city, no effort was made for this study to be comprehensive. Instead, the publication is intended to be a guidebook to some of Philadelphia's industrial sites and neighborhoods for those people interested in exploring and seeing them. For that reason, several organizational rules were established from the very beginning of the project. For example, archeological sites and sites that have been demolished were not surveyed.
1 This was for the protection of the integrity of archeological resources, as well as maintaining a "guidebook" format. Also, the book was designed to conveniently fit into a coat pocket or glove compartment.
 
Members of the Oliver Evans Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archeology (SIA) are completely responsible for the preparation of this guidebook. The SIA is a nationwide, nonprofit group of people interested in America's engineering and industrial heritage; it was formed in 1971 and its goals are threefold: to educate people about our nation's industrial past, to document it (particularly those sites in danger of extinction), and to act as an advocate toward the preservation of historic industrial and engineering sites. The SIA presently has close to 1,600 members nationwide; it publishes the Society for Industrial Archeology Newsletter, a quarterly newsletter that discusses events of interest to members across the country, and IA, semiannual journal which is scholarly and research-oriented. Currently, there are eight local chapters in the SIA; these are regional groups of people generally concentrated in large, populated areas, such as Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Southern New England, Northern New England, and the Lehigh Valley.  Recently, a chapter was formed in Butte, Montana.
 
The Oliver Evans Chapter of the SIA was formed in 1984 and its goals are the same as the national SIA, except that it is directed toward the Delaware Valley area. The Oliver Evans Chapter presently has over 100 members and its activities consist of tours of Philadelphia's industrial sites, lectures, and annual dinner/talks, featuring distinguished scholars and professionals as guest speakers. It also distributes a quarterly newsletter that tells of activities in the Philadelphia area. In 1990, the Oliver Evans Chapter is hosting the 19th annual SIA Conference; it will feature Philadelphia area industrial tours, scholarly research paper presentations, dinners, and receptions. This event has provided the motivation for the research, publication, and distribution of this guidebook.
 
The organization of this guidebook is straightforward; it is organized by neighborhood so that it can be used as a sourcebook for local industrial tours.
2 Each chapter represents a neighborhood or distinct area of the city; there was no attempt made to be comprehensive, or to cover every industrial resource in each neighborhood. That would have been impossible given the constraints on time, availability of money, the planned size of the book, and the number of people available. Instead, each neighborhood or area was examined by the authors of that chapter, and a selection of sites, based on the criteria established above, was developed.
 
The chapters were assembled around the list of sites developed.  Each chapter was then organized to provide an overview of the neighborhood. In the overview, the growth of the neighborhood was discussed, with attention given to the great sites that may have once existed but are now gone. In this manner, a context was established that allowed for analysis of sites such as Midvale Steel, Baldwin Locomotive Works, Stetson Hat, and so on.
 
The individual sites follow a basic pattern: discussion of history and development of the company, discussion of its buildings and structures present today, and discussion of the technologies, processes, and machines that survive in the buildings.  Information on earlier machinery and processes is given when possible. Obviously, there is significant variation depending on the amount of available documentation, the ability of the researcher to get on site, the research and writing styles of the many authors, and so on.  Nonetheless, almost every site contains at least one photograph to convey its present status.
 
By looking at the map of the city at the beginning of this section, it is easy to see which parts of Philadelphia were not covered as part of this study. Roxborough, East Falls, the Northeast, and parts of North Philadelphia are some of the neighborhoods not studied because of the constraints mentioned above. Fortunately, the methodologies created for the development of this guidebook have enabled members of the Oliver Evans Chapter to continue their efforts, and data on sites in these areas, as well as endangered sites that were not covered in the other areas, are presently being gathered and organized.
 
One of the most interesting observations made by almost every researcher contributing to this guidebook concerns the existence of good modern secondary source documentation on Philadelphia's industry. Publications such as Philip Scranton's
Proprietary Capitalism (1983), Cynthia Shelton's Mills of Manayunk (1986), and Philip Scranton and Walter Licht's Work Sights (1986) were all consulted, but for the most part, historic secondary sources and primary sources contributed heavily to the research for this guidebook.  Publications, such as Edwin Freedley's Philadelphia and its Manufactures (1869), and Lorin Blodget's Textile Industries of Philadelphia (1880) and Census of Philadelphia's Manufacturers (1883) were copiously used, as were such general sources as Scharf and Westcott's History of Philadelphia: 1609-1884 (1884), and the Work Progress Administration for Pennsylvania's Philadelphia: A Guide to Our Nation's Birthplace (1937).
 
Primary sources, such as the city directories, insurance maps, and city ward atlases, were studied by the researchers, but the most celebrated primary source was the Hexamer General Survey Maps. These maps, which were commissioned for insurance underwriting purposes between the mid 1860s and 1895, feature individual industrial sites and contain a wealth of information for the modern-day scholar. Aside from the usual floor plans that depict construction type and use of the buildings, the maps also contain excellent birds-eye perspectives of the plants and list many important facts: how many employees, types of fuel used, kinds of machines and horsepower, quantities and value of finished products and byproducts, locations of hazardous materials such as fuels and dyes, and so on. The quality of delineation on these maps is outstanding and they are in full color; more importantly, they are all on file at the Map Room of the Free Library of Philadelphia on Logan Square and microfilm copies are available for inspection and duplication by the public. There were only a few cities across the country that had this type of mapping service in the late nineteenth century, and these documents are certainly an important resource in Philadelphia.
3
 
WORKSHOP OF THE WORLD is a sampler of many of Philadelphia's historic and present-day industries; as such, it represents a "first draft" of the identification of the city's truly significant sites. Because of the time constraints imposed by the Conference requirements, the book is not as polished and editorially correct as would otherwise be possible; however, the material is as accurate as the primary and secondary sources from which it was derived. The information and ideas presented in this book are the product of authors who are members of the Oliver Evans Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archeology; it is solely responsible for the book's contents; however, grammatical and stylistic inconsistencies are purely the responsibility of the Managing Editor, who continually opted for "just one more site" before type setting.
 
Many people and organizations contributed to this publication and their assistance is gratefully acknowledged. To begin, financial support was contributed by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) which provided two Local History Grants; their support is sincerely appreciated. Likewise, a Preservation Services Fund grant was provided by the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Mid-Atlantic Regional Office; their generous support is recognized. Other institutions whose services contributed to this guidebook's publication include the Philadelphia Historic Preservation Corporation (PHPC), which acted as administrator for one of the Local History Grants, and the Atwater Kent Museum, which administered the other. In particular, thanks to William S. Blades and Donna Ann Harris, both of PHPC, for helping to facilitate the legal and administrative aspects of the grant. Thanks also to John V. Alviti, Executive Director of the Atwater Kent Museum, who provided not only meeting space for the group, but administrative and professional staff support as well.
 
Special thanks go the PHMC staff, including Dr. Brent Glass, Executive Director and Brenda Barrett, Director of the Bureau for Historic Preservation. Thanks also to William Sisson, who provided insights into the statewide survey and inventory process, and also kept the group in touch with other industrial activities across the State. Special thanks to Dr. David L. Salay, formerly of PHMC and now with the Museum of the Rockies at Montana State University and Vice-President of the national SIA; his assistance and advice in the early planning of this book provided insights to its organization and proper development. Dr. Salay also developed a compendium of industrial-related sites in Philadelphia that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places; that was no small feat, and his efforts are appreciated.
 
Thanks also to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of the National Park Service, a co-sponsor of the 1990 Conference, and in particular to Katherine C. Stevenson, Associate Regional Director and friend of this group. Thanks also to Tina C. Van Dyke, who provided a listing of industrial sites in Philadelphia that are currently in the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record Collection in Washington, D.C. This was no small feat either, and her work is appreciated.
 
This guidebook was copy-edited by Sarah Evans, formerly of Philadelphia now living in Detroit. Typesetting was by Graphic Arts Composition of Philadelphia; special thanks to Louis A. Rambo, whose personal interest and input helped clean up some of rough edges in the book's layout. Printing and binding were by Book Masters, Inc., Ashland, Ohio.
 
Special thanks go to Richard Boardman, of the Map Room at the Free Library of Philadelphia, who acquainted all of the authors with the resources held by that marvelous repository—in particular, the Hexamer General Surveys.
 
Final thanks is given to those individuals whose tireless efforts contributed directly to the quality of this publication. They include: Dr. Carter Litchfield, who gave countless hours of advice on how to put a book like this together; Janet C. Kelsey, who typed and inputted every single hand-written scrap of information; Todd Gilens, who helped coordinate the book's graphics with the overall concepts of the Conference; Donald F. Kraft, P.E., whose meticulous drafting and compositional skills contributed to the production of the maps for the book; Kenneth Finkel of the Library Company of Philadelphia for his peer review of the pre-final document; Philip Scranton of Rutgers University, Camden for his insights and introductory comments; Martin McNamara, whose article in the Philadelphia Inquirer really showed how much grass-roots support really exists for our work, and Mary Claire Bowie, who tolerated an almost two year sabbatical of her husband to put this guidebook together. Finally, thanks to the members of the Oliver Evans Chapter of the SIA who authored, photographed, illustrated, and organized the production of this book; their knowledge, motivation, teamwork, and interest in Philadelphia's industrial history are the only reason this guidebook exists.


1  Sites that were important to a particular neighborhood's growth that are now gone, such as the Baldwin Locomotive Works in North Philadelphia, are usually discussed in the overview of the chapters.
2  The notion of organizing the guidebook by industrial type (i.e. grouping all the textile related sites together, all the railroad related sites together, and so on across the city) was considered but ruled out because it did not appear to create as useable a document for touring purposes.  Also, the idea of organizing the book chronologically was considered but also ruled out because of the desire to have it as a guidebook, as well as a documentary source for existing sites, structures, and buildings.  This format makes possible the use of this material for neighborhood groups.
3  For an excellent description of the Hexamer General Survey maps, see Helena Wright, "Insurance Mapping and Industrial Archeology," IA, Vol. 9, No. 1, (Washington, D.C., 1983), pp. 1-18.