Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia


Irving Kosmin, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The Far Northeast is the part of Philadelphia which extends in a northeasterly direction from the bulk of the city and lies between Pennypack Creek and the Bucks County border along the Poquessing Creek.
At the time of the founding of Philadelphia, this area was inhabited by the Lenni Lenape tribe of Indians, who hunted, fished, and grew their crops in the vicinity of the Pennypack Creek and other tributaries of the Delaware River. Swedish settlers were the first Europeans to farm the area in 1645. They were followed by the English immigrants of Penn's period. The latter traveled from the city to farm the rich agricultural land.
Industry in northeastern Philadelphia County began in the home. Women spun and dyed cloth and made candles and soap. Men built their own homes and barns, made their own tools and furniture, and tanned their own animal skins. As the population increased, several blacksmith shops, tailor shops, cobblers, and carpentry shops appeared and a number of mills were built to grind grain. The mills were powered from the streams but they could not operate during dry weather when too little water was available in the creeks. Many of the farm implements were made by local artisans in their small shops and factories. By 1830, threshing machines were introduced to cope with the ever-increasing grain harvests.
With the advent of steam power and the import of western flour and feed, the old mills and factories were successively abandoned. The buildings began to deteriorate and finally, were evacuated and torn down when the land for Pennypack Park was purchased in 1905. The park lies on both sides of Pennypack Creek which runs from the Montgomery County line to where it empties into the Delaware River.
One of the mills in the park was the Pennypack Print Works, established in 1830, but rebuilt and converted partially to steam power in 1875. Owned by Andreas Hartel & Co. at this time, it produced printed calico cotton.
In 1854, northeastern Philadelphia County became part of the City of Philadelphia as a result of the Consolidation Act of 1854 when the County and City of Philadelphia became the city as we know it today. The northeast Philadelphia County Townships of Lower Dublin, Moreland, Delaware, and Byberry no longer exist but their names live on.
The years 1830-1870 of Philadelphia's early industrial era, and the period 1870-1930 when Philadelphia was known as the "Workshop of the World," did not figure to a large degree in the growth of the Far Northeast.  Instead, adjacent areas to the southwest along the Delaware (such as Tacony, Frankford, Kensington,) experienced huge industrial growth as chronicled in other parts of this book.
The Far Northeast was devoted to mainly institutional, as well as to agricultural, and some residential, use until World War II (1941-46). The building of Roosevelt Boulevard (1926-1930) was a great catalyst for growth in both the upper reaches of the Near Northeast as well as the entire Far Northeast. A tremendous housing boom took place in this area during the post-war period.  Indeed, rowhouses, twins, and single houses are still being built on the remaining lots.
Industrial growth did occur in the Far Northeast when the Budd Company built a large complex in the Somerton section in 1942. Nabisco and the Yale & Towne Company also built large facilities along the Roosevelt Boulevard during the post-war period.
The Far Northeast continues to grow with a diversity unmatched by any other area of the city. This district occupies an area of 25 square miles (about one-fifth of the city) and had a population of 163,371 in the U.S. Census of 1980. The census of 1990 should again reflect a significant increase.
Most of the present industry is now located in several industrial parks. The Philadelphia Industrial Park, the Red Lion Industrial Park, and the Byberry Industrial Park are the largest in the area and are located in the general vicinity of the Northeast Philadelphia Airport. Some manufacturing is performed in these complexes, principally sheet metal components, printing and bookbinding, electronic and clothing manufacturing.

1  Johanna Freuh Gaupp, Fox Chase—300 Years of Memories, (Philadelphia, 1976), manuscript available at the Library, Robert W. Ryerss Museum, Burholme Park, Philadelphia.
2  Hexamer General Insurance Surveys, Nos. 931-932.
3  "A Magical History Tour of Northeast Philadelphia," (Philadelphia, 1976-77), manuscript available at George Washington High School, Philadelphia.
4  "Planning in Philadelphia," Philadelphia Planning Commission, (Philadelphia, 1988), p. 11.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to John R. Bowie, who helped organize the information in this chapter. Thanks to Roy Goodman, Reference Librarian, The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia. Special thanks to Harold E. Spaulding, researcher extraordinaire, for his work on all three sites.

Northeast Philadelphia bibliography