Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia


John Mayer, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

Southwest Philadelphia is bounded by the Schuylkill River to the east, the Delaware River to the south, Cobbs Creek to the west and Baltimore Pike/South Street to the north. The area included farms, large estates and open marshes through the nineteenth century. 1 John Bartram's estate, located on the Schuylkill River near Woodland Avenue and built c.1730, is an important reminder of the more pastoral quality of this section of the city.
This neighborhood includes several small communities that were clustered around industrial mill seats such as the Angora section with the Angora Cotton Mill (destroyed c.1912) and Paschallville with the Passmore Mill and later Fels and Co. (partially demolished c.1956 and 1985).  
As the railroads made their way to Philadelphia from the south, supporting industries grew up along the rail lines that passed through the area.
2 The Brill Company, located at Woodland Avenue between 60th and 62nd Streets, was a major traction equipment/rail car manufacturer operating from the 1868 through the 1940s. The Brill works covered 30 acres of ground and employed nearly 1,500 employees as late as 1920. 3
Improved street car rail transportation built mostly during the twentieth century, stimulated much of the residential growth in the area.
One of Philadelphia's larger and most short lived industries to occupy Southwest Philadelphia was the Hog Island Ship Yard, a World War I merchant ship building facility, built by the American International Shipbuilding Corporation (Stone and Webster, engineers). The Hog Island Ship Yard produced 110 standardized, pre-fabricated ships between October 1917 and January 1922.  Built up on the site of what has become the Philadelphia International Airport, only a few of the thousands of pilings remain of this massive facility. The shipyard employed 34,000 men at its peak, included 50 shipways, and covered 300 acres. The most enduring reminder of the shipyard is the 1,479 houses built for Hog Island workers in Buist Park (in the area of 2500 South 67th and 68th Streets) in the Elmwood section.
Today most of the industry has left Southwest Philadelphia and has been replaced by parks, commercial shopping strips, and residential communities. The marshy portion of the area, bordering the Schuylkill and Delaware Rivers, is home to the airport and Philadelphia's state-of-the-art sewage/sludge treatment facility.

1  Richard Webster, Philadelphia Preserved, (Philadelphia, 1976), pg. 193.
2  see Philadelphia City Atlases of the 27th Ward, 1876, 1885, and 1910.
3  see Pennsylvania State Department of Labor and Industry, Third Industrial Directory of Pennsylvania, (Harrisburg, 1919), pg. 880; see also Federal Writer's Project, Philadelphia: A Guide to the Nation's Birthplace, (Harrisburg, 1937), pg. 500.
4  see Bulletin Archives, Clippings File, "Hog Island," at Temple University's Paley Library, Evening Bulletin, Nov. 14, 1920; see also David Tyler, The American Clyde, (Newark, DE, 1958), pgs. 105-8; see also Philip Scranton and Walter Licht, Work Sights, (Philadelphia, 1986), pgs. 229-30.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Stephen J. Salamon and Jeffrey Ray for assistance with the photography. Thanks to Harold E. Spaulding, the Industrial Explorer, for his assistance on several sites in this section. Thanks to the Charles G. Mayer Foundation for help.

Southwest Philadelphia bibliography