History of Pennsylvania
Before the arrival of the Europeans, Pennsylvania was inhabited by several Native American nations, including Leni Lenape, Shawnee, Iroquois, Eriez, Huron and Susquehannock.
The land on the both sides of the Delaware River, including the territory of the present-day Pennsylvania, was quite interesting for both English and Dutch explorers and settlers. The Dutch were the first to claim the land and to colonize it. However, the Swedish also had interest in these lands and the English certainly weren’t prepared to give it up. In 1682, the King Charles II of England, who owed a large sum of money to the English admiral William Penn, repaid his debt by granting his son, William Penn, a land charter. The land was called Pennsylvania, which was not William Penn’s idea. He actually wanted to change the name to New Wales or Sylvania but King Charles II refused to rename it. William Penn, who was a Quaker, is often considered a pioneer in religious freedoms and democracy, as he established certain governmental and democratic practices that certainly did not represent the norm in America at that time.
The immigration flow increased in Pennsylvania in the mid-1680s, with the newcomers arriving mostly from Great Britain, Germany and Holland.
Pennsylvania, especially Philadelphia, played an important role in the formation of the United States. John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania, wrote the Declaration of Rights and Grievances after the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, which was attended only by nine of the thirteen colonies. The First Continental Congress, held in Philadelphia, was attended by 12 colonies and on the Second Continental Congress, also held in Philadelphia, the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Pennsylvania ratified the U.S. Constitution five days after Delaware, which was the first, on December 12, 1787.
Other important cities in Pennsylvania are Allentown The first ever college in the United States was founded in Pennsylvania (established in 1773, ratified ten years later). It was called Dickinson College, in honor of John Dickinson.
The Commonwealth General Assembly operated without a permanent seat for a long time, before they settled in Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. However, it was decided that the body needed a better, more central position, so in 1812 it moved to Harrisburg. Even there, it changed houses several times before moving permanently to the Pennsylvania State Capitol, dedicated in 1907, a beautiful structure with elements of Renaissance and Beaux Arts architecture.
During the Civil War, Pennsylvania was frequently attacked by the Confederates and it was the site of one of the most important battles in this war – the Battle of Gettysburg.
Pennsylvania is considered by many to be pioneer state in commercial oil drilling and in the second half of the 19th century it was the most important supplier of kerosene to the United States.
In the 20th century, Pennsylvania became the national center of steel industry. This, coupled with the state’s extensive coal mining, provided a great boost for the economy. Having received word about many new jobs opening in the steel and coal industries, thousands of Europeans immigrated to Pennsylvania. The state saw a lot of confrontation, often violent, between organized labor and the industrial institutions during the first half of the century. However, heavy industries (including steel) entered a steady decline in the second half the 20th century, and Pennsylvania’s economy was hit hard. Many factories closed and the population loss was rather severe. The state shifted towards the service industry, especially transportation, health care and retail, new immigrants arrived from Latin America and Asia and old, semi-deserted towns started growing and prospering again. Today, Pennsylvania is again one of the strongest economies in the United States. It is home to eight of the 500 wealthiest companies in the state, including U.S. Steel, Heinz and PPG Industries.
Geography of Pennsylvania
One of the nicknames for Pennsylvania is the “Keystone State”. This refers to the fact that the state serves a sort of a bridge between the Northeastern and the Southern US states, and also between the Midwest and the Atlantic Seaboard.
Pennsylvania’s southern boundary is the Mason-Dixon line, the Twelve-Mile Circle forms a boundary on the border with Delaware, the eastern boundary consists of the Delaware River and the 42nd Parallel North forms the state’s northern boundary.
Pennsylvania has five regions: the Allegheny Plateau, Ridge and Valley, Atlantic Coastal Plain, Piedmont and the Erie Plain.
The Appalachian Mountains cross the state diagonally, from southwest to northwest. Allegheny Plateau lies on the northwest. This region has many rivers that practically dissect it, so it resembles a mountainous region, even though it is not an actual mountain range.
The largest rivers in the state are the Delaware, Susquehanna, Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela.
The Delaware River forms an estuary on the Atlantic Coast, with a 57 miles shoreline in Pennsylvania. However, this is not an actual Atlantic coastline and even though it is connected with the ocean, Pennsylvania is, in fact, landlocked. Regardless a relatively short shoreline and the fact it is landlocked, Pennsylvania has one of the America’s largest seaports – the Port of Philadelphia. The Port of Pittsburgh is also very large and vital for the coal shipping down the Ohio River.
The topography of Pennsylvania is rather diverse, which means that different parts have different climate features, although generally most of the state gets cold winters and humid summers. Most of the state has a humid continental climate while the Greater Philadelphia region has some features of humid subtropical climate, similar to the southern neighboring states of Delaware and Maryland. Mountainous regions of the state tend to be colder in the winter compared to other regions, and the snowfall there is certainly more abundant.
Pennsylvania was hit by some of the worst ecological disasters in the American history. The Johnstown Flood, in which 2,200 people died, occurred in 1889 when the South Fork Dam burst and destroyed the factory town of Johnston, located downstream from the dam. The catastrophic event known as the 1948 Donora smog involved an air inversion that created a wall of smog and pollution from the plants in the town of Donora, killing 20 people and causing serious damage to the health of at least 7,000 inhabitants. In Centralia, a town in Columbia County, an underground coal fire has been burning steadily since 1961. After an exposed seam of coal caught fire, the entire population was forced to relocate and Centralia is today a ghost town. In 1979, an incident occurred at the Three Mile Island nuclear station near Harrisburg. Fortunately, there were no casualties but the damage repair cost almost $1 billion.
Population of Pennsylvania
In 2011, Pennsylvania had a population of 12,742,886. The racial makeup in the state in 2010 was 79.2% non-Hispanic White, 11.3% Black or African American, 5.9% Hispanic or Latino, 2.9% Asian, 0.3% Native American and 1.9% from two or more races.
The state has a large Hispanic community and it experienced the most intense flow of immigrants from Puerto Rico, Mexico and other Central and South American countries. In addition, many Hispanics moved there from other states (namely New Jersey and New York) in pursuit of more secure jobs and better living. As for the ancestry, the largest groups are German, Irish, Italian, English and Polish.
The largest religious group in Pennsylvania is Roman Catholic, followed by Mainline Protestant, Evangelical protestant and Orthodox. The state also has large Jewish, Muslim and Mormon communities.
Pennsylvania has a large Amish population, however, the largest Amish community is not located in Pennsylvania, but in Ohio. The number of practicing Quakers is today relatively low in Pennsylvania, and the state’s nickname, “Quaker State”, refers to the fact that Quakers played the vital role in the foundation of the state, rather than to an actual Quaker minority.
The Pennsylvania Dutch language, of which many words have passed into spoken English in Pennsylvania, has nothing to do with the actual Dutch language spoken in Netherlands and is, in fact, a variation of German language spoken in many Amish communities.
The largest city in Pennsylvania is Philadelphia, followed by Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Reading, Scranton, Bethlehem, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Altoona.
Economy of Pennsylvania
In 2010, Pennsylvania had a GSP of $570 billion, ranking sixth in the USA. If Pennsylvania were a country, it would be the 18th largest economy in the world. The largest portion of the Commonwealth is rural, but with several strong urban manufacturing centers almost in each corner of the state: Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Erie, Scranton-Wilkes-Barre and Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton. Pennsylvania is home to many large companies, most notably U.S. Steel, PPG Industries, H.J. Heinz and GE Transportation Systems.
Philadelphia is home of the first nationally chartered bank in the country, the Bank of America, founded in 1781. PNC Financial Services is also based in Pennsylvania.
As for the agriculture, Pennsylvania is the number one producer of mushrooms in the United States, the second largest producer of of apples, the third largest producer of Christmas trees and layer chickens, and also a large producer of sod, milk, corn, grapes, horses and wines.
Casino gambling has been legal in Pennsylvania since 2004 and it has been a large source of revenue for the state. Sports betting, however, is still illegal.
Pennsylvania Government and Legislation
Pennsylvania has had five constitutions throughout its history. The first one was adopted in 1776 and the current one in 1968.
The legislature of Pennsylvania is embodied in the General Assembly, composed of two bodies - the House of Representatives with 203 members and the Senate with 50 members. The current legislature is dominated by the Republicans.
As for the judiciary branch, Pennsylvania is divided into 60 judicial districts. The highest body is the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has two senatorial seats in the U.S. Senate and 19 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Education in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, 14 state-owned institutions of higher learning and over 100 private colleges and universities.
The public university system in the state is the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, with 14 state schools. There are also 15 two-year community colleges.
The oldest institution of higher education is the University of Pennsylvania. It is considered to be the first university in the United States with the first medical school in the country. It is also the only Ivy league school in Pennsylvania. Along with the Pennsylvania State University, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, it is a member of the Association of American Universities, a prestigious organization of top research universities.
Pennsylvania is also home of the first art school in the USA - the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and of the first pharmacy school in the USA - the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy.
Other institutions of higher learning in Pennsylvania include Allegheny College, Lehigh University, Bryn Mawr College, Gettysburg College, Juniata College, Ursinus College, Swarthmore University, Muhlenberg College, Dickinson College and many more.
College sports, especially college football, is very popular in Pennsylvania. One of the most famous college teams are the Penn State University Nittany Lions. Penn State home games are played at the second-largest stadium in the United States, the Beaver Stadium.
Pennsylvania Transportation System
Pennsylvania has 121,770 miles of roads, of which 39,861 is owned by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. It is the fifth-largest state highway system in the USA. The Pennsylvania Turnpike is the largest system in the state, with 535 miles and fine tunnels, the largest of which is the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel. Other major highways in the state are I-80, running east-west and connecting Ohio and New Jersey, I-90, I-79, I-81 and I-476.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority operates rail transit and bus transit in the greater Philadelphia area while the Pittsburgh area is serviced by the Port Authority of Allegheny County.
Passenger rail service is provided by Amtrak, with services that include Keystone Service, the Pennsylvanian, the Capitol Limited and the Lake Shore Limited. In addition, there are 67 freight railroads in Pennsylvania, which is more than in any other US state.
There are seven major airports in Pennsylvania. The largest one is Philadelphia International Airport and the others are Pittsburgh International, lehigh Valley International, Harrisburg International, Erie International, University Park International and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International.
Pennsylvania also has two very large ports: the Port of Pittsburgh, which is the second-largest inland port in the country, and the Port of Philadelphia.The dam on the Allegheny River near Pittsburgh, called Allegheny River Lock and Dam Two, is the most used lock in the United States.