The State of Pennsylvania

AT A GLANCE

Name: Pennsylvania was named by King Charles II of England in honor of Admiral Sir William Penn, the father of William Penn, who governed the area. The name means “Penn’s woods.”
Nickname: Keystone State
Capital: Harrisburg
Size: 45,310 sq. mi. (117,351 sq km)
Population: 12,802,503 (2015 est)
Statehood: Pennsylvania became the second state on December 12, 1787.
Electoral votes: 21 (2016)
U.S. representatives: 21 (until 2016)
State tree: eastern hemlock
State flower: mountain laurel
State dog: Great Dane
Highest point: Mt. Davis, 3,213 ft. (979 m)

Pennsylvania map

THE PLACE

Pennsylvania is in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. The western and northern areas of the state are part of the Appalachian Mountain Plateau, a high region of hills, valleys, and mountains that extends from Maine to Alabama. The Pocono Mountains are in the northeastern part of the plateau; the Allegheny Mountains are at the eastern edge. The western area of the Appalachian Plateau has many coal deposits and oil fields.

Pennsylvania’s greatest mineral resources are its many varieties of coal. Much of southern and eastern Pennsylvania is farmland. A region known as the Piedmont is made up of rolling plains, low hills, and valleys that contain some of the most fertile land in the country. This area, in the eastern part of the state, is also home to the Pennsylvania Dutch, a group of people who follow their German ancestors’ simple farming way of life. A narrow strip of level, fertile land that crosses the southeastern corner of the state is part of the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

About three-fifths of Pennsylvania is forested, and several rivers, including the Susquehanna and Delaware, cross the state. Pennsylvania’s weather is generally moist, with cold winters and warm summers. Temperatures vary greatly throughout the state. Western Pennsylvania is the coldest, snowiest part of the state.

Facts and Firsts

  • Pennsylvania is the only one of the original 13 colonies that does not border the Atlantic Ocean.
  • In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philadelphia, and in 1787, the U.S. Constitution was signed there as well.
  • From 1790 to 1800, Philadelphia was the capital of the United States. The city was the site of the first presidential mansion.
  • Betsy Ross of Philadelphia is believed to have made the first American flag with stars and stripes, which was adopted by Congress in 1777.
  • Philadelphia became the home of the country’s first daily newspaper, The Pennsylvania Packet and General Advertiser, in 1784.
  • In 1859, Edwin L. Drake began drilling the world’s first oil well in Titusville.
  • In 1909, Pittsburgh became the site of the world’s first baseball stadium, Forbes Field.
  • The first Internet emoticon, the Smiley :), was created in 1980 by a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
  • Rockville Bridge in Harrisburg is the longest stone arch bridge in the world.

THE PAST

Pennsylvania, especially the city of Philadelphia, played a prominent role in America’s history.

The area now known as Pennsylvania was originally home to several different tribes of Iroquois and Algonquians. Henry Hudson, who explored Pennsylvania in 1609, claimed the region for the Dutch, who held it until the British took over in 1664. Pennsylvania was part of a territory that included New York and New Jersey until 1681. At that time, English king Charles II gave Pennsylvania to William Penn as repayment for debts owed to Penn’s father. Penn was a member of the peaceful Quaker religion. He became known for his religious tolerance and fairness to Pennsylvania’s Native Americans. His descendants controlled the area until the Revolutionary War.

Many important events took place in Pennsylvania during the last quarter of the 18th century. The Second Continental Congress met at Philadelphia in 1775, and the Declaration of Independence was written there in 1776. In 1787, the first U.S. Constitution was also drafted and signed there.

After the American Revolution, Pennsylvania became a leading industrial state. By 1860, Philadelphia produced many of the nation’s textiles, leather, and iron, while Pittsburgh was a leading producer of glass and iron. New railroads helped many Pennsylvania factories supply materials for the Union army during the Civil War.

In the decades following the Civil War, Pittsburgh became the largest steel producer in the United States. Pennsylvania also produced huge amounts of coke, a kind of coal used in industry. The availability of jobs attracted thousands of European immigrants to the state.

During World War II, Pennsylvania factories produced cement, clothing, coal, petroleum, ships, steel, and weapons for the U.S. military. During the 1950s, however, Pennsylvania’s industry was hurt by competition from other steelmakers, a declining demand for coal, and the departure of many textile mills for the South.

In 1979, an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant near Harrisburg almost caused the release of toxic radiation into the area. Although a disaster was prevented, the incident raised concerns about the safety of nuclear power plants and resulted in the adoption of new regulations throughout the United States.

THE PRESENT

Pennsylvania’s steel-making industry never fully recovered from its problems in the 1950s. Although Pennsylvania continues to produce large amounts of steel, the state has encouraged development of other industries. Chemicals, processed food, computer components, and electrical equipment are now Pennsylvania’s chief manufactured products.

The Hershey Foods factory in southeastern Pennsylvania is the largest chocolate and candy factory in the world. Pharmaceuticals and other chemicals are made in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas. The Binney & Smith Company, maker of Crayola crayons, has headquarters in Easton.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh redesigned their downtown centers and historic sites during the 1990s to attract new businesses and increase tourism.

Many tourists come to Philadelphia to see the State House (where the Declaration of Independence was drafted), the Liberty Bell, and other Revolutionary War sites of interest. The Pennsylvania Dutch country, settled by members of the Amish and Mennonite religious groups, has retained a plain, simple way of life and is another popular tourist destination.

Born in Pennsylvania

  • Louisa May Alcott, author
  • Marian Anderson, opera singer
  • Maxwell Anderson, playwright
  • Samuel Barber, composer
  • John Barrymore, actor
  • Ed Bradley, television anchorman
  • James Buchanan, U.S. president
  • Alexander Calder, sculptor
  • Rachel Carson, marine biologist and author
  • Mary Cassatt, painter
  • Bill Cosby, comedian and actor
  • Tommy Dorsey, bandleader
  • W.C. (William Claude) Fields, comic actor
  • Stephen Foster, songwriter and composer
  • Robert Fulton, inventor
  • Martha Graham, dancer and choreographer
  • Milton Hershey, chocolate maker
  • Reggie Jackson, baseball player
  • Gene Kelly, dancer and actor
  • Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco
  • George C. Marshall, general
  • Margaret Mead, anthropologist
  • Andrew Mellon, financier
  • Joe Namath, football player and sportscaster
  • Arnold Palmer, golfer
  • Robert E. Peary, explorer
  • Man Ray, artist
  • Betsy Ross, seamstress
  • B.F. Skinner, psychologist
  • Will Smith, actor and musician
  • Gertrude Stein, author
  • James “Jimmy” Stewart, actor
  • John Updike, novelist
  • August Wilson, playwright and poet
  • Andrew Wyeth, painter