Category Archives: Uncategorized

Crafting Pennsylvania Steel’s Macho Myths

Charles Walker’s gritty diary of labor in the bowels of an Aliquippa, Pennsylvania steel mill helped popularize the “men of steel” macho. Four years later, the same steel manufacturer that employed Walker, Jones and Laughlin, upped the ante commissioning a giant statue for the Sesquicentennial Exhibition, the world’s fair in Philadelphia. This grandiose sculpture, “the […]
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Men of Steel

“Steel is perhaps the basic industry of America” wrote Charles Rumford Walker, an Ivy Leaguer with a passion for Big Steel. In the summer of 1919, Walker “bought some second-hand clothes and went to work on an open-hearth furnace” at the Jones and Laughlin Steel Mill in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. “In a sense it is the […]
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Will History Forget Philadelphia’s Sex Workers?

“Some people may think that this is the most virtuous place under the sun, but let them look over these pages, and perhaps they may open their eyes in amazement at the amount of crime committed nightly in “this City of Brotherly Love.” So began an anonymously-authored Guide to the Stranger, or Pocket Companion for […]
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Thomas Mitten’s 5200 Trolleys

In 1923, the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Company (PRT) placed an order for 135 double-end passenger cars and 385 single-end passenger cars from the J.G. Brill Company for their extensive web of trolley lines throughout the city.  According to the Electric City Trolley Museum Association, the PRT’s purchase represented the largest single order for surface passenger equipment […]
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Unveiling Equestrian Statues

We were pleased to find an international inventory of equestrian statues. It reaches way back to ancient times. Marcus Aurelius from the year 176 is there (of course) along with Alexander and many other greats from Europe and beyond: Brazil to Vietnam; Mongolia to Somalia; Congo to Uzbekistan. From the 1600s through the 1700s, the number […]
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Notes on the Philadelphia Violin

“What enables anyone, in any country, to make a really good violin?” Musician, collector and instrument dealer David Bromberg had pondered this question for years. And he had an answer. Sure, a violin maker would need “some talent with woodworking” but they’d also had “to have seen a great violin. That’s the secret,” Bromberg added. […]
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The Inconvenient Truths of Rittenhouse Square

In the last third of the 19th century, fueled by wealth from the industrial revolution, Philadelphia’s Victorian aristocracy established itself on Rittenhouse Square. In rows of mansions, versions of the city’s classic rowhouses on steroids, lived the alpha families, the one percent, who controlled at least half of the city’s wealth. “The lower 80 percent,” […]
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The Railroad Tycoon of Rittenhouse Square

“It is difficult for Americans today to imagine the grandeur of the elite life-style of a Rittenhouse Square at the end of the nineteenth century,” wrote historian Dennis Clark. “The class culture of such neighborhoods created what amounted to a fairyland of elegance and display protected by Victorian codes of civility and discrimination. These enclaves […]
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“An Entirely Unsuitable Home” for the Free Library of Philadelphia

It’s shocking to imagine this ramshackle structure was the home of the Free Library of Philadelphia between 1895 and 1910.  The Free Library came into existence in 1891 thanks to efforts of Dr. William Pepper, a celebrated physician and provost of the University of Pennsylvania. Pepper used $225,000 of his  family’s money to start Philadelphia’s […]
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When 23rd & Chestnut Streets had a There There

A handsome pair of facades at the northeast corner of 23rd and Chestnut Streets. Reading from the left: a cluster of bold, brick arches up, down and across an otherwise modest, two-story structure. Gilt letters and what must be a red cross on the glass doors announce the occupant. Here’s the Philadelphia School for Nurses, […]
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