The land of Pennsylvania was inhabited by Native American tribes thousands of years before Europeans arrived. It became an English colony in 1681 when William Penn was granted a large tract of land by King Charles II.
Pennsylvania’s earliest settlements developed along streams, which made them particularly well adapted to the development of industries. Arts and crafts flourished and home manufactures grew rapidly, especially in textile production. The state’s natural resources provided a ready source of iron and steel, which led to the formation of many large corporations.
Colonial Pennsylvania was an important center for the development of education, especially in medicine and law. Several universities were founded during this period. In particular, the University of Pennsylvania transformed itself into a modern research institution and introduced a number of professional schools. These include the law school, dentistry, Wharton’s school of finance and commerce, and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Early Pennsylvania was characterized by an eclectic culture that combined the traditions of many different peoples and religions. The Quakers, the Amish and the Germans all made their homes here. Despite the opposition of the Quakers to “riotous sports,” people here were quick to organize competitive tests of athletic prowess.
By the 1790s the state’s emergence as an economic power was evident, with the construction of roads, canals and railroads, as well as the mechanization of farming. It became a leading producer of textiles, ships, tobacco and iron and steel.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh became major industrial centers. The thriving industries, primarily coal, iron and steel, provided jobs for millions of people. However, the end of the heavy industry revolution, and the collapse of the steel industry, has resulted in a significant drop in the population of both cities.
Today the state is an international leader in technology, healthcare and tourism. The economy has been restructured to concentrate on services and higher education. The two largest metropolitan areas are Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, both of which have revitalized their downtowns.
The state’s history is also reflected in its cuisine, which owes much to its German immigrants and Amish communities. The hot pretzel is a common Pennsylvania dish, and the scrapple, a pork sausage stuffed with cornmeal, is another unique food.
Religious institutions also played a major role in the development of Pennsylvania’s social and political life. There were several major denominations, including the Lutheran and Reformed churches, as well as some smaller sects. The Quakers, who began settling in the southeastern part of the state after William Penn was granted his Charter, were among the most numerous.
The state was home to several important settlers, such as Benjamin Franklin and David Rittenhouse. These men of intellect achieved great fame and contributed to the growth of the country. In addition to their academic accomplishments, they served as leaders in politics and government.