Stories from PA History
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Science and Invention
Since the time of the Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania has been a center of science and invention. Here, the application of science to the improvement of people's lives became a distinctive American frame of mind. An economic powerhouse and international center of technological and industrial innovation, Pennsylvania was the birthplace of bifocals, steamboats, steel rails, the Ferris wheel and Jeep, commercial radio, digital computers, the polio vaccine, and a host of other world-changing innovations.

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Bring this subject into focus through the following chapters. These stories take exploration of the main story further by providing more detail for you to learn and explore.

Overview: Science and Invention
Chapter One: The Mechanical Age
Chapter Two: The Industrial Age
Chapter three: Science and Invention in the Twentieth Century

Historical Markers In the Story
marker icon Christian B. Anfinsen (Westmoreland) marker icon Commercial Digital Computer Birthplace (Philadelphia)
marker icon Dr. Florence Seibert (Northampton) marker icon Duryea Drive (Berks)
marker icon ENIAC (Philadelphia) marker icon Frank Conrad (Allegheny)
marker icon G. Raymond Rettew (Chester) marker icon Holley Motor Company (Mckean)
marker icon Invention of the Jeep (Butler) marker icon Johnsville Naval Air Development Center (Bucks)
marker icon Nuclear Accident at Three Mile Island (Dauphin) marker icon Pennsylvania State University [Education] (Centre)
marker icon Philo T. Farnsworth (1906-1971) (Montgomery) marker icon Pioneer Short-Wave Station (Allegheny)
marker icon Rachel Carson (Allegheny) marker icon Radio Station KDKA (Allegheny)
marker icon Rev. Joseph Murgas (Luzerne) marker icon The 1948 Donora Smog (Washington)
marker icon The First Weather Satellite (Bucks) marker icon The Wistar Institute of Anatomy and Biology (Philadelphia)
marker icon University of Pittsburgh (Allegheny) marker icon Westinghouse Electric Corporation [Science and Invention] (Allegheny)

Lesson Plans for this Story
Take your students back in history with these discussions and activities for the classroom

Story Bibliography

1717 First recorded account of the Conestoga wagon, developed by Pennsylvania Germans in Lancaster County, who transformed the simple colonial farm wagon into a rugged overland freight hauler.
1727 John Bartram begins traveling through the colonies collecting specimens for his botanical garden.
1742 Benjamin Franklin invents the "Franklin stove," a cast iron furnace to heat rooms.
1743 American Philosophical Society founded by Benjamin Franklin and other gentlemen scientists to promote scientific endeavors and spread the ideas of the Enlightenment.
1751 Benjamin Franklin invents the lighting rod to protect buildings from lighting strikes
1760 Benjamin Franklin invents bifocal eyeglasses.
1767 Benjamin Franklin publishes his scientific observations about electricity in his path breaking History and Present State of Electricity
1768 David Rittenhouse and Samuel Sellers participate in the official British study of the transit of Venus.
1787 John Fitch launches the first steamboat on the Delaware River. Founding of the Pennsylvania Society for the Encouragement of Manufactures and the Useful Arts
1788 - 1804 University of Pennsylvania Professor of Botany Benjamin Smith Barton publishes the first volume of his Essays Towards a Materia Medica of the United States, the first book on American medicinal plants.
1790 The nation's newly established Patent Board issues the first American patent to Philadelphia Quaker Samuel Hopkins for his new method of making potash, an important, multi-purpose industrial chemical.
1792 Opening of the ninety-two-mile Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike, the nation's first long-distance, macadamized toll road.
1794 British scientist Joseph Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, immigrates to Northumberland County, Pennsylvania.
1794 Charles Willson Peale retires as a professional artist to devote more time to his museum. Founded in Philadelphia in the 1780s, Peale's Museum was the nation's first natural history museum.
1803 Meriwether Lewis comes to Philadelphia for scientific training before embarking on the expedition to explore the land west of the Mississippi River.
1807 Pennsylvanian Robert Fulton sails his steamboat Clermont up the Hudson River.
1811 Built in Pittsburgh, the New Orleans becomes the first steamboat to travel down the Mississippi River to its namesake city.
1812 The Academy of Natural Sciences opens in Philadelphia to study and promote a better understanding of the natural world.
1824 The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts (today's Franklin Institute) opens in Philadelphia to promote science and technology.
1831 Phineas T. Davis in York, Pa., designs and builds the first coal-burning locomotive steam engine made in United States
1837 William Darlington publishes his Flora Cestrica - a comprehensive catalog of all the plants in Chester County, PA.
1838 - 1842 The United States Exploring Expedition begins a four-year global voyage of scientific discovery. Its core of scientists includes three Philadelphians: naturalists Titian Peale and Charles Pickering, and horticulturalist William Brackenridge.
1839 Joseph Saxton takes the first known American photograph, a ghostly image of Philadelphia's Central High School.
1841 John Roebling opens a factory in Saxonburg for making woven iron wire cable, which he will use to revolutionize American bridge building. His masterpiece, the Brooklyn Bridge, opens in 1883.
1844 The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad constructs the nation's first iron railroad bridge, designed by Richard Osborne of its Pottstown shops, across a small creek along the Schuylkill River in Manayunk.
1845 Publication of Samuel Haldeman's Monograph on the Freshwater Mollusca of the United States, a careful study of mollusks and their shells.
1845 The Montour Iron Works of Danville rolls the nation's first iron railroad T-rails.
1852 Samuel Wetherill develops a process to extract white zinc (zinc oxide) directly from zinc ore. A versatile element, zinc is important to the manufacture of brass during the American Civil War.
1858 University of Pennsylvania anatomist Joseph Leidy identifies, assembles, and analyzes the first complete dinosaur skeleton found in the United States. Leidy will go on to become "the Father of American vertebrate paleontology."
1861 William Kelly demonstrates a process for making steel at Johnstown's Cambria Iron Works.
1865 Brothers Amos and James Densmore design and fabricate the first successful railroad tank cars, for use in the Pennsylvania oil fields.
1866 Opening of Lehigh University, the first college in the Commonwealth to combine a curriculum in science, industrial engineering, and the liberal arts.
1867 The Pennsylvania Steel Works, just south of Harrisburg, PA, produces the first steel ingots made in the United States.
1868 Christopher Sholes, from Mooresburg, PA, aided by machinist Samuel W. Soule and inventor Carlos Glidden, patents the first typewriter.
1869 George Westinghouse patents his railroad air brake, and invention that will save the lives and limbs of thousands of railroad workers and launch his career as one of the nation's most successful inventor-entrepreneurs.
1869 Eruption of the "Bone Wars," a dispute between Haverford College paleontologist Edward Cope and Yale professor O. C. Marsh so contentious that it undermines public confidence in paleontology and contributes to the end of the federal geological survey program.
1876 The Philadelphia Centennial Exposition becomes a showcase for American inventions and technologies. Here, Alexander Graham Bell gives the first public demonstration of his telephone.
1880 Daniel Drawbaugh files a patent for the invention of the telephone that unleashes litigation with the Bell Telephone Company that would drag on until 1911
1883 Edward Acheson patents carborundum, later credited by the U.S. Patent Office as one of the twenty-two patents most responsible for the industrial age.
1883 Thomas Edison's first commercial Direct Current (DC) three-wire electric lighting system -the modern system in use today - goes into operation in Sunbury, Pa.
1884 Sworn affidavits attest that this is the year that Plymouth, Pennsylvania machinist Sephaniah Reese constructed his first gasoline-powered "horseless carriage." If true, this date would make the "Reese Special" the first gas-powered vehicle constructed in the United States.
1886 The first street car system in the United States operating entirely by electricity begins service in Scranton, Pa.
1888 The Pittsburgh Reduction Company begins production of aluminum using Charles Martin Hall's electrolytic process, a process that enables the commercial production of aluminum.
1888 Pennsylvania lumberman Charles D. Scott begins manufacture of his Climax locomotive, one of the screw driven, narrow-gauge locomotives that will help revolutionize the American timber industry.
1889 Philadelphia farm machinery manufacturer Samuel Leeds Allen patents the "Flexible Flyer" snow sled.
1892 Philadelphia attorney Joshua Pusey invents the Flexible Match; opening of the Wistar Institute, the nation's first independent medical research facility.
1893 The Westinghouse Electric Company lights the Chicago World's Fair with Alternating Current electrical generators. Pittsburgh engineer George W. G. Ferris designs and constructs the "Ferris Wheel" for the Columbian Exposition.
1894 Philadelphian Edward Joy Morris patents the Figure Eight Toboggan Slide, the first roller coaster to use side friction wheels to keep the cars from derailing or overturning.
1897 Philadelphia optician Siegmund Lubin builds, patents, and markets his first motion picture projector, the Cineograph, on his way to becoming one of the world's largest manufacturers of "life movies."
1900 Charles E. Duryea opens the Duryea Power Company in Reading, Pa., for the manufacture of automobiles.
1902 The Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, following in the footsteps of General Electric, opens a corporate research laboratory to which it soon attracts leading scientists and engineers.
1905 Wilkes-Barre priest Joseph Murgas transmits wireless telegraph signals at a rate of fifty words per minute from Wilkes-Barre to Scranton; Bryn Mawr biologist Nettie Stephens proves that "X" and "Y" chromosomes determine sex.
1906 Philadelphia inventor A. Atwater Kent develops an electrical ignition system for automobiles that soon becomes the industry standard.
1911 Publication of Philadelphia mechanical engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor's The Principles of Scientific Management, which helps lay the foundation for modern "scientific management” of the workplace
1912 Opening of the Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh, Pa.
1920 American commercial radio broadcasting begins at Westinghouse radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh, Pa.
1923 Westinghouse Electric creates a national broadcast system through the use of short-wave radio relays.
1928 Walter Diemer, an accountant with the Fleer Chewing Gum Company in Philadelphia, develops bubble gum.
1940 The American Bantam Car Company, located in Butler, Pa., produces the prototype for the World War II Jeep.
1943 West Chester chemist G. Raymond Rettew develops a method for mass-producing penicillin, more than 90 percent of which goes directly to saving the lives of American soldiers fighting in World War II.
1946 J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly of the University of Pennsylvania invent ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, the first all-purpose digital computer.
1947 Philadelphian Richard James patents the "Slinky."
1951 Eckert and Mauchly produce the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC), the first computer to feature an input device modeled on a typewriter keyboard, data tapes rather than punch cards, and data recall from memory.
1952 Installation of the world's largest human centrifuge at the Johnsville Naval Air Development Center in Warminster, Pa. There, researchers would conduct experiments on jet and rocket engines, and the pressure suits used by Project Mercury astronauts.
1955 University of Pittsburgh Medical School professor Jonas Salk announces his development of a vaccine for polio.
1957 Opening of the nation's first commercial nuclear power plant, in Shippingport, Pa.
1960 The Lavelle Aircraft Corporation, located in Newtown, Pa., fabricates TIROS I, the world's first experimental and operational weather satellite.
1962 Publication of Rachel Carson's The Silent Spring helps unleash the modern environmental movement.
1979 The Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant in Middletown, Pa., becomes the scene of worst commercial nuclear accident in American history.
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