Stories from PA History
Stories of Pennsylvania's Past & Present
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Since there are more than 2,000 Historical Markers within Pennsylvania's borders, we've organized them by theme to make your exploration easier. Within these story themes, you'll find stories that highlight specific aspects of Pennsylvania's history, as well as the Historical Markers that exist to denote significant places and events within those stories.

We've also made it easier for teachers to teach Pennsylvania history. There are many elementary, middle school, and high school lesson plans associated with the various stories that can be accessed from the story pages or the 'For Teachers' section.
Pennsylvanians and the Environment expand
Pennsylvania's abundant natural resources have always been essential to the development of the Commonwealth, just as its natural beauty has forever been a source of inspiration to its residents. Coal, timber, iron ore, and oil made Pennsylvania an industrial powerhouse, but their extraction and use also had a devastating impact on people, ecosystems, and the environment.
The Indians of Pennsylvania expand
The first people to live in Pennsylvania were part of the earliest waves of human migration into the Western hemisphere. William Penn and his fellow colonists upon their arrival encountered native inhabitants who had their own name for this land and their own starting point for its history.
The Vision of William Penn expand
More than three hundred years ago, William Penn established a colony based upon his vision of religious tolerance, participatory government, and brotherly love. Penn's unique vision helped shape Pennsylvania and American history, and it continues to affect our lives today.
The Peopling of Pennsylvania: The Creation of a Multicultural Society expand
Since the arrival of its first human inhabitants some 15,000 years ago, Pennsylvania has evolved into a complex multicultural society made up of diverse peoples, cultures, and social habits. Through successive waves of immigration Pennsylvanians created a distinctive social world that influenced economic and political realities. This diversity has been the wellspring for mutual progress and sharp conflicts throughout the Commonwealth's history.
Set Apart: Religious Communities in Pennsylvania expand
Pennsylvania has always been a haven for religious refugees from Europe and a destination for spiritual seekers determined to build intentional communities of shared values and faith. The Moravian community in Bethlehem, Ephrata Cloister, the Harmony Society in Ambridge, and less well-known groups help tell the story of Pennsylvania's many holy experiments.
The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania expand
In the 1750s, the western woods of Pennsylvania became a battleground for seven long and bloody years, as the British and French struggled to build their empires. The ultimate British victory reshaped the political and cultural landscape of North America and forever shattered the fragile peace that once had existed between colonists and Native Americans in Pennsylvania.
The American Revolution, 1765-1783 expand
During the American Revolution, war raged on Pennsylvania's borders as well as in its southeast. As Americans fought for independence, Pennsylvania underwent its own "internal revolution," ratifying a radical state constitution, abolishing slavery, and struggling with internal divisions among loyalists, pacificists, patriots, and its Scots-Irish and German residents.
The Philadelphia Campaign expand
After the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence in 1776, British and Continental Armies met in a series of crucial battles throughout the Philadelphia Region. Washington's daring crossing of the Delaware River to defeat British and Hessian forces and his troops' rugged determination to survive their difficult winter at Valley Forge rallied the spirit of the American people at a critical moment in their struggle for independence.
Pennsylvania and the New Nation expand
From 1783 to 1800, Philadelphia was the capital of the New Nation (except for 1789-1790 in New York), and the great issues that faced the country also centered in the Keystone State. Two problems both existing governments struggled to solve were promotion of the general welfare–especially economic prosperity– and opening the west to settlement.
Lewis and Clark in Pennsylvania expand
Pennsylvania played a major role in the history of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. Meriwether Lewis studied for the expedition and purchased his equipment in Philadelphia, started his journey in Pittsburgh, and deposited his journals and most of his specimens for study, publication, and display in the City of Brotherly Love, home to the nation's first museum of natural history.
Crossing the Alleghenies expand
Perhaps more than any other natural feature, the Allegheny Mountains shaped the settlement of Pennsylvania's people and the development of its transportation systems. From the first paths blazed by Native Americans to the Portage Railroad and Pennsylvania Turnpike, Pennsylvanians have always sought better, faster ways to cross this great divide.
Agriculture and Rural Life expand
Once the breadbasket of North America, Pennsylvania for centuries has been a center of agricultural production and innovation. Blessed with a mild climate, abundant land, and rich soils, "the best poor man's country" witnessed the rise of scientific agriculture and regionally specialized farming that continues to be one of the state's most important industries.
Science and Invention expand
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.
"The Surest Foundation of Happiness": Education in Pennsylvania expand
From the founding of William Penn's "Holy Experiment" to present-day debates over curriculum reform and taxes, education has played a central role in the evolution of Pennsylvania society. Once viewed as essential to individual and social progress, the story of Education in Pennsylvania also reveals the fascinating and complex relationship between diverse peoples and cultures in the forging of Commonwealth history and identity.
The Struggle Against Slavery: The Abolition Movement and Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania expand
From the first protest against slavery in 1688 until the end of slavery in 1865, Pennsylvania's abolitionists and Underground Railroad conductors played a key role in the heroic struggle for freedom.
Abraham Lincoln and the Politics of the Civil War expand
Lincoln's path to greatness passed through Pennsylvania, from his participation in the Republican Party's first convention in 1856 through his declaration of the nation's "new birth of freedom" at Gettysburg in 1863. Pennsylvania itself played a crucial role in shaping the Civil War era, not just on the battlefield, but through efforts of James Buchanan, Simon Cameron, Andrew Curtin, Thaddeus Stevens, and other native sons.
The Gettysburg Campaign expand
The Battle of Gettysburg, fought over of the first three days of July in 1863, was one of the climactic events in American history. Confederate General Robert E. Lee's bold offensive into northern territory resulted in the epic clash of two great armies.
Pennsylvania Politics 1865-1930. expand
Between the Civil War and Great Depression, Pennsylvania was controlled by a succession of Republican party "bosses" that ruled in the service of private enterprise in both the state and the nation's capital. To win protection of their own rights and liberties, Pennsylvanians struggled with limited success against one of the nation's most powerful and infamously corrupt political "machines."
The Pennsylvania Iron Industry: Furnace and Forge of America expand
For more than a century, Pennsylvania was the ironmaking center of America. The iron industry played a critical role in the development of the English colonies and the United States in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Iron was an essential material in the agricultural colonies and industrializing nation.
The Railroad in Pennsylvania expand
In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, railroads transformed Pennsylvania into an industrial giant and brought about monumental social, economic, and political changes. From Thomas Leiper's experimental quarry tramway through the heyday of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad, the Commonwealth has long been a center of American railroading and railroad innovation.
Striking Oil expand
In 1859, when Edwin L. Drake drilled an oil well in Titusville, he launched the country's modern petroleum industry. During the 1860s and 1870s, an exciting cast of characters in the northwest corner of Pennsylvania supplied the world with petroleum and dominated the industry, as the region itself underwent dramatic and lasting change.
Mining Anthracite expand
During the nineteenth century, northeastern Pennsylvania's anthracite coal mines fueled one of the great mining booms of American history. The people who mined, moved, and sold anthracite coal built an industry that was crucial to the industrialization of the United States. Along the way, they created dynamic and culturally diverse communities that survive today.
King Coal: Mining Bituminous expand
Bituminous mining began on a small scale in southwestern Pennsylvania during the mid-eighteenth century. During the mid- and late nineteenth century the industry grew enormously, greatly increasing output and the numbers of mines and workers. Thousands of people settled in western Pennsylvania to labor at mines and coke works.
Making Steel expand
For just over 100 years, Pennsylvania was truly "the steel capital of the world." Making steel was a great drama of wealth and poverty, of soaring skyscrapers and gritty mill towns, of the clash between the imperatives of profit and human dignity. Pennsylvania's steel built the Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State building.
A Diversity of Industries expand
The heartland of many of the nation's heavy industries, Pennsylvania was also home to a remarkable diversity of industrial production that ranged from glass, slate, and Portland cement, to shipbuilding and milk chocolate.
Labor's Struggle to Organize expand
Since the early 1700s Pennsylvania has been at the center of American workers' long and difficult struggle for a living wage, safe working conditions, and legal rights. The heartland of many of the nation's heavy industries, including coal, iron, railroads, and steel, the Commonwealth also experienced some of the nation's most violent and prolonged labor struggles. Battling against some of the nation's most powerful corporations and dangerous workplaces, Pennsylvania workers forged some of the earliest, largest, and strongest unions in the country.
Pennsylvania and the Great Depression expand
The Great Depression hit Pennsylvania hard, causing devastating unemployment and forcing more families to seek relief here than in any other state in the nation. It also fueled civil unrest, spurred the rise of organized labor, and unleashed a political realignment that has continued to the present day.
The Arsenal of America: Pennsylvania During the Second World War expand
During World War II, nearly 1.25 million Pennsylvanians served in the Armed Forces and another 1.6 million in the state's volunteer army of civil-defense workers. Others, including African American and women war workers, contributed to a staggering industrial output that was vital to American victory. As the home of the historic peace churches, the Commonwealth also produced more conscientious objectors than any other state in the nation.
Pennsylvania Show Business expand
Pennsylvania's early Quakers did their best to outlaw popular theater, song, and other sinful leisure amusements and diversions. By the later 1700s, however, Philadelphia was the theater capital of the nation. In the generations that followed, Pennsylvanians would play significant roles in the development of American show "business" and the commodification of entertainment.
Jazz in Pennsylvania expand
Loud, improvizational, rebellious, and youthful, jazz was the sound of modern America. John Coltrane, Mary Lou Williams, Billy Eckstine, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Billy Strayhorn, and other legendary figures all made jazz history in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Sports expand
Despite Quaker opposition to "riotous sports", Pennsylvanians were quick to organize and excel in competitive tests of athletic prowess and to engage in a broad range of physical activities. Home to the nation's oldest and largest track and field event, the Commonwealth is also the birthplace of professional football.
Baseball In Pennsylvania expand
On some levels, of course, baseball is just a game designed for sunny afternoons in the fresh air – a game played by boys and girls, grown men and women; for fun and for profit; in towns and in cities; on mowed fields and concrete schoolyards; and in the urban cathedrals of major league parks. Through its rules, realities–and myths–baseball has reflected the struggles and injustices of the American way of life as well as its virtues.
Fine Arts expand
Pennsylvania's art has always reflected the history of the Commonwealth and the nation. Celebrating the state's religious and political ideals, beauty, economic wealth, and progress, Pennsylvania artists have also protested injustice, criticized intolerance, called attention to personal costs of industrial growth, and in other ways reflected American values and visions.
Please come back often as we're regularly expanding our offerings of stories on Pennsylvania History!
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