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Why Are There Abandoned Factories in My Neighborhood?

Author: Tim Woods


A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Academy

Year: 2007

Seminar: American Capitalism

Keywords: History, Industrial history, Philadelphia, William Penn

School Subject(s): American History, History

The following curriculum was written to be a six-to-seven day supplement to be used in an eleventh grade United States History course. The unit offers a teacher in or around the Philadelphia area an opportunity to localize the nation’s history and apply it to trends that occurred throughout a large part of our country’s history. Throughout the six lessons, the students will investigate the industrial history of Philadelphia and by the end of the unit, the students should have a strong grasp on the reasons why industry became the backbone of Philadelphia’s economy and subsequently disappeared leaving many of the city’s neighborhoods in shambles in its wake. Following the unit, the students will be allotted two weeks to create a model displaying their vision of the future of what city neighborhoods should look like which will be displayed in the school library.

I will offer this unit at A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Academy. Randolph is a select school in the Philadelphia School District with a focus on vocational education. Our school is a relatively small school in a very large district with just over 400 students. Our physical location is a wonderful asset in conducting this unit. We are located in the northwestern part of the city where Henry Avenue runs into Allegheny Avenue. This location is significant in the sense that at one time it was highly concentrated with industrial complexes. Now, all that is left is a large area of abandoned factories or empty lots that were once bustling areas, providing the class an excellent example of the lessons that are to follow. With the exception of the Tastykake factory and the Abbotsford Homes, our school is the only other occupied building within walking distance. We are able the see the remains of the old Woman’s Hospital, the Budd Plant and Midvale Steel. In fact our school at one time was an old asbestos factory.

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Full Unit Text

The following curriculum was written to be a six-to-seven day supplement to be used in an eleventh grade United States History course. The unit offers a teacher in or around the Philadelphia area an opportunity to localize the nation’s history and apply it to trends that occurred throughout a large part of our country’s history. Throughout the six lessons, the students will investigate the industrial history of Philadelphia and by the end of the unit, the students should have a strong grasp on the reasons why industry became the backbone of Philadelphia’s economy and subsequently disappeared leaving many of the city’s neighborhoods in shambles in its wake. Following the unit, the students will be allotted two weeks to create a model displaying their vision of the future of what city neighborhoods should look like which will be displayed in the school library.

I will offer this unit at A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Academy. Randolph is a select school in the Philadelphia School District with a focus on vocational education. Our school is a relatively small school in a very large district with just over 400 students. Our physical location is a wonderful asset in conducting this unit. We are located in the northwestern part of the city where Henry Avenue runs into Allegheny Avenue. This location is significant in the sense that at one time it was highly concentrated with industrial complexes. Now, all that is left is a large area of abandoned factories or empty lots that were once bustling areas, providing the class an excellent example of the lessons that are to follow. With the exception of the Tastykake factory and the Abbotsford Homes, our school is the only other occupied building within walking distance. We are able the see the remains of the old Woman’s Hospital, the Budd Plant and Midvale Steel. In fact our school at one time was an old asbestos factory.


I felt compelled to write this curriculum following my inability to answer two excellent questions posed by students during class discussions last year. Towards the end of studying a unit on the rise of industry in the United States, I lazily tried to contain all of the rich industrial history of Philadelphia into a brief class discussion/lecture. Close to the end of class a student raised her hand and asked, “Why are there so many abandoned factories in my neighborhood?” At the time I rambled off a short explanation that just confused the poor girl even more. Following that class I realized how important a question it is to my students and promised myself that I would be prepared with an answer when I next taught the unit. Many of the areas our students live in were once thriving neighborhoods. Now these neighborhoods have become examples of urban blight, littered with abandoned warehouses, factories and homes.

The second question was out of my control. Last year Donald Trump placed a bid with the Pennsylvania Gaming Board to build a casino in the very area our school stood. In fact if the plan had gone through our school would no longer exist following the 20062007 school year. Again, it was during a class discussion a student blurted out, completely off topic, “Are they really going to close our school down so Trump can build a casino?” I couldn’t tell the student no, simply because I didn’t know myself. However, I did try to explain reasons why people would think it was a good or bad idea. As I tried to answer this question I began to realize how complex an issue it was. I was determined to try to teach some of the issues surrounding the problems.

Both of these experiences have stuck in my head because I did not adequately answer either, which disappoints me still today. The more I thought about these questions the more I realized the complexity of both. Although complex, the students need to understand these issues because they see the effects in their everyday lives. As our seminar on American Capitalism continued I realized how intertwined the two questions are and saw an opportunity to create a unit addressing both in one unit.

As a teacher I am always trying to find new and innovative ways to keep my students attention while making sure that my standards for learning remain high. Being a teacher in a vocational educational high school also creates additional challenges of creating a lesson with some sort of hands-on experience so the students can create meaningful connections to the material and their lives. My students seem to respond much better in activities and assignments where they are required to create a project demonstrating their knowledge of the subjects as opposed to traditional assessments. I feel this unit offers an excellent opportunity to combine scholarly work with examples of civic duty all while creatively confronting the future of their individual neighborhoods.

The unit was written with several goals in mind. First and foremost is to teach the students an in-depth history of their own city that goes beyond Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. In the nineteenth century Philadelphia emerged as an industrial powerhouse and in my experience, most of our students have little to no knowledge of this past. The unit also aims to: demonstrate some of the tools historians use to gather information; examine the lives of working class peoples throughout the history of Philadelphia; analyze some of the current trends in the transformations of post-industrial cities; and finally to create a stage in which the students can voice their opinions and visions for the future of Philadelphia and its individual neighborhoods. Following the lessons the students will be assigned to create a working model proposing any changes they feel are necessary for their own neighborhoods to achieve success in the future.

Historical Background

In the year of 1681 William Penn officially established the territory of Pennsylvania and created the blueprints for a new city called Philadelphia, which would be located along the Delaware River and stretch west to the Schuylkill. Originally, Penn acquired and dedicated this land to be a sanctuary of religious freedom where the persecuted Quakers would be able to worship free from the oppression of the Anglican Church. However, it is often overlooked that, in addition to the promise of religious freedom, many settlers were lured by economic possibilities and abundance of available quality land.

While devising the blueprints for Philadelphia, William Penn divided the land along the Delaware into parcels to be sold to individual merchants and grants in the countryside to farmers who promised to use the land productively. The first purchasers of land in the city were highly attracted to the commercial possibilities of the port. Located inland from the sea with deep rivers feeding into it, the banks of the Delaware provided a safe place, and offered a promising area for commerce and trade.

During the colonial period, Philadelphia quickly surpassed New York and Baltimore in the amount of goods being shipped through its port, eventually establishing itself as the wealthiest colony of the British Empire. Not only was it the commercial capital in America but Philadelphia even rivaled London in size and industry prior to the Revolutionary War. Due to its strategic location and quality fresh water ports, Philadelphia emerged as a central hub of exchange for all of the British Colonies north and south and many European countries wishing to do business in the colonies.

One of the reasons Philadelphia had become so successful in commerce was the amount of agricultural goods being exported every year. Surrounding the city was abundant fertile land that became the site of significant production of wheat and other grains. Although the promise of commerce along the rivers attracted many entrepreneurs to the city, agriculture is what established Pennsylvania and as wheat, flour, and bread continued to be Philadelphia’s largest exports, it provided the largest source of income for the new city. In fact, the export of crops is what allowed it to stay afloat during the early years providing Philadelphia with a trading commodity while the city was short of currency.1 By the late colonial period Philadelphia became the “breadbasket of the British Empire.”2

Because the city thrived on its agricultural exports, Pennsylvania and its investors focused on infrastructure within the state. The city and private investors spent large sums of money building roads and canals to create a link between the Pennsylvania countryside with the port of Philadelphia so its flour, wheat and beer could be sold to consumers around the world.

However, shipping, agriculture, and a growing finance sector were not the only stories in the development of Philadelphia industry. Shipbuilding also played a large role in early Philadelphia’s early economic development. Because of the enormous supply of timbers, shipbuilders in Philadelphia were able to build and repair ships cheaper then their neighbors in Boston and much cheaper then competitors in England. As ships arrived from all over the world, they needed repairs and supplies before embarking on their journey home. Also, local merchants exporting goods from the cities needed ships of their own to carry the goods across the oceans. Philadelphia emerged as a major shipbuilding center. The Continental Congress commissioned five ships to be built during the Revolutionary War in Philadelphia, the beginning of the U.S. Navy. In 1799, Congress authorized $522,678 to purchase land in the Southwark section to create a Navy shipyard.

Shipbuilding did not represent the only manufacturing in Philadelphia. With all of the commerce and wealth in Philadelphia, the city began to attract immigrants who were skilled craftsman and artisans looking to bring their talents to the new world. The vast majority of the newcomers mostly from Germany, Northern Ireland and Great Britain arrived trained as: coopers, blacksmiths, brewers, tanners, shoemakers, tailors, bakers, and distillers. These artisans would set the stage for the later trademark of Philadelphia: production of diversified, highly specialized products–the key to Philadelphia’s rise as an industrial giant in the nineteenth century.3

At the turn of the eighteenth century the landscape of Philadelphia industry began to change. Following the Revolutionary War, the city attempted to maintain eminence in shipping. Despite an immediate period of prosperity, the Embargo Act of 1807 and the War of 1812 disrupted Philadelphia ports. Faced with strong competition from New York and Baltimore, Philadelphia, with a harbor not directly on the ocean and frozen in the winters, did not seem as desirable. Following the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the writing was on the wall. Philadelphia had to look beyond commerce for prosperity. This is not to say the shipping industry in Philadelphia disappeared. The city continued to rank third behind its neighbors to the north and south.4

With advancements in technology enterprising Philadelphians began to seek other avenues to make money. “Business men in Philadelphia investors had found other more secure more profitable uses for their talents and capital; they moved to the technological revolution”.5 Three new technologies transformed the city’s industry and infrastructure: the steam engine, use of anthracite coal, and railroads. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, city financiers began investing in new forms of transportation, canals and then railroads. Interest and energies also turned toward manufacture.

Manufacturing was not new to Philadelphia. As already noted, since its inception the city has boasted a thriving shipbuilding industry, and by the year 1800 Philadelphia had become the nation’s leader in textile production, metal working, carpentry, and leather goods. In addition, Pennsylvania had already become America’s leading producer of iron. Mills had long been operating in and around the city. But now because of the advent of the steam engine, mills were no longer bound geographically along creeks and rivers and because Philadelphia attracted a number of machinists and engineers, mills began to sprout up quickly and efficiently.

Philadelphia was perfectly suited for this transformation. The city already contained: a large, mostly skilled/semi-skilled labor force, including a large pool of mechanics; abundant and easily accessible supplies of anthracite coal due from the relatively nearby Pennsylvania anthracite region; and established mercantile expertise and merchandizing experience.

Philadelphia entered a new era of prosperity and by the time of the Civil War, home construction was on the rise, the streets of Philadelphia lined with row homes for the large numbers of newcomers. The boom created even more jobs for carpenters, masons, marble cutters, and other skilled workers. Large buildings were erected such as the Second Bank of the United States, the Eastern State Penitentiary, the U.S. Naval Hospital and Asylum, and the Merchants Exchange. The University of Pennsylvania began expansion. New neighborhoods were being built surrounding mills in Manyunk, Northern Liberties and Kensington. Railroads allowed the wealthy to build homes along the Main Line outside the city and in Chestnut Hill, allowing them to live escape the congestion and rising social disorders of the city. As technology improved railroads became cheaper and goods could be shipped easier and more efficiently. Coal became cheaper and easier to secure. Telegraphs were laid along the railroad lines, so not only were people connected around the city, but also now Philadelphia was linked to New York and Baltimore.

Why was Philadelphia able to re-establish itself economically? There are several reasons. First was the city’s diverse product base. First, the city’s diversified product base insured growth. The manufacturing of goods of all varieties, from locomotives to cigars, meant reliance on no single industry and steady overall employment. There were only a few large industrial plants employing large numbers. Most of the mills and factories were small, family-owned and managed businesses employing only small numbers of workers. The goods produced were highly specialized. Whether in textiles or iron implements, Philadelphia manufacturers focused on fine, crafted products and eschewed cheap massproduced items. Also, to make up for the lack of waterfalls and swift creeks and rivers, Philadelphia had mechanized factories with steam-engine technologies.6

By the time of the Civil War, Philadelphia had already established itself as the leading manufacturing city in the United States. As the war ravaged parts of the country, the city continued to prosper, especially in supplying goods to the Union army. Greater expansion occurred after the war and although new industrial giants, such as Pittsburgh and Chicago emerged as prominent, by the 1920s, Philadelphia remained a key manufacturing center, contributing disproportionately to the nation’s output of industrial goods.

The diversity of goods produced was staggering. Philadelphia firms had their hands in all areas of manufacturing. Companies in heavy industry were known world wide for their craftsmanship and quality, such as Levi Morris and Sons of Port Richmond, manufacturer of tools, Merrick and Sons of Southwark, specializing in machinery, William Cramp & Sons, shipbuilders who made the successful transition from constructing wooden ships to iron-plated ones, and Matthias Baldwin, the world’s premier producer of locomotives. In addition to heavy machinery and tools, artisans like Robert Wood were creating cast iron ornaments, like chandeliers, lamps and other fixtures.7 The city also produced: banjos, brooms, wagons, carriages, wheelbarrows, watch cases, glue, electrical and plumbing supplies, telephones, cigars, beer, ice cream, candy, and dental instruments. And as before, Philadelphia still produced more textile goods then any other U.S. city and was the world’s most diversified textile center. Although mostly focused on wool products the city was known for its silk hosieries and felt hats. In addition, the banking continued to grow and Philadelphia-based railroads transported massive amounts of coal, iron and steel to the ports to be shipped out of the city or consumed by factories in the city. Depressions hit the U.S. during the decades of the 1870’s and 1890’s but Philadelphia was not nearly as effected as the rest of the country because of its diversified production system.8

Philadelphia evolved into a modern metropolis. By 1919, the city streets contained over 100,000 automobiles. The building of new thoroughfares, such as Roosevelt Boulevard and the Market Street Subway created new residential neighborhoods. Perhaps the most symbolic image of the modernized city was the rise of the skyline. High-rise steel construction created a downtown with multi-story apartments, hotels and office buildings.

However, there are two sides to the story. As wealth grew, so did inequalities. The city’s population continued to change. During first fifteen years of the twentieth century, the city’s population increased by one-third. Newly arrived immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, particularly, Italy, Poland and Jews from Russia swelled the population. In addition, there was a large influx of African Americans fleeing the racial segregation, oppression, and poor employment prospects of the south. Some of the newcomers arrived trained as shoemakers, tailors, and bakers. But, the majority came untrained and unskilled which created job competition and pressure on housing. Many took jobs as laborers in construction, municipal jobs or lower-level factory positions. African Americans faced severe discrimination in hiring, especially in the industrial sector. With large groups in the city facing poor working and living conditions, along with competition for housing and jobs, resentments grew among the many ethnic groups and with native-born citizens. This resentment turned into open hostilities as nativism and racism ran rampant, at times erupting into open violence.9

Philadelphia prospered during World War I, but bad times economic times were ahead. The city greater contributed to the nation’s war efforts. Local shipbuilders constructed 328 ships. All the major shipyards contributed, including the new Navy Yard recently opened up on Hog’s Island, the largest shipyard in the world at the time. Baldwin Locomotive produced artillery shells and railroad gun mounts in addition to over five thousand locomotives. The Ford Motor Company in Philadelphia supplied the military with the steel helmets. Other companies supplied boots, saddles, uniforms, and more than 75 percent of all leather goods used in the war came from Philadelphia tanneries.10

A brief period of prosperity followed World War I. By the end of the war, the city ranked as the third largest in America, the third wealthiest and third in manufacture. That prosperity quickly subsided with the beginning of the Great Depression of the 1930s. For all intensive purposes, this period marked the beginning of the end of Philadelphia as a premier manufacturing center. Many blamed the problem on “a lack of imagination” by investors and producers who failed to modernize and reinvest in facilities. An article appeared in Harper’s Weekly describing Philadelphia as a city where anything new was rejected and imagination for the future was lacking.

With increased labor unrest accompanying bad times, outdated factories, and cheaper wages elsewhere, business prospects looked less and less desirable in a crumbling city. More importantly, business became less profitable. The 1920-30s saw the closing or moving of the city’s major companies and employers; for example, Cramp’s shipyard shutdown and Baldwin Locomotives began its relocation out of the city. In addition, the city under Mayor J. Hampton Moore was forced to fire 3500 municipal workers, institute pay cuts for police and firemen. Over 80,00o families found themselves homeless, all while Moore blamed the sluggish economy on the laziness of it citizens.11

World War II briefly injected new life into the sluggish Philadelphia economy. The United States government placed close to $1 billion of defense contracts in Philadelphia firms.12 Factories were once again working at full steam. All of a sudden new jobs were being created in metal trades, textiles, shipbuilding, and other areas of manufacturing. The Budd Company produced aircraft parts and ammunition, Disston Saw Works produced light armored plate, Rohm and Hass developed and produced Plexiglas for airplanes, and Baldwin made guns shells, armored plate, propellers diesel engines and even began building tanks as well as locomotives. Activity sharply rose at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the Frankford Arsenal. Even Cramp’s shipyard reopened during wartime to contribute to the city’s efforts.

Workers were needed to fulfill the industrial output promised by leaders of the city. In an amazing turn of events, all of a sudden the city found itself with a shortage of workers. Where just a few years before, unemployment skyrocketed, now employers did not have enough workers. This void attracted outsiders to the city in need of work. To train the newcomers, the federal government created programs in the Philadelphia Public School’s vocational high schools. To add to the shortage, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thousands of young men volunteered for service in the military.

But this newfound prosperity was not to last. After announcing victory over Germany, production in the city came to a grinding halt. Work on twelve warships being built in the naval yard immediately ceased and government contracts were canceled forcing many firms to close down or lay off workers. Veterans of the war (183,850 from Philadelphia were actively serving when the war came to an end) now were returning home to reclaim old jobs or look for new work.

The trend of businesses going bankrupt and/or leaving the city prior to World War II continued after, and sadly these trends were to last for the next fifty years leaving a host of problems behind in its wake. Between 1925 and 1975 Philadelphia lost two-thirds of all industrial employment, over 100,000 jobs in manufacturing.13 During that time Philadelphia saw Baldwin Locomotive complete its move of facilities to outside of the city before going bankrupt. The same fate was dealt to the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1970 following a failed attempt to merge in 1958. Disston Saw Works closed shop following a ruinous strike. The Frankford Arsenal closed in 1977 because armament needs were being met elsewhere. Also most textile factories fled the city due to labor disputes or opportunities to operate more profitably elsewhere.

The sad fact was that Philadelphia companies were just not able to compete, especially the traditional highly specialized firms, as Americans purchased more and more standardized, mass-produced goods. On one hand their physical plants were deteriorating and outdated, employing outdated methods of production and inadequate truck access.14 The city itself was built for a 19th century economy. On the other hand the city was shooting itself in the foot. High levels of corruption in city politics, a large number of labor disputes, poor educational training for the next generations of workers all created a situation where it made more sense to close for good or to leave than maintain operations.

The city did attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of fleeing businesses and revitalize the city’s industries. Time and again governmental, private and citizen groups formed a host of organizations looking for answers to prevent more companies from leaving in the future. However, the groups were ineffectual at best and lacked foresight. Why did the city not attempt to lure industries, most notably automobiles and computers. The established infrastructure already contained all the necessary needs to establish plants for the auto industry and the first computer was made at the University of Pennsylvania. But as in the past, Philadelphia allowed these opportunities to pass as well.

To be fair, the city did not have much of a shot at reviving the fleeing industries in the first place. The ills facing the city were endemic to the majority of America as a whole, particularly the Northeast. Many jobs moved down South or over seas where wages were much cheaper and unions did not exist. On top of this, Philadelphia industries were so intertwined with one another that once one of the larger corporations left, others were forced to close or move as well. By the early 1980’s, a few industrial plants struggled to remain although at a lower level of production (before closing entirely). These operations included the Budd Company and the Navy Yard. But the message was obvious, manufacturing jobs were not remaining or returning to the city.

As businesses fled the city, so did large masses of the population. This too was a post World War II trend across the country. New houses with ample open space lured many to the suburbs. With the boost of car ownership and new road construction, living in the suburbs and commuting to the city for work or pleasure was easier then ever before. The introduction of developments like Levittown created affordable housing in the suburbs for working class people.

City planners attempted to connect the suburbs with the city by building roads such as the Schuylkill expressway and Veterans Stadiums to lure more people to the city. SEPTA also built and extended already established lines to booming areas in Bucks, Montgomery, and Delaware Counties. But as stated by Stephanie Wolfe, “the very roads and transportation systems the planners were working to improve would place many of the people and much of the wealth on which the cities had to depend beyond their own inflexible political boundaries, out in the suburbs, where land was cheaper, taxes lower, and free parking plentiful.” 15Coupled with the fact that many suburbs and townships refused to work with the city out of fear that the social issues plaguing the city would spill over into their own boundaries, Philadelphia increasingly found itself isolated.

Social ills were the reason many attempted to flee the city in the first place. The all too familiar problems that accompany poverty and unemployment began to dominate the city. Although violence and crime were not new to Philadelphia, during this period and to an extent still today, crime rates reached unprecedented levels. Once strong workingclass neighborhoods deteriorated through age and lack of resources. Pollution of the city’s rivers and air were unhealthy reminders of the industries that once dominated the city. The exodus of both businesses and residents created an eroding tax base, inadequate funding for city infrastructure such as transportation and badly needed social services such as health and most importantly schools. This flight created an unending cycle where people left the city because of its deterioration putting the city in financial crisis, which further decimated needed funding for the city, only to push more people out. Additionally, many of the people leaving the city were white, which further segregated many of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Toward the end of the 1980’s, Philadelphia finally began experience marginal progress. With a lack of any better ideas, the city turned to tourism as a new industry. Earlier, the neighborhoods of Society Hill, Rittenhouse Square, Queens Village and Fairmount began to gentrify creating a center city feeling. Using this progress and the historical value of Old City, Philadelphia began advertising the city as a great place for vacation. As the industry quickly established itself, center city witnessed the building of new hotels.

Along with tourism, the city and surrounding areas quietly built up other industries. Philadelphia had always been known as a medical center. The health care industry now is the largest sector of employment. The region is also a hub for education, boasting many world-renowned universities and colleges. Along with its medical center, the University of Pennsylvania is the largest private employer in the city. Pharmaceutical firms, which benefit from the medical research conducted in local universities, also play a large role in the current economy. Law offices, insurance companies, banks, and government agencies remain as well. These sectors have added jobs that have helped breath life back into the struggling economy, yet the jobs offered require higher education and specialized training (and are located at geographical distances from the destroyed industrial districts). In addition to these sectors of the economy, the city has also added many jobs in retail, service based and soon to be casino jobs for unskilled workers. However, these are poor substitutes in pay and benefits to the previous industrial union jobs they are replacing.

Although the city’s population continues to decrease, the decline is slowing. New professional jobs lure many to Philadelphia. The relatively low cost of living compared to other large cities in the U.S. serves as an attraction. Philadelphia has begun to promote itself as a hot spot to live, particularly for younger crowds. Old working-class gentrifying neighborhoods near the center city are being gentrified as abandoned factories and mills are converted into luxury condos and upscale bars, restaurants and coffee houses. Streets that were once lined with trash and graffiti now house chic art galleries and boutiques. In fact the New York Times has recently dubbed Philadelphia as the sixth borough because so many New Yorkers have moved to the area for these reasons.16 These trends have increased employment due to the demands in construction and the various trades that accompany the large amounts of building in the city.

Gentrification has helped the city transform and modernize once again in its long history, but it does not come without a downside. Fist it is not equally distributed. As some areas have received tax breaks to rebuild, other areas continue to erode into crumbling buildings and dangerous slums. The process has also pushed out working-class and low- income long-time residents, causing resentment. But worse then resentment, it pushes people into the already crowded areas of the city, worsening the already mounting problems of affordable housing, health concerns, high crime rates, high unemployment, and poorly performing schools.

The city still has yet to recover from the loss of manufacturing employment in the second half of the twentieth century. In fact, it may never again reach its former glory. The city is still littered with old relics reminding residents of what once was. Today unfortunately, many of those relics are empty and crumbling. Buildings that once created strong neighborhoods are now denizens for the shadier side of society. And sadly these buildings still define the neighborhoods they are in, only now they represent blight and poverty instead of economic strength and strong employment.

Today the City of Philadelphia is a city of extremes. Only a few blocks separate trendy neighborhoods from areas that resemble third world countries. Only time will tell what this century will bring.


  •  Students will learn how to conduct historic investigations on an industrial complexes
  • Students will learn how to conduct interviews for historical research purposes
  • Students will learn how to analyze historic photographs
  • Students will develop understanding of the reasons Philadelphia was able to emerge as an industrial might
  • Students will develop understanding of the reasons for the downfall of industry in Philadelphia
  • Students will analyze current trends in gentrification in post-industrial cities • Students will analyze the future of Philadelphia neighborhoods


Instead of force-feeding information to the students through a textbook, I am interested in presenting the complex history of Philadelphia’s economy through other approaches. Throughout the following lessons I have tried to break the information into separate categories and employ a number of different strategies to get that information across. I have tried to limit the use of textbooks as much as possible. The information will be presented in the forms of newspaper articles and photos in the classroom. The students, for most lessons, will work in small groups to complete the assignments and then report back to the entire class. In addition, students will explore and exchange ideas during classroom discussions.

The most important part of this curriculum unit, I feel, is utilizing the resources available to the students outside of the classroom. One day the lesson will be a walking tour of the immediate neighborhood, which provides a classic example of the loss of industry and a case study of a neighborhood in decline with great need for improvement. Although the students have seen these sites many times, hopefully following the tour they will understand the significance of the buildings they pass everyday without knowing what they once were. I want them to imagine the area as it once had been, pointing out specific plants and discussing specific plants and the work conducted inside of them.

In addition to the walking tours, the students will conduct interviews with family members and neighbors in their individual neighborhoods to understand the changes that have taken place where they live.

Classroom Activities

Lesson One


Students will analyze the evolution of industry in Philadelphia

  1. As students arrive to class, each one will pick up a sheet on the front table of the assigned reading.
    • I will make three copies of each page of the historical background section of the Rationale section of this paper.
  2.   After I have given class the instructions for the day they are to break into groups pairing up with the other students who have the same page as they do.
  3. Each group will:
    • Pick out five words they do not know from their page and define each word
    • Generate two questions for the groups with both the previous and following pages. If they have the first or last page they must come up with at least three pages for the following or proceeding page. c. Summarize the information on their assigned page and when it is their turn present all the information to the class including their vocabulary words and the questions they had generated.
  4.  Following/during the presentations, conduct a class discussion on connecting the assigned reading with the students’ personal knowledge and experience of the city, more specifically their own neighborhoods. It may be helpful to have a map of the city available to point out where each place is that the students are talking about. Note: A copy of the Philadelphia bicycle map is a great resource and can be obtained at most local bike shops in the city or accessed online at

Students will write a two-paragraph essay on: Any visible examples in the neighborhood of previous or current day industrial activity.

Lesson Two:


Students will analyze historical photographs

  1. Review homework. Allow a few students to read their essays aloud while writing some of their observations on the board.
  2. Display a historic photo on an overhead or smart board. Have the students write down five observations of the pictures in their notebooks.
  3. As a class review the photo and the students’ observations. I would write down their observations on the board.
  4. Have a short discussion on what should be noted when analyzing historic photos. Allow the students to brainstorm before you give them the answers. Again I would be writing this on the board and have my students copy it into their notebooks.
  5. Display a few photos on an overhead or smart board and analyze the photos as a class. Note: all photos can be obtained from Work Sights (see bibliography for details on the book) a. Write the student’s observations on the board b. Point out information that the students may have missed
  6. Following the class reviewed photos, the students are to do a gallery walk viewing historic photos hung in various places around the room a. These photos should be hung prior to class
  7. While the students are conducting the gallery walk they must write down:
    • Three observations of each photo
    • Summarize what they think is going on in the photo
    • Summarize their thought on the significance of the photo
  8.  After the students have reviewed all of the photos, they are to return to their desks
  9. As a class review the students notes on the photos 10. As a wrap-up go through each photo and give a brief history of each one

Students must obtain a family photo with historic value; hopefully it will be at least over twenty years old (the older the better). The student will then analyze the photo and write a one-page essay on the significance and background of the photo and include their reasoning for choosing this photo

Lesson Three:


Students will learn basic concepts on conducting oral histories

  1. Review homework (optional, quiz students on the reading)
  2. Conduct a brief discussion reviewing key concepts of conducting an oral interview asking questions
  3. Distribute a copy of an interview of a slave narrative and read it as a class
  4. Review key concepts of oral interviews and connect those concepts to the slave narrative
  5. As a class come up with a list of questions that interviewers should use in an interview
  6. The students are to break into pairs and interview each other using the list of questions created and any additional questions they may have thought during the interview (allow the students 15 minutes)
  7. As a class review interviews. Allow the students to read some of the interviews aloud and express what they have learned though the process

The students must conduct an interview of an elderly member of their family or a member of their neighborhood asking the questions provided on the handout

Lesson Four:


The class will take a walking tour of the many industrial sites that we have studied

*This class will take two block classes. The students will need to have a permission slip signed by their parents/guardians and the teacher of the following class. **Students should come to class with comfortable walking shoes and prepared for the weather. 1. Quickly review last night’s homework 2. As a class we will take a guided tour around the block of our school looking at the Tastykake factory, the remains of Midvale Steel, The Budd plant, and the Woman’s Hospital

Lesson Five:


Students will analyze current trends of development in the city of Philadelphia

  1. Begin with a brief discussion on yesterday’s tour
  2. Define gentrification and economic revitalization. Have students copy the definitions and describe it in their own terms.
  3. Review Donald Trump’s casino proposal for Philadelphia
  4. The students will break into groups of three
  5. Each group will be given a recent article from the Philadelphia Inquirer on current developments in Philadelphia
  6. Each group will: define at least five words from the article and summarize the article.
  7. Each group will describe the article to the class and answer the student’s questions.
  8. End with a class discussion on the future of Philadelphia using the many examples just reported on

Ask the students: Now that the Trump deal did not happen, what should the future of the schools neighborhood look like. Write a three paragraph describing your vision of what should be done with the area.

Lesson Six:


students will develop a plan of revitalization for the neighborhood of the school

  1. Review homework; allow two to three students to read their essays aloud.
  2. Class discussion on Trumps proposals, the good and the bad.
  3. Break the students up into groups of fours. Each group needs to create a proposal of the surrounding area of the school using, but not limited to the following guiding questions: How do you envision the area? What will occupy the area: Businesses? Residences? Both? What types of homes and/or businesses? Heavy industry or retail? What will be needed to rebuild the area? Infrastructure? Money? Support?
  4. Each group will report their ideas out.
  5. Explain the final project. (See hand out 3)

Annotated Bibliography


Licht, Walter, Industrializing America: The Nineteenth Century. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

This book is an in depth analysis of the emergence and evolution of industry in the United States throughout the nineteenth century

Licht, Walter, Getting Work: Philadelphia, 1840-1950. Harvard University Press, 1992.

This book is a comprehensive study of the evolving economy and labor market of Philadelphia with emphasis on how different groups of people secured jobs.

Miller, Randall M., and William Pencak, Pennsylvania: A History of the Commonwealth. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002

This book is a complete history of the state of Pennsylvania from the states inception to current times. The Pennsylvania Historical Society commissioned this book.

Scranton, Philip and Walter Licht, Work Sights: Industrial Philadelphia, 1890-1950. Temple University Press, 1986

This book offers a photographic history of Philadelphia industrial complexes and the workers that operated them during the years of 1890-1950

Weigley, Russell F., Philadelphia: A 300 Year History. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company 1982

This book is one of the most comprehensive historical accounts of the city of Philadelphia.

Internet Sites: The website contains over 40,000 historical photos of Philadelphia which is easily accessed through a simple search engine. The following website was originally create as a pamphlet by the Members of the Oliver Evans Chapter of the Society for Industrial Archeology to be used as a companion on walking tours throughout Philadelphia’s various websites. The site has links that describe the reasons for the fall of industry in Philadelphia and gives a wonderful detailed account for each individual neighborhood with in the city. is a website that houses a wealth of information and statistics for thousands of cities in the United States and abroad. This website was developed by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation as a vehicle to describe current and future plans of the Naval Industrial Complex. It also contains a detailed and interesting view of the history of the area.

Newspaper Articles:

Lin, Jennifer “Philadelphia Residents See Hope, But Also Holes” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 4, 2006, Page A01

Lin, Jennifer “Blight Unbeaten-Despite Mayor Street’s Plan, Thousands of Dangerous or Condemned Sites Remain” The Philadelphia Inquirer, September 3, 2006, Page A01

Moore, Tina “Casino Proposals Split Communities in Philadelphia” the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 12, 2006, Page B01

Nussbaum, Paul “Plans To Extend Subway to Navy Yard Get a Boost” The Philadelphia Inquirer, June 5, 2007, Page B01

Parmley, Suzette and Jeff Shields, “Why Trump Lost Gamble on Slot Site” The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 2, 2007, Page A01

Pressler, Jessica “Philadelphia: The Next Borough” New York Times, August 14, 2005, Page 9.1


8.2.12.A. Evaluate the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to Pennsylvania history from 1890 to present.

8.2.12.B. Identify and evaluate primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in Pennsylvania history from 1890 to Present.

8.2.12.C. Identify and evaluate how continuity and change have influenced Pennsylvania history from the 1890s to Present.

8.2.12.D. Identify and evaluate conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in Pennsylvania history from 1890 to Present.

8.3.12.A. Identify and evaluate the political and cultural contributions of individuals and groups to United States history from 1890 to Present

8.3.12.B. Identify and evaluate primary documents, material artifacts and historic sites important in United States history from 1890 to Present.

8.3.12.C. Evaluate how continuity and change has influenced United States history from 1890 to Present.

8.3.12.D. Identify and evaluate conflict and cooperation among social groups and organizations in United States history from 1890 to the Present.

Hand out # 1

American Slave Narratives Betty Foreman Chessier, Oklahoma Collected by the Federal Writers Project, Works Progress Administration

Chessier, Betty Foreman Age 94 624 N.E. 5th Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Ida Belle Hunter, Reporter
Oklahoma Writers’ Project Oklahoma Historical Society
1. I was born July 11, 1843 in Raleigh, NC. 2. My mother was name Melinda Manley, the slave of Governor Henley of N.C. an’ my father was name Arnold Foreman, slave of Bob and John Foreman, two young mastahs. They come over from Arkansas and visit my mastah an’ my pappy and mammy met an’ got married doe my pappy only seen my mammy ever summah when his mastahs come to visit our mastah an’ day tuck him rat back. I had three sisters an’ two brothers an’ none of dem was my whole brothers an’ sisters. Funny t’ing. I stayed in the big house all the time, but my sisters an’ brothers was gived to the mastah’s sons an’ daughters when dey got married an’ dey was tole to sen’ bac’ for some more when dem died. I diden never stay with my mammy doing of slavery. Honey I stayed in the big house. I slep’ under the dinin’ room table with three other darkies. Doe now the flo’ was well carpeted. Don’t remembah my grandmammy and grandpappy, but my mastah was they mastah. 3. I stayed in the big house and waited on the table, kept flies offen my miz and went for the mail. Never made no money, but dey did give the slaves money at Christmas time. 4. I et what the white folks et an’ dey diden eat no ‘possums and rabbits, doe dey et fish. My choice food was soup an’ still is. No gardens where I lived, cose I diden live on no plantation. I lived in town all the time. Day all had gardens out on the plantation doe.

5. I never had over two dresses. One was calico and one gingham. I had sich under cloes as dey wore den. 6. Mastah Manley and Miz had 6 sons an’ six darters. Dey raised dem all tell day was grown too. Dey lived in a gread big house cross the street from the mansion, rat in town ‘fo Mastah was ‘lected Governor, den day moved in all dat mansion. 7. Plantation folks had barbecues and lay crops an’ invite the city darkies out. I weren’t hongry, I warent naked and chile I got five licks from the white folks in my life. Dey was for being sich a big fergitful girl. 8. Mestah had jes’ 15 slaves on the place and when his chillun come home to visit ever summah dey had to bring day own niggers. Dey brung two a piece. 9. I saw ’em sell niggers once. The only pusson I ever seed whipped at dat whipping post, was a white man. 10. Now, chile I never got no learnin’, day kep’ us fum dat, but you know some of dem darkies learnt anyhow. 11. We had church in the heart of town or in the basement of some old buildin’. I went to the ‘piscopal church mos’ all the time, tell I got to be a Baptist. 12. The slaves run ‘way to the North ’cause dey wanted to be free. Some of my family runs away sometime en’ dey diden catch ‘am neither. The patterollers sho’ watched the streets. But when day caught any of Mastah’s niggers wid out passes, day jest locked him up in the guard house and mastah coma down in the mawnin’ an’ git ‘er out, but dem patterollers better not whip one. 13. I doesn’t remembah any play songs, ’cause I was almost in prison chile. I couldn’t play with any of the darkies. I doesn’t remembah playin’ in my life when I was a little girl en’ when I got grown I diden wanta. 14. When I fust come heah I couldn’t understan’ the folks heah, cause dey diden quit work on Easter Monday. That is some day in North Caroline even today. 15. I know when the war commenced and ended. Mastah Manley sent me from the big house to the office about 1/2 mile ‘way. Jest as I got to the office door, three man rid up in blue uniforms and said, “Dinah, do you have any milk in there?” I was sent down to the office for some beans for to cook dinner, but dem men mos’ nigh scaid me to death. They never did go in dat office, jes’ rid off on horseback about a quarter of a mile and seem lak rat now. Yankees fell outta the very sky, ’cause hundeds and hundeds was everwhere you could look to save your life. Old Miz sent one of her grandchillun to tell me to come on and one of the Yankees tole dat chile “You tell your grandmother she ain’t comm’ now and never will come back there as a slave.” Mastah was setting on the mansion po’ch. Dem Yankees come up on de porch, go down in cellar and don’t tech one blessed t’ing. Old Miz tuoh heart trouble. Dem Yankees whipped white folks going and comin’. 16. After the war, I went to mammy and my step-pappy. She done married agin. I left and went to Warrington and Hallifax, North Carolina jest for a little while nursing some white chillun. 17. I laid in my bed a many night scared to death of Ku Klux Klan. Dey would come to your house and axe for a drink and no more want a drink den nothin’. 18. When I got married I jumped a broomstick. I am the mother of 4 chillun and 11 grandchillun. To git unmarried, all you had to do was to jump backwards over the same broomstick.

19. Lincoln and Booker T. Washington was two of the finest men ever lived. Don’t thank nothin’ of Jeff Davis, ’cause he was a traitor. 20. Freedom for us was the bes’ t’ing ever happened. 21. Prayer is bes’ t’ing in the worl’. Everybody oughtta pray, cause prayer got us outta slavery. 22. I stayed in Raleigh, where I was born tell 7 years ago, when I come to Oklahoma to live wid my only livin’ chile.

Handout # 2

Name: Period:

Name of interviewee: Date of Interview: Age of interviewee: Length of time living in the neighborhood:

Did they grow up in the neighborhood? If not, at what age did they move there? (If they grew up somewhere different ask them to give the similarities and differences from where they did grow up.)

What are their earliest memories of the neighborhood? Be as specific as possible. (Residents, homes, schools, etc. anything they can remember)

What are the most significant changes in the past 50, 25, 10, 5 years? (Have them answer as many as they can.)

What are their best and worst memories of the neighborhood?

How would they describe the neighborhood now?

If they could change anything about the neighborhood, what would it be? What would they keep?

Additional information:


Handout # 3


We have spent the past week studying the changes of Philadelphia’s economy and how it has affected the surrounding communities. As a final project for this unit you are to create a working model for your individual neighborhood proposing any changes that you believe would help the neighborhood. Include in your project ideas of: jobs, housing, businesses, health care, transportation, population, environment, etc.

Each student will have to create a working model of his or her own neighborhood. This model needs to include, but is not limited to: a typed four page paper of all proposals, a map of the neighborhood, photographs of areas you propose changed, captions of each photo describing its location, what it currently is and what you feel should be done to it.

When all of the projects have been handed in, they will be displayed in the schools library where a panel of judges will decide the top three plans. The winners will all receive a prize and will have their projects submitted to the Student Voices Civic Fair at the end of the year. (Which includes a field trip out of school for two straight days.)