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Philadelphia Firsts

As the birthplace of America, Philadelphia can lay claim to many "firsts." You can get to know these Philadelphia Firsts when you take The Constitutional Walking Tour. Whether this is your first visit to Philadelphia or your 101st visit, there are so many things to discover in Philadelphia. Did you know that Philadelphia had all of these firsts?

  • First "Planned City" in North America - Founded in 1682 by William Penn, Philadelphia was designed using a grid outlining wide streets and five public squares.
  • First Public Library -The Library Company of Philadelphia was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731.
  • First Volunteer Fire Department - The Union Fire Company was founded in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin in 1736.
  • First Hospital in America - The Pennsylvania Hospital, founded by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Bond, opened its doors in 1751.
  • First Discovery that Lightning was Electricity - In 1752, with his famous kite and key experiment, Benjamin Franklin discovered that lightning is really a stream of electrified air. Although Franklin attained many firsts with his discoveries, Franklin did not invent electricity, but Franklin did invent a rod to tame it. Plus, Franklin's experiment helped him to develop many of the terms that we still use today when we talk about electricity.
  • First University in America - The University of Pennsylvania ("Penn"), as it is known today, became America's first university in 1765 with the founding of the nation's first medical school which augmented its college. Penn traces its roots to a Charity School founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1740.
  • First Student Newspaper - On June 11, 1777, The William Penn Charter School's Student Gazette became the first English-language student newspaper.
  • First July 4th Celebration - In 1777, ships lined the Delaware River discharging 13 cannon shots to honor the 13 states.
  • First American Flag - The first American flag was sewn in Philadelphia in 1777 by Betsy Ross.
  • First Multi-year Capital of the United States - After New York had a one year stint as the nation's capital, Philadelphia served as the first multi-year capital from 1790 to 1800 before the capital moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800.
  • First Multi-term White House - President George Washington (1790 to 1797) and President John Adams (1797 to 1800) lived at 526-530 High Street (now Market Street).
  • First Stock Exchange in the United States - The Philadelphia Stock Exchange was officially organized in 1790, and its roots date back to 1754.
  • First Mint in the United States - The first United States Mint opened in Philadelphia in 1792.
  • First Municipal Water System in the United States - The Philadelphia Water Works, an engineering marvel, began operation in 1799, and during the 19th Century, the Water Works was the second most popular tourist site in the United States after Niagara Falls.
  • First Art Museum in the United States - The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts was founded in 1805.
  • First Republican National Convention - The first Republican National Convention was in Philadelphia on June 17, 1856.
  • First Zoo in the United States - The Philadelphia Zoo opened in 1874.
  • First World's Fair in the United States - The first world's fair, the Centennial Exhibition, was held in Philadelphia in 1876 to mark the 100th birthday of the United States.
  • First Mother's Day Celebration - Through the efforts of Anna Jarvis and Julia War Howe (who wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic"), Philadelphia was the first city to honor Mother's Day as a holiday, and in 1914, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed Mother's Day a national holiday.
  • First "International Style" Skyscraper in the United States - The Philadelphia Savings Fund Society (PSFS) Building, 33-stories tall, opened its doors in 1932, and it was notable for many reasons including that it was the second building in the country to be fully air conditioned.
  • First Thanksgiving Day Parade - The First Thanksgiving parade, sponsored by Gimbel Brothers Department Store, was held in 1920.
  • First Girl Scout Cookies - Girl Scout Cookies first made their debut in 1932 in Philadelphia. One of the initial fund raising efforts that the Girl Scouts did was to demonstrate their baking skills in the window of the Philadelphia Gas and Electric Company, and then they started selling their products right there which led to the creation of Girl Scout Cookie Week in 1934.
  • First Computer in the World - The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC for short, was invented at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. ENIAC was the first all-purpose digital computer, and it signaled the birth of the Information Age.

Plus, Philadelphia has many more firsts waiting for you to discover…

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