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Pennsylvania (the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania) is one of four states of the United States of America that is called a commonwealth. It has given its name to the Pennsylvanian time period in geology. Pennsylvania is called the Keystone State.

Although Swedes and Dutch were the first European settlers, the Quaker William Penn named Pennsylvania for the Latin phrase meaning "Penn's woodlands", in honor of his father. Today, two major cities dominate the state - Philadelphia, home of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and a thriving metropolitan area, and Pittsburgh, a busy inland river port.

Pennsylvania is one of the U.S.'s most historic states. Philadelphia is often called the cradle of the American Nation. It was here that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drawn up by the Founding Fathers. The Pocono Mountains and the Delaware Water Gap provide popular recreational activities.

The so-called "Pennsylvania Dutch" region in south-central Pennsylvania is another favorite of sightseers. Pennsylvania Germans, including the Amish and the Mennonites, dominate the area around the cities of Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg, with smaller numbers extending northeast to the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton area and up the Susquehanna River valley. Some of the Old Order Amish have left the area, but many Mennonites remain, particularly in Lancaster County. Some adherents eschew modern conveniences and use horse-drawn farming equipment and carriages, while others are virtually indistinguishable from non-Amish or Mennonites.

(The term "Dutch" is a misnomer, as none of these groups are of Dutch origin; the German adjective for "German", "Deutsch", was misheard as "Dutch" and the name stuck.)

The battleship USS Pennsylvania, damaged at Pearl Harbor, was named in honor of this state, as were several other naval vessels.



Main article: History of Pennsylvania

Before the state existed, the area was home to the Delaware (also known as Lenni Lenape), Susquehanna, Iroquois, Eriez, Shawnee and other Native American tribes.

In 1643, the southeastern portion of the state, in the vicinity of Philadelphia, was settled by Sweden, but control later passed to the Netherlands, and then to England (later Great Britain).

On March 4 1681, Charles II of England granted a land charter to William Penn for the area that now includes Pennsylvania. Penn then founded a colony there as a place of religious freedom for Quakers, and named it for the Latin phrase meaning "Penn's woods".

A large tract of land north and west of Philadelphia, in Montgomery, Chester, and Delaware Counties, was settled by Welsh Quakers and called the "Welsh Tract". Even today many cities and towns in that area bear the names of Welsh municipalities.

The western portions of Pennsylvania were among disputed territory between the colonial British and French during the French and Indian War. The French established numerous fortifications in the area, including the pivotal Fort Duquesne on top of which the city of Pittsburgh was built.

The colony's reputation of religious freedom also attracted significant populations of German and Scots-Irish settlers who helped to shape colonial Pennsylvania and later went on to populate the neighboring states further west.

In 1704 the "three lower counties" of New Castle, Kent, and Sussex gained a separate legislature, and in 1710 a separate executive council, to form the new colony Delaware.

Pennsylvania and Delaware were two of the thirteen colonies that revolted against British rule in the American Revolution of 1776. Pennsylvania became the second state on December 12, 1787 (five days after Delaware became the first).

Pennsylvania also saw the Battle of Gettysburg, near Gettysburg. Many historians consider this battle the major turning point of the American Civil War. Dead from this battle rest at Gettysburg National Cemetery, site of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

In the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. oil (kerosene) industry was born in western Pennsylvania, which supplied the vast majority of U.S. kerosene for years thereafter, and saw the rise and fall of oil boom towns.

During the 20th century Pennsylvania's existing iron industries expanded into a major center of steel production. Shipbuilding and numerous other forms of manufacturing flourished in the eastern part of the state, and coal mining was also extremely important in many regions. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Pennsylvania received very large numbers of immigrants from Europe seeking work; dramatic, sometimes violent confrontations took place between organized labor and the state's industrial concerns.

Pennsylvania was hard-hit by the decline of the steel industry and other heavy U.S. industries during the late 20th century.

Law and government

Like all states, the government of Pennsylvania is separated into an executive, a legislature, and a judiciary, the powers and duties of which are established by the Pennsylvania Constitution . The capital of Pennsylvania is in Harrisburg.

Executive branch

The head of the executive branch is the Governor, who is currently Democrat Edward G Rendell, a former mayor of Philadelphia. The other elected officials composing the executive branch are the Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Auditor General, and State Treasurer. The Governor's cabinet consists of the eighteen appointed heads of Pennsylvania state agencies: the Secretary of the Commonwealth, Adjutant General, Secretary of Education, Insurance Commissioner, Secretary of Banking, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Health, State Police Commissioner, Secretary of Labor and Industry, Secretary of Public Welfare, Secretary of Revenue, Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Community Affairs, Secretary of Transportation, Secretary of Environmental Resources, Secretary of General Services, Secretary of Aging, and the Secretary of Corrections.

Legislative branch

Pennsylvania has had a bicameral legislature since 1790. The Pennsylvania General Assembly consists of a Senate with 50 members and a House of Representatives with 203. Notable General Assembly members include Senate Majority Leader David J. Brightbill (R), Senate Minority Leader Robert J. Mellow (D), Speaker of the House of Representatives John M. Perzel and Senate Minority Appropriations Chairman Vincent Fumo (D).

Judicial branch

Pennsylvania is divided into 60 judicial districts[1], each of which has district judges (formerly called justices of the peace) who mainly preside over minor criminal offenses and small civil claims. The Philadelphia Municipal Court and the Pittsburgh police magistrate court have similar jurisdiction, limited to those cities. As Philadelphia is coterminous with Philadelphia County, the Pittsburgh police magistrate court is the only true city-level court in the state.

The general trial courts in which most criminal and civil cases originate are the Courts of Common Pleas. They also serve as appellate courts to the district judges and for certain agency decisions. Each judicial district has at least one, and the Courts of Common Pleas serving the larger Pennsylvania counties have specialized divisions.

The state has two intermediate-level appellate courts: the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court. The fifteen judges of the Superior Court hear all appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas not expressly designated to the Commonwealth Court or Supreme Court. It also has original jurisdiction to review warrants for wiretap surveillance. The jurisdiction of the nine-judge Commonwealth Court is limited to appeals from final orders of certain state agencies and certain designated cases from the Courts of Common Pleas. The Commonwealth Court also functions as a trial court in some civil suits, including cases that involve the state or its officers as parties, and cases regarding statewide elections.

Pennsylvania's entire judicial system is under the supervision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which is also the final appellate court for both the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court. It also hears appeals directly from the Courts of Common Pleas in certain cases, including felony murder prosecutions, the right to public office, criminal contempt, and any case in which the Court of Common Pleas ruled that a state law was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has seven justices chosen by public election; the chief justice is the justice with the most seniority.

Representation in the federal government

Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators are Rick Santorum (Republican) and Arlen Specter (Republican). Pennsylvania's 19 representatives in the House are Robert Brady (D, 1st District); Chaka Fattah (D, 2nd District); Phil English (R, 3rd District); Melissa Hart (R, 4th District); John E. Peterson (R, 5th District); Jim Gerlach (R, 6th District); Curt Weldon (R, 7th District); Michael Fitzpatrick (R, 8th District); Bill Shuster (R, 9th District); Don Sherwood (R, 10th District); Paul E. Kanjorski (D, 11th District); John Murtha (D, 12th District); Allyson Schwartz (D, 13th District); Mike Doyle (D, 14th District); Pat Toomey (R, 15th District); Joe Pitts (R, 16th District); Tim Holden (D, 17th District); Tim Murphy (R, 18th District); and Todd Russell Platts (R, 19th District).

Politics in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania politics is not dominated by any single party. As of 2005, the Republican Party holds both houses of the state legislature, both United States Senate seats and a majority of the state's seats in the U.S. House Of Representatives, but the Democratic Party holds the governor's seat and their candidate has won four of the last five presidential elections. Pennsylvania is considered a swing state in national elections, but usually leans Democratic. Bill Clinton carried the state twice, Al Gore won here in 2000 as did John Kerry in 2004. The state is divided into heavily left leaning areas along the sides. Democrats are the majority in the Philadelphia area, as well as around Allentown and the Poconos in the east and in the southwestern part of the state and the Pittsburgh area in the west. The central part of the state tends to be very conservative.


See: List of Pennsylvania counties

Pennsylvania's nickname "The Keystone State" is quite apt, as the state forms a geographic bridge both between the Northeastern states and the Southern states, and between the Atlantic seaboard and the Midwest. It is bordered on the north and northeast by New York, on the east, across the Delaware River by New Jersey, on the south by Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia, on the west by Ohio, and on the northwest by Lake Erie. The Delaware, Susquehanna, Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers are the major rivers of the state. The Youghiogheny River and Oil Creek are smaller rivers which have played an important role in the development of the state. The capital is Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is 180 miles (290 km) north to south and 310 miles (500 km) east to west. The total land area is 44,817 square miles (119,283 kmē), 739,200 acres (2,990 km²) of which are bodies of water. It is the 33rd largest state in the United States. The highest point of 3,213 feet (979 m) above sea level is at Mount Davis . Its lowest point is at sea level on the Delaware River. Pennsylvania is in the Eastern time zone.

It sometimes helps to consider the western third of the state a separate large geophysical unit, which is so distinctive that it can often best be described on its own. Several important, complex factors set Western Pennsylvania apart in many respects from the east, such as the initial difficulty of access across the mountains, an orientation to the Mississippi drainage system of rivers, and above all, the complex economics involved in the rise and decline of the American steel industry centered around Pittsburgh. Other factors, such as a markedly different style of agriculture, the rise of the oil industry, timber exploitation and the old wood chemical industry, and even, in linguistics, the local "yinzer" dialect, all make this large area sometimes seem a virtual "state within a state".

Pennsylvania is bisected diagonally by ridges of the Appalachian Mountain chain from southwest to northeast. To the northwest of the folded mountains is the Allegheny Plateau, which continues into southwestern and south central New York. This plateau is so dissected by valleys that it also seems mountainous. The Plateau is underlain by sedimentary rocks of Mississippian and Pennsylvanian age, which bear abundant fossils, as well as natural gas and petroleum. In 1859 near Titusville Edwin L. Drake drilled the first oil well in the USA into these sediments. Similar rock layers also contain coal to the south and east of the oil and gas deposits. In the metamorphic (folded) belt, anthracite (hard coal) is mined near Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton. These fossil fuels have been an important resource to Pennsylvania. Timber and dairy farming are also sources of livelihood for midstate and western Pennsylvania. Along the shore of Lake Erie in the far northwest are orchards and vinyards.

Pennsylvania's saltwater "shore" line, only 89 miles by official US figures, is the shortest of any US state. However, by a quirk of the official definitions, New Hampshire has the shortest US saltwater "coast" line. (How these two concepts are defined and measured is explained at length in an extended footnote under "Miscellaneous" in the article on New Hampshire.) Definitional niceties notwithstanding, Pennsylvania has one of the largest seaports in the US on its narrow shore, the Port of Philadelphia. In the west the Port of Pittsburgh is also very large and even exceeds Philadelphia in rank by annual tonnage, due to the large volume of bulk coal shipped by barge down the Ohio River. Chester, downstream from Philadelphia, and Erie, the Great Lakes outlet on Lake Erie in the Erie Triangle, are smaller but still important ports.

Pennsylvania has been the site of some of the most horrendous ecological disasters experienced in the USA. In 1889 the South Fork Dam, impounding a recreational mountain lake for sportsmen, burst after a heavy rain and destroyed the downstream factory town of Johnstown, killing over 2,200 inhabitants in the notorious Johnstown Flood (the town was later rebuilt and is a reasonably large community today in the central mountains). In 1961 an exposed seam of coal at Centralia, Pennsylvania caught fire and forced eventually almost the entire community to abandon their settlement; the coal fire is still burning today and is estimated to last 100 years more. Finally, in 1979 the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Incident near the state capital of Harrisburg, while not as destructive to the community, nevertheless cost close to $1 billion to clean up and changed the national public perception of nuclear power to a much less favorable viewpoint.


Farming near Klingerstown, Pennsylvania.
Farming near Klingerstown, Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania's 1999 total gross state product was $383 billion, placing it 6th in the nation and its 2000 Per Capita Personal Income was $29,539, 18th in the nation. Its agricultural outputs are dairy products, poultry, cattle, nursery stock, mushrooms, hogs, and hay. Its industrial outputs are food processing, chemical products, machinery, electric equipment, and tourism.

Pennsylvania has a large, diverse group of manufacturing companies and within this group are some whose products have come to be household words, symbolic of ordinary American life. Among these products are Hershey bars from the Hershey Chocolate Company in Hershey, Pennsylvania; Heinz ketchup and Heinz-57 sauce from the H. J. Heinz Company in Pittsburgh; and Zippo lighters from Zippo Manufacturing in Bradford.

Small companies, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch Candies company, also exist in Pennsylvania.

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania is well know for its quality wood products such as furniture, sheds, gazebos and play sets. Such items are shipped all over the country (and the world) out of Lancaster County. Most of these are produced by Amish and Mennonite craftsmen.

On Lake Erie some freshwater commercial fishing exists, the prinicipal catch being yellow perch.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2003, Pennsylvania's population was estimated at 12,365,455 people.

The racial makeup of the state is:

The 5 largest ancestry groups in Pennsylvania are German (25.4%), Irish (16.1%), Italian (11.5%), African American (10%), English (7.9%).

5.9% of Pennsylvania's population were reported as under 5, 23.8% under 18, and 15.6% were 65 or older. Females made up approximately 51.7% of the population.


The Quakers at the founding of Penn's colony pursued a policy of religious toleration, which benefited other older groups, such as Lutherans from the New Sweden settlement, and which also attracted relgious refugees from the European continent, such as Amish and Mennonites. Other groups also settled, including the Moravian Bretheren, who founded and named today's large city of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the Scots-Irish Presbyterians, who settled on the frontier. This was a fairly diverse group of denominations by Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century standards, and testifies to the benign administration of Penn.

Later, after industrialization, immigrants from the Catholic countries of Europe also were added to this mix. In Philadelphia today is the shrine and burial place of Saint John Neumann, himself a Czech immigrant, who worked for the betterment of the new arrivals and who founded the American parochial school system.

The current religious affiliations of the citizens Pennsylvania are:

  • Protestant – 53%
  • Roman Catholic – 33%
  • Other Christian – 1%
  • Other Religions – 2%
  • Non-Religious – 6%

The three largest Protestant denominations in Pennsylvania are: Baptist (10% of the total state population), Methodist (9%), Lutheran (9%).

Important cities and towns

Major cities:

Top and bottom 10 locations by per capita income:

see also: Pennsylvania locations by per capita income

1 Green Hills, Pennsylvania $124,279
2 Fox Chapel, Pennsylvania $80,610
3 Sewickley Heights, Pennsylvania $79,541
4 Edgeworth, Pennsylvania $69,350
5 Thornburg, Pennsylvania $57,674
6 Rosslyn Farms, Pennsylvania $56,612
7 Upper Makefield Township, Pennsylvania $56,288
8 Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania $55,526
9 Rose Valley, Pennsylvania $54,202
10 Haysville, Pennsylvania $53,151

Top and bottom 3 counties:

1 Chester County $31,627
2 Montgomery County $30,898
3 Bucks County $27,430

2912 Commodore, Pennsylvania $9,502
2913 New Washington, Pennsylvania $9,121
2914 Cold Spring Township, Pennsylvania $8,792
2915 Shippensburg Township, Pennsylvania $8,712
2916 Smithfield Township, Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania $8,109
2917 Conneaut Township, Erie County, Pennsylvania $7,971
2918 Loretto, Pennsylvania $7,125
2919 West Mahoning Township, Pennsylvania $6,907
2920 Atlantic, Pennsylvania $6,534
2921 Howe Township, Forest County, Pennsylvania $5,223

65 Clarion County $15,243
66 Somerset County $15,178
67 Greene County $14,959


Colleges and universities

See List of colleges and universities in Pennsylvania.

State symbols

Notable Pennsylvanians

  • James Buchanan (1791-1868) was born and lived in Pennsylvania until his death. He was the 15th President of the United States and the only President from that state.
  • Thaddeus Stevens (1792-1868) was born and lived in Pennsylvania until his death. He was a key Pennsylvania state legislator in establishing and maintaining Pennsylvania's early system of public education. As a U.S. Congressman and leading "Radical Republican," he helped draft the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing "equal protection of the laws" to all Americans.
  • Ida Tarbell (1857-1944) was born in Erie and was educated at the Sorbonne in Paris. She was a pioneering "muckraker" journalist and one of the few female journalists in the country during her time. In 1906, she joined with Lincoln Steffens and Ray Stannard Baker to establish the radical American Magazine . She also wrote several books on the role of women including The Business of Being a Woman (1912) and The Ways of Women (1915).
  • K. Leroy Irvis (1918- )was born near Albany, New York, but came to Pennsylvania to head Pittsburgh's Urban League in the 1940's. Fired under pressure after leading a successful boycott of Pittsburgh's department stores for discriminating against African-Americans, Irvis enrolled at the University of Pittsburgh law school, graduated with honors, became Pittsburgh's first black judicial law clerk, then an assistant district attorney, then a state legislator. Serving 30 years in the Pennsylvania House (1958-1988), 26 of them as an elected Democratic leader, Irvis became the first 20th Century African-American Speaker in 1977. He was a major force behind numerous successful efforts to expand educational opportunities in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania in popular music

Pennsylvania has given birth to some of the nation's leading popular and rock music groups, including Bloodhound Gang, Boyz II Men, Vanessa Carlton, Coolio, Fuel, Hall & Oates, Live, Joan Jett, Pink, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Shanice, Will Smith, and others.

Pennsylvanians in Film, Television, and Theater

Many Pennsylvanians have found success in film, television, and the theater including:

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-17-2005 18:28:21
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