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10 surprising historical facts about Philadelphia the birthplace of America

Known as the birthplace of American democracy, the first UNESCO World Heritage City in the U.S., Philadelphia is home to an abundance of historical gems, making it a playground for history lovers and inquisitive travellers alike.

Benjamin Franklin (almost!) at Independence Hall. Photo by Tim Hawk.

From strolling the streets of the oldest continuously inhabited street in the USA, Elfreth’s Alley, to discovering the powerful history of America’s most famous bell at The Liberty Bell Centre, Philadelphia offers a wealth of dramatical stories and tales for any cultural enthusiast.

Delve into the city’s past with Philadelphia CVB, who has put together 10 fun facts about Philadelphia’s rich history to help future visitors to the city plan ahead for a trip filled with fun and fascinating attractions.

10 fun facts:
  1. Philadelphia is a city of firsts, playing host to America’s founding and also being home to the nation’s first University – The University of Pennsylvania and first daily newspaper - The Philadelphia Packet and Daily Advertiser, as well as America’s first post office, firefighting service, hospital, zoo and the first World Fair.

  2. Both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and signed in Philadelphia at Independence Hall, a World Heritage Site. The infamous building now makes up the heart of Philadelphia’s historic mile and is one of the topmost visited monuments in America.

  3. Philadelphia was one of the early capitals of the United States from 1790 to 1800.

  4. George Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in Congress Hall, located in Independence National Historical Park, which visitors to the city can now tour.

  5. The Liberty Bell was originally called the State House Bell and was located in the Pennsylvania State House, before being renamed Independence Hall.

  6. Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Old City’s vibrant streets is Elfreth’s Alley. The 32-house street is the oldest continuously inhabited street in the nation, with houses dating back to 1720–1830. It is still home to Philadelphian families now.

  7. Franklin Square was one of five public squares laid out by William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia, in his original vision for the city. It is also rumoured to be the spot where Benjamin Franklin performed his famous kite-and-key experiment to show the connection between lightning and electricity. Now it is the perfect place for families to play, enjoy the 180-year-old fountain and ride the Parx Liberty Carousel.

  8. The famous patriot Betsy Ross called Philadelphia home. Considered essential to the American Revolution, Betsy Ross is credited with sewing the first American Flag, making the Betsy Ross House on Arch Street a must-not-miss.

  9. Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre is the oldest continuously operating performance theatre in the entire English-speaking world, having opened in 1809. The first performance was attended by President Thomas Jefferson and the Marquis de Lafayette. Later the Theatre went on to be the first to offer air conditioning, gas footlights and electric chandeliers and is where the “curtain call" originated.

  10. It is thought that throwing a penny into Benjamin Franklin’s grave in Christ Church on North American Street will bring good luck. The historical church, constructed between 1727 -1744, frequently welcomed Franklin in its pews, as well as George Washington and Betsy Ross.

Elfreth’s Alley. Photo by Kyle Huff Liberty Bell. Photo by Robin Miller


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