Philadelphia’s long and storied history includes a lot of this nation’s firsts. Thanks to Benjamin Franklin, William Penn and other founding fathers of Philadelphia, we can brag that we were the very first in the country to do all of these things!
1. The First Zoo in America
The First Zoo in America was chartered in 1859, but the Civil War delayed the opening of the Philadelphia Zoo until July 1, 1874. It started with a collection of 1,000 animals and admission cost just a quarter! Today, the Philadelphia Zoo is one of the best in the world for breeding animals that otherwise struggle in captivity, and it's a leader in conservation efforts worldwide.
2. The First Lending Library in America
In the 1730s, books were hard to come by in America. They were expensive, and there were no public libraries. On July 1, 1731, Ben Franklin and a group of members from the philosophical organization called "The Junto" decided to help solve this problem. They drew up an agreement to form a library. Books were ordered from London and the motto was set as a latin phrase that means
"to support the common good is divine." Several of the books were donated by Benjamin Franklin himself.
3. The First Hospital in America
Dr. Thomas Bond first sought to create a public hospital in the United States in the 1750s, and with the help of Benjamin Franklin, Pennsylvania Hospital was founded on May 11, 1751. It was also home to America's first surgical amphitheatre and first medical library of the country. The main building dates back to 1756 and still stands today.
4. America's FIrst Planned City
William Penn founded the city in 1682, creating a grid based around 5 squares, now known as Rittenhouse, Washington, Logan, Franklin, and City Hall. This was the first time a city had been "planned" in North America.
5. The World's First Computer.
ENIAC was the world's first all-purpose digital computer, and it was invented right at the University of Pennsylvania in 1946. Can you imagine where we'd be without it?
6. The First Department Store Parade
The very first Department Store Parade was the Gimbel's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia in 1920. Macy's did not start theirs until four years later, when they saw the success of the Philadelphia holiday celebration.
7. The first American flag.
While there is no concrete evidence that Betsy Ross was the original designer of the first American flag, it is certain that an upholsterer or seamstress in Philadelphia was the first to make the many flags that the colonial troops carried into battle during the American Revolution.
8. The first 4th of July celebration.
Cannons were fired across the Delaware from Philadelphia on July 4, 1777, marking one year since Independence had been declared from the cobblestone streets of Philadelphia.
9. The First "University" in America
While Harvard, William and Mary, Yale and Princeton often fight this one, it's true that UPenn was the first medical school in the country (founded in 1765), and therefore the very first one to offer both undergraduate and graduate education. It was also the first institution to use the title "University" as well.
10. The First American Volunteer Fire Company
Benjamin Franklin's Bucket Brigade at the Union Fire Company was the first volunteer fire department in the country, founded in 1736. Where would our city be without Ben?!
11. First Museum in America
The museum of the American Philosophical Society was founded in 1743, making it the oldest museum in America. The Society itself is even considered the first "learned" society in the country.
These Philadelphia firsts are just a small sample of the incredible history that Philadelphia can brag about! Walk the streets of Old City and read each historic marker along the way – you’ll be stunned by what you learn about your hometown.