Monday, November 30, 2015

Archive: July, 2013

POSTED: Tuesday, July 23, 2013, 6:00 AM
The Smith Memorial Playhouse and Playground in East Fairmount Park has been a favorite spot for local children since 1899. (

Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse has been a Philadelphia landmark and tradition for generations. A non-governmental charity with free admission, Smith's five acre outdoor play space sits on a sloped, wooded area in East Fairmount Park.

With its woodland hillside setting, its unique equipment and a 24,000 square foot playhouse set in a historic building designed specifically for child's play, Smith aids in the physical, emotional and intellectual development of children in the Philadelphia area.

Smith is also home to the famed Giant Slide, a source of delight and marvel to children for nearly a century. As America's oldest non-profit private playground, Smith initiated many innovative programs that are in existence today.

Opened on July 23, 1899, Smith Memorial Playground and Playhouse came to be through the generosity of Richard and Sarah Smith, in memory of their son Stanfield, making it the first endowed playground in the nation.

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POSTED: Monday, July 22, 2013, 6:00 AM
Created by Alexander Calder not long before his death, "White Cascade" is thought to be the world's largest mobile. It descends from skylight through 100 feet of the Federal Reserve Bank's 130-foot-high East Court. (

Born on this day in Philadelphia, Alexander "Sandy" Calder (1898-1976) was the son of a successful sculptor, Alexander Stirling Calder (1870-1945), and Nanette Lederer (1866-1960), a painter. He was also grandson of Alexander Milne Calder, who created the statue of William Penn atop City Hall.

Although Calder's father and grandfather were both well-known sculptors of public monuments, Alexander initially decided on a career in mechanical engineering and received training in physics and kinetics. This knowledge provided a basis for his later experimentation with motorized devices and wind-driven mobiles.

After receiving an undergraduate degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., Calder worked at a variety of jobs. In 1923, he decided to enroll in the Art Students League to become a painter. From his student beginnings as a rather conventional Ashcan school painter, Calder moved on to make sculpture in wood and then wire, and, later, to develop an abstract style.

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POSTED: Sunday, July 21, 2013, 6:00 AM
The Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Center City Philadelphia, November 1976. November 1976. Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey, HABS.PA.51-PHILA.344-1. Jack E. Boucher, HABS photographer. Via Wikimedia.

Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford Hotel gained lasting notoriety during the nation's Bicentennial year.

It was then and there that the first verified outbreak of Legionnaires' Disease occurred, at the 58th state convention of the American Legion held on July 21-24, 1976. Two hundred twenty-one people were sickened by the pneumonia-like disease and 34 died, most all of them Legionnaires. 

It was not until January of the following year that the Centers for Disease Control zeroed in on the cause of the outbreak: the newly-discovered Legionella bacterium, apparently spread through The Bellevue-Stratford’s air conditioning system. The disease highlighted the need to keep HVAC systems clean, though Legionella can also be found in many types of water systems.

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POSTED: Saturday, July 20, 2013, 6:00 AM
"Plan of Mr. Fitch's Steam Boat." Wood engraving by James Trenchard. December 1786. The Columbian Magazine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Library of Congress, via Wikimedia.

John Fitch's navigation of the first vessel ever successfully moved by steam, on the Delaware River at Philadelphia, on July 20, 1786:

Fitch's small skiff apparently did not have a name, but it was the first practical application of steam to navigation. The next year, on Aug. 22, 1787, the inventor made the first successful public demonstration of a steamboat on the Delaware in the presence of several delegates from the Constitutional Convention.

Fitch soon inaugurated the first steam ferry in the world between Philadelphia and Camden, N.J. He later began carrying passengers and freight on the Delaware to points north and south of Philadelphia, making this the first steamboat business in America.

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POSTED: Friday, July 19, 2013, 6:00 AM
An advertisement for Moore Push-Pin products from 1909. (

In 1900, Mr. Edwin Moore founded the Moore Push-Pin Company (with a capital investment of $112.60) to make and sell an article of his own invention which he described as "a pin with a handle."

He rented a room and devoted each evening to making push-pins and he sold what he made the following day. The first sale was one gross of push-pins for $2. The next memorable order was for $75, and the first "big deal" was a sale of $1,000 to Eastman Kodak.

The firm continued to grow and was incorporated on July 19, 1904, as the "Moore Push-Pin Company." Over the next few years, Mr. Moore invented and patented many other items, such as the picture hangers and map tacks.

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POSTED: Thursday, July 18, 2013, 6:00 AM
The USS Pennsylvania, at left. (Artwork by Fred S. Cozzens, 1893)

The frigate Pennsylvania was launched on July 18, 1837, and was built at the Philadelphia Naval Yard when it was located at the foot of Federal Street.

Pennsylvania was the largest sailing ship ever constructed up to that date. She was also the largest wooden and sail warship ever built for the U.S. Navy. The keel of this Ship-of-the-Line was laid in September 1821, but tight military budgets slowed her construction and delayed her launch for many years, during which time she was a fixture on the Philadelphia waterfront.

The launch of Pennsylvania was a great event in the history of Philadelphia, with thousands attending to watch. She had four complete gun decks and her hull was pierced for 136 guns.

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POSTED: Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 6:00 AM
The First African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania,

The majority of members of the Free African Society wanted to become united with the Episcopalian church. Absalom Jones became their spiritual leader.

In February 1792, they purchased two lots at Fifth and Adelphi Streets (south of Walnut) and construction of a church building was started, only to be interrupted by the great yellow fever plague of 1793. During that epidemic, Jones and Richard Allen worked closely together, despite differences in religious denomination. (It was erroneously thought that African-Americans were not susceptible to the fever.)

The two ministers organized their followers and rendered invaluable service in attending the sick and burying the dead. The Free African Society’s informal church developed into the First African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas. Located on Fifth Street below Walnut Street, this was the first African-American Episcopal church in the United States, as well as the first independent African Church in America.

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POSTED: Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 6:00 AM
The Arch Street wharf, where the first cluster of Yellow Fever cases were identified in 1789. (Engraving by William Birch, from The City of Philadelphia, 1800, Independence National Historical Park via WikiMedia Commons)

On July 16, 1798, during one of Philadelphia's yellow fever epidemics, President John Adams signed into law a bill, "An Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen." It set up the marine hospital system, which was the beginning of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS). It called on Collectors of Customs to assess for every arriving seaman 20 cents a month for the care of sick seamen and the building of hospitals. A year later, the Act was extended to cover every officer and sailor in the U.S. Navy.

The money collected was deposited with the Secretary of the Treasury. This is how the Marine Hospital Service became part of the Department of the Treasury until 1939. The Marine Hospital Service was assigned increasing responsibilities of a public health nature, such as quarantine and medical inspection of immigrants, beginning in the late 19th century. The name of the service was thus changed to the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service in 1902. As the Service continued to expand its responsibilities in the field of health, the name was changed again in 1912 to the Public Health Service.

In 1939, President Roosevelt created the Federal Security Agency (FSA), which brought together the Federal programs concerned with health and social welfare (e.g., education, social security), including PHS. In 1953, the FSA was raised to a cabinet-level agency known as the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (DHEW). When the Department of Education was created as a separate entity in 1980, DHEW was renamed the Department of Health and Human Services, and the PHS remains a part of that Department today.

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About this blog
HMP was conceived and formed in 2008 by Sam Katz as part of a plan to produce a multi-part series on the history of Philadelphia. It is now a full service production company with a focus on helping organizations with a rich history tell their stories through the powerful medium of film.

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