Created | Updated Jan 17, 2020
When most people think of Pennsylvania, images of dirty steelworkers and factories belching smoke into the sky come to mind. And rightly so, in the US Pennsylvania dominated the steel, coal and railroad industries during the 19th Century.
Pennsylvania is so identified with this blue collar heritage that a statue of a steelworker was placed on the grounds of the Governor's Mansion in the state capital of Harrisburg.
However, by the 1960s only the steel industry remained of the state's proud industrial heritage, and the economic downturn of the 1970s destroyed even that remaining industry, which resulted in massive unemployment and empty factories in the state's industrial centres of Pittsburgh and the north east.
The first white settlers to Pennsylvania were farmers and while the 20th Century saw a decline in the overall acreage of land under the plough, improvements in farming methods soon made agriculture the leading industry in the Keystone State1.
Despite its proud industrial history, Pennsylvania remains very rural - there are a few counties which have more deer than people.
The state's 45,000 farms covered 7.1 million acres in 1997, which represents an area the size of Belgium. The number of acres farmed continues to drop at a startling rate - in 1982 for example there were 10,000 more farms and almost a million more acres. But even with this drop in land, production has continued to increase.
Today, the state is a leading producer in dairy products, eggs and mushrooms.
Big deal you say?
- Remember what dairy herds produce in addition to milk.
- Remember what chickens produce in addition to eggs.
- Remember what mushrooms are grown in.
Get the picture?
In Lancaster and Chester counties the smell of these agricultural by-products2 can be overpowering, especially when you're driving unprepared down a country lane on a summer's day with the windows rolled down...
A surprising number of people do come to Pennsylvania. Tourism is the state's second-leading industry with people coming from far and near to visit the state's historic parks, natural features and tourist traps. There have been a lot of battles fought in this state - from the first skirmish of the French and Indian War3 to one of the most important battles of the American Civil War - and literally thousands visit these battlefields every year.
With all those battlefields, many contend that the state is haunted by hundreds of ghosts. In addition to ghosts, the state boasts many haunted sites, including the Ground Glass Mill, and some spooky events, like Trotter's Curse.
Every Autumn, the leaves put on a spectacular display and many people come to the state just to see the pretty colours. To capitalize on this, the State's Website features live webcams of various forests in Pennsylvania.
And this blatant marketing isn't anything new. Since its founding some 300-plus years ago, Pennsylvania has been obsessed with self-promotion. William Penn, who was given title to the Pennsylvania colony by King Charles II, wrote in a flyer to attract colonists, 'The country itself, its soil, air, water, seasons and produce, both natural and artificial, is not to be despised.'
Since then, various marketing strategies have been employed to attract visitors to the state.
During the 1970s, the Democratic governor's staff came up with 'Bicentennial State' - not bad, but a little short on creativity as everyone was harping on the Bicentennial theme.
In the 1980s, the Republican governor's staff tried 'You've got a friend in Pennsylvania' - a nice effort, but factually false as most Pennsylvanians complain incessantly about tourists from other states.
Then came 'America starts here' - and while it's catchy, it is historically inaccurate. While the state played an important role in the nation's founding, the claim 'America Starts Here' rightly goes to Delaware, which was the first state to ratify the Constitution. Pennsylvania was second.
The latest theme is 'Memories last a lifetime' - which oddly is the same catch phrase used by a strip club near the state capital.
OK, so maybe those slogans aren't going to make you want to visit Pennsylvania. There are a lot of good reasons to visit the state.
Pennsylvanians can proudly boast about having the first pretzel bakery in America, Which is a big deal if you love pretzels with your beer. The state is home to a fine brewery which produces some of the best beer in the United States - the Pittsburgh Brewing Company, maker of Iron City Beer.
There are lots of unique spots like the Pymatuning Reservoir where ducks walk on the backs of fish, or the Early American Farm Implements Museum where you can see bunnies frolic among rusting farm equipment, Hawk Mountain where you can sit and marvel at raptors on their annual migration or the Great Cross of Christ which is just a really huge steel cross.
Place names in Pennsylvania can be a little tricky, since there were still a lot of Indians around when the white settlers were taking their land. Towns like Punxsutawney (famous for Groundhog Day) and Kittaning trace their roots to old Indian villages. Rivers like the Susquehanna, Youghiogheny and Monongahela also are derived from Indian names.
Then there are the places the white settlers named. Take the state's name, for example. Pennsylvania is the only state named after its founder. William Penn wanted to call his colony 'New Wales' but King Charles II objected. Penn then picked 'Sylvania', meaning woodlands, to this the king added 'Penn' making it Pennsylvania in honour of Penn's father Rear Admiral William Penn Sr to whom the Crown owed a £16,000 debt for his service in the Royal Navy.
The Europeans also named places for the Old Country, like Lancaster and Carlisle, for themselves, like Elizabethtown and Hershey, for the dominant industry such as Ambridge, named for the American Bridge Company, for some significant geological feature like Marshtown and Dry Hill, and for no particular reason at all like Elephant and Intercourse.
There is actually a railroad that runs between Intercourse and Paradise4.
Area: 44,820 square miles
Population: 12,281,054 (2000 census)
Border states: New York to the north, Ohio to the west, West Virginia and Maryland to the South, Delaware and New Jersey to the east
Highest point: Mount Davis (3,213 feet)
Largest cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Erie, Allentown, Scranton, Bethlehem, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Altoona.
For the Pointedly Mundane
Here's some worthless Pennsylvania trivia...
- The Whitetail Deer is the official state animal
- The Ruffed Grouse is the official state bird
- The Great Dane is the official state dog
- The Brook Trout is the official state fish
- The Mountain Laurel is the official state flower
- The Firefly is the official state insect
- Milk is the official state beverage
- The Hemlock is the official state tree
- Phacops rana (a small water animal) is the official state fossil