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Philadelphia Firsts

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Philadelphia is a city rich in history and full of “firsts.”

  • First city to guarantee religious freedom, beginning in 1682.
  • First botanical garden in the U.S.Bartram’s Garden, opened 1728.
  • First library in the U.S.The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. Its current location, 1314 Locust Street, is open to the public.
  • First and oldest hospital in the U.S.Pennsylvania Hospital, opened 1751.
  • First July 4th event in the U.S. in 1776. Still a big celebration every year with the multi-day Wawa Welcome America festival.
  • First university in the U.S.University of Pennsylvania assumed university status in 1779.
  • First convention in the U.S. – the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where the Constitution of the United States was written and adopted by representatives of the 13 original colonies.
  • First stock exchange in the U.S. – Philadelphia Stock Exchange, 1790.
  • First mint in the U.S. – U.S. Mint established in 1792 on Seventh Street, near Arch Street, it was the first property acquired by the federal government.
  • First African-American church in the U.S.Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, established 1794.
  • First art school and art museum in the U.S.Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, founded 1805.
  • First zoo in the U.S.Philadelphia Zoo, chartered in 1859 and opened in 1874.
  • First World’s Fair in the U.S. – the Centennial International Exhibition, 1876. Memorial Hall, built especially for the World’s Fair, houses the Please Touch Museum.
  • First Thanksgiving Day Parade in the U.S. in 1919.
  • First international-style skyscraper in the U.S.Loews Philadelphia Hotel (12th & Market Streets), formerly the PSFS (bank) Building, 1932. This was also the first totally air-conditioned building in America.
  • First orchestra to appear in a motion picture (1937), on television (1948) and to tour China (1973) – Philadelphia Orchestra.
  • Oldest continuously occupied street in the U.S.Elfreth’s Alley, since 1713.
  • Oldest theater in continuous use in the English-speaking world – Walnut Street Theater, founded in 1808.

Elfreth's Alley near Independence Hall is the oldest continuously occupied street in the United States.

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