Philadelphia Guide Notes: Philadelphia Firsts

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  • Oldest continuously occupied street in the U.S.: Elfreth’s Alley, since 1713.
  • First art school and art museum: Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, founded 1805.
  • Oldest theater in continuous use in the English-speaking world: Walnut Street Theater, since 1809.
  • First orchestra to appear in a motion picture (1937), on television (1948) and to tour China (1973): Philadelphia Orchestra.
  • First city to guarantee religious freedom, beginning in 1682.
  • First African-American church: Mother Bethel A.M.E. Church, established 1794.
  • First zoo in America: Philadelphia Zoo, chartered in 1859 and opened in 1874.
  • First July 4th event: 1776. Still a big celebration every year with the 10-day Wawa Welcome America! festival.
  • First Thanksgiving Day Parade: 1919.
  • First botanical garden: Bartram’s Garden, opened 1728.
  • First stock exchange: Philadelphia Stock Exchange, 1790.
  • First international-style skyscraper: Loews Philadelphia Hotel (12th & Market Streets), formerly the PSFS (bank) Building, 1932. This was also the first totally air-conditioned building in America.
  • First and oldest hospital in America: Pennsylvania Hospital, opened 1751.
  • First World’s Fair in America: the Centennial International Exhibition, 1876. Memorial Hall, built especially for the World’s Fair, houses the Please Touch Museum.
  • First American convention: the Constitutional Convention of 1787, where the Constitution of the United States was written and adopted by representatives of the 13 original colonies.
  • First American university: The University of Pennsylvania assumed university status in 1779.
  • First library: The Library Company of Philadelphia, founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731; its current location, 1314 Locust Street, is open to the public.
  • First U. S. Mint: established in 1792 on Seventh Street, near Arch Street, it was the first property acquired by the federal government.

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