Just as a keystone forms the basis of a stone arch, Pennsylvania, the Keystone State, cherishes its unique and irreplaceable role in the founding of the nation, its economy and its culture.
The land of Pennsylvania was granted to William Penn, son of Admiral William Penn, who had been given the charter by King Charles II in 1681 to pay a £16,000 debt the king owed the family. The land was named by the king in honor of the elder Penn – it meant “Penn’s Woodlands.”
William Penn asked for the grant to build a haven that could accommodate and protect his fellow religious adherents after his conversion to the Society of Friends, a persecuted religion then also known as Quakers. The Quakers’ refusal of creeds and hierarchy, opposition to war, tendency to be more progressive and liberal, and their favor for capitalism are rooted deeply in the history of Pennsylvania, and this was one of the major drivers in the state's development.
In 2016, Pennsylvania ranked sixth in gross domestic product among all the states and the District of Columbia. It accounts for 3.9 percent of the total GDP of the United States, contributing about $719 billion to the nation's economy in a year, following California, Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois.
The state is famous for its outstanding industrial and agricultural outputs. Dubbed the Coal State and the Steel State, Pennsylvania has been one of the nation's most important industrial centers for coal, steel and railroads, especially before War World II. With a great number of farms, the state is famous for its leading mushroom production, which reaches 425 million pounds annually with a value of about $331 million.
With 2,300 companies specializing in food processing, the state is the largest producer among the 50 states in canned fruit and vegetable-specialty products, chocolate and cocoa products, potato chips and pretzels. It’s known as the “Snack Food Capital of the World” because snack, food and confectionery sales total more than $5.1 billion per year.
Philadelphia, the state's largest city, is recognized as the political center and capital of the nation during the American Revolution. Since the rise of resistance against the Stamp Act, Pennsylvania opposed British oppression of the American colonies. It’s said Pennsylvania’s army participated in almost all the campaigns of the revolution and also gave more than $6 million in paper money to the Continental Congress by 1780, when financial difficulty was a big hurdle to the independence movement.
In 1774, Philadelphia held the First Continental Congress, where representatives from 12 colonies convened. The Second Continental Congress also convened in the city, where the states signed the Declaration of Independence at the Pennsylvania State House, later known as Independence Hall.
Although the Articles of Confederation that the 13 independent colonies agreed upon to build a new nation were not drafted in Philadelphia, because the British had seized the city, it was drawn up by Delegate John Dickinson of Philadelphia. As one of the 13 original founding states, Pennsylvania was the second to ratify the 1787 U.S. Constitution, which was drafted and signed in Independence Hall.
During the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, Pennsylvania supported the Union forces. It provided not only financial and medical support, with Pennsylvanian doctors healing the wounds of the war, but also soldiers: About 350,000 Pennsylvanians served in the Union forces.
Inspired by Quaker values of liberality and freedom of expression, the state also stands out in its achievements in culture and education. Gaining another nickname as the "Athens of America" for its rich and diverse cultures even before American independence, it stakes a claim to starting the nation's first university, the University of Pennsylvania – a matter of contention involving definitions of universities and colleges, with rival Harvard College having evolved from New College in Massachusetts. The city opened the first art school, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and first hospital – Pennsylvania Hospital.
Additionally, one of greatest inventions in modern human history – the electronic computer – was created in Pennsylvania. In 1946, University of Pennsylvania scholars J. Presper Eckert Jr. and John Mauchly created the first computer for the U.S. Army. And the first commercial computer was produced in Philadelphia.