25 Things You Didn’t Know About Philadelphia

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It’s home to the Liberty Bell, the Declaration of Independence, and Philly cheesesteaks. But there’s more than that going on in the City of Brotherly Love.

1. Philly is a city of firsts. On top of hosting America’s first birthday, it also started up the country’s first daily newspaper—The Philadelphia Packet and Daily Advertiser—in 1784.

2. The city is home to America's first zoo.

3. It’s also home to the first hospital.

4. And, naturally, the first medical school!

5. Philadelphia is actually renowned for its medical sector. One out of every six doctors in the U.S. is trained in Philly.

6. Move over, England. The Walnut Street Theater is actually the oldest continually running theater in the English-speaking world.

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7. It was originally owned by Edwin Booth—you might know him as John Wilkes Booth’s brother.  

8. Philly became home to the first general purpose computer in 1946.

9. It weighed 27 tons!

10. Philly boasts more Impressionist paintings than any other city outside Paris.

11. Art is a big deal here. Boasting over 2000 outdoor murals, it’s been called the “mural capital of the U.S.”

12. If you’re more of a foodie, Philly is also home to the Wing Bowl, an eating contest that draws crowds as large as 20,000 people. 

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13. In 1943, Phillies owner Robert Carpenter attempted to rename the team the Blue Jays. The nickname obviously failed to catch on.

14. Why are the Flyers called the Flyers? Because Ed Snider’s wife simply thought the name sounded good.

15. As for the Eagles, they’re actually named for the Eagle that appeared on posters during the National Recovery Act, which was part of FDR’s New Deal.

16. Before that, the city's home team was the Frankford Yellow Jackets.

17. In 1988, the Eagles helped make the world’s largest cheesesteak. To no one’s surprise, it was the length of a football field.

18. In the beginning, the Philadelphia mint took several years to produce its first million coins.

19. Today, it can make that many in less than an hour.

20. One of the first businesses in Philly? Beer. William Frampton’s brewery started up in 1683.

21. For the U.S. bicentennial, the city planted a “moon tree.” (That is, a tree grown from a seed taken on the Apollo 14 mission.)

22. Philly’s Mütter Museum has a great collection of medical oddities, including slides of Einstein’s brain, slices of a human face, and a book bound by human skin.

23. Surprise! Neither Thomas Jefferson nor John Adams signed the Constitution—they were out of town.

24. Sorry, but there’s no evidence that Philadelphia resident Betsy Ross stitched the first American flag.

25. The story was made up in 1870, some 100 years after the fact. You can still visit her home in Philly’s Old City neighborhood, though! 

America's Best and Worst Cities for Public Transit

Washington D.C.'s Metro
Washington D.C.'s Metro
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Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, a new release from Island Press, is undoubtedly a book for transit nerds. But everyone else could learn a little something from it, too. In just a few quick visuals, it's able to distill why transit use is common in some big cities in the U.S., while in others, people are chained to their cars.

The density maps, which we first spotted over on CityLab, highlight where the most people live and are employed in major U.S. cities, overlaying information about how accessible frequent rail and/or bus service is in that area. The combined data show a realistic picture of how accessible certain parts of a city are, illuminating which U.S. cities, and which of their neighborhoods, are easiest to get around without a car.

A density map of D.C. showing where transit is within 0.5 miles
Washington D.C.
Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, Island Press

Sure, there are likely bus lines that run farther out beyond the bounds of downtown, but frequency is one of the most important predictors of whether people actually use transit or not. So is distance—you're not going to get many riders if people have to drive to your bus stop—and while some planners consider a quarter-mile to be the ideal maximum distance to be considered "walkable" distance to transit, others, including those running major transit agencies like the Washington D.C. Metro, use a half-mile as the standard. (The book's author, Rice University urban planner Christof Spieler, served on the board of directors for the Houston METRO from 2010 to 2018.)

A density map of New York City showing where transit is within 0.5 miles
New York City
Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, Island Press

The resulting infographics portray the reality of American transit options. Even in cities we imagine are great for public transportation (New York) there are wide swaths of densely populated geography that are virtually inaccessible. Other cities known for their over-dependency on the car (Los Angeles) actually might have far more transit options than you imagine.

A density map of Los Angeles showing where transit is within 0.5 miles
Trains, Buses, People: An Opinionated Atlas of U.S. Transit, Island Press

So what U.S. cities have the overall best transit coverage, according to Spieler? He names these cities as the five best: New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

And the most useless? As far as individual rail lines go, Nashville's $41 million Music City Star line carries fewer people than most bus routes. St. Clair County, Illinois, has a MetroLink line running from St. Louis eastward to serve "literal corn fields," Spieler writes. A Cleveland light-rail extension built in the 1990s serves a pathetic 400 people a day. Dallas's system, DART, is the biggest light-rail line in the country, but it "reaches remarkably few places," carrying half as many people per mile as transit in San Diego, Phoenix, or Houston.

In general, recent American transit projects cost taxpayers a ton of money and serve relatively few people—New York, despite having one of the best transit systems in the U.S., has paid $18.9 billion over the last 10 years on a mere three subway stations and one commuter-rail station.

Curious as to how your city measures up? Get the book on Amazon for $36.

[h/t CityLab]

The Christmas Book Flood: Iceland’s Literature-Loving Holiday Tradition

iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov
iStock.com/Viktor_Gladkov

In Iceland, the most popular Christmas gifts aren't the latest iProducts or kitchen gadgets. They're books. Each year, Iceland celebrates what’s known as “Jólabókaflóðið:” the annual Yule Book Flood.

The holiday season is the Black Friday of the Icelandic publishing world—but it’s not just about one day. According to Reader’s Digest, at the beginning of November, each household in Iceland gets a copy of the Bokatidindi, the Iceland Publishers Association’s catalog of all the books that will be published that year, giving residents a chance to pick out holiday books for their friends and family. September to November marks Icelandic publishers’ biggest season, and many sell the majority of their yearly stock leading up to Christmas. Even grocery stores become major booksellers during the Book Flood season.

The Jólabókaflóðið (pronounced YO-la-bok-a-flothe) tradition dates back to post-World War II economic policies. Iceland separated from Denmark in 1918, and didn’t become a fully autonomous republic until 1944. During the Great Depression, the country created a rigid, intricate system of import restrictions, and its protectionist policies continued after the war. High inflation and strict rations on imported goods made it difficult for Icelanders to get their hands on many products. The one imported product that was relatively easy to get? Paper. As a result, books became the nation’s default gift purchase, and they still are, more than half a century later.

The "flood" in Christmas Book Flood has more to do with the deluge of books hitting bookstores than it does a flood of books flowing onto individual bookshelves. To take advantage of the tradition, most hardback books published in Iceland come out in the months leading up to Christmas, when Icelanders will be purchasing them for friends and family. (Cheaper paperbacks often come out a few months later, since people are more apt to buy those for themselves rather than their loved ones, according to The Reykjavik Grapevine’s Hildur Knútsdóttir.)

While family traditions vary from household to household, most Icelanders unwrap a book on December 24, according to Reader’s Digest. Some people get a book for every member of their family, while others do a swap exchange where everyone brings one title and everyone gets to pick one from the pile. After the exchange, many people cozy up with their new volume and get reading, preferably in bed, with chocolate.

As Icelandic writer Alda Sigmundsdóttir explained in a blog post in 2008, people in Iceland “will typically describe the pinnacle of enjoyment as lying in bed eating konfekt [filled chocolates] and reading one of the books they received under the tree. Later, at the slew of Christmas parties that inevitably follow, the Christmas books will be a prominent topic of conversation, and post-Yule the newspapers are filled with evaluations of which books had the best and worst titles, best and worst covers, etc.” Sounds like a pretty good tradition to us.

It’s not surprising that Iceland places such high importance on giving and receiving books. The country reads and publishes more books per capita than any other nation in the world, and one in 10 Icelanders have published a book themselves. (There’s an Icelandic adage, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” that means “everyone gives birth to a book.” Well, technically it means “everyone has a book in their stomach,” but same idea.)

But the glut of books that flood the Icelandic market during the latter months of the year may not be as completely joyful as it sounds, some critics warn—at least not when it comes to the stability of the publishing market. Iceland is a nation of just 338,000 people, and there are more books than there are people to buy them. Some publishers, faced with a lack of space to store the unsold books, have had to resort to destroying unpurchased stock at the end of the holiday season. But marketing books outside of Yuletime is a relatively budding practice, one that Icelandic presses are still adapting to. It’s hard to beat the prospect of curling up after Christmas dinner with a freshly opened book and a bunch of chocolates, after all.

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