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When the Civil War erupted in 1861, Philadelphia’s size and economic output placed it second only to New York in population and prosperity among America’s cities. This enabled the city to swiftly capitalize on wartime needs
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The strength of Philadelphia’s economy lay in its diversity. Its manufacturing firms sent finished products to the rest of the nation—including the South. It was strong in textiles, iron manufacturing, shoes and boots, publishing, railroad equipment, machine tools and hardware, lumber and wood, and chemicals. Many people throughout the North believed that Philadelphia business was as closely tied to the South as to the North. Indeed, its manufacturers bought lumber, cotton and turpentine from the South while selling locomotives, Bibles and schoolbooks, carriages, wagons, clothes and shoes to Southerners. Even as late as April 1861, trainloads of consumer goods were en route to Southern customers. More than half of the students enrolled in the city’s medical schools were from south of the Mason-Dixon Line
But the firing on Fort Sumter united the city of 565,000 people behind the Lincoln administration’s war effort. Within hours of the news, mobs of patriotic citizens roamed the streets, intimidating those who dared to declare their Southern sympathies and forcing recalcitrant newspaper editors to show the Stars and Stripes. More than 8,000 young men marched off to war within days of Abraham Lincoln’s call for 75,000 militia to suppress the rebellion. Thousands more would don the blue in the next four years
The war forced the city’s thriving business establishments to adapt to meet wartime needs. According to Lorin Blodget, secretary of Philadelphia’s Board of Trade, in 1860 there were 6,314 business establishments in the city. They produced an annual revenue of $141 million—second only to that of New York—and employed 98,400 workers. The more enterprising owners quickly looked for ways to land government contracts. Many subcontracted to other businesses to acquire the goods they needed. As a result, the city generally hummed with business activity throughout the war
The hat firm of Adolph & Keen furnished 249,700 army hats, forage caps and Zouave fezzes. Hadden, Booth & Porter, a hardware business, supplied more than 200,000 canteens. Thomas Potter, listed in the city directory as an oil cloth manufacturer, must have realized a good profit from his government contracts for 375,000 haversacks, 138,500 knapsacks, 30,000 ponchos, 60,000 India rubber blankets and 50,000 tent blankets
By 1861, Philadelphia production of railroad locomotives and wagons, and was well on its way led the nation in to becoming the largest producer of iron. The city had already developed a working relationship with iron mining operations scattered throughout Pennsylvania. Railroads brought iron ore and coal into the city, where a host of large and midsized foundries eagerly consumed the raw materials and produced gas pipes, ship boilers, iron machinery and an entire spectrum of other iron products
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