Philadelphia: Delaware Avenue Near Spruce Street in 1840


In the first census, of 1790, the largest American cities were all major seaports. A “city” was thus designated only when its population was over 8000. At that time there were then only seven so listed: Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Charleston, Baltimore, Salem and Newport. By 1800 Philadelphia was the greatest seaport in the United States. Its coat-of-arms epitomized the reasons for its prosperity – a plough and sheaves of wheat, with a ship under full sail – an emblem which signified its importance, surrounded as it was by fertile land which supplied produce for the commerce of the seas. By 1850 attractive opportunities for increased trade came from the growing coal and iron industry of Pennsylvania, but it was the difficulties of navigating the river under sail, and rivalry with near-by Baltimore, that eventually would lead to the port’s decline.

This scene, looking north, shows the street after a storm with a brig alongside and cargo being assembled for shipment. A delayed delivery of heavy rods is being removed from a dray as port activity closes down and late nighters stroll about catching a breath of clear air before turning in.

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