Philadelphia Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Since Philadelphia’s founding as one of the first major American cities, immigrants from all over the world have flocked to it. Dutch, Swedes, and English were the first settlers in the area, but modern immigration into the city has been dominated by Asians and Hispanics. By 2006, the greater Philadelphia area was home to more than one-half million foreign-born residents–a figure that was growing at a rate of about 20,000 people a year.

The earliest European settlers in the Delaware River valley arrived during the early seventeenth century. Swedish immigrants;PhiladelphiaSwedes were the first to inhabit the area, but during the mid-1650’s the Dutch immigrants;PhiladelphiaDutch effectively took control of the area. Their reign over the area was short-lived, however, as the British soon came and occupied the entire region during the 1660’s. Charles IICharles II, the king of England at the time, handed over control of the area to Penn, WilliamWilliam Penn, who named the site of the future city “Philadelphia,” from Greek philos for “love” and adelphos for “brothers”–hence, the city’s future nickname of the “City of Brotherly Love.”PhiladelphiaPennsylvania;PhiladelphiaPhiladelphiaPennsylvania;Philadelphia[cat]CITIESAND COMMUNITIES;Philadelphia[04150]

Nineteenth Century Trends

By the time of the late eighteenth century American Revolution, Philadelphia was one of the most important cities in the British North American colonies. Its prime location as a port city helped it emerge as a hub of the growing country and no doubt helped attract more settlers. The fact that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both written in Philadelphia cemented the city’s reputation as a major metropolitan area.

The first great wave of immigration to Philadelphia occurred during the second half of the nineteenth century, when Italian immigrants;PhiladelphiaItalian and Irish immigrants;PhiladelphiaIrish immigrants began pouting into the city. The cultural impact of immigrants can be seen in the northwest and south areas of the city. Many of the Irish who came to the United States were fleeing the Great Irish Famine that followed a blight that ruined Ireland’s vital potato crop. Many of the Irish who arrived in Philadelphia were farmers and laborers. The Italian immigrants also tended to be farmers and laborers. The Italian immigrant presence can still be seen in the Farmer’s Market in the south part of Philadelphia.

Twentieth Century Developments

During the late twentieth century, the composition of Philadelphia’s population underwent a shift, as many long-established white families moved from the central city to the outlying suburbs of Greater Philadelphia. As they moved out, many foreign immigrants, especially Asians and Hispanics, moved in. Asian immigrants created an ethnic enclave in central Philadelphia that became known as Chinatowns;Philadelphia“Chinatown,” although it is actually a multiethnic community, with many Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese, and Filipinos.

The impact of Hispanic immigration is most evident in the Fairhill district of Philadelphia, an area that has been nicknamed El Centro del Oro (the golden center). By the early twenty-first century, Puerto Rican immigrants;PhiladelphiaPuerto Ricans constituted nearly 76 percent of the city’s Hispanic residents. Since the 1990’s, the city has also seen an influx of Mexican, Salvadoran immigrants;PhiladelphiaEl Salvadoran, Cuban, Brazilian, and Guatemalan immigrants.

Twenty-first Century Trends

In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the Greater Philadelphia Metropolitan area was the fifth largest in the United States and had one of the largest and fastest-growing immigrant populations among major American cities. The city was home to the second-largest communities of Irish and Italian ancestry in the United States. In addition to increasing numbers of Asians and Hispanics, Philadelphia has also become home to many Greek, Pakistani, and African immigrants.PhiladelphiaPennsylvania;Philadelphia

Further Reading
  • Avery, Ron. A Concise History of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Otis Books, 1999.
  • Davis, Allen Freeman, and Mark H. Haller, eds. The Peoples of Philadelphia: A History of Ethnic Groups and Lower-class Life, 1790-1940. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998.
  • Mauger, Edward Arthur. Philadelphia Then and Now. San Diego: Thunder Bay Press, 2002.

Asian immigrants


Civil War, U.S.

Dutch immigrants

German immigrants

Irish immigrants

Italian immigrants

Little Italies

Melting pot theory


Philadelphia anti-Irish riots

Categories: History