Geography and Landforms:

Pennsylvania is one of the Mid-Atlantic states. It is known as the Keystone State because it is geographically in the center of the "arch" formed by the original 13 states. Six are located to the north and six to the south. Pennsylvania's width is 312 miles. The distance between its northern and southern boundaries is 158 miles. It is America's 33rd largest state.

Pennsylvania is made of many different geographic regions. The Atlantic Coastal Plain crosses the extreme southeastern corner of the state. It is a flat, low area that falls to sea level where it meets the Delaware River.

The Piedmont Plateau, an area of low hills, ridges, and valleys has some of the richest farmland in the state. It is located in the southeastern part of the state.

The Appalachian Ridge and Valley Region arcs from the south-central border with Maryland to the eastern border with New Jersey and consists of a series of fertile valleys and long, parallel ridges that are part of the Appalachian Mountain range.

A narrow, finger-shaped region called the Blue Ridge extends northward from the south-central border. It contains parts of the Gettysburg National Park and beautiful South Mountain.

The largest geographic region in the state is known as the Appalachian Plateau. It covers much of the northern and western portions of the state. The Plateau contains the state's highest point - Mount Davis - which rises 3,213 feet and is part of the Allegheny mountain range.

The Erie Plain covers the extreme northwestern corner of Pennsylvania. This flat area was once covered by the waters of Lake Erie.


In 1643, the Governor of New Sweden, Johan Printz, established a capital for his colony near present-day Philadelphia and called it Tinicum Island. It was the first permanent settlement in the Pennsylvania region.

Problems developed between the Swedes and the Dutch who were operating trading posts throughout the area. In 1655, the Dutch, led by Peter Stuyvescent of the colony of New Netherlands, seized New Sweden. The Dutch controlled the area until the English Duke of York took possession in 1664. The Duke continued to be in charge of the area until 1681 when King Charles II, with the Duke's support, granted the Pennsylvania region to William Penn. In 1682, the Duke presented Penn with the land that is now present-day Delaware. Delaware remained part of Pennsylvania until the time of the American Revolution.

William Penn, the son of an English admiral, was a member of the Society of Friends, also known as the Quakers. The Quakers were a persecuted religious group seeking freedom of worship. Penn hoped to establish a colony in the New World that would allow people of all faiths to worship freely. Penn decided to call his colony "Sylvania," which means "woods." King Charles added "Penn" to the name in honor of William's father.

William Markham, Penn's cousin, was appointed deputy governor of the colony in 1681. Markham, following Penn's instructions, established a government and laid out plans for the city of Philadelphia, which means brotherly love in Greek. When Penn arrived in his colony a year later, he brought with him a carefully written constitution for Pennsylvania that guaranteed religious freedom for all people. The constitution also supported liberation (freeing) of slaves and provided a framework for a colonial government.

Penn, as governor of the colony, established a strong friendship with the Native Americans. He purchased most of the land granted to him by King Charles from the Indians. Penn died in 1718, but his family governed the colony until the Revolutionary War began in 1775.

By the time of Penn's death, the colony had grown considerably. It was populated by many diverse cultural groups who had sought religious freedom in "Penn's Woods." They included the Germans, Scotch-Irish, Welsh, French Huguenots, Jews, Dutch, and Swedes. This cultural and religious diversity had a strong impact on the development of colonial Pennsylvania.

The French and Indian War began in western Pennsylvania in 1754 and resulted in many brutal battles. It was a conflict that grew out of Native American resentment to the westward expansion by colonial settlers. Pennsylvania Indians allied with French settlers who were establishing strongholds in the Ohio valley. Fighting continued in the colony until 1758 when the French left Pennsylvania. The war ended in 1763. Many attempts at resolving conflicts between the colonists and Native Americans had failed. Gradually, the colony's Indian population began migrating westward and out of Pennsylvania.

At the dawning of the American Revolution, Pennsylvania was the third largest colony in America. Philadelphia was the second largest English-speaking city in the world. But discontent was growing among the colonists. England had begun to impose taxes and trade restrictions on the American colonies. In 1774, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to discuss the issue. Anger over taxation soon grew into a desire for independence from England.

The Revolutionary War began in April of 1775. One month later, the Second Continental Congress voted in favor of independence from Britain. The delegates in the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall) adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

Several battles of the Revolution took place within Pennsylvania. British troops invaded the colony in 1777, captured Philadelphia, and occupied the city until 1778. General George Washington and his troops were unsuccessful in forcing the British out of the city. After suffering defeats in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, Washington led his troops to Valley Forge where they spent the winter of 1777 and spring of 1778.

The Continental Congress was relocated to Lancaster and then York during British occupation of Philadelphia. While in York, Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation, which Pennsylvania ratified (approved) in 1778. The British withdrew from Philadelphia in June of 1778 and congress returned to the city. By 1783, the American Revolution had ended. When the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia in 1787, Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the United States Constitution. Philadelphia remained the seat of government until 1800 when it was moved to Washington, D.C.

Many Pennsylvanians opposed slavery, supported the abolitionist (antislavery) movement, and gave strong support to the Union during the Civil War (1861-1865). Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War in July of 1863. More than 50,000 casualties resulted from this three-day battle.

On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address on a portion of the battlefield, dedicating it as a final resting place for those who had died there.


During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Pennsylvania was the nation's leading producer of steel. This was due to the state's rich deposits of bituminous (soft) coal and iron ore - two components that are fundamental to the steel industry. A thriving anthracite (hard) coal mining industry in Pennsylvania made the state a leader in railroading during this era. But such industries began to decline dramatically in Pennsylvania during the later half of the 20th century.

Today, Pennsylvania is one of the nation's most important producers of natural resources including coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Deposits of limestone, sand, and slate are also mined and provide the state with significant economic benefits.

Pennsylvania is home to a large number of manufacturing companies that produce metal products, chemicals, transportation equipment, machinery, glass and plastic products, and food. The Hershey Foods Corporation in Hershey, Pennsylvania, is North America's leading manufacturer of chocolate and cocoa, non-chocolate candies, and chocolate-related food items. Hershey exports its products to more than 90 countries worldwide. The company also produces a wide variety of grocery items.

Food production is very important part to the economy of Pennsylvania. The state's fertile agricultural areas produce dairy products, mushrooms, fruit, potatoes, cattle and poultry, and grains such as corn, wheat, and oats.

First Inhabitants:

Native Americans lived in the area that became Pennsylvania hundreds of years before European settlers entered the region. The two primary groups were the Algonkian and Iroquois. Algonkian tribes included the Delaware, Nanticoke, and Shawnee. The Susquehannocks were an Iroquoian tribe that lived along the Susquehanna River.

These early inhabitants traveled by canoe or on foot. They lived in houses made of bark and wore clothing from the skins of animals. Arts such as pottery making and weaving were also practiced. Although some farming was done, most food was acquired through hunting and gathering.

Books Related To Pennsylvania

The Year My Parents Ruined My Life - Martha Freeman
(978-0823413249) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-9, Lexile: 700, ESL level: 3
Kate's forced move to Pennsylvania results in major upheavals in her school life and her adaptation to its harsh climate.

An American Plague - Jim Murphy
(978-0395776087) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 4-12, Lexile: 1130, ESL level: 4
This fascinating account of the yellow fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793 paints a bleak picture of the city during that challenging time as well as providing a compelling backdrop of information about the country in the 18th century.

Chase - Jessie Haas
(978-0061128509) , Fiction
Interest level: 5-9, Lexile: 650, ESL level: 3
Phin tries to outwit a murderer and a mysterious man, both of whom are chasing him, after he witnesses a murder in the coal-mining area of Pennsylvania just after the Civil War.

Dead End in Norvelt - Jack Gantos
(978-0374379933) , Fiction
Interest level: 4-8, Lexile: 920, ESL level: 3 - 4
Based on the author's life, this book portrays a spirited young man who learns most unusual things during a summer of penance; be ready for humor and grossness when you read this!

The Hard Times Jar - Ethel Footman Smothers
(978-0374328528) , Fiction
Interest level: 0-4, Lexile: 520, ESL level: 2 - 3
Emma is delighted to find a school library full of books when she first goes to school.

K is for Keystone: A Pennsylvania Alphabet - Kristen Kane
(978-1585361045) , Non-fiction
Interest level: 0-2, ESL level: 1 - 2
This book features all the things that are special about Pennsylvania.

Macaroni Boy - Katherine Ayres
(978-0440418849) , Fiction
Interest level: 2-8, Lexile: 700, ESL level: 3
Mike's curiosity about the death of the building rats and his grandfather's illness leads to a helpful discovery.

Woods Runner - Gary Paulsen
(978-0375859083) , Fiction
Interest level: 6-12, ESL level: 3
Thirteen-year old Samuel has to save his parents from their capturers, British soldiers and Indians, after the enemies have destroyed the town where his family has their homestead.

Famous Citizens:

Louisa May Alcott
American author Louisa May Alcott was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania. At the age of 2, her family moved to Massachusetts. After her father's unsuccessful business ventures in Boston, Louisa began writing and selling children's fiction to provide income for her family. She is best known for her novel Little Women whose characters are patterned after Louisa and her sisters.

Daniel Boone
The frontiersman Daniel Boone, was born near Reading, Pennsylvania. When he was 16 years old, he and his family moved to North Carolina, but Daniel returned to Pennsylvania in 1755 and fought in the French and Indian war under British General Edward Braddock. By the 1760s, Boone had found his way into the Kentucky region. Literary writers such as Lord Byron and James Fenimore Cooper wrote about Boone's many adventures in this part of the country and soon the legendary frontiersman become known around the world.

James Buchanan
James Buchanan, the 15th President of the United States (1857-1861), was born in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. After graduating from college, he established a successful law practice.

The wealthy and conservative Buchanan spent forty years in public service, as a congressman, senator, Minister to Russia under President Jackson, Secretary of State under President Polk, and Minster to England under President Pierce. As President, Buchanan lacked the energy and decisiveness that was required to lead a country torn by the issue of slavery. After the Dred Scott decision of 1857, a storm of protest erupted against the Supreme Court and the Buchanan administration. As southern states began to separate from the Union, Buchanan maintained that these slave states had no legal right to secede; yet he felt that the government had no right to intervene in the states' rebellion.

After leaving office in 1861, Buchanan retired to his family home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where he died in 1868.

Rachel Louise Carson
Born in Springdale, Pennsylvania, Rachel Louise Carson became a highly respected marine biologist and author. All of her writings are based on ecological themes. She became famous for her environmental concerns on the use of chemical pesticides. Her 1962 book Silent Spring led to the banning of DDT.

Stephen Collins Foster
Stephen Collins Foster, considered to be the first professional songwriter in the United States, was born in Lawrenceville, Pennsylvania . His first hit was "Oh! Susanna". Many of his best-known songs were written between 1850 and 1860. Although he only made one trip to the south, Foster wrote lyrics that touch upon southern plantation life before the Civil War. Despite his popularity, Foster received little income for his work and he died penniless in 1861.

Henry Heinz
One of America's most well known food-manufacturing corporations is the H.J. Heinz Company. Its founder, Henry John Heinz, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Heinz started out in the food business by grating and selling horseradish roots from door to door. By 1876 he was selling prepared food, including his famous ketchup. By 1888, his business became known as the Heinz Company.

B. F. Skinner
Born Burrhus Frederic Skinner in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania, Skinner attended Hamilton College and majored in English. He became interested in behavioral psychology after reading the works of John Watson and Ivan Pavlov, and received a degree in psychology from Harvard in 1931. Skinner is best known for his experiments with operant conditioning, a process by which animals and humans can be "trained' to behave in particular ways by consistently rewarding (or reinforcing) the desired behavior.

Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth, son of the famous illustrator N.C. Wyeth, was born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Wyeth is one of the nation's most significant and innovative painters of the second half of the 20th century. He is best known for his vivid and observant images of the land and people of Maine and Pennsylvania. His most famous painting, Christina's World, hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. His son Jamie Wyeth, who was also born in Chadds Ford, is a famous painter best known for his portraits of well-known people.

Capital: Harrisburg
Entered Union: December 12, 1787
Population: 12,787,209
Area 46,055
Bird Ruffed Grouse
Flower Mountain Laurel
Nickname: Keystone State
Governor Tom Wolf

Places to Visit in Pennsylvania: (Click the links to learn more.)

Fonthill Castle and the Moravian Tile Works - Doylestown
This national historic landmark was the home of Henry Chapman Mercer (1856-1930), an eccentric intellectual well-versed in history, pottery, and tile-making. He built his 44-room "American Castle" in the early 1900s. Many of the tiles and mosaics in the Pennsylvania State Capitol were made at the nearby Moravian Tile Works, also designed and built by Mercer.

The Johnstown Flood Museum - Johnstown
The town of Johnstown was devastated and thousands of its residents were killed on May 31, 1889 when a neglected dam and a terrible storm led to one of the worst tragedies in Pennsylvania history. The Flood Museum graphically displays this event through numerous artifacts, exhibits, an Academy Award-winning film documentary, and a 3-D multi-media presentation.

Carnegie Science Center - Pittsburgh
The Exploration Station on the 4th floor of this amazing museum is a hands-on, activity filled series of exhibits tailored for grades 2 - 12. Visitors can launch an air-rocket, play a laser harp, and create their own video animation. A collection of animals representing different parts of the world includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches and giant black millipedes from Africa. All are exhibited in simulated natural habitats. Wander through the other floors of the museum and discover how much fun science can be.

Independence National Historic Park - Philadelphia
Located in Center City Philadelphia, the Park includes many sites that illustrate the birth of our nation. Visit Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution were created. See the Liberty Bell and the area where Benjamin Franklin's home once stood.

Lackawanna Coal Mine and Anthracite Heritage Museum - Scranton
Take a tour an actual anthracite coal mine 300 feet below the surface of the earth and learn about the deep mining process from an experience miner. The Anthracite Heritage Museum contains artifacts and exhibits that reveal the everyday lives of immigrants who came to work in the mines of Pennsylvania.