• Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.
      Learn about the conditions that led to Frank Furness' most incredible masterworks, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts seen here, on Wednesday.

"How'd we get here?" Philadelphia's transportation history in photos

This month the Mayor's Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) turns five, and while celebrating its own, relatively short history, MOTU is also paying homage to the longstanding history of transportation in Philadelphia. MOTU has partnered with the Free Library of Philadelphia to create "How'd we get here?" an online photo exhibit of the city's transportation and utilities history. 

Throughout Ocotober, MOTU is sharing these photos and their stories on its blog. So far we've seen an arial shot of the William Penn Airport on Roosevelt Boulevard from 1930 and glimpses of the Philadelphia Municipal Airport in 1936 and the Philadelphia International Airport in 1953. 

A blog post this week shared photos from two strikes in the 1940s. The first, in 1944, happened when the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) began hiring black employees in non-menial positions like motormen and conductors. White transit workers called a strike to protest PTC's decision. President Franklin Roosevelt stepped in and authorized the Secretary of War to take control of PTC "to operate and arrange for the operation of such properties and facilities in such manner as he deems necessary for the successful prosecution of the war."  Two years later, in 1946, female transit operators struck for better pay and used slogans like "We're not dumb clucks. We want our 2 bucks"

    • Philadelphia International Airport interior, 1953. Photo credit: Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection
      Philadelphia International Airport interior, 1953. Photo credit: Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection
    • William Penn Airport on Roosevelt Boulevard, 1930. Photo credit: Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection
      William Penn Airport on Roosevelt Boulevard, 1930. Photo credit: Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection
    • In 1946 female employees at the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) struck for higher pay. Photo credit: Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection
      In 1946 female employees at the Philadelphia Transportation Company (PTC) struck for higher pay. Photo credit: Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection
    • The Army's Signal Corp posted notifications that the War Department had seized PTC. Photo credit: Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection
      The Army's Signal Corp posted notifications that the War Department had seized PTC. Photo credit: Free Library of Philadelphia Print and Picture Collection
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For the rest of the month, MOTU will share stories and photos like these in blog posts on Mondays and Wednesdays. The entire "How'd we get here?" exhibit can also be viewed online or in person at the Free Library of Philadelphia's Central Branch, 1901 Vine Street. 

If you plan on staying tuned to the biweekly MOTU blog posts, upcoming topics will include the architecture of Philly's transportation system, the history of Broad Street Station and its fires, transportation adventures, the city's transit "bones," historic mass transit, water transportation and the people, vehicle and tools that built the transportation network. 

A full calendar of events surrounding MOTU's fifth anniversary, MOTU@5, can be found online

About the author

Christine Fisher, Transportation reporter

From 2012-2014 Christine covered transportation, writing about everything from pedestrian concerns to bicycle infrastructure, bridges, trail networks, public transit and more. Her favorite assignments sent her bushwhacking through Philadelphia’s yet-to-be-cleared bike trails, catching a glimpse of SEPTA’s inner workings or pounding the pavement to find out what pedestrians really think. Christine also covered community news for Eyes on the Street, where her work ranged from food sovereignty to public art and urban greening. She first joined PlanPhilly in fall 2011 as an intern through a partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods website. 


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