The Keystone State

Where is it?

State Flag




Geographic coordinates:
39°43'N to 42°N
74°43'W to 80°31'W
total: 46,058 sq mi
land: 44,820 sq mi
water: 1,239 sq mi
Great Lakes: 749 sq mi
coastline: N/A
shoreline: N/A
Bordering States:
Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, West Virginia
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: 0 ft
highest point: Mount Davis 3,213 ft
Pennsylvania's nickname, the Keystone State, is quite apt, because the state forms a geographic bridge both between the Northeastern states and the Southern states, and between the Atlantic seaboard and the Midwest. It is bordered on the north and northeast by New York; on the east, across the Delaware River by New Jersey; on the south by Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia; on the west by Ohio; and on the northwest by Lake Erie. The Delaware, Susquehanna, Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers are the major rivers of the state. The Youghiogheny River and Oil Creek are smaller rivers which have played an important role in the development of the state.

The Pennsylvania Dutch region in south-central Pennsylvania is a favorite for sightseers. The Pennsylvania Dutch, including the Old Order Amish, the Old Order Mennonites and at least 15 other sects, are common in the rural areas around the cities of Lancaster, York, and Harrisburg, with smaller numbers extending northeast to the Lehigh Valley and up the Susquehanna River valley.

The western third of the state can be considered a separate large geophysical unit, distinctive enough that it may best be described on its own. Several important, complex factors set Western Pennsylvania apart in many respects from the east, such as the initial difficulty of access across the mountains, rivers oriented to the Mississippi River drainage system, and above all, the complex economics involved in the rise and decline of the American steel industry centered around Pittsburgh. Other factors, such as a markedly different style of agriculture, the rise of the oil industry, timber exploitation and the old wood chemical industry, and even, in linguistics, the local dialect, all make this large area sometimes seem a virtual "state within a state".

Pennsylvania is bisected diagonally by ridges of the Appalachian Mountains from southwest to northeast. To the northwest of the folded mountains is the Allegheny Plateau, which continues into southwestern and south central New York. This plateau is so dissected by valleys that it also seems mountainous. The plateau is underlain by sedimentary rocks of Mississippian and Pennsylvanian age, which bear abundant fossils as well as natural gas and petroleum.

In 1859, near Titusville, Edwin L. Drake drilled the first oil well in the U.S. into these sediments. Similar rock layers also contain coal to the south and east of the oil and gas deposits. In the metamorphic (folded) belt, anthracite (hard coal) is mined near Wilkes-Barre and Hazelton. These fossil fuels have been an important resource to Pennsylvania. Timber and dairy farming are also sources of livelihood for midstate and western Pennsylvania. Along the shore of Lake Erie in the far northwest are orchards and vineyards.




12,787,209 (2014)
Largest City:
Philadelphia: 1,560,297 (2010)
Age structure:
0-5 years old: 5.8%
<18 years old: 22.9%
65 years and over: 15.3%
Male: 48.5% Female: 51.5%
Population growth rate:
1.2% (2000-2005)
Population density:
274.0 per sq mi
Race(2000 Census):
White non-Hispanic: 82.9%
Hispanic: 3.8%
Black: 10.5%
Asian: 2.2%
Native American: 0.2%
Multi-Race: 0.9%
Christian: 56%
Jewish: 1.6%
Other: <1%
Non-Religious/Non-Reporting: 40%




Before the state existed, the area was home to the Delaware (also known as Lenni Lenape), Susquehannock, Iroquois, Eriez, Shawnee, and other Native American tribes.

In 1681, Charles II granted a land charter to William Penn, due to the fact that a large debt was owed to William Penn's father, Admiral Penn. One of the largest land grants to an individual in history. That land included both present-day Delaware and Pennsylvania ("Penn's Woods", named in honor of his father). He established government with two innovations that were much copied in the new world: the county commission, and freedom of religious conviction. Writer Murray Rothbard in his four-volume history of the U.S., Conceived in Liberty, refers to the years of 1681–90 as "Pennsylvania's Anarchist Experiment."

The first meeting of the thirteen colonies was the Stamp Act Congress in 1765, called at the request of the Massachusetts Assembly, but only 9 colonies sent delegates. John Dickinson of Philadelphia wrote the Declaration of Rights and Grievances that came out of the Stamp Act Congress — then followed it up with Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, To the Inhabitants of the British Colonies, which were published in the Pennsylvania Chronicle between December 2, 1767, and February 15, 1768. When the Founding Fathers to convene in Philadelphia in 1774, 12 of the 13 colonies sent representatives to the First Continental Congress.

The First Continental Congress drew up and signed the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, but when that city was captured by the British, the Continental Congress escaped westward, meeting at the Lancaster courthouse on Saturday, September 27, 1777, and then moving to York, where they drew up the Articles of Confederation, forming the independent colonies into a new nation. Later, the Constitution was written, Philadelphia was once again chosen to be cradle to the new American Nation. Pennsylvania became the second state to ratify the U.S. Constitution on December 12, 1787, five days after Delaware became the first. James Buchanan, of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was the only bachelor President of the United States. The Battle of Gettysburg — the major turning point of the Civil War — took place near Gettysburg.




December 12, 1787 (2nd State)
State Tree:
Eastern Hemlock
State Bird:
Ruffed Grouse
State Flower:
Mountain Laurel
Pennsylvania has had five constitutions since statehood: 1776, 1790, 1838, 1874, and 1968. Prior to that, the province of Pennsylvania was governed for a century by a Frame of Government, of which there were four versions: 1682, 1683, 1696, and 1701.

The legislature met in the general Philadelphia area, but had no regular place of meeting for half a century before starting to meet regularly in Independence Hall in Philadelphia for 63 years. They needed to move to a more central location - the Paxton Boys had made them aware of that in 1763 - and finally in 1799, they moved to the Lancaster Courthouse in 1799, and finally to Harrisburg in 1812. The legislature met in the old Dauphin County Court House until December 1821, when the Redbrick Capitol was finished. It burned down in 1897, presumably due to a faulty flue. Until the present capitol was finished in 1907, the legislature met at Grace Methodist Church on State Street, which still stands.

The new Capitol drew rave reviews. Its dome was inspired by the great domes of St. Peter's in Rome and the United States Capitol. If President Theodore Roosevelt called it the "the most beautiful state Capitol in the nation", and said "it's the handsomest building I ever saw" at the dedication, one might expect a politicians to glurge at a dedication, but in 1989, though, the New York Times praised the Pennsylvania capitol as "grand, even awesome at moments, but it is also a working building, accessible to citizens... a building that connects with the reality of daily life."

The current Governor is Ed Rendell, a former head of the Democratic National Committee who began as a popular District Attorney, and mayor in Philadelphia. The other elected officials composing the executive branch are the Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll, Attorney General Tom Corbett, Auditor General Jack Wagner, and State Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr.

William Penn's Frame of Government set up a unicameral legislature, and did not switch to a bicameral legislature until the state's constitution of 1790. The General Assembly includes 50 Senators and 203 Representatives.

Pennsylvania is divided into 60 judicial districts, most of which (save Philadelphia and Allegheny Counties) have magisterial district judges (formerly called district justices and justices of the peace), who preside mainly over minor criminal offenses and small civil claims. Most criminal and civil cases originate in the Courts of Common Pleas, which also serve as appellate courts to the district judges and for local agency decisions. The Superior Court hears all appeals from the Courts of Common Pleas not expressly designated to the Commonwealth Court or Supreme Court. It also has original jurisdiction to review warrants for wiretap surveillance. The Commonwealth Court is limited to appeals from final orders of certain state agencies and certain designated cases from the Courts of Common Pleas. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the final appellate court. All judges in Pennsylvania are elected; the chief justice is determined by seniority.




Pennsylvania's 2005 total gross state product (GSP) of $430.31 billion ranks the state 6th in the nation. If Pennsylvania were an independent country, its economy would rank as the 17th largest in the world, ahead of Belgium, but behind the Netherlands. On a per-capita basis, though, Pennsylvania's per-capita GSP of $34,619 ranks 26th among the 50 states. Neighboring Delaware was tops, with $56,447, and Mississippi's $23,851 puts it last.

Philadelphia in the southeast corner and Pittsburgh in the southwest corner are urban manufacturing centers, with the "t-shaped" remainder of the state being much more rural; this dichotomy affects state politics as well as the state economy. Philadelphia is home to 10 Fortune 500 companies, with more located in suburbs like King of Prussia; it's a leader in the financial and insurance industry. Pittsburgh is home to 6 Fortune 500 companies, including U.S. Steel, PPG Industries and H.J. Heinz. In all, Pennsylvania is home to 49 Fortune 500 companies.

States cannot thrive by "taking in each other's laundry", but manufacturing imports money and jobs from the rest of the world. Pennsylvania's factories and workshops manufacture 16.1% of the Gross State Product (GSP); only 10 states are more industrialized. While Educational Services is only 1.8% of the state's GSP, that's twice the national average; only Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont outrank Pennsylvania. Although Pennsylvania is known as a coal state, mining only amounts to 0.6% of the state's economy, compared to 1.3% for the country as a whole.

Pennsylvania ranks 19th overall in agricultural production, but 3rd in christmas trees and layer chickens, 4th in nursery and sod, milk, corn for silage, and horse production. Only about 9,600 of the state's 58,000 farmers have sales of $100,000 or more, and with production expenses equalling 84.9% of sales, most not only have a net farming income below the $19,806 that marks poverty for a family of four, but are liable for a 12.4% self-employment tax as well. The average farmer is 53 and getting older, as young Pennsylvanians find low farming income a tough row to hoe.

Pennsylvania draws 2.1% of the Gross State Product from Accommodation and Food Services. Only Connecticut, Delaware and Iowa have lower numbers, and Nevada gets a whopping 14.2% of their GSP that way. Philadelphia draws tourists to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Franklin Institute and the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while The Poconos attract honeymooners, golfers and fishermen, and the Delaware Water Gap appeals to boaters, hikers, and nature lovers.

The state government launched an extensive tourism campaign in 2003 under the direction of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. An extensive website has been established to promote visits to the state.