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The Keystone State

"Pennsylvania: It's Philadelphia on one side, Pittsburgh on the other side, and Alabama in the middle."
Old jokenote 

Ah, Pennsylvania, one of the original 13 colonies and current sixth most populous state in the union. The "Keystone State"note ; or, "The Quaker State". Often referred to by residents as "PA," the state's postal code, expect just about any media taking place here to be focused on the state's largest city of Philadelphia, with the occasional appearance of Pittsburgh. (There is also that one show about office workers which made Scranton, the state's sixth most populous city, nationally known. There's also that movie involving a groundhog that draws attention to the otherwise nondescript town of Punxsutawney.) It borders the states of New York to the northeast, New Jersey to the east, Delaware and Maryland to the southeast, West Virginia to the southwest, and Ohio to the west.

The state was founded by William Penn, a famous Quaker, in 1682 and its name means "Penn's Woods." However, it is not named for William Penn; or rather, it is not named for that William Penn. The land was given to Penn by Charles II in satisfaction of a debt owed to Penn's father, the Royalist Admiral Sir William Penn, for services during the English Civil War; the Quaker son would have preferred to call the territory "Sylvania" (for the woods) or "New Wales" (as many of the Quakers who had signed up to settle there were Welsh), but His Majesty insisted on naming the land after the loyal admiral to whom the debt had been owed. (The Welsh ended up naming a bunch of towns west of Philadelphia, with the area becoming known as the Welsh Tract.note )

Benjamin Franklin is likely the most famous resident of Pennsylvania, moving there from Boston as a teenager. Pennsylvania is also well known for its many Amish folk, especially in the south-central parts of the state around Lancaster. (Pronounced "Lank-Ister." You'll immediately out yourself as an out-of-stater if you try to pronounce it "Laan-Caster")

Politically, as with most states, the urban areas of Pennsylvania tend to lean more liberal while the rural areas lean more conservative, with the suburban areas being a battleground. In recent years, this split has resulted in Pennsylvania being one of the most politically competitive states in the nation—its executives are mostly Democrat; its state legislature is split, with Republicans holding the state Senate and Democrats holding the state House; it had split its Senate seats until the Democrats flipped the GOP's seat in 2022; its House delegation was evenly split until the state lost a seat in the 2022 redistricting, with the Democrats now holding a one-seat majority; and it voted both for and against Donald Trump. Despite the state's long history dating back to the founding of the country, it has only produced two US presidents; the first, James Buchanan, is generally considered to be one of the worst in the country's history at that. Many Pennsylvanians (to their credit) are not proud of him and prefer to point to Thaddeus Stevens (a major Republican figure of the same period and a fairly fire-breathing supporter of equality for Blacks) for the state's contribution to Civil War-era politics. Current President Joe Biden was born in Scranton and lived there (with brief sojourns in Boston and Long Island when he was a toddler) until his father moved the family to Wilmington, Delaware, the state he is most associated with, when he was 11. But since Wilmington is in the Philadelphia metro area and is one of the most Pennsylvania-like places not in Pennsylvania, many say he never really left. Also his wife and First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden,note  largely grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs,note  adding to the Pennsylvania connection.note 

One area Pennsylvania stands out is the variety and high quality of its food. Philly cheese steaks and hoagies, and Primanti Bros. sandwiches in Pittsburgh, simply must be tried if you are visiting. Philadelphia also has its less well-known but still excellent roast pork sandwiches. The entire state is known for pretzels (the first hard pretzel factory in the country opened in Lititz, a south-cent town, while "B" shaped soft pretzels can be found almost everywhere except for Philadelphia. Philly's pretzels are properly shaped like a French braid, and almost required to be served with brown mustard). Old Forge, a small community 3.5 miles from Scranton, is well regarded statewide for its specific style of pizza (with slices and pies being referred to as "cuts" and "trays" respectively). A wide variety of traditionally German foods (known as "Pennsylvania Dutch") are also popular throughout the state. And that is without even mentioning the chocolate from Hershey (or Just Born, or Whitman's, or Gertrude Hawk...). On top of that, there's a bewildering array of companies making local potato chips; while Herr's, Utz, and Wise have an at least pan-Northeastern distribution, there are several brands that serve just a few counties in the middle of nowhere (e.g. Middleswarth, which serves the central and western parts of the Northern Tier).note 

Pennsylvania is also known for being home to many an independent Amusement Park, a tradition that dates back to the late 19th century when most of them were tiny "trolley parks". Some of these parks, like Knoebels and Waldameer, are relatively small family-owned establishments that offer free admission, charging fees only for their handful of world-class rides. Lakemont Park is home to "Leap-The-Dips", the oldest roller coaster still in operation (opened in 1902). Other once-small parks like Kennywood, Dorney Park (currently owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment), and especially Hersheypark (initially founded by the chocolate factory owner for his employees) have grown into massive tourist destinations. Oh, and there's also Sesame Place, a children's Theme Park for Sesame Street near Philly that's owned by SeaWorld.

Most of Pennsylvania, save for its northwestern and southeastern corners, is part of Appalachia. Indeed, Pittsburgh is the largest city in the region. See that page for more details on its geographic and cultural peculiarities.

Regions of Pennsylvania (by order of largest city):

  • Greater Philadelphia: Aka Southeastern Pennsylvania. The largest city in the state, and (to boot) the fifth-largest in the United States and second-largest on the East Coast, Philadelphia was actually the nation's capital for a decade at the end of the 18th century. Situated where the Schuylkillnote  River meets the Delaware. In addition to Southeastern Pennsylvania, its influence spills over into South Jersey and northern Delaware. Has an eternal rivalry with New York City in everything.
  • Greater Pittsburgh: AKA Southwest Pennsylvania. The second-largest city in the state, whose focal point is where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. The region was formerly famous for steel mills until the plants started moving elsewhere for cheaper labor in the '70s. Today only a handful of such mills still exist in the area and none are in Pittsburgh proper. The region's economy is now based around healthcare, technology, education, and being a poor man's Seattle for hipsters who love the gloomy weather but not the cost of living. Culturally, the city can't be accurately described as East Coast or Midwestern, as it combines influences from both regions plus Appalachia to form a distinct identity. Its influence spills over into Ohio, northern West Virginia, and the mountainous western tip of Maryland. The same way Philly has a rivalry with NYC, Pittsburgh's eternal nemesis is Cleveland.
  • "Pennsyltucky": If you ask a Philadelphian or Pittsburgher to describe the area of Pennsylvania between its two largest cities, this will be your most common answer. In political circles, "Pennsyltucky" is typically avoided in favor of the less stereotype-ridden term "The T".note  However, many who live in this region wear the Pennsyltucky label with pride. The stereotype is that this area is filled with nothing but cornfields, Amish, and racist hillbillies doing moonshine and/or crystal meth out of dilapidated farmhouses. While this perception isn't entirely unfounded, it doesn't tell the whole story either. Even describing it as "the large rural zone between the two big cities" does no justice to sizable cities such as Allentown, Erie, Scranton, state capital Harrisburg, and State College, the bubble in the middle which is home to Pennsylvania State University aka Penn Statenote . The term "Pennsyltucky" exists, but the regions of PA outside Philly and Pittsburgh have plenty of their own distinctions, as you'll see below.
    • The Lehigh Valley: Centered on Allentown, and including Bethlehem, and Easton and environs and extending to roughly as far as Lehighton, Quakertown, Tamaqua, Kutztown and about 15 miles into Warren County, New Jersey. Historically a mining (anthracite coal and slate), agricultural, and manufacturing area (Mack Trucks were based there until 2008, and Air Products & Chemicals, one of the world's largest manufacturers of compressed gasses, still has its HQ in Allentown; also, the "Bethlehem" of "Bethlehem Steel" straddles the line between Lehigh and Northampton Counties). Today it's become sort of a mini-Pittsburgh (despite being much closer to Philadelphia), with healthcare and services being major industries. The area is perhaps best known to outsiders for Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom, located in Allentown, and for having several notable regional colleges (Muhlenberg, Lehigh, and Lafayette being the most notable of the bunch). The eastern part is pretty much directly on the border with New Jersey (Easton, PA, is right across the Delaware from Phillipsburg, New Jersey) and the Warren County towns of Phillipsburg, Alpha, and Bloomsbury are culturally, familiarly, and historically linked to their Pennsylvania counterparts. Although it mostly looks to Philadelphia for cues, New York's influence is creeping in (with occasional talk of New Jersey Transit extending its Raritan Valley Line to Easton or Allentown to serve commuters, daytrippers, and others going to New York Penn Station, and maybe even getting some business/talent pool for NJ workers along the line, particularly as Newark's fortunes improve), as Allentown is more or less 80 miles due west of Manhattan as the crow flies (actual travel distance is closer to 100 miles). It's a region of great contrasts, where modern suburban areas meet colonial-era settlements and farms, and where large trucks headed for the region's many large warehouses clog idyllic, narrow country lanes that look as if they were copy-pasted straight from Europe.
    • Northwest Pennsylvania: Centered on Erie. Much of this region would have been part of New York State, but it was decided early on that Pennsylvania should have some access to the Great Lakes and the lucrative shipping traffic New York's Erie Canal had creatednote .
    • Greater Reading/Schuylkill County: Centered on Reading in Berks County and Pottsville in Schuylkill County, upstream on the Schuylkill from Philadelphia. The region is a southern, northern, western, and eastern, extension of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Greater Philadelphia, the Lehigh Valley, and South Central Pennsylvania, respectively, and is where those four regions meet. Gateway to the Northeastern Pennsylvania anthracite coal country (with towns like Pottsville—incidentally also home of Philadelphia's favorite brew, Yuengling—famous for their coal mines). The main center, Reading, is (like its namesake in England) pronounced "redding". It has been described (also like its namesake) as a large town desperate to become a real city (in a different sense—unlike the English town, Reading in PA has the formal status of a city, but it's smaller and gets less respect from its neighbors.) Famously home to the Reading Railroad (yes, like in Monopoly)
    • Northeast Pennsylvania: Centered on Scranton, home of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Also includes Wilkes-Barre (the second part of the word is either pronounced "berry" or "bear" if you value your ears), Hazleton, and Stroudsburg, as well as Pottsville, Bloomsburg, and the more northern reaches of Lehigh Valley, all debatably. Another former manufacturing and anthracite mining region; there are parallels to be drawn between here and Northern England in terms of attitudes, weather, and even accent, to a degree. The Pocono Mountains to the southeast (where Philadelphians and Long Islanders go skiing), roughly an area boxed in by the towns of Stroudsburg, Honesdale, Freeland, and Jim Thorpe and the Delaware River, is perhaps best known as the heart of the northeast's summer camp industry. The influence of New York City is slowly creeping in; New Jersey Transit has somewhat serious plans to extend its Montclair/Boonton Line into PA, potentially as far as Scranton, to serve commuters and others going to New York Penn Station.note  Like their southern neighbors in the Lehigh Valley, this area is a land of great contrasts: many towns here consist of small-to-medium sized houses packed cheek-by-jowl next to each other, even while they sit near extensive tracts of undeveloped land; this imparts a flavor of town planning that can sometimes appear more European than American. (The town of Jim Thorpe, back in the 19th century, used this circumstance to market itself as a tourist destination, the “Switzerland of America.” Locals are still fond of the expression today, although it's not used nearly as heavily.)
    • South-Central Pennsylvania: Centered on Lancaster, Harrisburg, and York, and largely defined by the Susquehanna and Juniata Rivers (which meet just upstream of Harrisburg). The "Lancaster and York" thing is entirely intentional, with the cities quite proudly associating themselves with red and white roses, respectively. The part the Pennsylvania Turnpike runs through as people rush between Pittsburgh (and points west) and Philly (and points east—and south: it's the best way to get to Washington, D.C. by car from much of the Midwest).
      • Lancaster is associated with the Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch, with an Amish market, etc. However, it's also surprisingly dynamic, with an active culinary and brewing scene (which is less surprising when one realizes its convenience as a semi-rural getaway for urbanites from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington). It's also surprisingly ethnically diverse, with a giant Hispanic population relative to its size (almost 30% of the City of Lancaster's population is Puerto Rican, and another 5% is Dominican or Cuban) and a sizeable community from the English-speaking Caribbean (mostly Jamaicans and Trinidadians).
      • Harrisburg, as the state capital, is associated with incompetent and/or corrupt state officials and boredom, although the 2010s gave its downtown enough amenities (particularly breweries and restaurants) to qualify as "kind of cute, in a dinky-state-capital kind of way." Also, Hershey (home to the chocolate factory and the amusement park) is just outside Harrisburg; Hersheypark (a Hershey's-themed Theme Park, with the option to actually try some chocolate along with the chocolate-and-candy-themed rides) is a major regional attraction.
      • York is mostly rural except for the titular city. Expect to see the title "First Capital" appended to many businesses, as York styles itself the "First Capital of the United States" due to Congress adopting the Articles of Confederation (the United States' first constitution) in the city.
      • Gettysburg, the town anchoring the western end of this region, was the site of one of the most famous battles, and subsequent speeches, of The American Civil War.
    • The Northern Tier: The north-central part of Pennsylvania, a sort of mirror-image of New York State's Southern Tier and sharing much in common with it. The two areas together are referred to as the Twin Tiers, which locally is generally considered a single region (this also includes McKean and Potter counties, which are not part of the Northern Tier). No major cities on the PA side, but the New York cities of Elmira and Binghamton are a stone's throw from the border. Characterized by gorgeous mountains that people in a rush to get to New York on I-80 completely ignore, and not much else. Locals to this area used to be referred to as Ridgerunners, but pretty much only historians even remember it now; outsiders, especially people from New Jersey, are still called flatlanders though.

Notable Pennsylvanians (Phillies and Yinzers excepted)

Lists of notable Philadelphians (including suburbs)note  and Pittsburghers (also including suburbs)note  can be found on those cities' pages.

  • Taylor Swift was born and grew up mostly in Wyomissing.
  • The Regular Car Reviews guys are based somewhere around Reading. The Roman apparently lives in Reading itself (he says he lives "in the city"note ); Mr. Regular has never been so specific,note  except that it's "rural." Of course, they make too many jokes about Lower Heidelberg Township and film too many videos on or around PA 61–and specifically its interchange with I-78/US 22–to be from anywhere other than the Reading area.
  • Tim Heidecker is from Allentown, though his career started in Philly (after meeting MontConian Erick Wareheim at Temple University).
  • Auto exec Lee Iacocca (who created the Mustang at Ford in the 1960s and saved Chrysler in the 1980s) was born in Allentown.
  • Amanda Seyfried is from Allentown.
  • xkcd creator Randall Munroe was born in Easton and has roots in PA, although he spent most of his childhood in Northern Virginia.
  • Dean Koontz is from Everett (in Bedford County, between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh), and taught high school for several years in Mechanicsburg.
  • Newt Gingrich was born in Harrisburg and spent his early years in Hummelstown, but as a Military Brat he left PA fairly early and ended up identifying more with Georgia (where he graduated high school).
  • Kristen Wiig's family moved from Western New York State (not too far from Rochester) to Lancaster when she was 3, but moved back to Rochester about 10 years later.
  • The first Pennsylvanian President (and one of the Keystone State's least-favorite sons) James Buchanan was from Lancaster.
  • Joe Biden was born in Scranton and lived there until he was 11, when his father moved the family to Delaware; appropriately, the forecast that he had carried the state in the 2020 election put him over the top in the electoral college and made him President-elect. Since the part of Delaware he moved to (Wilmington) is part of the Philadelphia metro area, he maintained strong ties to Pennsylvania in general and Philadelphia in particular. He also further bound himself to the Keystone State when he married his second wife Jill, who mostly grew up in the Philly suburbs. Also, the headquarters of his 2020 campaign were in Philadelphia. As a result, Pennsylvanians—and particularly Philadelphians—tend to consider him "basically one of us" (as mentioned above). At the very least, he's well-known to be a fan of Philadelphia sports teams, particularly the Eagles and Phillies.
  • Dead-ball era Baseball legend Christy "the Christian Gentleman" Mathewson was from Factoryville in Wyoming County (near Scranton/Wilkes-Barre).
  • Dwayne Johnson moved to Bethlehem as a teenager and graduated from Freedom High School.
  • The Andretti racing family is from Nazareth in Northampton County.
  • Larry Holmes, the former boxing world heavyweight champion, hails from Easton and was known as "The Easton Assassin".
  • Colonel John Boyd, USAF (father of the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft, as well as the man who literally wrote the book on how to pilot a fighter) was born and raised in Erie.
  • Daniel Boone, the famous frontiersman, was born and raised near Reading.
  • Robert Fulton, father of the steamboat, was originally from Lancaster County. The state later named a county after him.
  • Alison Bechdel, author of Dykes to Watch Out For grew up in Beech Creek, near Lock Haven. Her memoirs of her childhood Fun Home and Are You My Mother? have it as one of the main settings.
  • Jimmy Stewart was born and raised in Indiana, as in the one in this state (sometimes, but not usually, identified with the Pittsburgh area).
  • Chuck Daly, the late NBA coach who was equally famous for being the head coach of the 1992 US Olympic men's team (the Trope Namers for Dream Team), was a native of the northwestern town of Kane.
  • Britt Baker, currently wrestling for AEW (and also practicing as a dentist on the side), was born and raised in Punxsutawney, also home to a certain very famous groundhog. The very first coaching job for the above-mentioned Chuck Daly was at the high school that Baker would attend decades later.
  • Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags, together known as The Nasty Boys, are originally from Allentown.
  • Marc Brown, the author of the original Arthur children's books and a contributor to the later series, is from Erie. Elwood City, the town the books and series are set, is pretty clearly based on Erie, though its name appears to be based on a town in Beaver County (though that one is spelled "Ellwood City" with two "l"s).
  • Daniel Dae Kim grew up in the Easton-Bethlehem area and graduated from Freedom High School.
  • Actress Christine Taylor was born in Allentown and grew up in the nearby Wescosville.
  • Jonathan Taylor Thomas, of Home Improvement fame, is from Bethlehem.
  • Both halves of Garfunkel and Oates have PA ties:
  • Rivers of Nihil (formed in Reading, now scattered throughout the US)
  • Black Crown Initiate (another Reading formation, also now scattered throughout the US)
  • The Last Ten Seconds of Life (Mansfield, though the majority of the current lineup lives in New York)
  • Author John Updike grew up in Shillington, Berks County, which inspired the setting of several of his novels.
  • Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) was born in New Castle and raised in Mercer (both tiny towns near the border with Ohio between Pittsburgh and Erie).
  • Glam Metal band Poison is from Mechanicsburg and their front-man, Bret Michaels can be found visiting home on a semi-regular basis.
  • Charles Demuth, founding painter of the early-20th-century Precisionist school, was born and raised in Lancaster. He repeatedly returned to Lancaster after long sojourns in more exciting places like Philadelphia and Paris (yes, the French one). He even went so far as to call Lancaster County "the Province", likening it to Provençe in the south of France as a source of artistic inspiration. His father’s tobacconist's shop on King Street is today a museum of his life and works. (That said, he's most famous for "I Saw the Figure 5 in Gold", a visual interpretation of his old friend and UPenn classmate William Carlos Williams's poem meditating on the passing of an NYC fire engine.)
  • Bob West, voice of Barney the Dinosaur, was born in and grew up in Finleyville. He moved to Texas in his early teens.
  • A$AP Rocky was born and mostly grew up in Harlem but spent his teenage years in Harrisburg. (He went back to the Big Apple to make his career in music. And meet Rihanna.)