Engineering the metropolis: The Sellers family and industrial Philadelphia

Domenic Vitiello, University of Pennsylvania


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Philadelphia's millers, mechanics, and engineers developed businesses, institutions, and infrastructure that made their city a national and global center of manufacturing, the “workshop of the world.” Some eight generations of craftspeople, engineers, and industrialists descended from Samuel Sellers—a Quaker wire weaver who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1682—offer a window into the origins, growth, and decline of the industrial metropolis. They ran leading firms in the region's most important manufacturing sectors—milling in the eighteenth century; textiles, steam engines, locomotives, machine tools, and steel in the nineteenth century. Through schools, technical societies, trade associations, investment pools, and a host of other public and private associations, the Sellers and their colleagues institutionalized technological innovation and the growth of industrial Philadelphia. Surveying farms and turnpikes in the colonial era, projecting canals and railroads across the Americas in the nineteenth century, and producing everything from fire engines to shipbuilding tools to the steel frames of bridges and skyscrapers, they played key roles in physically producing the metropolis and shaping its relationships with other regions of the nation and the world. The Sellers thus present both an intensive case study in corporate and family capitalism and an expansive perspective on the business, institutional, and technological networks that coordinated the development of the industrial metropolis.

Subject Area

American history|Science history

Recommended Citation

Vitiello, Domenic, "Engineering the metropolis: The Sellers family and industrial Philadelphia" (2004). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3125910.