A place for history and healthcare
Pennsylvania Hospital—known as the nation’s first hospital—was built more than two decades before the American Revolution.
Healthcare isn’t the only thing provided at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. History is also available in large doses throughout the campus.
Known as the nation’s first hospital, it was built more than two decades before the American Revolution. It still incorporates the original buildings in daily operations, although facilities have been expanded, renovated and modernized many times over since the hospital opened. The hospital is home to the Health Care Hall of Fame.
Among the many art treasures adorning the hospital’s halls is “Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple,” a famous painting by Benjamin West, along with portraits of hospital and healthcare pioneers of the 18th-century era
and beyond. They include Dr. Benjamin Rush, a political activist leading up to the American Revolution whose signature is on the Declaration of Independence, and Dr. Philip Syng Physick, known as the father of American surgery.
Holding a prominent place on the hospital’s main floor is the gallery of the Health Care Hall of Fame, sponsored by Modern Healthcare, on display since the first honorees were inducted in 1988.
The idea for Pennsylvania Hospital originated with Dr. Thomas Bond, a Philadelphia native, who was concerned about the availability of quality care for the poor and mentally ill. During travels to Europe for his medical education, he was impressed by hospitals in Paris and other cities. He sought to introduce the concept to the Colonies.
But Bond knew that acquiring the money to build the hospital would be a challenge. He realized he would need broad support from the community. So he sought the aid of Benjamin Franklin, already a respected statesman in the Colonies and a man with a deep interest in advancing the sciences.
Franklin persuaded the Pennsylvania Assembly to provide the initial amount of 2,000 pounds if he could obtain matching funds from community residents. The money was quickly raised and a charter for the hospital was granted in May 1751. Originally located in a rented house, the hospital constructed its own building in 1755 and began admitting patients in 1756. Bond and Benjamin chose the biblical story of the Good Samaritan for the hospital’s official seal, which read: “Take care of him and I will repay thee.”
The hospital has been in continuous operation for 266 years, and since 1997 has been part of the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Historic Pennsylvania Hospital received its charter in 1751, but the earliest available photo of the hospital’s Pine Building, left, dates to April 1861. Below is the building and campus as it appears today.