Where do you live? Is it Philadelphia? Or perhaps somewhere in the Greater Philadelphia region? Or maybe the “Delaware Valley?”
Ah, that nasty “Delaware Valley.” This term has caused much confusion over the past sixty years or so. An uninformed person could think that it referred to the state of Delaware rather than the valley of the Delaware River, which stretches from the Catskills in upstate New York to the Atlantic Ocean, where the Delaware Bay drains between Cape May and Cape Henlopen. Furthermore, other places call themselves Delaware Valley, notably along the upper river. Delaware Valley High School, for example, is in Milford, Pennsylvania.
Removing the central city of the region from the its name and rebranding the area was thought to be shrewd decades ago. But then so were the Crosstown Expressway and demolishing City Hall. How did this “Delaware Valley” silliness come about?
The Depression and World War II years caused a delay in the civic development of the city and surrounding area. But after the great conflict ended, the sky seemed the limit for the entire Philadelphia region. The war years had brought people and well-paying jobs to the area, and these people and their jobs remained well into the 1960s. Manufacturing continued at the level it was during the war, and even expanded in many sectors. US Steel and countless other local companies turned into powerhouses of industry and employment, while the suburbs—encouraged by the G.I. Bill—opened up for workers and their young families.
As a result of all this, a whirlwind of public and private development projects were planned and initiated in the late 1940s, from suburban developments to construction projects of all sorts in and around the city. This postwar building binge gave residents of Philadelphia and vicinity a feeling of hope for the future. Despite deindustrialization in the city, the construction boom lasted a good twenty-five years, right through the 1960s.
Meanwhile, federal funds underwrote new bridges to span the Delaware River and new highways to spread throughout the area. In fact, many Philadelphians (and others) wanted Interstate 95 to be built through Philadelphia so that the city could benefit from being directly on the new Interstate Highway System. The thought back then was that no place could rightfully call itself a city without being severed or encircled by a highway. The Philadelphia airport also received federal money to expand.
The term “Delaware Valley” was not used much before World War II. For example, only a handful of books containing the appellation in their titles had ever been issued. But in 1952 the Philadelphia Inquirer started an annual inset trumpeting the region and its postwar transformation. Published every fall, usually in October, the supplements were called Delaware Valley, U.S.A. They touted the industrial developments of Philadelphia-area companies, as well as governmental developments, namely of federal building projects in the region.
The colorful, semi-glossy and artistically-superior covers of these Inquirer supplements made them really stand out. One issue focused on the building of the Walt Whitman Bridge, while another was devoted to the “Delaware Valley’s Contribution to the Space Age.” Other issues featured stories on the then-rising Society Hill Towers and also Penn Center. The region’s electric distribution system and port facilities along the Delaware River were favorite topics. All were written in the flowery language of that era, and they often referred to the region as simply “the Valley.”
Interestingly enough, the word “Philadelphia” is rarely mentioned in these stories. What a way to treat the “capital city of the Delaware Valley.” Indeed, Philadelphia proper was regarded as a second fiddle in the grand orchestra it had assembled for 300 years.
About a year after the Inquirer’s first “Delaware Valley, U.S.A.” inset series, the phrase “Delaware Valley” was used throughout an eight-page magazine advertisement in 1953 (that appeared in a periodical we cannot confirm) heralding the concept of “Delaware Valley, U.S.A.” The spread included an ad for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which the contained the following:
The voice of the Valley… Just one year ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer stamped the site of today’s biggest economic boom with an identity clearly its own: DELAWARE VALLEY, U.S.A. Thus, the Inquirer became the keystone of communication that alerted the world to the great new concept of Delaware Valley. For the Valley and its industry, the Inquirer carries to the world a message of dynamic growth and dramatic achievement. To the Valley and its people, the Inquirer will continue to voice constant inspiration for progress and better living.
So here we have it: The Philadelphia Inquirer proudly admitting that it had purposefully foisted the term “Delaware Valley” on unsuspecting “Valleyans” starting in 1952. (A reader comment (below) indicates that Walter Annenberg, who at that time owned the Inquirer, and later the Philadelphia Daily News and Channel 6, was the ultimate source of this affair.) And since the 1950s, it’s been Delaware Valley-this and Delaware Valley-that all over the place. It’s a wonder that Philadelphia’s paper of record didn’t rename itself The Delaware Valley Inquirer. After all, the Inquirer‘s emphasis on “Delaware Valley” was obviously an attempt to increase readership by catering to a larger, suburban region. So why not commit all the way to the new regional moniker?
Stephen P. Mullin, president of Econsult Solutions, launched a campaign last fall trying to kill the term “Delaware Valley.” He published a guest editorial in the Philadelphia Business Journal called “Let’s get rid of the term ‘Delaware Valley'” and it elicited a large response.
Mullin wrote that “Using the term ‘Delaware Valley’ instead of ‘Philadelphia’ is a big negative for our city and metropolitan area… It seems this expression of self-doubt and loathing caught on in a period… when our very own citizens and business leaders wanted to disassociate themselves and their activities with the very name Philadelphia and all it stood for.” That certainly seems to be what happened in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Furthermore, Mullin pointed out that “not using the central city name is virtually unheard of among major cities—you don’t hear people around Boston calling their metro area the “East-of Cape Cod Bay District” or New Yorkers calling themselves the “Lower Hudson Valley” or the Chicago metro area calling itself the Lower Lake Michigan Shore Region (they proudly shout Chicagoland).”
The last Delaware Valley, U.S.A. supplement apparently came out in 1971. By that time, the Inquirer may have realized that the “Delaware Valley” was not the utopian place that it had seemed to be only two decades before. More than anything, the loss of the area’s manufacturing base during 1960s and 1970s took much of the wind out of the rebranded locale. Postwar optimism had given way to postindustrial frustration.
By late 1970s and beyond, though, a new, more realistic sentiment seems to have replaced the fanciful view that “Delaware Valley, U.S.A.” embodied. Although the “Delaware Valley” conceit was still around and was getting used all the more, a basic realization came about emphasizing that Philadelphia, for all its gritty urban problems, was the star of the region. That notion has been recognized and celebrated ever since. (Think Rocky and the Flyers’ Stanley Cup victories and go from there.)
Just about that time, “Greater Philadelphia” come into vogue. Philadelphia magazine, for example, was called Greater Philadelphia magazine from 1959, when it became independent (of the Chamber of Commerce, who published it prior to that), to 1967, when it became the Philadelphia magazine we know today.
Regarding regional nomenclature, Wikipedia says:
Some believe that the term “Delaware Valley” is not entirely a synonym for “Greater Philadelphia.” “Greater Philadelphia” implies that the region is centered on the city in an economic and cultural context, while “Delaware Valley” is a more generic geographic term that does not imply that any part is of more consequence than any other. Several organizations, such as KYW Radio and the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, consciously use the term “Greater Philadelphia” to assert that Philadelphia is the center of the region, referring to the less urbanized areas as “Philadelphia’s countryside”. Others note that the customary media usage of the term omits the majority of the length of the Delaware River’s valley that is not in metropolitan Philadelphia.
There, that clears things up.
Authors note: I have the years of Delaware Valley, U.S.A. from 1952 until 1968, plus 1970 and 1971. I have several duplicates and am willing to trade for the mythical, magical, missing 1969 issue, if one exists. That would complete my collection.