Reading, Pennsylvania

Reading (/ˈrɛdɪŋ/ RED-ing) is the county seat of Berks County and with a population of 87,893 is the fifth-largest city in Pennsylvania. According to the 2010 census, Reading has the highest share of citizens living in poverty in the nation. Located in southeastern Pennsylvania, it is the principal city of the Greater Reading Area.

The city, approximately halfway between Philadelphia and the state capital at Harrisburg, is strategically situated along a major transportation route from Central to Eastern Pennsylvania, and lent its name to the now-defunct Reading Railroad, which transported anthracite coal from the Pennsylvania Coal Region to the eastern United States via the Port of Philadelphia. Reading Railroad is one of the four railroad properties in the classic United States version of the Monopoly board game.

Reading was one of the first localities where outlet shopping became a tourist industry. It has been known as "The Pretzel City" because of numerous local pretzel bakeries. Currently, Bachman, Dieffenbach, Tom Sturgis, and Unique Pretzel bakeries call the Reading area home.


Reading, Pennsylvania

Lenni Lenape people, also known as "Delaware Indians", were the original inhabitants of the Reading area.

The Colony of Pennsylvania was a 1680 land grant from King Charles II of England to William Penn. Comprising more than 45,000 square miles (120,000 km2), it was named for his father, Sir William Penn.

In 1743, Richard and Thomas Penn (sons of William Penn) mapped out the town of Reading with Conrad Weiser. Taking its name from Reading, Berkshire, England, the town was established in 1748. Upon the creation of Berks County in 1752, Reading became the county seat. The region was settled by emigrants from southern and western Germany who bought land from the Penns. The first Amish community in the New World was established in Greater Reading, Berks County. The Pennsylvanian German dialect was spoken in the area well into the 1950s and later.

During the French and Indian War, Reading was a military base for a chain of forts along the Blue Mountain.

By the time of the American Revolution, the area's iron industry had a total production which exceeded England's. That output that would help supply George Washington's troops with cannons, rifles, and ammunition in the Revolutionary War. During the early period of the conflict, Reading was again a depot for military supply. Hessian prisoners from the Battle of Trenton were also detained here.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the capital of the United States at the time of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793. President Washington traveled to Reading, and considered making it the emergency national capital, but chose Germantown instead.

Susanna Cox was tried and convicted for infanticide in Reading in 1809. Her case attracted tremendous sympathy; 20,000 viewers came to view her hanging, swamping the 3,000 inhabitants.

The Schuylkill Canal, a north-south canal completed in 1825, paralleled the Schuylkill River and connected Reading with Philadelphia and the Delaware River. The Union Canal, an east-west canal completed in 1828, connected the Schuylkill and Susquehanna Rivers, and ran from Reading to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Railroads forced the abandonment of the canals by the 1880s.

The Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (P&R) was incorporated in 1833. During the Long Depression following the Panic of 1873, a statewide railroad strike in 1877 over delayed wages led to a violent protest and clash with the National Guard in which six Reading men were killed. After over a century of prosperity, the Reading Company was forced to file for bankruptcy protection in 1971. The bankruptcy was a result of dwindling coal shipping revenues and strict government regulations that denied railroads the ability to set competitive prices, required high taxes, and forced the railroads to continue to operate money-losing passenger service lines. On April 1, 1976, the Reading Company sold its current railroad interests to the newly formed Consolidated Railroad Corporation (Conrail).

Early in the 20th century, the city participated in the burgeoning automobile and motorcycle industry as home to the pioneer "Brass Era" companies, Daniels Motor Company, Duryea Motor Wagon Company and Reading-Standard Company.

Reading experienced continuous growth until the 1930s, when its population reached nearly 120,000. From the 1940s to the 1970s, however, the city saw a sharp downturn in prosperity, largely owing to the decline of the heavy industry and railroads, on which Reading had been built, and a national trend of urban decline.

In 1972, Hurricane Agnes caused extensive flooding in the city, not the last time the lower precincts of Reading were inundated by the Schuylkill River as a similar, though not as devastating, flood occurred during June 2006.

The 2000 census showed that Reading's population decline had ceased. This was attributed to an influx of Hispanic residents from New York, as well as from the extension of suburban sprawl from Philadelphia's northwest suburbs.

Reading has its share of obstacles to overcome, namely crime. However, new crime fighting strategies appear to be having an impact, as in 2006 the city dropped in the rankings of dangerous cities, and then again in 2007.

In December 2007, NBC's Today show featured Reading as one of the top four "Up and Coming Neighborhoods" in the United States as showing potential for a real estate boom. The interviewee Barbara Corcoran chose the city by looking for areas of big change, renovations, cleanups of parks, waterfronts, and warehouses. Corcoran also noted Reading's proximity to Philadelphia, New York, and other cities. The financial crisis of 2008 and subsequent nationwide recession stifled optimism; in November 2011 the PBS Newshour reported that Reading was officially the poorest city in the nation with 49% of inhabitants living below the poverty line.


Reading, Pennsylvania

The climate in and around Reading is variable but relatively mild. The Reading area is considered a humid subtropical climate, with areas just to the north designated as a humid continental climate. Summers are warm and humid with average July highs around 85 °F. Extended periods of heat and high humidity do occur. On average, there are 15â€"20 days per year where the temperature exceeds 90 °F. Reading becomes more mild in the autumn as the heat and humidity of summer relent to lower humidity and temperatures. The first killing frost generally occurs in mid to late October.

Winters bring freezing temperatures, but usually move above freezing during the day's warmest point. The average January high is 37; the average January low is 20 °F, but it is not unusual for winter temperatures to be much lower or higher than the averages. The all-time record low (not including wind chill) was âˆ'21 °F during a widespread cold wave in January 1994. Snow is common in some winters, but the harsher winter conditions experienced to the north and west are not typical of Greater Reading. Annual snowfall is variable, but averages around 32 inches. Spring temperatures vary widely between freezing temperatures and the 80s or even 90s later in Spring. The last killing frost usually is in later April, but freezing temperatures have occurred in May. Total precipitation for the entire year is around 45 inches (112 cm).


Reading is located at 40°20′30″N 75°55′35″W (40.341692, âˆ'75.926301) in southeastern Pennsylvania, roughly 65 miles (105 km) northwest of Philadelphia. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 10.1 square miles (26 km2). 9.8 square miles (25 km2) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.52 km2) of it (2.39%) is water. The total area is 2.39% water. The city is largely bounded on the west by the Schuylkill River, on the east by Mount Penn, and on the south by Neversink Mountain. The Reading Prong, the mountain formation stretching north into New Jersey, has come to be associated with naturally-occurring radon gas; however, homes in Reading are not particularly affected. The surrounding county is home to a number of family-owned farms.


Companies based in Reading and surrounding communities include Boscov's, Carpenter, Penske Truck Leasing, and Redner's Markets.

In 2012, the New York Times called Reading, "the nation's poorest city."

According to the Reading Eagle, the largest employers in the area are



Public transit in Reading and its surrounding communities has been provided since 1973 by BARTA, the Berks Area Regional Transportation Authority. BARTA operates a fleet of 57 buses serving 21 routes, mostly originating at the BARTA Transportation Center in Downtown Reading. In addition, Greyhound and Bieber Trailways bus routes are available from the InterCity Bus Terminal. The former Reading Railroad Franklin Street Station was refurbished and reopen to bus service on September 9, 2013 with buses running the express route back and forth to Lebanon Transit. This Lebanon Route was discontinued after a short period. Now the refurbished Station sits vacant.


A number of federal and state highways allow entry to and egress from Reading. U.S. Route 222 Business is designated as Lancaster Avenue, Bingaman Street, South 4th Street, and 5th Street. U.S. Route 422 Business is designated as Penn Street, Washington Street (westbound), Franklin Street (eastbound), and Perkiomen Avenue. U.S. Route 422, the major east-west artery, circles the western edge of the city and is known locally as The West Shore Bypass. PA Route 12 is known as the Warren Street Bypass, as it bypasses the city to the north. PA Route 10 is known as Morgantown Road. From the 1960s to the late 1990s, the section of current U.S. Route 222 from Spring Blvd to 5th Street Highway was known locally as the 'Road to Nowhere'.


Reading and the surrounding area is serviced by the Reading Regional Airport, a general aviation airfield. The three-letter airport code for Reading is RDG. Scheduled commercial airline service to Reading ended in 2004, when the last airline, USAir stopped flying into Reading. Reading is a short drive from Harrisburg International Airport, Lehigh Valley International Airport, and Philadelphia International Airport.


Passenger trains ran between Pottsville, Reading, Pottstown and Philadelphia until July 27, 1981, when transit operator SEPTA curtailed commuter service to electrified lines. Since then, there have been repeated calls for the resumption of the services.

In the late 1990s and up to 2003, SEPTA, in cooperation with Reading-based BARTA funded a study called the Schuylkill Valley Metro which included plans to extend both sides of SEPTA's R6 passenger line to Pottstown, Reading, and Wyomissing, Pennsylvania. The project suffered a major setback when it was rejected by the Federal Transit Administration New Starts program, which cited doubts about the ridership projections and financing assumptions used by the study. With the recent surge in gasoline prices and ever-increasing traffic, the planning commissions of Montgomery County and Berks County have teamed to study the feasibility of a simple diesel shuttle train between the Norristown/Manayunk Line and Pottstown/Reading.


As of the census of 2000, there were 81,207 people, 30,113 households, and 18,429 families residing in the city. The population density was 8,270.2 persons per square mile (3,192.9/km²). There were 34,314 housing units at an average density of 3,494.6 houses per square mile (1,349.2/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 59.18% White, 12.25% African American, 0.44% Native American, 1.60% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 22.32% from other races, and 4.18% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 37.31% of the population.

There were 30,113 households out of which 33.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.4% were married couples living together, 20.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.8% were non-families. 31.7% of all households were made up of individuals and 12.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.63 and the average family size was 3.33.

In the city the population was spread out with 29.9% under the age of 18, 11.7% from 18 to 24, 28.9% from 25 to 44, 17.0% from 45 to 64, and 12.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females there were 93.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $26,698, and the median income for a family was $31,067. Males had a median income of $28,114 versus $21,993 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,086. 26.1% of the population and 22.3% of families were below the poverty line. 36.5% of those under the age of 18 and 15.6% of those 65 and older were living below the poverty line.


As of the American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Reading had a population of 80,997. The racial makeup of the city was 48.8% White, 14.0% African American, 0.2% Native American, 1.4% Asian, 0.0% Pacific Islander, 31.1% from other races, and 4.5% from two or more races. 56.3% were Hispanic or Latino of any race, with 33.5% being of Puerto Rican descent. 33.0% of all people were living below the poverty line, including 42.0% of those under 18.

According to the US Census Bureau, 32.9% of all residents live below the poverty level, including 45.7% of those under 18. Reading's unemployment rate in May 2010 was 14.7%, while Berks County's unemployment rate was 9.9%.


  • Center City
  • Callowhill
  • Centre Park
  • College Heights
  • East Reading
  • Eastside
  • Glenside
  • Hampden Heights
  • Millmont
  • North Riverside
  • Northmont
  • Northside
  • Oakbrook/Wyomissing Park
  • Outlet District
  • Penn's Commons
  • Prince Historic District
  • Queen Anne Historic District
  • Southside
  • South of Penn

Fire Department

The city of Reading is protected by the 135 firefighters and paramedics of the Reading Fire and EMS Department(RFD). The RFD operates out of 7 fire stations, located throughout the city. The RFD operates a fire apparatus fleet of 5 Engine Companies, 3 Ladder Companies, 1 Rescue Company, 2 Brush Units, and 3 front-line Medic Ambulances. The Fire Department also operates a non-emergency transport BLS ambulance and 3 wheelchair units. In 2013, fire units responded to 8,626 incidents. EMS responses totaled 16,773 calls for service.

As of April 1, 2011, Engine's 13 and 14 were disbanded due to budget cuts. Engine 13 was quartered with Engine 1 and Engine 14 was quartered with Engine 5. Also, Engine 7 was re-organized from Engine 11. Department staffing is 2 firefighters per apparatus.


The Reading School District provides elementary and middle schools for the city's children. Numerous Catholic parochial schools are also available.

Press reports have indicated that in 2012, about eight percent of Reading's residents had a college degree, compared to a national average of 28%.

Four institutions of higher learning are located in Reading:

  • Albright College
  • Alvernia University
  • Pace Institute
  • Reading Area Community College

Four high schools serve the city:

  • Berks Catholic High School (Grades 9â€"12)
  • Reading High School (Grades 10â€"12)
  • Reading Intermediate High School (Grades 8â€"9)
  • I-LEAD Charter School


Reading is known for the Reading Fightin Phils, minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies who play at FirstEnergy Stadium. Notable alumni are Larry Bowa, Ryne Sandberg, Mike Schmidt, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins.

The city has been the residence of numerous professional athletes. Among these native to Reading are Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Carl Furillo, Baltimore Colts running back Lenny Moore, and Philadelphia 76ers forward Donyell Marshall. Pro golfer Betsy King, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, was born in Reading.

The open-wheel racing portion of Penske Racing had been based in Reading, Pennsylvania since 1973 with the cars, during the F1 and CART era, being constructed in Poole, Dorset, England as well as being the base for the F1 team. On October 31, 2005, Penske Racing announced after the 2006 IRL season, they would consolidate IRL and NASCAR operations at the team's Mooresville, North Carolina facility; with the flooding in Pennsylvania in 2006, the team's operations were moved to Mooresville earlier than expected. Penske Truck Leasing is still based in Reading.

Duryea Drive, which ascends Mount Penn in a series of switchbacks, was a testing place for early automobiles and was named for Charles Duryea. The Blue Mountain Region Sports Car Club of America hosts the Duryea Hill Climb, the longest in the Pennsylvania Hillclimb Association series, which follows the same route the automaker used to test his cars.

Reading played host to a stop on the PGA Tour, the Reading Open, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.


The city's cultural institutions include the Reading Symphony Orchestra and its education project the Reading Symphony Youth Orchestra, the GoggleWorks Art Gallery, the Reading Public Museum and the Historical Society of Berks County.

Reading is the birthplace of graphic artist Jim Steranko, poet Wallace Stevens, Guitar Virtuoso Richie Kotzen and George Baer Hiester. Marching Band Composer and writer John Philip Sousa, the March King, died in Reading's Abraham Lincoln Hotel in 1932. Keith Haring, NFL quarterbacks Chad Henne, Kerry Collins, wide receiver Steve Kreider, poet John Updike, and singer Taylor Swift are not from the City of Reading, but surrounding towns in Berks County.

Reading is home to the 14 time world champion drum and bugle corps, the Reading Buccaneers.

In 1914, one the anchors of the Battleship Maine was delivered from the Washington Navy Yard to City Park, off of Perkiomen Avenue. The anchor was dedicated during a ceremony presided over by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was then assistant secretary of the navy.

Reading was home to several movie and theater palaces in the early 20th Century. The Astor, Embassy, Loew's Colonial, and Rajah Shrine Theater were grand monuments of architecture and entertainment. Today, after depression, recession, and urban renewal, the Rajah is the only to remain. The Astor Theater was demolished in 1998 to make way for The Sovereign Center. Certain steps were taken to retain mementos of the Astor; Including its ornate Art Deco chandelier and gates. These are on display and in use inside the arena corridors, allowing insight into the ambiance of the former movie house. In 2000, the Rajah was purchased from the Shriners. After a much needed restoration, it was renamed the Sovereign Performing Arts Center.

The Mid-Atlantic Air Museum is a membership-supported museum and restoration facility located at Carl A. Spaatz Field. The museum actively displays and restores historic and rare war aircraft and civilian airliners. Most notable to their collection is a Northrop P-61 Black Widow under active restoration since its recovery from Mount Cyclops, New Guinea in 1989. Beginning in 1990, the museum has hosted "World War II Weekend Air Show", scheduled to coincide with D-Day. On display are period wartime aircraft (many of which fly throughout the show) vehicles, and weapons.

The mechanical ice cream scoop was invented in Reading by William Clewell in 1878. The 5th Ave Bar and York Peppermint Patty were invented in Reading.


In 1908, a Japanese-style pagoda was built on Mount Penn, where it overlooks the city and is visible from almost everywhere in town. Locally, it is referred to as the "The Pagoda". It is currently the home of a café and a gift shop. It remains a popular tourist attraction.

Another fixture to Reading's skyline is the William Penn Memorial Fire Tower; one mile from the Pagoda on Skyline Drive. Built in 1939 for fire department and forestry observation, the tower is 120 feet tall, and rises 950 feet above the intersection of fifth and Penn Streets. From the top of the tower is a 60-mile panoramic view.

The Reading Glove and Mitten Manufacturing Company founded in 1899, just outside Reading city limits, in West Reading and Wyomissing boroughs changed its name to Vanity Fair in 1911 and is now the major clothing manufacturer VF Corp. In the early 1970s, the original factories were developed to create the VF Outlet Village, the first outlet mall in the United States. The mall is so successful that it draws hundreds of thousands of tourists to Reading every year. The last few years has seen a major decline in visitors to the outlets and many stores have closed.

In media

The book and movie Rabbit, Run and the other three novels of the Rabbit series by John Updike were set in fictionalized versions of Reading and nearby Shillington, called Brewer and Olinger respectively. Updike was born in Reading and lived in nearby Shillington until he was thirteen.

Filmmakers Gary Adelstein, Costa Mantis, and Jerry Orr's created Reading 1974: Portrait of a City, relying heavily on montage, is a cultural time capsule.

Notable people

  • Gus Alberts (1861â€"1912), Major League Baseball player
  • Coit Albertson (1880-1953), silent film actor
  • Elvin Ayala (b. 1981), professional boxer, World Boxing Council and U.S. National Boxing Council middleweight champion
  • John Barrasso (b. 1952), U.S. Senator from Wyoming (b. July 21, 1952)
  • Albert Boscov, (b. 1929), chairman of Boscov's department store
  • George Bradley (1852â€"1931), Major League Baseball player
  • Sylvanus C. Breyfogel (b. 1851), bishop of Evangelical Association
  • James Bryant, professional football player
  • James Henry Carpenter (1846â€"1898), Civil War sailor, officer, founder of Carpenter Technology Corporation
  • Jack Coggins (1911â€"2006), artist and author
  • Kayla Collins (b. 1987), model and Playboy playmate (August 2008)
  • Forrest Compton (b. 1925), actor
  • Michael Constantine (b. 1927), actor
  • Tullio DeSantis (b. 1948), artist, writer, professor
  • Lisa Eichhorn (b. 1952), actress, writer, producer
  • Meg Foster (b. 1948), actress
  • Roy Frankhouser (1939-2009), Grand Dragon of Ku Klux Klan
  • Harry Whittier Frees (1879â€"1953), photographer
  • Carl Furillo (1922â€"1989), Major League Baseball outfielder
  • Megan Gallagher (b. 1960), actress
  • David McMurtrie Gregg (1833-1916), American Civil War general
  • Keith Haring (1958-1990), artist, activist
  • Mervin Heller, Jr., past president of the United States Tennis Association
  • Corey Hertzog (b. 1990), professional soccer player
  • William Muhlenberg Hiester (1818-1878), political and military leader
  • Frank Hovington (1919-1982), American blues musician
  • Stu Jackson (b. 1955), executive vice president of basketball operations for the NBA
  • Mildred Jordan (1901â€"1982), novelist
  • Travis Kauffman (b. 1985), WBF Inter-Continental heavyweight boxing champion and ranked contender
  • Chip Kidd (b.1964), graphic designer and author
  • Betsy King, golfer, winner of 34 LPGA Tour events and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame
  • Richie Kotzen (b. 1970), rock guitarist
  • Rick Krebs (b. 1949), game designer
  • Henry Larkin (1860â€"1942), Major League Baseball player
  • Julian Letterlough (1969â€"2005), Pennsylvania, WBO and NABO light heavyweight boxing champion known as 'Mr. KO'
  • Steve Little (1965â€"2000), WBA world middleweight boxing champion
  • Gina Lynn (b. 1974), pornographic actress
  • Donyell Marshall (b. 1973), basketball player, Connecticut and NBA power forward
  • Julio Cesar Matthews (b. 1970), Golden Gloves champion and unbeaten professional cruiserweight boxer
  • Lenny Moore (b. 1933), NFL running back and Pro Football Hall of Famer
  • Stephen Mull, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political Ministry Affairs, U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania
  • James Nagle (1822-1866), Civil War general
  • Hildegard Peplau (1909â€"1999), nurse theorist
  • Mike Pilot (b. 1975), podcaster, The Mediocre Show
  • David Robidoux, composer
  • Denise Rutkowski (b. 1962), professional female bodybuilder
  • Lori and Reba Schappell (b. 1961), conjoined twins
  • Ray Dennis Steckler (1939â€"2009), film director
  • Jim Steranko (b. 1938), Silver Age comic book artist, magazine publisher, and escape artist
  • Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), poet
  • Taylor Swift (b. 1989), Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and recording artist
  • Chuck Thompson (1921-2005), sportscaster
  • Joe Toye (1919â€"1995), fought in World War II with E Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment featured in Band of Brothers
  • John Updike (1932â€"2009), Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, poet, essayist
  • Thomas Usher, CEO of U.S. Steel and Chairman of the Board of Marathon Oil
  • Byron Vazakas (1905-1987), poet
  • Charlie Wagner (1912â€"2006), baseball player for Boston Red Sox
  • Angela Washko (b. 1986), artist
  • Delores Wells (b. 1937), actress
  • Thomas C. Zimmerman (1838-1914), Pennsylvania German writer and translator, notable for translations of English language classics to Pennsylvania German dialect


Further reading

  • Reading Eagle archive, Google News Archive, 1868â€"2000. â€"PDFs of 38,630 issues.
  • Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr., The Socialists of Reading, Pennsylvanian and World War I: A Question of Loyalty," Pennsylvania History, vol. 36, no. 4 (October 1969), pp. 430â€"450. In JSTOR
  • Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr., "The Socialist Administration in Reading, Pennsylvania, Part I, 1927â€"1931," Pennsylvania History, vol. 39, no. 4 (October 1972), pp. 417â€"442. In JSTOR
  • Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr., "Triumph and Disaster: The Reading Socialists in Power and Decline, Part II, 1932â€"1939," Pennsylvania History, vol. 40, no. 4 (October 1973), pp. 380â€"411. In JSTOR
  • Henry G. Stetler, The Socialist Movement in Reading, Pennsylvania, 1896â€"1936. PhD dissertation. Storrs, CT: Henry G. Stetler, 1943.

External links

  • City of Reading (official site)
  • Reading at DMOZ
  • Reading Eagle Newspaper homepage,
  • Brookings Institution Report on recommendations for revitalization of cities in Pennsylvania
  • U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Reading, Pennsylvania
  • Reading Public Library
  • Berks Community TV
  • The Reading Area Fire Fighter's Museum
  • Unofficial Reading Fire Department Site
  • Photographs of Reading

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