Intro to Reading, Pennsylvania: More Than a Monopoly Property

By Annie Sears

A Monopoly board. Photo by John Morgan. Courtesy Flickr.
Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play Sweat—playing through October 21 at The Geary—is set in Reading, Pennsylvania. If you’ve played Monopoly, you know the town. It lends its name to one of the game’s most desirable properties: the Reading Railroad Company, which proved an industrial giant throughout Reading’s history. Whether you’ve already seen Sweat or are planning on seeing it in the next few weeks, here’s a little background information on the town Sweat’s characters call home.

WHERE

Reading is located in the southeastern portion of Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half drive northwest of Philadelphia. Reading sits on the Schuylkill River, which runs all the way to Philadelphia and connects to the Delaware River. Historically, this location proved extremely profitable, as the river made it easy to transport bulk cargo.

WHEN
  • 1748: Reading is founded by Thomas and Richard Penn, the sons of famous English settler William Penn, as in Pennsylvania. They select the name Reading after their father’s hometown in Berkshire, England. 
  • 1754: The French-Indian War begins, and Reading’s local iron industry outproduces that of England throughout the war. 
  • 1833: The Philadelphia and Reading Railway (P & R) is founded. Initially, P & R primarily transports coal from Reading to Philadelphia on a 94-mile track (which later expanded to 1,300 miles), but the company soon gets involved in the coal mining, iron making, and shipbuilding industries. 
  • 1870s: P & R is the largest corporation in the world by revenue. 
  • 1904: American game designer Lizzie Magie patents The Landlord’s Game (later taken over by Parker Brother’s and renamed Monopoly). The Reading Railroad is featured.
  • 1925: Dana Incorporated builds a steel plant in Reading, which will prove profitable in the decades to come. 
  • 1941: World War II begins, and Reading’s Dana plant grows to five times its original size because of increased demand for steel. 
  • 1967: The Dana plant’s workforce is the highest it will ever be, employing 3,300 people. In the years to come, the company will steadily reduce its number of employees. 
  • 1971: The Reading Company files for bankruptcy. 
  • 2000: Dana Corporation displaces its 800 remaining workers by closing the Reading plant, the incident depicted in Sweat.
WHO
  • Reading is currently home to 88,423 Americans, making it the state’s fifth most populated city. 
  • As of 2016, 63.1 percent of the population had some Hispanic or Latino ancestry, 54.8 percent had white influence, 11.4 percent African American, 3.2 percent Native American, 0.8 percent Asian, 0.2 percent Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, and 16.5 percent were two or more races. 
  • As of 2016, 65.4 percent of Reading residents held high school diplomas, and 9.2 percent went on to earn their bachelor’s degree. 
  • That same year, 39.3 percent lived below the poverty line.
Sweat humanizes these statistics, as playwright Lynn Nottage based the characters on steelworkers she befriended throughout the months she spent researching in Reading. Want to see their story told onstage? Get your tickets today.
Downtown Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania, April 2011. Photo by Nicholas A. Tonelli. Courtesy Flickr.

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