Pennsylvania Hospital

Historic Tours of Pennsylvania Hospital

Founded in 1751, Pennsylvania Hospital is the nation's first hospital. The Pine Building, acknowledged as a fine example of Colonial and Federal period architecture, is open to the public. Please call 215-829-3370 for information on, or about scheduling, tours. We request that you contact us at least 48 hours in advance if you wish to have a guided tour. Guided tours are subject to the availability of tour guides.

Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation's first hospital, was founded in 1751, 25 years before the American Revolution. A philosophy of caring inspired the founders, a group of public-spirited citizens led by Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond. Today that same spirit guides Pennsylvania Hospital through its third century. The Hospital has long been an innovator in patient care, treatment techniques and medical research.

Today, patients are cared for in state-of-the-art facilities, but the heritage of the institution is not forgotten. Highlights of our tours include:

Gallery Pavilion

The large painting, "Christ Healing the Sick in the Temple," was completed by Benjamin West in 1817. It was presented to the Hospital as a gift by the artist, who suggested that admission be charged for viewing as a way of raising funds. Over a period of several years, admission fees totaled more than $15,000. Now the masterpiece and others displayed in the Hospital, including paintings by Thomas Eakins and Thomas Sully, are free for visitors to enjoy.

Great Court

The central entrance to the Pine Building is bracketed by twin staircases that ascend from a floor laid with the original 19th-century Portuguese tile. Fireplaces and candles in wall sconces provided heat and light, which was one reason the Hospital had its own fire engine, now on display under the staircase. The Board of Managers were proud of the modern equipment, and tested it each month at their meeting. The rooms next to the front door were the library and the pharmacy when the building was built in 1804.

Originally, they had been located in the East building. These are now administrative offices of the Hospital. On the east wall is a portrait of Samuel Coates by Thomas Sully. As you walk up the stairs, you'll pass marble plaques that recall early philanthropists such as Biddle, Wistar, Coates and Shippen, whose donations made medical care available to the poor. Above the Great Court, on the second floor, is the Historic Medical Library, the first medical library in America.

Historic Library

The collection, begun in 1762, was assembled for use by physicians and students when Philadelphia was the center for medicine and science in America and reflects the growth of knowledge in these fields. In 1847, the American Medical Association designated it as the country's most important medical library. In addition to the medical and scientific volumes, the Library contains books on natural history, and a number of books written before 1500 — a rare acquisition for a hospital library.

A set of plaster casts once used to teach anatomy to 19th-century medical students and a changing exhibit of Hospital materials can also be seen here. On the east wall outside the Library is Thomas Sully's portrait of Benjamin Rush. A signer of the Declaration of Independence, Rush was a pioneer in psychiatry.

Surgical Amphitheatre

Climbing the stairs to the third floor, you'll retrace the route of patients who were carried on stretchers to the original operating theatre. Opened in 1804, it is the oldest existing surgical amphitheatre in North America. An audience of physicians and medical students observed operations from the gallery encircling the room. Without electricity, sterile technique or anesthesia, patients were lucky to have a bright, sunny day and a surgeon who was swift as well as skillful.

They could choose rum, laudanum or a tap on the head with a mallet to dull the pain. Dr. Phillip Syng Physick, known as the father of American surgery, performed many operations here as a member of the staff from 1794 to 1813. The amphitheatre continued in use until 1868. Return to the Great Court on first floor to exit through the front door, the original hospital entrance. In the center of the circular drive is a statue of William Penn given to the Hospital by the Penn family in 1804.

Physic Garden

In 1774, it was proposed to the Board of Managers that a garden be planted on the Hospital grounds to provide physicians with ingredients for medicines. The idea was approved, but financial circumstances intervened and the project was delayed for two centuries. In 1976, planting the garden was the bicentennial project of the Philadelphia Committee of the Garden Club of America and the Friends of Pennsylvania Hospital.

Located in front of the Pine Building's West wing, the garden has plants that were used for medicines in the 18th century. Once used to stimulate the heart, ease toothaches, relieve indigestion and cleanse wounds, now their shaded respite provides healing of a more spiritual kind for patients and visitors alike.

Pine Building

Acknowledged as one of the finest examples of Colonial and Federal period architecture, the Pine Building was designed by Samuel Rhoads, a member of the first Board of Managers, and has been in continuous use since 1755. The building is a three-part structure, completed as funds became available: the East Wing opened in 1755, the West Wing in 1796, and the Center House in 1804.

The graceful brick structure still houses several medical departments as well as administrative offices, the archives and historic library, and the ontemporary library. The cornerstone, inscribed by Benjamin Franklin, can be seen just under the steps of the second set of doors to the East Wing.