Carpenters' Hall

« Return to History Index

How We Got Our Name

ourname1
The complete ten-word name of the Company probably a record-breaker fills two lines within the gilded frame which encloses the membership list.

History is to blame. The name "Carpenters' Company," in modern terms, is a complete misnomer. There are no carpenters among its members, nor is it a company. Quarterly meetings of the membership are attended by architects, building contractors and structural engineers. Each is a principal in a company of their own. In the 18th century, members modestly described themselves as "house carpenters" and were indeed skilled craftsmen. Unlike today's members, they combined the talents of architect, contractor and engineer. Philadelphians recognized them as "master builders" who created the colonial capital's mansions and public buildings.

Then, why the name? History of an organization closing in on its third century is best told by tales. Here are two of them.

ourname2
Philadelphia in 1776 (shaded area of map) had a population of 25,000. The house at 7th & Market Sts. — where Jefferson penned the Declaration — was the last in the city. Westward to the Schuylkill river were farms and woods which had been surveyed for future streets.

Founding members of the Company stepped ashore soon after William Penn, bringing with them affection for things British, in particular the Worshipful Company of Carpenters of London. Some no doubt learned their trade as apprentices to its members and determined to use the guild — dating from the 1300's — as a pattern for their American counterpart. The name presented no problem. Both groups referred to master builders as "carpenters;" the word "company" was traditional for an association.

A second tale explains what lies behind today's lengthy, ten-word name: The Carpenters' Company of the City and County of Philadelphia.

As laid out by William Penn's surveyor, the city was two miles wide river-to-river and one mile from Vine to South Sts. Philadelphia county originally included portions of neighboring counties before being reduced to its present boundaries. Some Company members lived in the city; others in the county. The Company reflected this reality when it became incorporated in 1790.

Population boomed during the next 50 years, mostly in the county. By mid-century there were 13 townships, 6 boroughs and nine districts. Each had its own government, police force and taxing powers. Finally, Pennsylvania brought this chaos to a halt. A single piece of legislation, the Consolidation Act of 1854, abolished the 28 mini-municipalities and made the city and county limits identical.

C.G.K.

Carpenters' Hall, 320 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106
Open free to the public daily, except Mondays (and Tuesdays in Jan. and Feb.), from 10am-4pm

Interested in using our pictures or information? Click here!

Copyright 1999-2013 by the Independence Hall Association,
a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, founded in 1942.
Publishing electronically as ushistory.org. On the Internet since July 4, 1995.