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History of William Penn Building

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The City Hall is one of the world’s tallest skyscrapers in Philadelphia. The statue of William Penn (1644-1718) at the top of the clock tower of city hall is the reason for it being commonly known as William Penn building. The City Hall construction started after the end of civil war and was completed in the 20th century. Its elaborate and beautifully constructed structure is regarded as among the “most impressive municipal buildings in the world” (Hornblum, 2003) by the majority of architectural critics. 

History of William Penn Building

William Penn

William Penn was the founder of his “Holy Experiment” in the US state of Pennsylvania (Somerville, 2006). While William Penn was raised in an Anglican family, he changed his religious beliefs and joined “the civil society of friends” or “Quakers.” Quakers reject war and violence and follow the divine light within each person that they believe is present. Because their views were contrary to the Christian faith, they endured many difficulties before William Penn managed to get a West New Jersey colonial colony. His introduction of the democratic system in this province included “absolute religious freedom, fair trials, elected representatives of the people in government and a separation of powers” American constitution is inspired by the Penn democratic structure. He believed in equal justice and absolute freedom of faith. He once wrote, “True religion does not drive people out of the world, but helps them to live in it better” He was charged several times because of his different religions. Yet the most popular of his trials is the one that finally gave free rein to England’s juries and made them independent and out of judges’ control. The City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, was also designed and built by William Penn (Somerville, 2006).

City Hall

Owing to the overcrowding of the old city hall at Fifth and Chestnut Street in the 18th century, a public election was held in 1870 to determine the current site of a Philadelphia city hall. The new position that got 51, 623 votes, was Penn Square. John MacArthur Jr., who immigrated from Scotland to America, designed the architecture of this new City Hall. The statue of William Penn did not initially feature in his style (Hornblum, 2003). The building committee, which was designed by Alexander Milne Calder, who also immigrated to America in 1869, demanded the inclusion of the statue.

The design of the town hall was completed in 1901 to make it the tallest building in the world. Nevertheless, the Eiffel tower and Washington monument jumped on its uniqueness. However, it is still the world’s largest made of masonry. The enormous eight-story building with a 16ft height of each floor seems like a three-floor building from outside. The primary building material is bricked with a white marble face, granite and limestone. It covers a surface area of 630,000sq ft. As there is no use of steel frames, the first floor’s walls are 22 ft thick to support the whole structure and weight of the upper floors. It has nearly 700 rooms surrounding a landscaped courtyard and housing the official, judicial and legislative offices of the government. The mayor’s office is on the second floor in the executive branch, while the judicial branch consists of 30 courtrooms.

The Tower Clock and the Statue of Billy Penn

The central tower with a four-faced clock is approximately 511 ft high. Installed in 1899, the diameter of the giant watch is 26ft, with minute hand weighing 225 pounds. The weight of the clock is 50 ton while the second-hand travel 114.7 miles per year. In the beginning, the clock was lit by candles which were replaced with 552 light bulbs. The famous 26-ton bronze statue of William Pen at the top of this tower was hoisted in 1894. Made of 14 separate pieces, the 37 ft tall figure is the world’s most giant statue being at the height of 548ft from the street. It is faced northeast towards the Delaware River wherein 1862 William Penn signed a treaty of friendship with Lenape Indians. The crowning statue, known in Philadelphia as “Billy Pen” was displayed for a year in the courtyard of city hall before it was dismantled and lifted to be placed on the top. Below the feet of the statue tourists can access an observation deck with a superb view of Philadelphia and its surroundings. Alexander Milne created 94 sculptured figures and 250 figurative works for the city hall in 20 years including Penn’s statue. The other eight bronze sculptures include four eagles perched above each face of the clock with 12 ft wingspan, a Native American warrior with a horse, a Native American woman with a boy, a Swedish man with a boy and a Swedish woman with a child and the lamb. Such eight sculptures weigh about 70 tons. Across the south side of the city hall, depictions of Moses and other sobering seated figures are sculptured, depicting law and independence. Workers are accessible to the brim of Penn’s statue, by climbing on to the tower elevator’s top and balancing a ladder to the centre of the figure and exiting through a hatch of 22” on the hat’s top.

With the passage of time and introduction of new inventions, City hall has been under improvement during and after its completion in 30 years. Earlier electricity and later elevators were included in the original designs. There has also been an extreme political interference even before its construction continuing till its completion. All these factors involved in the total construction cost made it worth dollar 24.3 million, whereas the original estimate was dollar 7.5 million. Initially, the construction of the city hall was intended to reflect Philadelphia’s importance, and so it was meant to be the tallest building in the world. In Philadelphia, there was an agreement among the developers that forbade the construction of buildings higher than the statue of Penn. As it took a very long period of 30 years to complete its creation, the city hall couldn’t retain the claim of the highest building by the time it was completed.


The fabulous figurative illustrations and artistic sculptures of the city hall make it one of the most priced and valued buildings in the world. Its detailed carving and architecture are among the world’s best. This masterpiece built on the second empire style is “an outdoor art to some, a great layered cake to others”. Although it serves the purpose of the functioning centre for government’s judicial as well as legislative and official activity, yet it is famously known for its splendid artwork and elaborative carvings throughout the building. William Pen’s statue is significant, why the city hall is widely famed. The figure can be seen from miles and miles away. The number is Build in a way showing that William Penn’s tender hand is gracing the city and its people. The icon itself is an emblem of what Penn stood for. His devotion to the betterment of humanity and standard fair treatment to all is the reason the people of Philadelphia acknowledge him. And in tribute to his dedication, his statue is raised high above the city to mark Philadelphia’s acknowledgement for his contributions. Although Penn himself wished to stay in Philadelphia yet the financial problems forced him to go back. City hall due to the statue of William Penn remains by far one of the most intricate and striking allegorical masterpieces from the history.

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