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Keeping up with the Joneses in Pennsylvania
Welsh Assembly Government, New York, 9/5/2020

The Wales International Center in New York announced its exhibition, telling the story of the important contribution that Welsh people have made to life in the USA from colonial days right up to the present, will open at Harriton House, Bryn Mawr, Philadelphia, on September 11 and will be open to the public until November 22.
Keeping up with the Joneses – the Story of Wales and the Welsh in the USA – has been produced by the Welsh Assembly Government and will be hosted in Philadelphia by the Harriton Association. The exhibition opened in Ellis Island in June 2006 and has traveled to Rio Grande, Ohio; Utica, New York and Virginia: three important areas of Welsh immigration to the USA. 

Pennsylvania is probably the state with the largest number of Welsh immigrants and Harriton House is a very fitting venue for the exhibition. Built in 1704, by Welsh Quaker Rowland Ellis, Harriton was originally named “Bryn Mawr,” Welsh for “Great Hill” and named after Ellis’s farm in Wales. The exhibition will form part of the 325th anniversary celebrations of the founding of Pennsylvania and the Welsh Tract.

William Penn originally earmarked Pennsylvania for Welsh settlement, in particular for Quakers escaping religious persecution, and planned to name it New Wales.

He later changed the name to Pennsylvania, claiming that it was named after the Welsh word for head, pen. The Welsh eventually settled in Welsh Tract and many place names in that area are named after Welsh places and people among them Haverford, Radnor, Merion, Tredyffrin, Morristown, Montgomery, Bala Cynwyd and Bryn Mawr.

By 1700, the Welsh accounted for around one-third of the colony’s population and they contributed greatly to the colony’s economic and social development, many becoming prominent in the legal profession, politics, and other positions in public life. A thriving Welsh Society has existed in Philadelphia since 1729.

The second wave of Welsh immigration to Pennsylvania was in the late 1700s and early 1800s when farmers came looking for a better life as poor harvests threatened to destroy their livelihoods in Wales. They settled in an area they called Cambria County after their homeland (Wales is also called Cymru or Cambria).

In the 19th century, Pennsylvania experienced a third wave of Welsh immigration when many highly-skilled workers in the coal, slate, steel, and later the tinplate industries came from Wales to Pennsylvania seeking higher wages and a better quality of life. Some, such as David Thomas, who discovered how to smelt iron with anthracite in his Biery’s Bridge furnace, helped America become the greatest industrial power on earth.

Many of these immigrants spoke Welsh – an ancient Celtic language, still thriving side-by-side with English in modern-day Wales. They maintained their language in the new country for some time, particularly in the chapels and churches of Pennsylvania, and, throughout the 19th century, Welsh-language newspapers thrived in both Pittsburgh and Scranton.

The Welsh brought with them their traditions and culture, often holding Eisteddfodau and other bardic contests in Pennsylvania. They also spawned famous musical sons such as Joseph Parry (1841-1903, born Wales emigrated to Danville ), whose story is told in the book Off to Philadelphia in the Morning by Jack Jones, and the famous radio and concert artist Thomas Llyfnwy Thomas (1911-1983. Born Wales, emigrated to Scranton).

The traditional coal and steel industries in both Wales and Pennsylvania have today been replaced by new technology industries and many business investments and acquisitions have taken place between the two places.

Advanced Biologics from New Hope, PA, conducts contract clinical research and has a base in Cardiff, Wales. Vishay Intertechnology Inc. from Malvern has acquired Welsh company Siliconix and opened its European design center in the Digital Technium in Swansea, Wales, to develop a new source of analogue and power integrated circuit design expertise. 

AmerisourceBergen from Chesterbrook, PA, has acquired Brecon Pharmaceuticals, a Wales-based provider of contract packaging and clinical trial materials services for the pharmaceutical industry. Finally, the Purolite Company from Bala Cynwyd, PA, has its European headquarters in Llantrisant, Wales.

Welsh companies investing in Pennsylvania include the Cardiff company IQE. Firmly established as the world leader in the supply of custom epiwafers and substrates to the compound semiconductor industry, EQI has its US base in Bethlehem, PA.

Wales-based company CyDen, manufacturers of light pulse equipment for the treatment of skin ailments, has appointed DermaMed, in Lenni, PA, as part of its US distribution network. In the food and drink sector, Patchwork Pate from Ruthin, Wales, has recently begun manufacturing its fine pates under license in Pennsylvania. 

Welsh-Pennsylvanian collaboration is also taking place in music, literature, and the arts. Welsh ceramist Catrin Howell takes up residency in the Clay Studio in Philadelphia in September and October of this year. Also in Philadelphia in September, Welsh author Grahame Davies will read from his new novel Everything Must Change and Welsh rock star Gruff Rhys will appear in Johnny Brenda’s on September 19.

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