This week, Democratic delegates and party loyalists from around the country are converging on Philadelphia to formally select their candidate. It promises to be a history-making convention, but as this grouping of ephemera reveals, it’s not the first time that Democrats have chosen the City of Brotherly Love for its stage.
That distinction was earned 80 years ago, when national Democrats gathered there for the first time in that party’s history. Between June 23-26, roughly 1,100 delegates, and thousands of other registered guests, grabbed their tickets (pictured above) and filed into the Municipal Auditorium (now the Philadelphia Convention Hall and Civic Center) on 34th Street in West Philadelphia (and on the last day, in Franklin Field) to laud their candidate and rouse the party faithful at the 27th Democratic National Convention.
Given its size, location and surfeit of patriotic symbols – Liberty Bell, anyone? – Philadelphia seemed made for this kind of political theater. But in the decades leading up to the 1936 convention, the city was solid Republican turf. Few cities could match Philadelphia’s fidelity to the Party of Lincoln, expressed in everything from political machines and partisan newspapers to voting patterns in local and national elections.
That the surging party of Franklin Delano Roosevelt had chosen Philadelphia over suitors such as Chicago and St. Louis says much about the commonwealth’s perceived electoral strength and value to the emerging New Deal coalition, as well as the rising national influence of its own homegrown political stars, most notably Senator Joseph Guffey and Governor George Earle. It also helped that city fathers, irrespective of political affiliation, were willing to pony up nearly $200,000 to host the convention in exchange for the national exposure, and the infusion of tourist dollars, the event would bring. (More than 100,000 spectators packed Franklin Field to hear FDR address the convention on its last day.)
As is true of modern-day conventions, the 1936 meeting served up a steady diet of speeches, floor motions and spontaneous outbursts of orchestrated cheer. On the first day of the convention, Gov. Earle delivered one of the more rousing addresses, linking the city’s historic role in defeating political tyranny with the Democratic Party’s present effort to break the Republican yolk of economic tyranny. Between the speeches, delegates and guests were encouraged to explore the city and its many cultural attractions. Sears, Roebuck & Co. published a limited edition “Entertainment Program” (pictured above) to assist convention goers in their “pursuit of happiness.” Sports fans could indulge in four straight days of the National League baseball at Baker Bowl. Tuesday afternoon’s game was an all-Pennsylvania affair, with the Phillies battling the Pittsburgh Pirates.
By almost every measure, Pennsylvania’s first Democratic convention was an unqualified success, for both the state’s economy and the sponsoring party’s electoral fortunes. When the votes were counted that fall, both Pennsylvania and Philadelphia had given FDR, and the Democratic Party, four more years.
This edition of Pennsylvania Treasures was written by Dr. Curtis Miner, Senior History Curator for The State Museum of Pennsylvania.
About Pennsylvania Treasures:
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission houses artifacts hailing from all eras of the commonwealth’s past. These objects represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. PHMC curators continue to research the stories behind many of these rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.