The site was first occupied by Native Americans. In the 17th cent. there was a Swedish settlement; the land was soon claimed by the Dutch and then contested by the British. William Penn acquired it through a grant from Charles II of England and in 1682 founded Philadelphia, the "City of Brotherly Love," intended as a refuge for the peaceable Quakers—hence the nickname Quaker City. Its commercial, industrial, and cultural growth was rapid, and by 1774 it was second only to London as the largest English-speaking city. It was the seat of the Continental Congress and served as the American capital from 1777 to 1788, except during the British occupation (Oct., 1777–June, 1778) after the battle of Brandywine. It was the capital of the new republic from 1790 to 1800, as well as the state capital (to 1799). The two Banks of the United States (1791–1811; 1816–36) were there (see Bank of the United States). The bank buildings are examples of Greek revival architecture.
Despite an ambitious program of urban redevelopment initiated in the 1950s, the city experienced the decay of its economic base and a sharp decline in population through subsequent decades. Longstanding tensions erupted in race riots in the 1960s. In the 1970s, Frank Rizzo, a former police commissioner with a political base among the city's working-class whites, was elected mayor. Wilson Goode became Philadelphia's first black mayor in 1983. His administration was shaken by the controversial firebombing of a city block containing the home of an armed organization of black radicals. The decline of the central city was met in part by the construction of new office buildings downtown and development projects on the Delaware River waterfront, but the metropolitan area, long noted for its wealthy and exclusive suburbs (especially along the fabled Main Line), witnessed dramatic growth. Since 1986, however, when developers were first permitted to build higher than Penn's statue atop the city hall, the center city skyline has undergone dramatic changes. The city government came close to bankruptcy in 1990.