The Sellers brothers, Samuel and George, came to North America in 1682 as part of the Quaker migration to William Penn’s new province on the shores of the Delaware River. Across more than two centuries, the Sellers family—especially Samuel’s descendants Nathan, Escol, Coleman, and William—rose to prominence as manufacturers, engineers, social reformers, and urban and suburban developers, transforming Philadelphia into a center of industry and culture. They led a host of civic institutions including the Franklin Institute, Abolition Society, and University of Pennsylvania. At the same time, their vast network of relatives and associates became a leading force in the rise of American industry in Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, New York, and elsewhere.Engineering Philadelphia is a sweeping account of enterprise and ingenuity, economic development and urban planning, and the rise and fall of Philadelphia as an industrial metropolis. Domenic Vitiello tells the story of the influential Sellers family, placing their experiences in the broader context of industrialization and urbanization in the United States from the colonial era through World War II. The story of the Sellers family illustrates how family and business networks shaped the social, financial, and technological processes of industrial capitalism. As Vitiello documents, the Sellers family and their network profoundly influenced corporate and federal technology policy, manufacturing practice, infrastructure and building construction, and metropolitan development. Vitiello also links the family’s declining fortunes to the deindustrialization of Philadelphia—and the nation—over the course of the twentieth century.
"Although the most famous family member, Escol Sellers, was the model for Mark Twain's quintessential capitalist/speculator/scoundrel in The Gilded Age, throughout the nineteenth century the Sellerses of Philadelphia contributed constructively to the city's economic growth, urban planning, and political reform. Domenic Vitiello has written business history at its best—wonderful stories about interesting people framed by a strong understanding of how family and social networks interacted with technological and political change to shape the nineteenth-century metropolis."
Domenic Vitiello is Assistant Professor of City Planning and Urban Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Philadelphia Stock Exchange and the City It Made.