The colonies were still the colonies in 1750, when a European-trained surgeon named Thomas Bond decided to establish a hospital in his native Philadelphia. But it wasn’t until he enlisted his friend Benjamin Franklin that the city’s business and civic leaders got on board. Thirty-three of them signed a petition that was presented to the Pennsylvania Assembly in January 1751, and on May 11 of that year, the assembly granted the hospital a charter.

Helping to influence the decision was a new fundraising technique devised by the ever-inventive Franklin — the matching fund drive. If hospital organizers could come up with an equal amount, the assembly would contribute 2,000 pounds sterling.

Pennsylvania Hospital before and after

Pennsylvania Hospital became the first hospital of a fledgling nation, and it boasts many other firsts:

• In 1762, a British friend of Franklin donated a book to what became the nation’s first medical library at the hospital.
• In 1794, Dr. Philip Syng Physick was appointed to the hospital’s medical staff. Physick is now known as “the father of American surgery,” and, in 1812, introduced the stomach pump.
• In 1804, the nation’s first surgical amphitheater was constructed.
• In 1812, Dr. Benjamin Rush, who had been on Pennsylvania Hospital’s staff for nearly 30 years, published the first psychiatric textbook, Observations and Inquiries Upon the Diseases of the Mind. Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is known as the “father of American psychiatry.”

Other Pennsylvania Hospital firsts include the introduction of occupational therapy (1752), the first description of hemophilia (1834), the first hospital care of mentally ill patients (1752); and the first daily record of weather conditions (1766).