In 1681 William Penn, a Quaker, founded his colony as a ‘holy experiment’ that respected religious freedom, liberal government and even indigenous inhabitants. But it didn’t take long for European settlers to displace those communities, thus giving rise to Pennsylvania’s status as the richest and most populous British colony in North America. It became a great influence in the independence movement and, much later, an economic leader through its major supply of coal, iron and timber, followed by raw materials and labor during WWI and WWII. In the postwar period its industrial importance gradually declined. Urban renewal programs and the growth of service and high-tech industries have boosted the economy, most notably in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Quakers founded Pennsylvania on the principle of religious tolerance − a stance that attracted other minority religious sects, including the well-known Mennonite and Amish communities − and an accepting attitude still prevails in most of the state. The current governor, Edward Rendell, is a moderate Democrat.