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Public Works, Department of

[Record group 85]
Agency Function
The Department of Public Works, the second largest department of the City in 1949, was charged with a broad range of functions including direct or contract operation of various utilities; engineering and survey work; construction and maintenance of the city's streets, public buildings, and other public structures; street lighting; operation of the city's airports; and custody of much of the city's real estate. It did not have jurisdiction over the parks, parkways and public buildings under the control of the Fairmount Park Commission.
The functions assigned to the Department included the care, management, administration, and supervision of the city-owned waterworks, and the supply and distribution of water and gas. The Department also constructed, operated, and maintained the sewer system and sewage disposal facilities. Grading, paving, repairing, cleaning, and the lighting of streets, alleys and highways were its responsibilities, as well as the construction, protection, maintenance, operations and repair of public buildings, bridges, and other structures. Public squares and real estate, except as otherwise provided by law or ordinance, were under the care of the Department. Its work also included the surveying, engineering, sewerage, drainage, and other operations affecting the city's highways. It also administered the city's airports.

Administrative Subunits
Director of Public Safety
Bureau of Aeronautics
Committee on Comprehensive Plans
Bureau of Filtration
Bureau of Gas
Bureau of Highways
Board of Highway Supervisors
Bureau of Lighting (and Gas)
Bureau of Ice Boats
Bureau of (Markets &) City Property
Bureau of Mechanical Equipment
Bureau of Surveys
Bureau of Street Cleaning
Bureau of Water

Agency History
Established in 1887 in pursuance of the Bullitt Bill and given charge of the Bureaus (formerly Departments) of Water, Gas, Lighting, Ice Boats, Markets and City Property, Surveys, Highways, the Board of Highway Supervisors, and the then-formed Bureau of Street Cleaning. In 1889 the Bureau of Markets and City Property was transferred to the Department of Public Safety as the Bureau of City Property. The Bureau of Gas assumed operation of the City Gas Works on the termination of the Gas Trustees' lease in 1887 but in 1897 the Works were again leased by the City, to the United Gas Improvement Company, and the Bureau retained only duties of inspection over UGl's operations. The Bureau of Filtration, established in 1902 to engineer extensive improvements in the water supply system, was merged with the Bureau of Water in 1907, the same year in which the Bureau of Ice Boats was transferred to the Department of Wharves, Docks and Ferries, and the Bureau of Street Cleaning abolished and its functions returned to the Bureau of Highways. (That Bureau was re-established in 1917, abolished again in 1920, and resurrected once more in 1924.) In 1913 the Bureau of City Property was returned to Public Works from the Department of Public Safety. A Committee on Comprehensive Plans, composed of the Mayor and other City officials ex officio and ten appointed unpaid citizens, was formed within the Department in 1912, but does not seem to have functioned after 1918. In 1925 a Bureau of Engineering was established in the Department also given charge of the design and construction of bridges, sewers, storm drains, sewage treatment works, and the abolishment of railroad grade crossings (formerly duties of the Bureau of Surveys); in 1928 it was merged with Surveys into a Bureau of Engineering and Surveys which in turn became the Bureau of Engineering, Surveys and Zoning in 1933, its additional functions being the enforcement of the comprehensive zoning ordinance of that year. A Bureau of Convention Hall and Stadium existed within the Department from 1931 to 1932 when the Municipal Stadium was returned to the Bureau of City Property and the management of Convention Hall given to the Trustees of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum (which see). The Bureaus of Gas and Lighting were merged in the latter year also, the Bureau of Gas' inspectorial duties in regard to the Gas Works lease having been transferred in 1928 to an independent Gas Commission organized when the lease was renewed at that time. In 1937 a Bureau of Mechanical Equipment was formed to provide a unified maintenance service for all Departments' motor vehicles, fire boats and apparatus, and street cleaning vehicles. In 1946 the Bureau of Aeronautics was established to supervise the activities of City-owned airports. With the adoption of the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter in 1951 the Department of Public Works was abolished and its functions distributed among the newly-formed Departments of Water, Public Property, Streets, and Commerce.

Archival Records
85.1 Annual Reports (1890, 1913-1923)

85.2 Improvement Program. Annual Reports (1947, 1949-1951)

85.3 Correspondence (1887-1923; missing 1908-1912, 1914-1919)

85.4 Information Reports (1913-1916)

85.5 Report on Flood Control, Frankford Creek (October 1947)

85.6 South Philadelphia Railroad Track Elevation. Papers (1917-1929)

85.7 Agreements (1920-1921, 1925, 1929)


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Last updated on November 8, 2000