Bethlehem is a city in Lehigh and Northampton counties in the Lehigh Valley region of the eastern portion of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 74,982, making it the seventh largest city in Pennsylvania, after Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Reading, and Scranton. Of this, 55,639 were in Northampton County, and 19,343 were in Lehigh County.
Bethlehem lies in the center of the Lehigh Valley, a region of 731 square miles (1,893 km²) that is home to more than 800,000 people. Together with Allentown and Easton, the Valley embraces the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metropolitan area, including Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon counties within Pennsylvania, and Warren County in the adjacent state of New Jersey. Smaller than Allentown but larger than Easton, Bethlehem is the Lehigh Valley's second most populous city. In turn, this metropolitan area comprises Pennsylvania's third-largest metropolitan area and the state's largest and most populous contribution to the greater New York City metropolitan area.
There are four general sections of the city: central Bethlehem, the south side, the east side, and the west side. Each of these sections blossomed at different times in the city's development and each contains areas recognized under the National Register of Historic Places. Zip codes that use the address Bethlehem totaled 116,000 in population in the year 2000. These zip codes include Bethlehem Township and Hanover Township.
In July 2006, Money magazine placed Bethlehem as number 88 on its "Top 100 Best Places to Live."
The areas along the Delaware River and its tributaries in eastern Pennsylvania were long inhabited by indigenous peoples of various cultures. By the time of European contact, these areas were the historic territory of the Algonquian-speaking Lenape Nation, which had three main divisions, the Unami, Unalachtigo, and Munsee. They traded with the Dutch and then English colonists in the mid-Atlantic area.
On Christmas Eve in 1741, David Nitschmann and Count Nicolaus von Zinzendorf, leading a small group of Moravians, founded the mission community of Bethlehem along the banks of the Monocacy Creek by the Lehigh River in the colony of Pennsylvania. They came to set up missionary communities among the Native Americans and unchurched German-speaking Christians. They named the settlement after the Biblical town Bethlehem of Judea, the birthplace of Jesus. "Count Zinzendorf said, 'Brothers, how more fittingly could we call our new home than to name it in honor of the spot where the event we now commemorate took place. We will call this place Bethlehem.' And so was Bethlehem named after the birthplace of the Man of Peace.'" (from a letter by Gordon Dent to Mr. T. Donald Bain March 3, 1965 quoting from "Story of Bethlehem Steel" by Arundel Cotter, more details are given in this article) Originally it was a typical Moravian Settlement Congregation, where the Church owned all the property. Until the 1850s, only members of the Moravian Church were permitted to lease land plots in Bethlehem. The historic Brethren's House, Sisters' House, Widows' House and Gemeinhaus (Congregation House) with the Old Chapel are remnants of this period of communal living.
The Moravians ministered to regional Lenape Native Americans through their mission in the area, as well as further east in the New York colony. In the historic Bethlehem God's Acre cemetery, converted Lenape lie buried alongside the Moravians.
In 1762, Bethlehem built the first water-works in America to pump water for public use. While George Washington and his troops stayed in Valley Forge, Washington stored his personal effects at the farm of James Burnside in Bethlehem – a historical museum (Burnside Plantation).
The prosperous village was incorporated into a free borough in the County of Northampton in 1845. After the Unity Synod of 1848, Bethlehem became the headquarters of the Northern Province of the Moravian Church in North America.
After the Civil War the Borough of South Bethlehem was formed. In 1886 the Borough of West Bethlehem (in Lehigh County) was formed. In 1904, the Boroughs of West Bethlehem (in Lehigh County) and Bethlehem (in Northampton County) merged. In 1917, the Borough of South Bethlehem and Bethlehem merged to become the City of Bethlehem, with Archibald Johnston (1865-1948) selected as the new city's first mayor. Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania has remained a separate political entity. Even after the merger of the two boroughs, the bureau initially provided a count for the original sections.
Bethlehem became a center of heavy industry and trade during the industrial revolution. The Bethlehem Steel Corporation (1857–2003), founded and based in Bethlehem, was once the second-largest steel producer in the United States, after Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based U.S. Steel. Bethlehem Steel was also one of the largest shipbuilding companies in the world and one of the most powerful symbols of American industrial manufacturing leadership.
Bethlehem Steel began producing the first wide-flange structural shapes made in the United States and they pioneered the production of the now-ubiquitous "I-beam" used in construction of steel-framed buildings, including skyscrapers. It manufactured construction materials for numerous New York and other city skyscrapers, as well as for major bridges.
The company became a major supplier of armor plate and ordnance products during World War I and World War II, including the manufacture of 1,100 warships. After roughly 140 years of metal production at its Bethlehem plant, Bethlehem Steel ceased operations there in 1995, in the face of overseas competition and declining demand.
On December 7, 1937, at a grand ceremony during the Great Depression, Mrs. Marion Brown Grace pulled a large switch to turn on the new Christmas street lights and a large wooden star. Mrs. Grace was the daughter of former South Bethlehem burgess, Charles F. Brown, and wife of Eugene Grace, President of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. Hundreds of citizens attended the ceremony and thousands more listened to the speeches and musical performances on the radio. This was the first year the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce adopted the nickname "Christmas City, USA".
The Hotel Bethlehem was chosen for the ceremony because it was built on the site of the first building in Bethlehem – a two-room log house – where on Christmas Eve 1741, the original settlers conducted their evening worship. As their benefactor, Count Zinzendorf, observed the farm animals that shared the space and listened to them sing the hymn, "Not Jerusalem, But Lowly Bethlehem", he proclaimed the name of the settlement to be Bethlehem. The people gathered at the 1937 ceremony heard the same words when the Bach Choir sang the old German hymn, "Jesu, Rufe Mich (Jesus, Call Thou Me)", by Adam Drese.
The Bethlehem Globe-Times paid for the large wooden star erected on the top of South Mountain, at a cost of $460. The original star was created with four wooden planks, overlapped to create an eight-point star, 60 feet high by 51 feet wide, mounted on two wooden poles, and lit by 150 50-watt light bulbs. The installation of the star was done by Pennsylvania Power and Light and the Bethlehem Water Department. The star was erected on the top of South Mountain, on property owned by the Water Department, located in Lower Saucon Township.
In 1939, the wooden star was replaced with a star made of Bethlehem steel, at a cost of $5,000. It had eight rays, with the main horizontal ray 81 feet wide and the main vertical ray 53 feet high. In 1967, the current star, 91 feet high, was installed on the old steel frame and set in a concrete base 25 feet wide by 5 feet deep. Plexiglas was installed to protect the 250 50-watt light bulbs. In the summer of 2006, the city repaired the base. A crew of municipal electricians changes the bulbs every two years. Beginning in the mid-1990s, the star was lit from 4:30 p.m. until midnight, every day of the year.
During World War II, from 1941 to 1945, none of the Christmas decorations in Bethlehem were lit. City officials said the lit star made "too good of an air raid target" and "during the global strife it didn't seem right for the lights to be all lit up when our boys were out in the darkness fighting for us". When lit, the star can be seen from as far as Wind Gap, away. The star has become an important symbol for Bethlehem.