City of Bethlehem

History of Bethlehem

Since 1741, Bethlehem has beckoned travelers to experience the warmth and hospitality of this delightful community.

In that year, a small group of Moravians settled on the banks of the Lehigh River near the Monocacy Creek. They represented what is now recognized as the oldest organized Protestant denomination in the world, the Unitas Fratrum, or Unity of the Brethren, founded in 1457 by followers of John Hus, a Roman Catholic priest who had tried to reform the Catholic Church. Hus was burned at the stake for his beliefs a full 100 years before Martin Luther's Reformation. His followers called themselves Moravians because many of the original founders came from the provinces of Moravia and Bohemia in central Europe, in what is now the Czech Republic.

On Christmas Eve of that first year, 1741, the Moravians' patron, Count Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf of Saxony, Germany, visited the new settlement. In their two-room log home that housed both man and beast, the Count christened the community "Bethlehem".

By 1747, thirty-six different trades and industries exported their wares from Bethlehem throughout the colonies. In the days of the Revolution, our nation's leaders, including George Washington, Samuel Adams and the Marquis de Lafayette, met, supped and slept here. By 1845, the more than 1,000 inhabitants voted to incorporate the village into a free borough in the County of Northampton. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, Bethlehem became a center of heavy industry and trade. The world headquarters of Bethlehem Steel Corporation remains here today.

In 1937, the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, mindful of Bethlehem's first Christmas in 1741, declared - "Why not make Bethlehem, named at Christmas, the Christmas City for the entire country." Thus, since 1937, Bethlehem of Pennsylvania has been known throughout the world as Christmas City USA.

From its humble beginnings as a Moravian settlement to its modern status as the heart of the thriving Lehigh Valley, Bethlehem has carefully preserved its past. It is a city of 71,000 that shines as brightly as its huge electrical star atop South Mountain. The Moravian influence remains strong, but many more traditions from many lands have joined in making the city a "melting pot" of cultures, blending one into the other.

Come and be touched by four seasons of history, music, education, festivals -- and A Very Special Christmas. Bethlehem is a travel destination with something to captivate everyone in the family.

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