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History of Eastern State

History of Eastern State

When Eastern State opened more than 180 years ago, it changed the world. Known for its grand architecture and strict discipline, this was the world’s first true “penitentiary,” a prison designed to inspire penitence, or true regret, in the hearts of prisoners. The building itself was an architectural wonder; it had running water and central heat before the White House, and attracted visitors from around the globe.

Use the resources below for more information about the history of Eastern State Penitentiary.


  • Timeline

    Notable events from 1776 to today

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  • Notable Inmates

    These vaulted, sky-lit cells once held many of America’s most notorious criminals, including bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al "Scarface" Capone.

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  • Biographies

    A 5-page history and a 571-page history, available for free download.

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