History of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
In the mid-eighteenth century Moravians founded two towns along the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania. The first they named Nazareth, after the town where Jesus grew up. The second they called Bethlehem, after the town in which Jesus was born.
In 1741 Count Zinzendorf visited the settlement of Bethlehem and spent Christmas there. His approval of the colonists’proposal to name the town Bethlehem finalized their decision. On Christmas Eve he led the community in singing a German hymn which, in his eyes, helped to explain why the colonists had made a wise choice in naming the new town. The first verse of the hymn reminds listeners that:
‘Twas that gave us Christ to save us,
Bethlehem’s Moravian congregations still sing this hymn every Christmas Eve.
In the early days, Bethlehem was a closed community meaning that only Moravians could live there. This policy changed in 1845. In the late nineteenth century iron mines and foundries emerged as important businesses in the Lehigh Valley. In 1899, Bethlehem Steel, a giant of America’s steel industry, was founded in the town of Bethlehem. Bethlehem Steel flourished throughout most of the twentieth century, drawing many immigrants from various ethnic groups to the area. Competition from cheaply produced foreign steel began to affect the steel industry in the 1970s. This challenge finally resulted in Bethlehem Steel closing its doors in 1995.