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At different times throughout its history, Pennsylvania has been the nation's principal producer of ships, iron, chemicals, lumber, oil, textiles, glass, coal, and steel. Although it is still a major manufacturing center, Pennsylvania's industrial leadership has diminished steadily during this century.

The first major industry in colonial Pennsylvania was shipbuilding, centered in Philadelphia. Iron works, brick kilns, candle factories, and other small crafts industries also grew up around the city. By 1850, Philadelphia alone accounted for nearly half of Pennsylvania's manufacturing output, with an array of products including flour, preserved meats, sugar, textiles, shoes, furniture, iron, locomotives, pharmaceuticals, and books. The exploitation of the state's coal and oil resources and the discovery of new steel-making processes helped build Pittsburgh into a major industrial center.

From 1977 to 1991, the value of shipments of manufactured goods grew from $79.8 billion to $134 billion. In 1997, the value of shipments for manufactured goods was $177 billion. In 1997, Pennsylvania was headquarters for 32 Fortune 500 companies.

Earnings of persons employed in Pennsylvania increased from $214.2 billion in 1997 to $226.7 billion in 1998, an increase of 5.9%. The largest industries in 1998 were services, 30.0% of earnings; durable goods manufacturing, 12.2%; and state and local government, 9.7%. Of the industries that accounted for at least 5% of earnings in 1998, the slowest growing from 1997 to 1998 was state and local government, which increased 2.8%; the fastest was services, which increased 7.0%.