Reading was named in honor of its planners' (Richard and Thomas Penn, sons of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania) hometown, Reading, in Berkshire, England. The town eventually became associated with the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad (P&R). Long before the dawn of the railroad era, Reading boasted an important iron industry, one whose output actually exceeded England's by the time of the American Revolution. Reading saw continuous industrial growth until the 1930s, when its population reached nearly 120,000. At one point, the area was the largest manufacturer of full-fashioned hosiery in the world. From the 1940s to the 1970s, however, the area experienced a sharp downturn in prosperity largely because of the decline of heavy industry and railroads (on which its economy had been built), and a general flight to the suburbs.
Today, the MSA's economy is more diversified, with manufacturing, trade, transportation, education, and agriculture all playing important roles. Among the area's largest attractions is the VF Outlet Village just outside Reading city limits in the West Reading and Wyomissing boroughs. This retail outlet, which draws thousands of tourists every year, was redeveloped in the early 1970s from abandoned textile mills and was one of the first outlet malls in the United States.
Historical data for the Reading, PA MSA can be found at the following websites: