Townships are the oldest form of organized government in the United States, dating back to the 17th century. When the pilgrims first came to America from England, they brought the concept of township with them, and by order of the Mayflower Compact, townships became the first political subdivisions in the new world. William Penn began establishing townships in Pennsylvania as early as 1682, with about 10 families to each. But as the Industrial Revolution brought more and more development to the Commonwealth, the existence of many townships was jeopardized. As growth intensified around cities and boroughs, developed portions of adjacent townships were annexed into them. In 1899, the legislature attempted to remedy this problem by providing for two categories of township - first and second class. At that time, all townships with a population density greater than 300 people per square mile were designated as first class townships. This separate classification enabled townships to preserve their character and fiscal integrity, and it gave first class townships greater power when dealing with the impact of growth. It wasn't until the 1930s and 1940s that townships of the second class were granted greater powers in this regard. The 1899 legislation was later amended to allow for a transition from second to first class township status, and these transition requirements remain the same today. To become a first class township, townships of the second class must have a population density of 300 people per square mile and voters must approve the change of classification in a referendum.
However, many townships have chosen to remain second class townships even though they meet the population density requirements to become first class townships. The 1,457 townships of the second class are the most common form of government in the Commonwealth, representing more Pennsylvanians than any other form of government. Union Township operates as a second class Township Under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Second Class Township Code. In Townships of the second class, the governing body is typically composed of three supervisors who are elected at large. Two additional supervisors may be elected if approved by the voters in referendum, and all are elected for six-year terms.
Union Township, which incorporated in 1753, continues to have three elected supervisors. Unlike commissioners in first class townships, supervisors may be employed to work for the municipality. In first class townships, the governing body is made up of elected commissioners. Each township has either five commissioners elected at large or one commissioner per ward if the township is divided into wards. The commissioners have four-year overlapping terms and may not be employees of the township.
Many townships have a professional manager who is hired by the governing body. The manager is responsible for carrying out the policies and enforcing the ordinances of the governing body, relieving them of the day to day administration.