It’s hard to review the American Philosophical Society since they have no permanent displays – only temporary exhibits. But, no list of secret Philadelphia gems would be complete without mentioning it. Although it’s not exactly hidden (as it’s located adjacent to Independence Hall), few visitors actually venture inside. (Note: it is a small space, so it can still get crowded).
The American Philosophical Society is the oldest learned society in the United States. It was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin (who else!!??) for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge.” Just about every famous name of the colonial-era, and famous scientists since have been members of the organization. Ben Franklin was the first president. Thomas Jefferson was president for 17 years. Famous members include: Charles Darwin, Robert Frost, Louis Pasteur, John James Audubon, Margaret Mead, Thomas Edison and J. Robert Oppenheimer. It is still an active organization, supporting researchers in all fields of science.
The current museum building dates from 1783 and houses temporary exhibits. I’ve seen several exhibits over the years and they have all been filled with amazing primary source documents and artifacts. The current exhibit (through December 2018), “In Franklin’s Footsteps – 275 Years at the American Philosophical Society,” highlights the work done by APS members since its founding. Lots of photos below. I couldn’t narrow down the selection any further – there was just so much cool stuff!
These terrific illustrations by Arctic Explorer Elisha Kane:
This was probably the most disturbing item in the collection – a letter by Teddy Roosevelt supporting the Eugenics movement. I realize that this was a thing (and not just with the Nazis). But… “I agree… that society has no business to permit degenerates to reproduce their kind”????!!!! A bit ironic as Teddy was so sickly as a child that they didn’t think he would survive. I’ve always been a big Teddy fan, but this does tarnish his standing a bit.
Note: The museum has odd hours – they are only open Thursday-Sunday from mid-April through December.
Location: Old City
Field Trips: The museum offers low cost, guided tours of their current exhibitions. It’s a nice way for the kids to see an amazing collection of primary source documents and artifacts. We lucked out that they had a Thomas Jefferson exhibit on the year we studied early American History and were able to see Jefferson’s personal, hand written copy of the Declaration – complete with edits.