American Philosophical Society — Library & Museum

Philadelphia
PA

Philosophical Hall in Philadelphia

QUICK FACTS
  • In 1766 Benjamin Franklin is elected the first president of the American Philosophical Society, serving until his death in 1790.
  • Astronomer and mathematician David Rittenhouse, who had been vice president of the Society, serves as its next president (1791 - 96) until his death.
  • In 1794 Philosophical Hall temporarily becomes home to the Philadelphia Museum, Charles Willson Peale’s museum of natural history and important personages, until 1802.
  • Thomas Jefferson is elected as the Society’s third president (1797 - 1815), serving while he is simultaneously Vice President (1797 - 1801) and third President (1801 - 09) of the United States.
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Founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin and John Bartram to promote Useful Knowledge, the Society was the first of its kind in America, and it quickly gained an international reputation, which it continues to have today.

Philosophical Hall, built in the Federal style to house the Society in 1789, is now the home of the American Philosophical Society Museum. Adjacent to Independence Hall, it features special exhibits of art, scientific instruments, rare books, original manuscripts, natural history specimens, and curiosities.

Across the street is the Library, which contains 350,000 volumes and bound periodicals, eleven million manuscripts, 250,000 images, and thousands of hours of audio tape related to the history of science, medicine, and technology. Rotating exhibits in the entrance highlight the Library’s rich collections.

[Major General Henry] Knox proudly stepped aside on Tuesday, October 9 [1781] to allow Washington the honor of igniting the bore hole of a heavy siege gun and ceremoniously discharging the first shot from the American battery at Yorktown. The shell was clearly visible as it streaked across the sky and land with precision within the British compound, setting off cheers throughout the American ranks. The Continental artillery corps then continued an uninterrupted stream of fire that produced a relentless, unnerving, and deafening roar. Cornwallis would later recall: The fire continued incessant from heavy cannon, and from mortars and howitzers throwing shells from 8 to 16 inches, until all our guns on the left were silenced, our work much damaged, and our loss of men considerable

Mark Puls
Henry Knox: Visionary General of the American Revolution (2008)