Chambers, RobertVariant names
Epithet: of Stowe MS 636
British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001196.0x0002fc
Epithet: of the British Museum
British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000000560.0x000386
Epithet: late Tide- surveyor of Great Yarmouth
British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001196.0x0002f9
Incorporated by William Wagner (1796-1885) in 1855, the Wagner Free Institute of Science is a natural history museum and educational institution in Philadelphia that is dedicated to providing free public education in the sciences. Indeed, “its free public education courses on science … are the oldest program devoted to free adult education in the United States.” (The First 150 Years, page 1).
Robert Chamber served as the Director of the Wagner Free Institute of Science from 1946 to 1980. During his tenure, he collected and assembled a collection of material regarding William Wagner and the Wagner Free Institute of Science.
William Wagner, “a noted Philadelphia merchant, philanthropist, gentleman scientist, and lifelong collector of natural history specimens,” (The First 150 Years, p. 1) was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the Academy, which later became the University of Pennsylvania, in 1808. He started his career in an apprenticeship in the counting house of Stephen Girard, a Philadelphia financier. As time passed, Wagner’s duties progressed until he was “assigned the position of supercargo and sent overseas to look after Girard’s shipping interests,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 2). He continued working for Girard for seven years, learning from him about both business and philanthropy. Wagner then formed two businesses: a mercantile partnership with Captain Snowden creating his business Snowden & Wagner which existed from 1819 to 1825; and the Lennoxville Steam Saw Mill which existed from 1925 to 1828. By 1940, Wagner “retired from his commercial pursuits,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 2).
Until this time, Wagner’s travels provided him with opportunities to collect specimens and in 1841 and 1842, he travelled to Europe with his wife. During this trip, Wagner continued to collect specimens and visited “principal scientific institutes of the Continent,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 2). Upon his return to Philadelphia, the size of his specimen collection necessitated the building of a wing which he called “The Cabinet” at his home, Elm Grove. In 1847, “believing strongly that education in the sciences should be available to everyone, Wagner began offering free lectures on science at his home,” (The First 150 Years, page 1) using his extensive collection of natural history specimens. By 1855, his home no longer accommodated the number of people interested in his lectures, and he moved the lectures to the Municipal Hall at 13th and Spring Garden Streets and formally established the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Its “program [was] codified in a charter drafted by Wagner, himself,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 2) on May 21, 1855. The existing building which houses the Wagner Free Institute of Science was opened in 1865 and includes an exhibit gallery, classrooms, a library and a lecture hall.
Although, he served as President of the Wagner Free Institute of Science until his death in 1885, he prepared for the future of his Institute and, in 1864, decided to leave his “estate to the charge of a Board of Trustees who would continue to run the institution according to [Wagner’s] original goals,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, pages 3-4). After his death, the Board of Directors appointed Joseph Leidy as director of the academic programs of the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Leidy was “a biologist of international reputation,” (The First 150 Years, page 2) and was serving as Professor of Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania and President of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. Leidy, who served until his death in 1891, “expanded the programs at the Institute to include a more significant and extensive course of scholarly research,” obtained “some of the most noted scientists and explorers of the age, including Angelo Heilpern, Joseph Willcox and Henry Leffmann for his faculty,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 5), founded, with member of the Board Sydney Skidmore, the Society for the Extension of University Teaching on November 5, 1890; and reorganized the Wagner Free Institute of Science’s Natural History Museum into a systematic display. Leidy’s arrangement remains virtually unaltered to this day.
In 1892, Samuel Wagner, along with several other Philadelphians “appl[ied] for a charter to form the Free Library of Philadelphia,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 6) and The Wagner Free Institute became Branch No. 1 of the Free Library. In 1901, a new wing was built and that housed the Free Library branch until the Columbia Avenue branch opened in 1962.
Samuel Wagner served as President of the Board of Trustees of the Wagner Free Institute from 1885 to 1921 and as President Emeritus from 1921 to 1937. Other administrators of the Wagner include: Thomas Lynch Montgomery, Actuary and Librarian from 1886 to 1903; John Rothermel, Superintendent from 1903 to 1913 and Director from 1914 to 1924; Carl Boyer, Curator from 1924 to 1928 and Director from 1928 to 1945; Robert Chambers, Director from 1945 to 1980; John Graham, Director from 1980 to 1988; Roger Montgomery, Director from 1988 to 1992; and Susan Glassman, Director from 1993.
According to the National Register for Historic Places Registration Form, the Wagner Free Institute of Science is “a nationally significant monument documenting the development of science, education and museums,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 2).
“The First 150 Years: A Brief History,” author unknown, circa 2008.
National Register of Historic Places Form, 1989.
From the guide to the Robert Chambers collection on William Wagner and the history of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, Bulk, 1820-1910, 1798-1980, (Wagner Free Institute of Science)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Belle Île, Morbihan|
|Great Yarmouth, Norfolk|