Wagner Free Institute of Science

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William Wagner was a gentleman scientist and avid collector of natural history specimens. After retiring from business as a merchant in 1840, he devoted himself to science. Believing that education in the sciences should be available to everyone, Wagner began offering free lectures on science at his home, Elm Grove, in 1847. Finding that interest in these lectures was strong, in 1855 Wagner founded the Wagner Free Institute of Science and moved the lectures to Spring Garden Hall. In 1859 construction began on a permanent home for his collections and his educational program, which opened to the public in 1865.

From the guide to the William Wagner lectures, 1815-1905, (Wagner Free Institute of Science)

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, and is the oldest program of that kind in the United States. 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.

“The Institute aims to dispense a liberal education, making instruction in the Natural Sciences a distinguishing feature, but endeavoring, as far as possible, to embrace various branches of Literature and the Arts” (Purposes of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, Memorandum, 1885). The Institute was designed to be a comprehensive Technical College for scientific education. Additionally, there were educational programs and lectures open to the public for adults, as well as ones intended for children.

William Wagner and his wife, Louisa owned a considerable amount of land surrounding the Institute. In 1873, the lots were subdivided and twenty four houses were built, at Wagner's own expense as an endowment to the Institute: five on the south side of Montgomery Avenue, eight on the west side of Willington Street and eleven on the east side of 17th Street. These houses were rented for use as private residences or for commercial uses such as shops or factories. The rent was a primary means of revenue for the Institute for incorporation.

After Wagner’s death, the Institute superintendent Mr. Rothermel assumed the role of landlord as part of his duties of overseeing Institute business. Ultimately the properties were sold. Other investment vehicles included purchasing mortgages, government Liberty Bonds, and individual stocks, as demonstrated in series two, five and six of this collection.

Following the death of William Wagner, the Institute operated legally under the aegis of “The Estate of William Wagner, Deceased” from 1885 until approximately 1924. According to the Institute’s Quarterly Reports, which summarize its financial status, the Trustees for the Estate and the Institute petitioned the Orphan’s Court of Pennsylvania in 1924 to dissolve the estate in order to streamline operations. These reports can be found in series two of this collection.

Bibliography:

Unpublished, Purposes of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, Memorandum, 1885.

From the guide to the Wagner Free Institute of Science Director's files and business records, Bulk, 1885-1924, 1858-1938, (Wagner Free Institute of Science)

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).

Bibliography:

“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)

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.

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 1840, 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 scientific institutes of the continent. 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 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.

The Annual Announcement was published every August from 1855 to 1927 and then from 1959 until the present. From 1927 to 1958, the Annual Announcement was issued each year as no. 3 of the Bulletin of the Wagner Free Institute of Science. The Annual Announcement is still being published and has been changed little through the years.

Bibliography: “The First 150 Years: A Brief History,” author unknown, circa 2008. National Register of Historic Places Form, 1989.

From the guide to the Annual Announcement of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1855-1927, 1959-2009, (Wagner Free Institute of Science)

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).

Following the death of William Wagner, the Board of Directors of the Wagner Free Institute of Science shaped and oversaw the daily running of the Institute’s educational, library and museum activities. This changed in the early 1900s when a Superintendent (title later changed to Director) was hired to oversee the daily running of the Institute. The Superintendent/Director reported to the Board of Trustees and that body made decisions about the Institute’s financial expenditures, policies and programs. 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, 1980 to 1988; Roger Montgomery, Director from 1988 to 1992; and Susan Glassman, Director from 1993. These directors oversaw “a leading force in public education in Philadelphia,” (The First 150 Years, page 2) originally conceived, organized and run by William Wagner.

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 Philadelphia 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 Heilprin, 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. The Museum'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 of Philadelphia. In 1901, a new wing was built that housed the Free Library branch until the Columbia Avenue branch opened in 1962.

According to the National Register of 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).

Bibliography:

“The First 150 Years: A Brief History,” author unknown, circa 2008.

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1989.

From the guide to the Wagner Free Institute of Science Superintendent's and Director's reports, 1903-1988, (Wagner Free Institute of Science)

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.

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 1840, 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 scientific institutes of the continent. 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 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.

The Bulletin was published from 1926 until 1958. Volumes 1 to 4 are bi-monthly and Volumes 5 to 33 are quarterly. The first issue begins, "With this issue, the Wagner Free Institute of Science of Philadelphia begins the publication of a Bulletin announcing the results of scientific investigations under its auspices and reports of educational work." Included in the collection is a note, attached to Volume 33 which describes the discontinuation of the publication. It states, "We regret to advise that the publication of the Bulletin of the Wagner Free Institute of Science will be discontinued as of December 31, 1958. The last number to be published will be Volume 33, Number 4, November 1958."

Bibliography:

“The First 150 Years: A Brief History,” author unknown, circa 2008.

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1989.

From the guide to the Bulletin of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1926-1958, (Wagner Free Institute of Science)

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).

Following the death of William Wagner, the Board of Directors of the Wagner Free Institute of Science shaped and oversaw the daily running of the Institute’s educational, library and museum activities. This changed in the early 1900s when a Superintendent (title later changed to Director) was hired to oversee the daily running fo the Institute. The Superintendent/Director reported to the Board of Trustees and that body made decisions about the Institute’s financial expenditures, policies and programs. 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; and John Graham, Director, 1980 to 1988. These directors oversaw “a leading force in public education in Philadelphia,” (The First 150 Years, page 2) originally conceived, organized and run by William Wagner.

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 Philadelphia 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 Heilprin, Joseph Willcox and Henry Leffmann for his faculty,” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 5). He also 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. The Museum'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 became Branch No. 1 of the Free Library of Philadelphia. In 1901, a new wing was built and housed the library collections until the Columbia Avenue branch opened in 1962.

According to the National Register of 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).

Bibliography:

“The First 150 Years: A Brief History,” author unknown, circa 2008.

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1989.

From the guide to the Wagner Free Institute of Science Director's files, 1883-1948, (Wagner Free Institute of Science)

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).

Before the Institute even existed, William Wagner gave free lectures to the public in his home. After the Institute was created in 1855, the lectures continued and “covered topics such as geology, physiology, botany, chemistry, engineering, paleontology, and astronomy as well as the courses taught routinely by Wagner himself: mineralogy and conchology. All were taught by scientists and scholars gathered from prominent schools and institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton.” (NRHP Registration, Section 8, page 3). Later, the annual lecture season culminated with the “Closing Exercises,” during which a lecture was given and certificates of studies were awarded. 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 Heilprin, 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. The Museum'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 wing was built on the west side of the Institute and 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). Bibliography:

“The First 150 Years: A Brief History,” author unknown, circa 2008.

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1989.

From the guide to the Wagner Free Institute of Science Closing Exercises of the Lecture Season announcements and programs, 1921-1989, (Wagner Free Institute of Science)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Smithsonian Archives. Ru 52: Assistant Secretary, Incoming Correspondenc.
creatorOf William Wagner lectures, 1815-1905 Wagner Free Institute of Science
referencedIn History of the Wagner Free Institute of Science and its contributions to education, 1941, 1941 American Philosophical Society
creatorOf Wagner Free Institute of Science Director's files, 1883-1948 Wagner Free Institute of Science
referencedIn President's Office and Administrative Records, 1874-2003, Bulk, 1939-1993, 1874-2003 Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia
referencedIn Wagner Free Institute of Science Actuary and Librarian records, 1883-1901 Wagner Free Institute of Science
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1865-1891 Smithsonian Institution Archives
creatorOf Wagner Free Institute of Science Director's files and business records, Bulk, 1885-1924, 1858-1938 Wagner Free Institute of Science
creatorOf 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
creatorOf [Wagner Free Institute of Science. : Pamphlet box.] HCL Technical Services, Harvard College Library
creatorOf Wagner Free Institute of Science. [Minor publications]. Yale University Library
creatorOf Wagner Free Institute of Science Closing Exercises of the Lecture Season announcements and programs, 1921-1989 Wagner Free Institute of Science
referencedIn Smithsonian Institution. Office of the Secretary. Correspondence, 1863-1879 Smithsonian Institution Archives
creatorOf Annual Announcement of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1855-1927, 1959-2009 Wagner Free Institute of Science
creatorOf Bulletin of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, 1926-1958 Wagner Free Institute of Science
referencedIn Accademia delle scienze di Torino. Correspondence, 1824-1912, with Philadelphia institutions. American Philosophical Society Library
creatorOf Wagner Free Institute of Science Superintendent's and Director's reports, 1903-1988 Wagner Free Institute of Science
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Academy and Charitable School of Philadelphia in the Province of Pennsylvania. corporateBody
associatedWith Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. corporateBody
associatedWith Accademia delle scienze di Torino. corporateBody
associatedWith Boyer, Carl person
associatedWith Boyer, Carl person
associatedWith Boyer, Carl person
associatedWith Chambers, Robert person
associatedWith Dall, William Healey, 1845-1927 person
associatedWith Flugel, Felix person
associatedWith Free Library of Philadelphia. corporateBody
associatedWith Garman, Emma E. person
associatedWith Girard Life Insurance, Annuity, and Trust Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Girard, Stephen, 1750-1831 person
associatedWith Graham, John person
associatedWith Heilprin, Angelo, 1853-1907 person
correspondedWith Henry, Joseph, 1797-1878 person
associatedWith Leffmamn, Henry, 1847-1930 person
associatedWith Leidy, Joseph, 1823-189 person
associatedWith Lennoxville Steam and Saw Mill. corporateBody
associatedWith Montgomery, Thomas Lynch, 1862- person
correspondedWith Queen, James W. person
associatedWith Rothermel, John person
associatedWith Rothermel, John person
associatedWith Rothermel, John person
associatedWith Rothermel, John person
associatedWith Skidmore, Sydney Tuthill, 1844-1928 person
correspondedWith Smithsonian Institution corporateBody
associatedWith Snowden & Wagner. corporateBody
associatedWith Wagner, Caroline Moore Say person
associatedWith Wagner, Louisa Binney, 1814-1898 person
associatedWith Wagner, Samuel, 1842-1937 person
correspondedWith Wagner, William person
associatedWith Wagner, William, 1796-1885 person
associatedWith Westbrook, Richard B., (Richard Brodhead) person
associatedWith Willcox, Joseph person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Europe
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Philadelphia (Pa.)
Subject
Science and technology libraries
Metallurgy
Mollusks
Mineralogy
Ships--Cargo
Paleontology
Smithsonian Exchange
Natural history libraries
Urban development
Libraries
Lectures and lecturing
Education
Richard Westbrook lectures of the Wagner Free Institute of Science
Scientific organizations
Geology
Commencement ceremonies
Natural history museums
Shipping
Science--Study and teaching
Occupation
Activity

Corporate Body

Active

Information

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Ark ID: w6g222qv

SNAC ID: 75268195