Held at: Wagner Free Institute of Science [Contact Us]1700 W. Montgomery Ave., Philadelphia, PA, 19121
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
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.
“The First 150 Years: A Brief History,” author unknown, circa 2008.
National Register of Historic Places Form, 1989.
The Annual Announcement of the Wagner Free Institute of Science collection contains copies of this publication from 1855 to 1927, 1959-2009. The collection is arranged chronologically.
The Annual Announcement generally includes a list of the trustees and faculty, the history of the Institute, a description of the types of instruction and facilities used for instruction, a description of the various lecture series and courses for children and adults including the Westbrook lecture series, the University Extension lectures, and various special lectures, research conducted by Institute faculty, certificates awarded, publications of the Institute, and the listing and schedule of the lectures and courses offered for the year. Earlier Announcements included the 1855 Act of Incorporation, the 1864 Supplementary Act of Incorporation, and the 1864 Deed of Trust of William Wagner and Wife to the Wagner Free Institute of Science. Also included in early Announcements was a List of Text-Books and Works of Reference. Many issues include photographs of the Institute.
Bound copies are complete from 1911 to 1927, and from 1959 to 1975 at 506.1/An78w
In the archival copies, 93-006, Announcements are incomplete from 1855 to 1911. The early Announcements were transferred from the Institute’s Scrapbooks, 89-040.
The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
- Wagner Free Institute of Science
- Finding Aid Date
- The creation of the electronic guide for this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project. Finding aid entered into the Archivists' Toolkit by Garrett Boos.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Wagner Free Institute of Science with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.