“Free education to all!”
Museums are supposed to be a peek into the past, but at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, the history is more than just the stuff behind the glass-- walking into it is like stepping back in time, because the exhibits at the museum haven't changed in 125 years. It's an almost-perfect example of what a Victorian science/natural history museum looked like, and you can still experience it for yourself! The Philadelphia-based institute was founded by merchant/philanthropist/science enthusiast William Wagner. He started offering free, public lectures (which he allowed both men and women to attend!) at his home in the late 1840's, illustrated by items from his cabinet of curiosities. His lectures became so popular, however, that he was forced to build a larger lecture hall that could accomodate the audience. The Wagner Free Institute was built in 1865, and Wagner continued to offer lectures and classes and curate small exhibits until his death in 1885. The board then appointed renowned biologist Joseph Leidy as the new head of the museum, and he worked to greatly expand the museum portion of the institute, adding new exhibits and items to the collections. The museum’s permanent exhibit is a display of specimens arranged according to Darwin's theory of evolution. For reference, Darwin's book On The Origin of Species had only been published about 30 years earlier. The museum isn't just a display of skeletons and taxidermied animals, though. They still offer free science lectures and classes, which were wildly popular for people to attend during the Victorian era. Don't worry, the lectures are totally up-to-date and cover a huge range of topics; they even offer events for kids... in case you want to prove to them that people did actually have fun before the invention of TV. -Roadtrippers The Wagner Free Institute of Science is a natural history museum located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was founded in 1855 by William Wagner, a merchant, philanthropist, and gentleman scientist of the time, who sought to offer free educational courses to all who would seek to learn about the natural world. Wagner began offering free lectures on science at his home, Elm Grove, a colonial farm estate on the outskirts of Philadelphia in 1847. To illustrate the lectures he drew on a collection of specimens he had gathered since his boyhood. All of the classes were offered with an open admission policy that allowed women as well as men to attend. These lectures became so popular that by 1855 he moved them first to a public hall to accommodate the rapidly growing audience, and later to its permanent home designed by Philadelphia architect John McArthur, Jr., who would go on to design Philadelphia's City Hall. Second-floor Hall and galleries.Wagner continued to lecture and to lead the unique institution until his death in 1885. The Board of Trustees then appointed Joseph Leidy, a biologist of international reputation, to head its scientific and educational programs. Leidy's appointment ushered in an active and productive era in which the Institute's mission and programs were greatly expanded. Leidy's most lasting and significant contribution to the Institute was his reorganization of the Institute's museum. He greatly enlarged Wagner's original collection by further field collection, purchases and other acquisitions. Leidy personally developed and supervised their reorganization into a systematic display in which specimens and cases were arranged according to Darwin's theory of evolution, so that visitors moved from simpler to more complex organisms and through geologic time as they walked through the exhibition hall. This new display opened in 1891 and little has been altered since Leidy's time, making the Institute an exceptional example of a Victorian era science museum.
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Wagner Free Institute of Science
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