The American Philosophical Society (APS), founded in 1743 and located in Philadelphia, is an internationally reputed scholarly organization that promotes useful knowledge in the sciences and humanities through excellence in scholarly research, professional meetings, and publications. Considered the first learned society in the United States, it has played an important role in American cultural and intellectual life for over 270 years.
Philosophical Hall is now a museum and was the first home of the APS. It is located just east of Independence Hall in Independence National Historical Park and was designated a National Historic Site in 1965.
The Philosophical Society, as it was originally called, was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin, James Alexander (lawyer), Francis Hopkinson, John Bartram, Philip Syng, Jr. and others as an offshoot of an earlier club, the Junto. It was founded two years after the University of Pennsylvania, and it remains closely tied to the university.
Since its inception, the society attracted many great minds. Early members included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, David Rittenhouse, Nicholas Biddle, Benjamin Rush, James Madison, and John Marshall. The society also recruited members from other countries, including Alexander von Humboldt, the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, and Tadeusz Kościuszko.
By 1769, it united with the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge under the name American Philosophical Society. Benjamin Franklin was elected the first president.
After the American Revolution, Francis Hopkinson, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, led the society. Under his influence, the society received land from the government of Pennsylvania, along with a plot of land in Philadelphia where Philosophical Hall was built.
Illustrious names have joined the society throughout the years. They include Charles Darwin, Robert Frost, Louis Pasteur, John James Audubon, Margaret Mead, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison. The society continues to attract well-known names today, with a current membership list of 920 members.
While there are many buildings associated with the American Philosophical Society, Philosophical Hall, located immediately south of Old City Hall in Philadelphia, is the most famous. It was completed in 1789 to house the society and was designed by Samuel Vaughan in the Federal style. A third floor was added in 1890, to accommodate the expanding library, but was removed in 1948–50 when the building was restored to its original layout for the creation of Independence National Historical Park. In 2001, it was opened to the public as The American Philosophical Society Museum, hosting revolving, thematic exhibitions that explore the intersections of history, art, and science. The museum features works of art, scientific instruments, original manuscripts, rare books, and curiosities of all kinds from the APS's own collections. It also showcases objects on loan from other institutions.
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