A Catalogue of Instruments and Models in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society

By Robert P. Multhauf | Go to book overview

The American Philosophical Society

Although the English colonists participated, as extensively as distance permitted, in the Royal Society of London, attempts were made as early as 1683 to establish a philosophical society in America. But nothing was accomplished through the first quarter of the eighteenth century save the organization of medical societies in the larger towns. The organization of the Library Company in Philadelphia ( 1731) provided something of the sort, and nearly from the first the Library Company had some of the aspects of a museum, as it undertook to collect not only specimens from natural history and ethnology, but even scientific instruments. It will be recalled that the glass rod for electrical experiments which was used by Franklin and the other early Philadelphia electricians was presented by Peter Collinson to the Library Company. On the whole, however, the Library Company seems to have stimulated rather than satisfied the demand for a philosophical society, and in 1743 a proposal for the establishment of an "American Philosophical Society," by Benjamin Franklin and John Bartram, led to the organization of a society whose effective existence lasted little beyond a year. Its prospectus was directed particularly to those fields which might be expected to generate museum collections, natural history and the promotion of the useful arts, but its imperfect organization and early decline were not conducive to any such consequence at this time.

The idea of a society particularly directed towards the promotion of the arts was also present in America in the mid-eighteenth century. The early books of the Royal Society of Arts contain copies of letters from the ubiquitous Franklin, suggesting the formation of a similar society in America, and he was a corresponding member of the English society in 1756. The practical establishment of this type of society on this continent seems, howver, to have been brought about by the inconvenience occasioned to colonial commerce by the English acts restricting trade. In 1764 a society was founded in New York on the pattern of the

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1
See Edwin G. Conklin, A brief history of the American Philosophical Society, Year Book Amer. Philos. Soc. for 1946- 1959, and Brooke Hindle, The pursuit of science in revolutionary America, 1735- 1789, Chapel Hill, N. C., 1956. I am especially indebted to the latter.

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A Catalogue of Instruments and Models in the Possession of the American Philosophical Society
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations xi
  • Early Museums of Instruments and Models 1
  • The American Philosophical Society 4
  • I - Apparatus for Astronomy, Geodesy, And Surveying. 8
  • II - Electrical Apparatus 16
  • III - Geographical Apparatus and Models 21
  • IV - Meteorological Apparatus 24
  • V - Apparatus for Physical Science and Medicine 26
  • VI - Mathematical Instruments and Models 34
  • VII - Mechanical Models 36
  • VIII - Agricultural Machinery 42
  • IX - Ship Models and Nautical Instruments 44
  • X - Timekeeping 49
  • XI - Heating Appliances 54
  • XII - Apparatus for the Graphic Arts 60
  • List of Specimens by Catalogue Number 63
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