HSP, LCP Welcome 2017-18 Fellows

PHILADELPHIA, PA - HSP is proud to announce the incoming cohort of research fellows. Out of 139 applicants, three scholars were selected for HSP’s short-term Balch Fellowships in Ethnic Studies and Greenfield Fellowship in 20th-Century History. An additional 32 scholars were selected for short-term fellowships jointly sponsored by HSP and the Library Company of Philadelphia (LCP). 

Throughout the next 12 months, HSP and LCP will host several short presentations during which fellows discuss their research projects and solicit feedback and advice. Stay tuned for more information. 

Photography in Philly before the selfie

Every day 95 million new images enter Instagram’s torrent of selfies, camera-friendly cats, and food portraiture. This snapshot surge is not without precedent. Consider the story of the stereograph, America’s earliest mass-produced photograph craze.

First, some background.

Photography is a French invention, developed by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre and officially recognized in early 1839.

Newspaper features describing this new technology reached Philadelphia later that year. Many readers disbelieved such a process was possible.

U.S. Mint employee Joseph Saxton assuaged any doubts. With a cigar box, a burning glass lens, and a silver-coated metallic plate, the Philadelphian peered out of an upper window at the Mint and captured an image of two partially blurred buildings.

The result: The oldest extant photograph in North America.


Photograph of Philadelphia Central High School for Boys and Pennsylvania State Arsenal taken by Joseph Saxton, c. September 25, 1839. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Treasures Collection [HSP Treasures]

“Catching a shadow is a thing no more to be laughed at,” Godey’s Lady’s Book avowed in 1840.
Early “daguerreotypes” like Saxton’s were expensive and irreproducible. By midcentury, however, technical innovations removed these barriers to widespread popularity. A particular type of photograph soon emerged as the country’s most prevalent.

Also known as “doubleeyed” or “twin pictures,” stereographs feature two nearly identical images. An illusion of three-dimensionality is produced when a viewer peers through a special lens.


Stereograph of Logan Circle's Swann Fountain frozen over c. 1925. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania photograph collection [V59]

For a sense of the optical effect, think of your childhood View-Master and Tru-Vue.

“The mind feels its way into the very depths of the picture. The scraggy branches of a tree in the foreground run out at us as if they would scratch our eyes out,” remarked Oliver Wendell Holmes, inventor of an inexpensive viewer. “The first effect of looking at a good photograph through the stereoscope is a surprise such as no painting ever produced.”

Cheap to produce compared to their daguerreotype counterparts, stereographs allowed millions of Americans to imagine themselves investigating Mayan ruins in Honduras, observing Buddhist ceremonies in Japan, and exploring the tombs of Egypt.


A stereograph depicting the exterior of Oil City, Pa.'s Imperial Refinery engulfed in flame. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania photograph collection [V59]

The latest technological marvels and natural wonders — skyscrapers, railroads, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone — were also brought to life through the portal of a stereoscope.

Armchair explorers weren’t the only group to benefit from the technology. Stereographs offered a unique view for news junkies and captured events including the Civil and Spanish-American Wars, the Centennial Exhibition, and the Great Chicago Fire.


A stereograph of the hand and torch of the Statue of Liberty on display in Philadelphia at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania collection of Centennial Exhibition records [1544]

Befitting the technology’s origin in Britain, many credit Queen Victoria with internationalizing awareness of stereographs. The monarch found herself smitten after gazing through a stereoscope displayed at the 1851 Great Exhibition in London.

Photographers on both sides of the Atlantic, however, had been aware of the process prior to its royal endorsement.

Among those “light writers” working in Philadelphia’s dozen-plus photography studios, the city’s most prominent included a pair of German immigrants, William and Frederick Langenheim.


William and Frederick Langenheim, reprint of a photograph from the American Museum of Photography. From the Philadelphia Record photograph morgue (Collection V07)

The brothers had long established a reputation for artistry and promotional savvy. Operating out of their studio at the Mercantile Exchange along Third and Walnut Streets, they counted President John Tyler as a customer. So convinced of their skill, the Langenheims mailed their five-piece panorama of Niagara Falls to Daguerre himself.

Armed with a patent for producing paper photographs, the brothers founded the American Stereoscopic Co. and unveiled their “twin pictures” in 1850 — one year before Queen Victoria became enamored with the stereograph.

The images continued to pique the public’s interest for more than six decades.

The Langenheims were far from the only photography pioneers in the city. Robert Cornelius, a lamp-maker, snapped the first self-portrait, or selfie, in his family’s Philadelphia store.

This article originally appeared in the May 21, 2017 Philadelphia Inquirer as part of HSP's weekly series, Memory Stream.

In HSP’s library are two seminal works on stereographs by a 19th-century biologist-cum-photographer, William Culp Darrah of Reading, Pennsylvania: Stereo Views: A History of Stereographs in America and Their Collection (call number Dc.85605 D252S) and The World of Stereographs (call number REF TR 780.D35 1977).

Additional collections include the Weston and Mary Naef stereoview collection (#V47) and the Stuart B. Main stereoview collection (#V54).


Americans All! Teaching the First World War through American Immigrant Experience

On April 6, 1917, the United States joined its allies--Britain, France, and Russia--to fight in the “Great War,” or World War I. Under the command of Major General John J. Pershing, more than 2 million U.S. soldiers fought across the Western Front. These soldiers reflected the influx of immigrants to the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This arrival of immigrants combined with the “Great War” challenged the culture of the American military and forced it to reconsider its training methods and linguistic, cultural, and religious traditions.

Join HSP on May 24 as Dr. Nancy Gentile-Ford examines how the U.S. War Department drew on the experiences of progressive social welfare reformers & ethnic community leaders who assisted with training, socializing, and meeting the cultural and religious needs of immigrant soldiers. Her lecture, Americans All! Foreign Born Soldiers in the First World War, will also analyze why the U.S. War Department policies did not call for the harsh Americanization of foreign-born soldiers, but rather fostered an atmosphere that made both American and ethnic pride acceptable.

Often, we teach the First World War through military maneuvers, dates of battles, and key actors. This lecture is an opportunity to learn more about how the American immigrant population affected the U.S. military, bringing a new cultural perspective of WWI into your classroom. In addition to the lecture, HSP has an incredible collection of WWI primary sources based on the Philadelphia perspective of WWI. These resources can supplement lessons on WWI and the primary sources are all available on our digital library!

If you wish to check out these resources, or any of our other resources, visit the WWI Unit Plans on our website. If you wish to attend the Americans All! lecture, you will receive Act 48 credit as well as a free copy of our magazine Pennsylvania Legacies, featuring our WWI collections. The lecture is free, but you do need to register. We hope to see you there!



Philly's lasting pedal power

Philadelphia boasts more residents commuting by bicycle per capita than any of the 10 largest cities in the United States. As you affix your ankle reflectors for this year’s National Bike to Work Week (May 15-19), consider Philadelphia’s connections to the two-wheeler.

Taking a broad definition of the term, the first “bicycle” in Pennsylvania emerged in 1819 from the parts of a threshing machine. A Germantown blacksmith fashioned it at the behest of artist and antiquarian Charles Willson Peale.


Watercolor portrait of Captain C. W. Peale. From the David McNeely Stauffer collection on Westcott's History of Philadelphia [1095]

Technically a French-invented velocipede (Latin for “swift foot”), the 55-pound juggernaut lacked such luxuries as pedals and brakes. Riders would propel themselves with their feet on the ground, Flintstones-style.

At nearly 80 years old, Peale witnessed his children traveling – downhill, at least – “like the very devil,” with “a swiftness that dazzles the sight.”

The mechanical oddity – which Peale also put on display in his museum – initially captivated Philadelphians. This popular sentiment soon deflated.

The same year that Peale acquired his velocipede, the city issued its first citation for riding on the sidewalks, a spoke-stopping $3 fine.

The tenuous relationship among bicyclists, pedestrians, and other road users has been around since the very beginning.

Interest in the “wheel” briefly resurged with the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Among the varied exhibits was the British-designed “ordinary,” a bicycle with an extraordinarily large front wheel and a dinner-plate-sized rear wheel.

bike 1

Ca. 1885 photograph of bicyclists in front of Memorial Hall (built for the 1876 Centennial Exposition) in Fairmount Park. From the Boies Penrose pictorial Philadelphia collection [V60]

Even as these machines became more widely available, bicycling was not for the faint of heart. Riding demanded constant vigilance to avoid wagon wheel ruts, erratic ungulates, and edgy pedestrians crowding the primarily dirt and gravel roads.

“It is not always wise to dismount at once,” advised an 1888 Philadelphia Bicycle Club bulletin. “To dismount suddenly is more likely to frighten a horse than continuing to ride slowly by, speaking to the horse as you do. Foot passengers on the road should not be needlessly shouted at, but should always be given a good wide berth.”

Still good advice in 2017.

bike 3.PNG

From the Philadelphia Bicycle Club records [1357]

While the “ordinary” provided a much more controlled and enjoyable ride than its velocipede forebear, the machine remained extraordinarily unsafe due to the high center of gravity required of its riders. “Taking a header” by vaulting headfirst over the handlebars was a common accident befalling non-helmeted operators.

Philadelphia shifted into its first true bike boom in the 1890s after such innovations as chain-drive transmissions, pneumatic tires, and reduced height. These new “safety” machines resemble what we now recognize as the modern bicycle.

With a marked decrease in the chances of cracking one’s cranium and a smaller price tag, these “safeties” provided a variety of riders — professionals, laborers, men, women — with a democratic means of travel, recreation, and sport.

bike 2

Ca. 1920 studio portrait of newsboy for Atlantis, a daily Greek newspaper. From the Atlantis Newspaper [PG128]

For a sense of the bicycle’s popularity, consider that the Philadelphia Inquirer regularly published a series of routes, complete with a hand-drawn map and a coupon offering discounts on hotels and restaurants along the way. In the realm of competitive cycling, professionals competed for purses five times greater than the highest baseball player’s salary.

While the safety bicycle lived up to its name in many ways, the region’s dilapidated road network continued to pose great challenges to commuting bicyclists.

To smooth out the city’s rutted roads, the Associated Cycling Clubs of Philadelphia published “Improvement of City Streets” and “Highway Improvement” in support of bicycle-friendly infrastructure projects, including macadamized surfaces. Fairmount Park commissioners found on their desks petitions in favor of constructing bicycle paths as early as 1897.

The machine’s popularity waned in tandem with the growing affordability of the automobile in the years leading up to the Second World War. Many of the improved road surfaces that allowed for cars’ popularity, however, are traceable to the efforts of the city’s bicyclists.


Undated photograph of an unknown child on a tricycle. From the D. Sargent Bell Photograph Collection [V01]

During the environmental activism of the 1970s — marked by an increased concern over pollution produced by gas-guzzling four-wheelers — bicyclists formed what is now the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. The coalition campaigned for funding of bicycle infrastructure, sponsored citywide rides, and published the Commuters’ Bike Map for Philadelphia. The city’s first bike lanes appeared in the 1990s along a half-mile stretch of Delaware Avenue.

Since the year 2000, interest in two-wheeled commuting continued to grow. Buffered lanes on the east-west arteries of Spruce and Pine Streets emerged in 2009. The Indego bike-share program, launched in 2015, generated a larger ridership in its first year than similar programs in Boston, Washington, and Denver.

In a 2016 survey conducted by Bicycling, the world’s leading cycling magazine, Philadelphia ranked as the 15th most bike-friendly city in the country, the culmination of a trend stretching back nearly 200 years to Charles Willson Peale and his children.

This article originally appeared in the May 14, 2017 Philadelphia Inquirer as part of HSP's weekly series, Memory Stream.

The records of the Philadelphia Bicycle Club (#1357), the city's oldest bicycle association, consist of minutes; treasurer's accounts; dues books; charter, bylaws and amendments; and papers on the construction and repair of the clubhouse and on the running expenses of the Club. Other collections featuring material on cycling are the Marriot C. Morris collection (#3712), and the William Robinson Tucker correspondence (#1836).

Two New Volumes Added to HSP Encounters

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is pleased to announce the addition of two new volumes of Philadelphia school registration records to the HSP Encounters system. This brings the total number of school registrations to 11,067.

To genealogists, family historians, and scholars, these new records are a boon for historical research into the experiences of public school children in 19th and 20th century Philadelphia.

HSP Collaborates with the James Monroe Museum and the Papers of James Monroe to Host New Exhibit

In collaboration with the James Monroe Museum and The Papers of James Monroe, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania will host In the Spirit of the People: James Monroe's 1817 Tour of the Northern States, a traveling exhibit commemorating the bicentennial of an historic presidential tour. The exhibit will be on view at HSP June 19 through July 14. 

2017 Founder's Award - Thank You!

Thank you to everyone who joined HSP for the 2017 Founder's Award on May 3 at the National Constitution Center. With more than 200 guests in attendance, HSP honored National Book Award Winner James McBride with the Founder’s Award and HSP Board Member Dr. Alice L. George and Library Company of Philadelphia Director Emeritus Dr. John C. Van Horne with the Heritage Award.

HSP Unveils New Exhibit Featuring Drafts of the U.S. Constitution

American Treasures: Documenting the Nation’s Founding explores the drafting of the U.S. Constitution in 1787, highlighting the key proposals and significant compromises that influenced the early drafts and shaped the document’s final text. Visitors are introduced to the crucial figures who played a role in shaping the Constitution – from James Madison to James Wilson, America’s most important champion of popular sovereignty, or government by “We the People,” and Gouverneur Morris, often credited as the primary writer of the Constitution’s final text.

Come see rough drafts of history and the Constitution

At the corner of 13th and Locust Streets, five sets of locks and keys safeguard two pieces of rag paper. The draconian security — including a 19th-century bank vault door — is justified: Here rest the only handwritten drafts of the U.S. Constitution.

Beginning on May 4, this Pentagon-level protection is on pause. Along with several items from the private collection of David Rubenstein, the documents have been relocated to the National Constitution Center for American Treasures, a new exhibit featuring — for the first time ever — each draft of the Constitution.


The National Constitution Center's President & CEO, Jeffrey Rosen, giving a tour of the American Treasures exhibit. Image credit: Mike DeNardo.

The two handwritten drafts owned by the Historical Society spark several questions. The first is perhaps the most obvious: What are these things, and where do they come from?

First, some background.

Our country got off to a rough start; it was far from all fireworks and hip-hip-huzzahs.

As the fear of being put to the sword by the British ebbed, so did the political cohesion that dread encouraged. The 13 states soon resumed their squabbling and other colonial habits in earnest.


Illustration by Benjamin Franklin published in the Pennsylvania Gazette ca. 1754. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania cartoons and caricatures collection [3133]

By early 1787, the Articles of Confederation — the nation’s first governing document — proved itself a failure.

“We have errors to correct,” as George Washington plainly put it.

Cries rang out for a “Grand Convention” in Philadelphia to salvage the Articles. Fiery debates kicked off in late May. To prevent passersby from eavesdropping, delegates shuttered Independence Hall’s windows and doors. It was a heated atmosphere in every sense.

After hashing out the dual system of congressional representation — the so-called Connecticut Compromise — all but five delegates escaped the heat for a 10-day recess.

Given little more than a week and a list of resolutions already adopted, this “Committee of Detail” quintet set out to turn two months of debate-floor tumult into a cogent body of text.


"A View of the State House in Philadelphia," ca. 1770. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania medium graphics collection [V64]

Looking at the handwritten documents in person, you won’t be surprised to find the hallmarks of any rough draft. Both documents are filled with strike-throughs and marginalia. A thick X cuts through a handful of entire sections.

This “roughness,” however, is their value. Changes and other emendations document the Constitution’s development, offering an insight into the shifting sentiments of the Founding Fathers.

Many revisions are terminological. We very nearly became citizens of the United People and States of America, electing representatives to a House of Burgesses.

Others changes, however, are far from cosmetic. The handwritten drafts begin, “We the people of the states of New Hampshire, Massachusetts,” and so on, listing each of the 13 states in order from north to south.

First Draft

Detail from the first draft of the U.S. Constitution in the handwriting of James Wilson. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Treasures Collection [HSP Treasures]

“It is not insignificant that they went from making a list of the 13 states of the union to saying ‘We the people of the United States,’ because that means they had a change of heart. They recognized the need to cease to be seen as independent states and to be seen as a union,” remarked Lee Arnold, the Historical Society’s collections chief.

“Of the distinguishing features central to the American system of constitutional governance,” observed University of Pennsylvania Law School professor William Ewald, “many of the most fundamental make their first appearance in the drafts.” These include such bedrocks as the Necessary and Proper Clause and the limits of congressional power.

Aside from a new preamble prepared by the another committee, the Constitution we know today reads much as it did in the second draft. So who penned these things? Who — in effect — wrote the Constitution?

The drafts are in the handwriting of James Wilson, a Scotland-born Pennsylvanian.


Undated portrait of James Wilson. From the Historical Society of Pennsylvania portrait collection [V88]

But like any good story, we don’t know everything.

The Committee of Detail worked in private. To ensure “that nothing in the house be printed, or otherwise published or communicated without leave,” every delegate had sworn what was in effect an oath of secrecy.

“We do not know how often the committee met, or where; we do not know for certain whether Wilson wrote his drafts in response to dictation, or with other members present, or alone in his study after hours; we do not know how the committee took its votes, or how it dealt with dissents,” Ewald continued.

Indeed, the drafts themselves almost disappeared. They came to the Historical Society via a large donation of Wilson’s papers by his granddaughter. It doesn’t seem even she knew the early Constitutions were tucked away. They languished in obscurity for more than two decades before being rediscovered.

Why do these rough drafts matter?

“By comparing the texts of early drafts of the Constitution, in the American Treasures gallery … visitors can educate themselves about the evolution of American liberty and the emergence of popular sovereignty,” said Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center.

“Recent scholarship on Wilson’s handwritten drafts of the Constitution have led to new interpretations of the origins of the final document,” said Charles Cullen, interim president and CEO of the Historical Society. “These seminal documents have never been displayed together outside the Historical Society.”

Visit constitutioncenter.org for more information about American Treasures.

This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2017 Philadelphia Inquirer as part of HSP's weekly series, Memory Stream.

New Issue of Legacies Exploring World War I Free to Read Online

The latest issue of Legacies, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into the “Great War,” explores the diversity of Pennsylvanians involved in this global conflict and sheds light on the stories of those whose World War I experiences have been under-explored. The issue is FREE to read online through May 25, 2017

Contents include: 

Note from the Editor:Pennsylvanian Experiences of World War I | Rachel Moloshok


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