Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Grace Schultz

Independence Seaport Museum

The Independence Seaport Museum, originally called the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, addressed the lack of written history of the Port of Philadelphia by collecting, documenting, and exhibiting the region’s nautical legacy. Founded in 1960 by attorney, civic leader, and maritime collector Joseph Welles Henderson (1920-2007), the museum focused on the maritime history of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware and aimed to commemorate the leading role of Philadelphia and surrounding ports in the maritime development of the United States.

As the son of an admiralty lawyer, Henderson’s enthusiasm for maritime history and artifacts began at a very young age. After years of collecting and curating, in 1956 and 1957 Henderson displayed a Port of Philadelphia exhibit at several institutions, including the Peabody Museum of Salem, Massachusetts, and the Free Library of Philadelphia. After exhibiting parts of his collections at other institutions, Henderson established a charitable trust and founded the Philadelphia Maritime Museum on February 6, 1960.

[caption id="attachment_29250" align="alignright" width="300"]An Exhibit at the Maritime Museum Artifacts on exhibit at the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, photographed in 1974, included ship models, ship flags, and depictions of vessels at sea. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Located at first in a rented room at the Athenaeum of Philadelphia, 219 S. Sixth Street, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum opened on May 19, 1961. Over the next year, the trustees established an advisory board, the members of which were called Port Wardens, and Henderson brought on two part-time directors and a librarian to catalog his collection and design exhibits. Over the next decade, his determination, a growing base of wealthy museum members, and larger-than-expected crowds propelled the museum’s continued development, including further cultivation of collections and professional museum staff. The museum generated public interest by offering lectures, educational workshops, diverse programming, and exhibits.

Continuing Expansion

Seeking to expand, in 1965 the Maritime Museum moved to a former bank building at 427 Chestnut Street. The new location made it possible to add a maritime library, which had been part of the original plan for the museum. With additional training of its personnel and a growing collection, by this time the museum had become firmly established as the preeminent authority on the history of the port of Philadelphia and surrounding ports.

As the size of the Maritime Museum expanded, so did the nature of its programming. In the midst of the Space Race, in 1968 the museum opened an “Underwater Museum” gallery to explore another frontier by focusing on “the activities of a new breed of man—homo aquaticus—the underwater-man.”  In need of increased space and capacity to accommodate its continued growth, the Maritime Museum purchased the former home of the Philadelphia National Bank at 321 Chestnut Street, where it opened to the public on December 12, 1974. Later, in 1982, it added a boat-building facility called “Workshop on the Water” at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. This workspace and exhibit area operated on the covered-steel lighter barge Maple, which was given to the museum in 1980. A practical extension of the museum’s mission, Workshop on the Water preserved and taught the skills and traditions of wooden boat building and sailing. In subsequent years, the workshop continued to support professionals and enthusiasts in maintaining, restoring, and building boats.

[caption id="attachment_29247" align="alignright" width="300"]Becuna and Olympia Two of the Independence Seaport Museum’s most iconic attractions are the submarine Becuna (left) and the cruiser USS Olympia (right), vessels that have long been moored at Penn’s Landing and whose care was assumed by the museum in 1996. (Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

Looking to further expand and be on the water, in the early 1990s the Maritime Museum acquired a building on Penn’s Landing that originally housed the Port of History Museum, which was built in the years following the 1976 Bicentennial.  A $15 million renovation and expansion beginning in 1994 added space for exhibits, educational programs, storage areas, and a library. The newly renamed Independence Seaport Museum opened to the public in July 1995. A few months later, in January 1996, the museum took responsibility for two National Historic Landmark vessels, the cruiser Olympia and submarine Becuna. Preservation and maintenance of these historic ships proved expensive, though, and the Independence Seaport Museum announced in 2010 that the Olympia required over $10 million worth of repairs and maintenance that the museum did not have. After much consideration, partnership-building, and fund-raising, it was determined in 2014 that the museum would remain as the Olympia’s steward. It embarked on a first phase of maintenance to the cruiser, and continued to raise funds for further repairs.

The Independence Seaport Museum fell on hard times in 2007 after a scandal involving its former director, John S. Carter (b. 1950), who was convicted of embezzling over $1.5 million from the institution. Following a period of introspection, the museum returned to its mission of engaging with the Delaware River Watershed through history, science, art, and community. It carried out the mission through programs such as changing exhibits, a community gallery, citizen science labs, environmental programs, summer camp programs, Workshop on the Water, and public and private events. In 2017, the  museum received a $1.2 million grant from the William Penn Foundation to expand its River Alive! exhibition, focused on the science, ecology and stewardship of the Delaware River watershed. The  museum remained a collecting institution and home to the J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library, named for the museum’s founder, seeking to document, interpret, educate, and engage with the Philadelphia region’s waterways.

Grace Schultz earned an M.A. in History with a concentration in Public History from Temple University and is an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Philadelphia.


Developed in Philadelphia during World War II, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) made history as the world’s first general-purpose, nonmechanical computer. Unveiled at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering in 1946, the ENIAC consisted of 40 nine-foot-high cabinets containing 18,000 vacuum tubes, 10,000 capacitors, 6,000 switches, and 1,500 relays. Unlike any other computing device of its time, the ENIAC was not limited to one type of calculation and could solve many different types of problems. As the first automatic electronic digital computing machine, the ENIAC marked the dawn of the Information Age.

[caption id="attachment_26854" align="alignright" width="300"]The ENIAC While it was Still Located at the University of Pennsylvania. The ENIAC is shown here at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering, with U.S. Army Corporal Irwin Goldstein standing at the ENIAC’s function table. (U.S. Army Photo)[/caption]

The military’s need for quick and accurate computation arose during World War I, when the United States began using mathematical computations to determine trajectories for artillery firing tables. People completed these calculations by hand and, with the male workforce depleted during wartime, women often handled the work of calculating artillery tables and trajectories. Due to the rapidly growing demand for firing tables and other ballistic data, the United States Chief of Ordnance established the Ballistics Research Laboratory at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. As the military’s needs for firing and bombing tables increased exponentially during World War II, the Ballistics Research Laboratory required a device to keep up with the wartime demand for millions of computations.

To develop firing and bombing tables more quickly and efficiently than existing computers, the Ballistics Research Laboratory contracted with the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering to build an electronic digital machine. The Moore School was a logical choice for the job, as the U.S. government had previously enlisted the expertise of many of the school’s faculty and students for secret military research projects, sponsored training courses for operating complicated weapons systems, and financed a program in Engineering, Science, and Management War Training.

[caption id="attachment_26787" align="alignright" width="300"]Jean Jenning and Frances Bilas Working on the Main Control Panel of the ENIAC. Jean Jennings (left) and Frances Bilas, two of the six female mathematicians who programmed and operated the ENIAC while it was at the University of Pennsylvania, stand at the main control panel. (U. S. Army Photo)[/caption]

Work on the ENIAC began at the University of Pennsylvania on June 5, 1943. The computer was completed in 1945 and unveiled on February 14, 1946. Although originally estimated to cost $150,000, it ultimately cost $400,000 to complete. The ENIAC was designed and developed by University of Pennsylvania Professor John W. Mauchly (1907-80), along with graduate student John Eckert Jr. (1919-95). Six female mathematicians, Jean Jennings (1924-2011), Marlyn Wescoff (1922-2008), Ruth Lichterman (1942-1986), Betty Snyder (1917-2001), Frances Bilas (1922-2012), and Kay McNulty (1921-2006), programmed and operated the ENIAC. These women taught themselves how to program the ENIAC by using blueprints and diagrams of the ENIAC, after which they wrote the operating manual. While scientists across the globe had developed large single-purpose computing machines and calculators, the ENIAC was unique because it could be more easily reprogrammed for different tasks. Hundreds of times faster than its contemporary computers, it could complete five thousand additions per second as well as multiply 360 ten-digit numbers per second.

[caption id="attachment_26788" align="alignright" width="300"]Marlyn Wescoff and Ruth Lichterman Wiring a New Program into the ENIAC> Marlyn Wescoff (crouching) and Ruth Lichterman are shown here wiring a new program in the ENIAC while it was at the University of Pennsylvania. (U. S. Army Photo)[/caption]

In keeping with the original contract, in 1947 the Chief of Ordnance removed the ENIAC from the University of Pennsylvania and installed it at the Ballistics Research Laboratory of the Aberdeen Proving Ground. There its tasks became more varied, including numerical weather simulations and calculations required for building the hydrogen bomb, until it was decommissioned in 1955. Honoring the machine’s place in history, pieces from the ENIAC were subsequently exhibited around the country, including at the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

After they finished working on ENIAC, Mauchly and Eckert resigned from the University of Pennsylvania due to a contentious dispute regarding patents, as well as other intellectual property concerns. On December 22, 1947, they founded the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC). Headquartered in Philadelphia, the company continued to invent new computer technologies, including the second iteration of the Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer (EDVAC II), the Binary Automatic Computer (BINAC), and the beginning stages of development for the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC). Three years after its founding, EMCC was purchased by and incorporated into Remington Rand, a Philadelphia-based machine manufacturer. The large bureaucracy of Remington Rand may have stunted Mauchly and Eckert’s abilities to innovate while other companies such as International Business Machines (IBM) charged ahead in developing computer technology. Nonetheless, Mauchly and Eckert’s invention of the ENIAC distinguished Philadelphia as the birthplace of the modern computer and laid the groundwork for future scientists to innovate and develop the future of computing across the country and around the world.

Grace Schultz earned an M.A. in History with a concentration in Public History from Temple University and is an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

Commercial Museum

Opened to the public in 1897, the Commercial Museum was the foremost source of international trade knowledge for American manufacturers at the turn of the twentieth century. Located on the western bank of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, the museum served as a reference library for merchants, facilitated connections between American export traders and foreign markets, and housed exhibits featuring hundreds of thousands of raw materials and goods from around the world. The rise and fall of the Commercial Museum paralleled Philadelphia’s transition over the twentieth century from a hub of industry and trade to a city with a post-industrial economy.

[caption id="attachment_18847" align="alignright" width="300"]The Neoclassical building that housed the Independence Seaport Museum. (Independence Seaport Museum) The Neoclassical building that housed the Commercial Museum was inspired by the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. (Independence Seaport Museum)[/caption]

Central to the mission of the Commercial Museum was the notion that commerce was the unifying principle of mankind: past, present, and future. The 1890s marked a period of global transformation, during which the industrial economy of the United States continued to expand. In response to the manufacturing boom, American manufacturers began to seek foreign markets to sell their products. They also exhibited their wares at the world’s fairs that characterized the latter half of the nineteenth century. One of those fairs, the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, had a role in the creation of Philadelphia’s Commercial Museum. Among the many American traders and manufacturers enticed and inspired by the Chicago fair was a former botanist and University of Pennsylvania professor, William P. Wilson (1844-1927). After visiting the Columbian Exposition, Wilson officially founded the Commercial Museum the same year, housing the collections in a variety of temporary locations until the building was officially completed in 1897. Borrowing the neoclassical style of the Columbian Exposition, the Commercial Museum communicated legitimacy through the architectural style of empire, rationality, and intelligence. The Commercial Museum acquired many items from the Columbian Exposition and eventually became the official repository for artifacts from many of the world’s fairs of the era.

[caption id="attachment_19246" align="alignright" width="300"]The Philadelphia Commercial Museum sought to educate the public about the merits of commerce. In order to reach as many people as possible, the Commercial Museum arranged for schools to take field trips to see the collections of the museum. (Independence Seaport Museum) In order to reach as many people as possible, the Commercial Museum arranged for schools to take field trips to see the collections. (Independence Seaport Museum)[/caption]

The Commercial Museum aimed to educate everyone about the merits of international trade. Schoolchildren from across the region came to learn about the pivotal role of commerce throughout history and to explore strange artifacts from faraway lands. Merchants came from around the globe to educate themselves about foreign markets and production methods by examining raw and manufactured goods held in the collections. The Commercial Museum also administered a Bureau of Information, which compiled and published international trade and market reports to aid American entrepreneurs as they expanded their enterprises at home and abroad. Inspired by the idea of a commercial museum, American and foreign business leaders in California, France, Berlin, China, and more developed similar museums and hosted world’s fair-style expositions in order to develop transnational trade relations.  The museum reigned as the foremost authority on information regarding manufacturing and international commerce in the United States for a quarter century.

[caption id="attachment_18846" align="alignright" width="300"] A look inside of the Bureau of Information. (Independence Seaport Museum) The Bureau of Information, a branch of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum, compiled and published international trade and market reports. (Independence Seaport Museum)[/caption]

The Commercial Museum’s prominence as a beacon of commercial knowledge and exhibits began to wane by the 1920s. A variety of social, political, and economic factors rendered it increasingly irrelevant, the most significant of which was the rise of the International Trade Commission. Developed by the United States Department of Commerce in 1916, the International Trade Commission was closely modeled after the Commercial Museum’s Bureau of Information. Until then the museum acted as the unchallenged provider of international trade intelligence, market reports, and commercial knowledge. The Trade Commission, among other newly formed transnational trade institutions, began to assume this role by publishing international trade and market reports.

By the 1950s the museum had become obsolete. After decades of decreased public interest and visitation, in 1952 the City of Philadelphia restored and attempted to revitalize the Commercial Museum and neighboring Convention Hall. The museum was rebranded as a part of the Philadelphia Civic Center, but its staff was drastically reduced. Thereafter known as the Civic Center Museum, it continued to provide educational programming and display exhibits until 1994, when it closed indefinitely.

In 2001 the City of Philadelphia, through the Orphans’ Court, dispersed the majority of the Commercial Museum’s holdings to universities, museums, and archives around the city.  Among these, Temple University’s Anthropology Lab, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, the Independence Seaport Museum, and the Philadelphia History Museum gained significant collections.  The Civic Center and museum building complex were razed in 2005 and became the site for the University of Pennsylvania’s Ruth and Raymond Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.  The Pennsylvania Convention Center, located at Eleventh and Arch Streets, became Philadelphia’s center for commerce and trade, acting as a venue for international trade shows and other events.

Grace Schultz earned an M.A. in History with a concentration in public history from Temple University and is an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Philadelphia.

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