Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Jessica Linker


[caption id="attachment_24191" align="aligncenter" width="575"]Black and white photograph of two men and a woman. Behind the group, a periodic table hangs on the wall. The man to the left is handing over a plaque that reads "A.C.A Phila. Section" to the man on the right. The Philadelphia Section of the American Chemical Society, founded in 1899 by eighty-three local chemists, grew to a membership of more than five thousand in 2016. (Glenn E. Ullyot Collection, Chemical Heritage Foundation)[/caption]

Philadelphians used chemistry to enhance manufacturing, household practice, and artisan trades, mixing scholarly with practical aims from the outset. Furthermore, chemistry’s relationship to other scientific disciplines, including botany, geology, and medicine, made Philadelphians particularly keen to promote and diffuse chemical knowledge. Encouraged by widespread interest in chemistry between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, a number of cutting-edge chemical societies, research laboratories, and educational institutions dedicated to the advancement of the science made their home in the region.

Eighteenth-century Philadelphians recognized chemistry’s importance to various trades. Chemists prepared and sold chemical substances, functioning much like a pharmacist. Although chemists’ primary relationship was to the medical profession, they also supplied chemicals used in various arts and industries. Artists, printers, and clerks, for example, often required colored inks and paints; these could be made from pigments and compounds available at the local chemist’s shop. This relationship between chemist and community, along with prevailing popular narratives about the importance of “useful knowledge,” helped to foster a belief that chemistry could improve daily life for individuals, the locality, and, after the American Revolution, for the nation. Philadelphians readily embraced the concept that practical application of chemistry could improve one’s labor and, consequently, sought to expand access to chemical education.

Women were at times the beneficiaries of these arguments, insofar as chemistry could be justified as important to their labor. Philadelphia’s flagship female academy, the Young Ladies’ Academy (founded 1787), offered chemistry lessons in relation to household management. An early syllabus suggests that female students learned how to improve cooking, washing, and dyeing by understanding the chemistry behind these tasks. Popular publications echoed the agenda of the academy. For example, in 1789–90, John Penington (1768–93) wrote a number of essays, first for the Columbian Magazine, and later in a treatise called Chemical and Economical Essays, showing chemistry’s usefulness to pottery, soap making, painting, and other arts practiced by women.

Multiple Scientific Institutions

[caption id="attachment_24190" align="alignright" width="232"]Illustrated portrait of Joseph Priestley. Joseph Priestley, who lived for a time in Philadelphia, is best known for isolating and identifying oxygen gas. (Williams Haynes Portrait Collection, Chemical Heritage Foundation)[/caption]

Given Philadelphia’s widespread interest in chemistry education, it is not surprising that the city became home to several learned societies that championed chemical research and helped to professionalize the discipline. Broadly focused scientific institutions, such as the American Philosophical Society (founded 1743) and the Franklin Institute (founded 1824), facilitated the diffusion of chemical knowledge for both practical and scholarly matters. The first dedicated chemical society in America, predating the Chemical Society of London (1841) by nearly fifty years, was the short-lived Philadelphia Chemical Society, founded in 1792. Prominent members included Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, William Bache (1773–1820), who served as president of the society in 1794; James Woodhouse (1770–1809), chair of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania; and Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), best known for isolating and identifying oxygen gas. Priestley had fled England in the 1790s for religious and political reasons, settling for a time in Philadelphia. The society extended honorary membership to the Scottish national Elizabeth Fulhame (active between 1780 and 1794), who experimented in synthesizing cloths of metal and first described the chemical process of catalysis, the acceleration of a chemical reaction. Late eighteenth-century societies participated in debates over phlogiston theory. Practitioners hypothesized the existence of a firelike element released during combustion and evaluated chemical reactions in terms of adding or subtracting phlogiston. Priestley’s discoveries and the work of Antoine Lavoisier (1743–94) in France, helped to disprove phlogiston theory by the 1790s. Early nineteenth-century societies, including the Columbian Chemical Society (founded 1811) became increasingly engaged with atomic theory, which states that all matter is composed of atoms.

Chemical societies offered individuals the opportunity to share their research with a knowledgeable audience, allowing them to refine their ideas and promote their discoveries, ultimately furthering their careers. In 1801, the Philadelphia Chemical Society sought to improve the efficiency of blowpipes, a tool that amplifies the heat of a flame in chemical experiments. Robert Hare (1781-1858), a corresponding member of the society, demonstrated a solution to the problem posed by the society of increasing the concentration of heat available for chemical experiments. Previously experimenters used blowpipes powered by their own lungs to increase the supply of air available to affect the combustion of various materials under study. He developed an oxyhydrogen blowtorch for this purpose, which he recounted in his Memoir on the Supply and Application of the Blow-Pipe (1802). Shortly after, in 1803, the American Philosophical Society elected Hare a member, giving him a wider audience. Other instruments developed by Hare include an improved eudiometer (c. 1820s), an instrument used for gas analysis; a calorimeter (c. 1819), a tool for measuring the heat of chemical reactions; a litrameter (c. 1819), an instrument that determined the specific gravity of fluids; and a galvanic deflagrator, an instrument that uses powerful electrical discharges to create high temperatures. In 1818, Hare became the chair of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, a position he held until 1847. In 1826, Hare published a descriptive account of the various chemical apparatuses used in his chemistry classes, many of which were his own design, to supplement his lectures.

[caption id="attachment_24204" align="alignright" width="229"]Sepia-toned photograph of woman. Rachel Littler Bodley served as chair of chemistry and toxicology (1865–74) and as dean of faculty (1874–88) at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. (Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)[/caption]

Generally, institutions of higher education continued to underscore the importance of chemistry to various scientific professions. Some of these institutions, such as the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (founded 1850) and Polytechnic College of Pennsylvania (founded 1853), an engineering school, offered chemistry to women, and in the case of the medical college, to women of color. Rachel Littler Bodley (1831–88) traveled from Ohio to Philadelphia in 1860 to pursue educational opportunities at both schools. By 1865 Bodley became chair of chemistry and toxicology at the Woman’s Medical College and offered popular lectures at the Franklin Institute regarding applications of chemistry to household management. Bodley taught chemistry while it was undergoing significant change; it was only in 1869 that Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev (1834–1907) put forth a relatively modern version of the periodic table of elements based on atomic weight. She was also instrumental in organizing a group of prominent chemists who met at Joseph Priestley’s gravesite in Northumberland, Pennsylvania, to commemorate the centennial of his discovery of oxygen in 1774. Excitement generated by this meeting contributed to organization of the American Chemical Society in 1876, of which Bodley was a charter member. That same year, Edgar Fahs Smith (1854–1928) became an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Though Smith briefly left to work at Muhlenberg College (1881–88), by 1893 he had assumed directorship of the chemistry laboratory, allowing women to work alongside male students. Because of his liberal policies, the first two women admitted to the University of Pennsylvania, Gertrude Klein Pierce (1859–1953) and Anna Lockhart Flanigen (1852–1928), came to study chemistry.

Discoveries Outside the Academy

Outside the academy, manufacturers fostered a number of important chemical discoveries. DuPont, located in nearby Wilmington, was responsible for some of the more significant twentieth-century discoveries, though the company had a long history of chemical innovation. Founded in 1802 by French chemist Éleuthère Irénée du Pont (1771–1834) to produce gunpowder, DuPont laboratories became increasingly focused on the discovery and production of new polymers in the 1920s and 1930s. Wallace Carothers (1896–1937), hired in 1928, was instrumental in the development of neoprene in 1930 and nylon in 1935. DuPont produced Teflon, commonly used as a nonstick coating in cookware, in 1938. Joseph Shivers (1920–2014), who began working for DuPont in 1946, produced the synthetic fiber known as Lycra in 1958. In 1909, Otto Röhm (1876–1939) and Otto Haas (1872–1960) moved from Esslingen, Germany, to Philadelphia and founded the pseudonymous chemical company, Röhm and Haas. The company developed Orophon, a synthetic chemical that made the leather tanning process more hygienic, and were the first to bring acrylic glass (as Plexiglas) to market in 1933.

Similar breakthroughs occurred within the pharmaceutical industry, launching local Philadelphia chemists to financial success and philanthropic giving. In 1899, Albert C. Barnes (1872–1951), along with Hermann Hille (1871–1962), developed Argyrol, an antiseptic of silver nitrite that successfully treated gonorrhea. Profits from Argyrol enabled Barnes to buy a number of important works of art, which today are kept at the Barnes Foundation. McNeil Laboratories, founded by Robert McNeil (1856–1933) in 1879, started as a drug store in Kensington and became a full-fledged research facility by 1933. McNeil’s grandson, Robert Lincoln McNeil Jr. (1915–2010), a graduate of Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, began to develop the chemical acetaminophen for use as a painkiller. The company eventually was able to market Tylenol after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1955.

[caption id="attachment_24193" align="alignright" width="300"]Color photograph of the inside of the Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum. The Chemical Heritage Foundation complex in Philadelphia includes this museum. (Chemical Heritage Foundation)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s chemistry-rich history made it a natural home for an institution dedicated to studying the history of the science. In 1982, the University of Pennsylvania and the American Chemical Society jointly sponsored the Center for the History of Chemistry. With the additional support of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the center gained national nonprofit status by 1987 and was renamed the Chemical Heritage Foundation in 1992. The Chemical Heritage Foundation sought to provide resources to researchers interested in chemistry’s societal impact. In the early twenty-first century, the institute offered several scholarly fellowships and maintained a library and museum. Its collections reflected an interest in chemistry’s relationship to manufacturing, but also manufacturing’s relationship to chemistry, a collecting interest most suited to Philadelphia’s scientific past. The region’s historical emphasis on practical applications of chemistry frequently shaped the nature of its contributions and its practitioners.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

Meteorology (Study of the Atmosphere)

Philadelphians have pursued significant scholarly and popular interests in meteorology, the scientific study of the atmosphere, since the eighteenth century. Pioneering individuals, including Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) and Reuben Haines (1786–1831), tracked meteorological data, and scientific societies made the practice increasingly systematic by the late nineteenth century. Short-term weather forecasting became possible as technological innovations such as the telegraph and, later, Doppler radar enabled speedy communication of meteorological information. By the twenty-first century, television viewers gained familiarity with the science through broadcast meteorology, a staple of local news programs.

[caption id="attachment_23516" align="alignright" width="241"]A map of Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey  with notes about weather and tide patterns Benjamin Franklin's observations on the weather patterns of the colonies were included on this 1749 map by Lewis Evans. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

A number of Philadelphia’s early meteorological discoveries resulted from the work of Benjamin Franklin, who became interested in tracking storms in the 1730s. In 1743, a lunar eclipse led Franklin to discover the nature of their movement. Franklin had hoped to observe the start of the eclipse from Philadelphia, but a storm with unusually strong northeasterly winds rolled in an hour prior and obscured his view. Later, Franklin learned that the eclipse had been visible in Massachusetts, where the storm arrived long after the eclipse started. Because the winds blew from the northeast, Franklin had assumed that the storm had traveled from Boston toward Philadelphia, but in fact it had traveled in the other direction. After researching storms with northeasterly winds, he discovered that storms begin to the leeward (the direction in which the winds are blowing) and move windward (against the wind). These and other scientific observations appeared on a 1749 map of the mid-Atlantic colonies published and drawn by Lewis Evans (c. 1700–56).

From Data to Forecasting

[caption id="attachment_23736" align="alignright" width="225"]A color painting of a stylized version of Benjamin Franklins kite Benjamin Franklin's famous kite experiment was based partially in his observation of weather patterns in the city, as depicted in Benjamin West's c. 1816 painting Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a pervasive culture of meteorological observation developed as Philadelphians recorded atmospheric and weather data in almanacs, diaries, and journals. These ranged from simple descriptions of whether it was sunny, cloudy, or rainy each day to sophisticated measurements of air pressure and temperature. During the 1820s, Reuben Haines, corresponding secretary of the Academy of Natural Sciences, maintained a meteorological register at Wyck House in Germantown. His data, which included mean temperatures, total snow and rain fall, wind directions, and barometric readings, was incorporated into other scientific studies, including medicine. Diseases had seasonal patterns that doctors sought to explain by marrying knowledge of epidemics to meteorological data. Physicians John K. Mitchell (1798–1858) and John Bell (1796–1872), writing to the North American Medical and Surgical Journal in 1826, used Haines’s data to assess regional and temporal differences in smallpox outbreaks that had occurred in 1823 and 1824.

Local scientific institutions soon began to understand the necessity of keeping detailed weather data. In 1837, the Pennsylvania legislature funded the Joint Committee on Meteorology of the American Philosophical Society and the Franklin Institute of Pennsylvania. This committee issued various reports in the Journal of the Franklin Institute in addition to instructions for taking meteorological data. This was no simple job; calculations had to be taken at set times each day, and data takers had to be sensitive to the contingencies of storms. At Delaware County Institute of Science in Media, Delaware County, Joseph Edwards (1796–1858) and Sarah L. Miller (1803–90) recorded weather data in the 1840s and 1850s. For several years, they spent a significant portion of their days compiling meteorological data. Such data was chiefly used to track long-term patterns. Meteorological data sets taken over the course of many years could be averaged to forecast weather for the coming year. By the mid- to late nineteenth century, as telegraphs allowed meteorological data to be shared more quickly, scientific societies increasingly used this information to generate short-term forecasts. Atmospheric phenomena could be tracked as they moved across the country; as a storm passed through particular outposts, for example, meteorologists could telegraph ahead to the next station in advance of the storm. New uses of meteorological data demanded a rigorous reassessment of standards; the Franklin Institute’s meteorological records after 1872 were so thorough that the National Weather Service later used this historical data in assessing climate change.

[caption id="attachment_23513" align="alignright" width="247"]a black and white photograph of a display of weather instruments behind glass Prior to the invention of Doppler radar and other modern weather tracking equipment, meteorologists used analogue tools such as these to record and forecast the weather. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

In addition to the use of telegraphs, meteorological technology in Philadelphia improved in other ways between the late nineteenth and early twenty-first centuries. A number of Philadelphia companies, such as McAllister & Brother, sold meteorological instruments for use at home, school, and in professional settings. Illustrated catalogues from the mid to late nineteenth century depicted finely made hygrometers, which measure moisture content; barometers, which measure atmospheric pressure; and rain gauges.

Doppler Radar and Storm-Tracking

One of the more significant technological advances in meteorology came about by accident during World War II: Doppler radar, which an experimental radar station in Lakehurst, New Jersey, used to detect the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, felt along the mid-Atlantic coast. During the war, the United States used airplanes equipped with Doppler radar units to detect enemy ships, but realized that the radar was also picking up images of various weather events. Scientists adapted this technology to track weather systems; the Great Atlantic Hurricane was the first such storm in North America detected by a Doppler system. Pulse-Doppler, developed in the 1950s and 1960s further improved radio and television forecasting and was later complemented by satellite technology. Local news stations often referred to their systems in colorful ways—for example, WPVI-TV ABC 6’s “Stormtracker 6,” which in the era of smart phones, also became available as an app that allowed users to track storms in real time.

[caption id="attachment_23514" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of a group of meteorologists hand drawing weather maps Weather maps help meteorologists determine and forecast weather events. In the early twentieth century, these maps were hand drawn. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

By the late twentieth century local broadcast forecasting relied on information from the National Weather Service, which, in the 1980s, developed an S-Band doppler system known as “NEXRAD” that was capable of more sophisticated Doppler velocity readings, among other advantages. NEXRAD was rolled out to the region in 1993, but the Philadelphia station was moved to Westampton near Mount Holly (designated as Philadelphia/Mount Holly). For hurricane data, local broadcast journalists used data from the National Hurricane Center.

Collaboration between local broadcasters and national meteorological institutions combined with improved technology gave the region more advance warning of impending major weather events. For example, in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy, the largest recorded Atlantic hurricane and the deadliest of that season, Philadelphia’s broadcast meteorologists issued safety information before and during the event. ABC 6’s Cecily Tynan (b. 1969) and NBC 10’s Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz (b. 1951), a former hurricane chaser for the Weather Channel and graduate of Penn State’s prestigious meteorology program, provided copious scientific context. While the severity of the Sandy event brought nationwide attention to meteorologists in the Philadelphia region, Tynan, Schwartz, and their associates brought the same scientific analysis to more common weather events, including snowstorms. Seeking to engender the same scholarly enthusiasm that he brought to his own show, in 2005 Glenn Schwartz founded Hurricane’s Outreach Program to Educate Scientists (HOPES), an academic program to increase minority participation in the fields of meteorology and earth science.

By the twenty-first century, the discipline of meteorology had dramatically changed. Eighteenth-century people could only make long-term predictions by averaging or manipulating data sets. The efforts of individuals and scientific societies in the nineteenth century improved the discipline by keeping extensive data and developing rigorous standards. Modernizing technology, from the telegraph to Doppler radar systems, introduced first the possibility and later the efficiency of short-term forecasts. Twenty-first-century Philadelphians benefited from meteorological communications ranging from CBS KYW’s News Radio to Philly.com’s NBC10 First Alert Weather widget to receive current and urgent atmospheric data.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

Ornithology (Study of Birds)

While Philadelphians maintained scientific interest in birds between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, the region became an important scholarly center for ornithology by the early nineteenth century. Primarily known for taxonomy (the science of classifying organisms), ornithological study transformed in the 1860s after the scientific community discovered a conclusive evolutionary link between birds and dinosaurs. As a consequence, local ornithologists became increasingly invested in tracing lineages that connected ancient with modern species. Modern ornithologists also became interested in conservation and the problems urban environments pose to birds.

[caption id="attachment_23344" align="alignright" width="196"]a black and white engraving of a Leyden jar with the top closed Curious to see the effects of electricity on animals, Benjamin Franklin used Leyden jars, a type of early capacitor, to shock poultry and—in at least one accidental incident— himself. Franklin remarked that the electricity made the meat unusually tender. (Google Books)[/caption]

Although ornithologists on both sides of the eighteenth-century Atlantic engaged in specimen collecting and classification, scientific interest in birds was not exclusively taxonomic. Birds became the subjects in scientific experiments and demonstrations. Such was the case with Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) and electricity. In 1750, Franklin jolted poultry with electrical current generated by Leyden jars to determine its physiological effect on the animals. He was able to kill hens very quickly with two six-gallon units, but the same charge applied to turkeys merely stunned them. The weakened current from five partly charged jars eventually killed a ten-pound turkey. Ever the pragmatist, Franklin ate the bird, arguing that the experiment rendered the meat more tender.

Several decades later, Peale’s Philadelphia Museum became an important public institution for the diffusion of ornithological knowledge. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), with the aid of his children, hunted and stuffed the vast majority of the museum’s impressive collection of taxidermy specimens. By 1831, the museum contained 1,310 birds. Peale was very much influenced by Linnaean taxonomy and arranged his specimens in boxes accordingly; these boxes lined the walls of the museum at the State House, and Peale displayed them prominently in his self-portrait, The Artist in His Museum (1822). Peale kept live birds at the museum, too. A bald eagle resided on site between 1795 and 1805, allowing visitors to observe the creature’s behavior. It became part of the taxidermy collection when it died and later became part of the permanent collection at the Second Bank of the United States gallery.

Father of American Ornithology

[caption id="attachment_23343" align="alignright" width="237"]A color engraving of four black birds by Alexander Wilson Alexander Wilson, a Scottish poet, emigrated to Philadelphia and embarked on a journey to describe and paint every bird species in North America. He is often referred to as the "Father of American ornithology." (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Scottish-born poet and naturalist Alexander Wilson (1766–1813) referenced many of Peale’s specimens in his seminal work, American Ornithology (1808–14). Wilson immigrated to the United States in 1794, eventually settling in Kingsessing, where he became acquainted with the naturalist William Bartram (1739–1823). Bartram encouraged Wilson to cultivate a long-standing interest in art and natural history. Ultimately, this led to Wilson’s publication of American Ornithology, printed in Philadelphia. The work aimed to provide illustrations and descriptions of all known North American birds. Its nine volumes depicted a total of 268 species. Due to Wilson’s untimely death, the last two volumes were completed by a friend and fellow ornithologist, George Ord (1781–1866). While claims to Wilson’s legacy sometimes proved to be controversial, American Ornithology undoubtedly contributed to Philadelphia’s reputation as an important center for the study of birds. Dubbed “the Father of American Ornithology” by Ord, Wilson later had several species of birds and ornithological societies named in his honor. Wilson inspired a number of prominent ornithologists, including John James Audubon (1785–1851), to build on his scholarship.

As scientific expeditions expanded the known number of North American birds, naturalists sought to update Wilson’s work. French-born Charles Lucien Bonaparte (1803–57), a nephew of Napoleon (1769–1821) who settled in Philadelphia in the early 1820s, issued his own American Ornithology (1825–33) for this reason. Wilson’s American Ornithology was haphazardly organized. Although the hand-colored plates, painted by women, were beautiful to look at, they were designed to maximize the use of the space. Ord sought to change that by reissuing a systematic arrangement of Wilson’s American Ornithology in four volumes between 1828 and 1829. Ord’s plans to reissue American Ornithology generated conflict with John James Audubon, who returned to Philadelphia in 1824 to seek a publisher for what would become his famous Birds of America (1827–38).

[caption id="attachment_23342" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of Mill Grove, home of John Audubon, showing house and trees Many of John Audubon's early ornithological trials, including the first bird banding experiment, were done on his Mill Grove estate in what is now Audubon, Montgomery County. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Prior to 1808, Audubon had spent some time in the Delaware Valley—at the Mill Grove estate (in what became Audubon, Pennsylvania)—before moving to Kentucky and traveling in the South to collect bird specimens. Audubon, like Bonaparte, wanted to update Wilson’s work. Ord, who was a member of both the Academy of Natural Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, opposed both the publication and Audubon’s candidacy for membership at the academy. With regard to Birds of America, Ord disliked Audubon’s organization of species (or what he perceived to be a lack thereof) and questioned the accuracy of specific drawings, including a plate depicting a rattlesnake climbing a tree to eat bird eggs. Perhaps also, Audubon’s work felt like a personal affront—Alexander Wilson had been Ord’s close friend, and Birds of America, printed in Edinburgh and London, eventually supplanted American Ornithology, rather than simply expand it.

Despite failing to initiate Audubon as one of its own, the Academy of Natural Sciences became a stronghold of ornithological study by the mid-nineteenth century. Ornithologist John Cassin (1813–69) became a curator at the Academy in 1842. Cassin was enormously successful in this position. During his tenure, the academy acquired thousands of specimens, transforming the ornithological collection into one of the most important in the world. In 1856, the museum contained more than twenty-nine thousand specimens.

[caption id="attachment_23341" align="alignright" width="186"]A black and white photograph of ornithologist John Cassin The Academy of Natural Sciences' ornithology collection grew dramatically under the curatorship of John Cassin. He described nearly two hundred new bird species in his career. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Taxidermist and Taxonomist

Cassin described many new species too. During his first year as curator at the academy he shot a yet-undescribed species of vireo in Philadelphia, which he aptly named—or so he thought—the Philadelphia vireo (Vireo philadelphicus). The bird’s breeding habitat is in Canada. It only rarely passes through Philadelphia, when migrating to Mexico or Central America, so Cassin’s discovery was serendipitous. Interested in species beyond Philadelphia, Cassin expanded knowledge of ornithology by looking westward and abroad, publishing studies of birds in the North American West, as well as Chile and Japan. Cassin was an expert taxidermist as well as taxonomist. Examples of his stuffed specimens can be found at the Delaware County Institute of Science in Media, Pennsylvania, where he worked early in his career, and the Academy of Natural Sciences. Sadly, taxidermy was ultimately Cassin’s undoing; frequent exposure to arsenic used to prepare specimens led to his death in 1869.

Before his death, Cassin mentored Graceanna Lewis (1821–1912), whose ornithological work was influenced by several new scientific theories and discoveries, including those of Charles Darwin (1809–82) and the discovery of Archaeopteryx fossils in 1861, which provided a conclusive link between birds and dinosaurs. Lewis, a resident of Chester County, moved to Philadelphia in the 1860s and studied with Cassin at the Academy of Natural Sciences. Cassin named the white-edged oriole (Icterus graceannae) in her honor, in his 1867 description of the type specimen. Embracing Darwinian evolution as fact, Lewis developed phylogenetic charts of birds, tracing their descent from dinosaurs. While living in Philadelphia, she lectured on ornithological topics. These lectures became the basis for her The Natural History of Birds (1868). Lewis moved to Media in the 1870s and continued to pursue ornithology at the Delaware County Institute of Science.

The rise of ornithological and bird-watching societies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reflected the popularity of the science in the region and helped to change attitudes toward collecting specimens. Birders founded the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, representing the entirety of the Delaware Valley region in 1890, followed by the Wyncote Bird Club in 1914. The Wyncote Bird Club became the Philadelphia and Montgomery County’s chapter of the National Audubon Society. Wyncote, along with other townships and localities in the Philadelphia area, participated in the first Christmas Bird Count (1900) sponsored by the Audubon Society. The activity encouraged citizens to record the presence of birds rather than killing them as specimens. On December 25, participants took a census of local birds by counting as many as could be sighted. The 1900 count yielded more than 18,500 sightings representing eighty-nine species of birds. The annual count continued into the twenty-first century.

Field Guides

[caption id="attachment_23345" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photograph of the members of the 1929 American Ornithologists' Union meeting held in the Academy of Natural Sciences. Participants are posed seated or standing in rows. The American Ornithologists' Union held its annual meeting in Philadelphia several times since its founding in 1883. This photograph is from the 1929 meeting held in the Academy of Natural Sciences. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Meanwhile, scholars at the Academy of Natural Sciences continued to expand its collections and produce field guides that aided birdwatchers locally and abroad. Witmer Stone (1866–1939), author of Bird Studies at Cape May, and one of the founders of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, increased the number of ornithological specimens to 143,000 between 1893 and 1936. James Bond (1900–89), an academy curator, perhaps better known for the fictional spy whose name he inspired than his ornithological work, specialized in Caribbean bird species, authoring Birds of the West Indies (1936). The first edition was little more than a checklist, but when updated with color plates in 1947 it became a true field guide. British author Ian Fleming (1908–68) became familiar with Bond’s work while bird-watching in Jamaica and named the protagonist of Casino Royale (1953) after the ornithologist. Not anticipating the popularity of Agent 007, Fleming later wrote to Bond’s wife suggesting that Bond take revenge by naming a horrible new species of bird in his honor. Yet another curator, Frank Gill (b. 1941), edited Birds of North America, Life Histories for the 21st Century, begun in 1992 and consisting of 716 parts, continuing the academy’s long history of facilitating bird identification and classification.

A trend toward thinking about conservation, as exemplified by the earlier Christmas Count, steadily pervaded ornithological study throughout the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Robert Sterling Ridgely (b. 1946), a specialist in neotropical species, became a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences ornithological department in 1982. During his tenure at the academy, he wrote Birds of South America and Birds of Ecuador. In 1994, Ridgely became the director of the academy’s new Center for Neotropical Ornithology. His enormously successful Jocotoco Foundation, inspired by his discovery of Grallaria ridgelyi, became one of the more impressive conservation ventures spawned by increased interest in conservation of species by the turn of the twenty-first century. Other local researchers became concerned with the conservation of birds in an urban environment. Generally, urbanization eliminated resources, but modern architecture posed new dangers to Philadelphia birds. Between 2008 and 2011, Stephen Maciejewski and Keith Russell tracked the number of birds killed by flying into glass windows in a four-block area from Market to Arch and Seventeenth to Nineteenth Streets. Similar studies undertaken at Temple University led the university to a design contest to produce window decals that would deter birds from crashing to their deaths. A far cry from the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century scientists and naturalists who shocked, shot, and stuffed birds to study them, more ecologically oriented ornithologists in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries exhibited a decided shift toward protecting birds rather than making specimens out of them.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

Scientific Societies

Since the eighteenth century, Philadelphia-area scientific societies have promoted scholarship and innovation, increased access to scientific knowledge and played an important role in the professionalization of various disciplines. Longstanding institutions, including the American Philosophical Society (1743), the Academy of Natural Sciences (1812), and the Franklin Institute (1824), have garnered national and international accolades, while many smaller or shorter-lived societies vitalized scientific study in specific localities or became outlets for women’s participation.

[caption id="attachment_22459" align="alignright" width="300"]A black and white photo of Paul R. Heyl and Lyman James Briggs with their earth inductor compass and the magellanic premium award The American Philosophical Society awards the Magellanic Premium for significant advances in navigation, astronomy, or natural philosophy. It has been awarded only thirty-four times in over two hundred years, in 1922 to Paul R. Heyl and Lyman J, Briggs (shown here) for the Earth induction compass. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Eighteenth-century scientific societies in Philadelphia were eager to establish America’s role in a global scientific network. The colonies lacked a pan-colonial entity on par with the Royal Society of London to evaluate and promote scientific innovation. The American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia’s first and longest-lived scientific society, emerged as an early contender for this role, balancing pursuit of transatlantic prominence with service to Philadelphia and, especially by the late eighteenth century, to Americans at large. First organized and active between 1743 and 1746, then revived in 1767, it merged with “The American Society for Promoting and Propagating Useful Knowledge, in Philadelphia” in 1769. The society attracted widespread attention in Europe for its work documenting the 1769 transit of Venus, notably through the work of astronomer David Rittenhouse (1732–96). In 1771, the American Philosophical Society, in emulation of the Royal Society of London, published the first volume of its Transactions, which reported on the society’s activities and recent discoveries and innovations. By the early republic, the American Philosophical Society acted as a quasi-umbrella organization in America, corresponding with a variety of individuals and scientific societies that had emerged in the United States and also in Europe. Ultimately this role fell to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, founded in Philadelphia in 1848.

In the early republic and into the nineteenth century, Philadelphia-area scientific societies took steps toward acting as professional bodies by establishing prizes and holding exhibitions, sponsoring scientific ventures or smaller institutions, and publishing journals and scientific literature. Prize contests could be narrowly defined, seeking solutions stemming from local problems, or more substantial, such as the Philosophical Society’s Magellanic Premium (established 1784) for work in navigation, astronomy, or natural philosophy, or the Franklin Institute’s Benjamin Franklin Medals (established 1824) for engineering. In these early years, scientific societies sought to reward practical use of science. Exhibitions, such as the Franklin Institute’s Exhibition of American Manufactures, reinforced this norm, as did its journal content. Natural history societies, while also interested in practical applications of knowledge, used their journals to engage in debates over competing systems of taxonomy and model rigorous standards of practice. The Academy of Natural Sciences (founded 1812), through its journal, and the publications of its members, produced reams of taxonomic descriptions admired by many scientists pursuing botany, and various branches of zoology, including ornithology, ichthyology, entomology, and herpetology.

[caption id="attachment_22455" align="alignright" width="238"]a black and white photograph of Dr. Ruth Patrick looking through a microscope One of the pioneers of environmental science, Dr. Ruth Patrick is most known for her limnology work with the Academy of Natural Sciences. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

A number of Philadelphia-area scientific societies encouraged women to participate, although they often stipulated that women’s participation should be congruent with prevailing gender norms. Similar to the way societies encouraged men to use science to enhance artisan trades and businesses, they imagined women’s scientific knowledge as an extension of their labor and sensibilities. The 1820s and 1830s saw a proliferation of local societies and cabinets in surrounding counties, including Chester, Bucks, and Montgomery, some of which were open to women’s contributions. Thought to be more attuned to beauty in nature, women often collected and donated specimens despite not having full access to other society activities. In 1829, the newly founded Chester County Cabinet of Natural Science received plant and mineral specimens from local women. The Cabinet of Natural Science of Montgomery County’s first annual report from 1832 claimed that Hannah Corson (1812–1900) had single-handedly collected the five hundred native and naturalized plants that made up its herbarium.

Although some societies, including the American Philosophical Society and Philadelphia Chemical Society (c. 1790s), extended membership to foreign-born women on an extremely limited basis in the eighteenth century, generally, local societies became more open to admitting women as members in the 1830s and 1840s. The Academy of Natural Sciences unanimously elected Lucy Say as its first female member in 1841; Delaware County Institute of Science in Media admitted women members not long after. In 1844, William Darlington (1782–1863) spoke before the Ladies Botanical Society (founded 1843) in Wilmington, Delaware, arguing that women’s participation would greatly enhance the study of botany. Women’s membership in local scientific societies, though often fraught with sexism, expanded throughout the nineteenth century.

Philadelphia birthed a number of national organizations that went on to further professionalize the sciences, of which the most important was the American Association for the Advancement for Science (AAAS) In 1848. AAAS organized at the Academy of Natural Sciences, electing William Charles Redfield (1789–1857) its first president. The AAAS was an outgrowth of an earlier society, the Association of American Geologists, which held its first meeting in Philadelphia on April 2, 1840. By 1842, it had expanded to include naturalists. By the end of the nineteenth century the society, which had moved to New York and then Washington, D.C., had become the most prominent advocate for the promotion of scientific knowledge and cooperation, regardless of discipline.

[caption id="attachment_22457" align="alignright" width="209"]A black and white photograph of Joseph Leidy Joseph Leidy made major contributions of paleontology, medical science, and forensics. He was curator of the Academy of Natural Science and president of the Wagner Institute of Science. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

The emergence of a national umbrella organization for the sciences encouraged the proliferation of smaller, discipline-circumscribed societies. The year 1859 saw the founding of Philadelphia Entomological Society, the precursor to American Entomological Society, and the Zoological Society of Philadelphia, which established the Philadelphia Zoological Gardens, the first zoo in the United States, in 1874. These societies adopted the strategies of larger, earlier societies—establishing prizes, founding journals, communicating abroad—but became increasingly interested in engaging local citizens through educational outreach. Societies such as the Leidy Microscopical Society (founded 1858), the Engineer’s Club of Philadelphia (1877), and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society (1888), which served the entire mid-Atlantic region, often provided equipment tutorials and became increasingly open to nonprofessionals throughout the twentieth century. Concurrently, educational institutes, such as the Wagner Free Institute of Science, founded in 1855, adopted professional standards. In the 1880s, under the stewardship of Joseph Leidy (1823–91), the institute published a professional journal and began to sponsor scientific expeditions and original research.

[caption id="attachment_22454" align="alignright" width="300"]A color photograph of a crowd viewing a humanoid robot outdoors with festival booths and tents in the background The Franklin Institute's Science Festival attracts nearly one hundred thousand visitors to the city each year. (Photograph by R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)[/caption]

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Philadelphia’s old guard of scientific societies, the American Philosophical Society, Academy of Natural Sciences, and Franklin Institute, acted as public museums and scholarly libraries in addition to maintaining a number of their traditional roles. The Franklin Institute began its shift toward functioning primarily as a museum during the Depression; the Academy of Natural Sciences, which had maintained a museum for much of the nineteenth century, was acquired by Drexel University in 2011, becoming involved with its teaching mission. The American Philosophical Society maintained an impressive scholarly library for the study of early American history, Native American cultures and languages, and the history of science, offering in addition to many of its longstanding prizes and premiums, research fellowships for scholars. Smaller societies such as the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society and American Entomological Society persisted and often worked with larger institutions to sponsor educational events; the Rittenhouse Society worked closely with the Franklin Institute during its annual Science Festival, and the Entomological Society worked with the Academy of Natural Sciences to host Bug Fest.

As degree-granting institutions and national organizations became the primary arbiters of scientific knowledge by the late nineteenth century, a number of Philadelphia’s smaller societies faded away, or became more club-like over time, abandoning many of their professionalizing aims to prioritize maintaining public interest in their discipline. In the twenty-first century, the region’s scientific societies, which were premier professional bodies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, remained dedicated to the dissemination of scientific knowledge.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

Franklin Institute

[caption id="attachment_21430" align="aligncenter" width="575"]An excerpt of an advertisement using the Silver Medal of the Franklin Institute. Manufacturers prized the Silver Medal of the Franklin Institute as a seal of quality, as shown in this advertisement for a lithography company. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

On February 5, 1824, a group of Philadelphians led by Samuel Vaughn Merrick (1801–70) and William Hypolitus Keating (1799–1840) met at the courthouse on Sixth and Chestnut Streets to found the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts. Seeking to emulate a passion for useful science, in the spirit of Benjamin Franklin (1706–90), institute members promoted mechanic arts in and beyond the city. The institute played a significant role in fostering technological innovation through the late twentieth century. Institute members had a longstanding interest in promoting science education, and the founding of a science museum in 1934 began to reorient the institute as an important local resource for K-12 outreach.

[caption id="attachment_21429" align="alignright" width="198"]Photograph of the former home of the Franklin Institute, which became the Philadelphia History Museum after the Franklin Institute left in 1934. The early Franklin Institute outgrew its home on Seventh Street. Today this building, designed by architect John Haviland, is the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

Early members tended to be white male manufacturers and scientists. The institute’s first president, Scottish immigrant James Ronaldson (1768–1841), was the cofounder of the first American type foundry. The institute was immediately popular, and within the first year it needed its own building to accommodate the ever-growing membership. Famed architect John Haviland (1792–1852) designed the institute’s first long-term home, whose construction began June 8, 1825, at 15 S. Seventh Street. Women gained institute membership as early as the 1830s. The institute sponsored a women’s school of design from 1850 to 1853 (later the Moore College of Art and Design). In 1870, Octavius Catto (1839–71) became the first African American member of the Franklin Institute.

During its first century, the Franklin Institute became an important advocate for scientific research through the sponsorship of various activities and publications. It held its first exhibition in October 1824 honoring American industry at Carpenter’s Hall. Such exhibitions were held annually, and the medals and prizes awarded by the institute became a nineteenth-century standard for appraising the efficacy of a product. Many manufacturers included Franklin Institute awards in their advertising. The first issue of the Journal of the Franklin Institute appeared in 1826, chronicling new discoveries in physics, mechanical engineering, and chemistry. A variety of lecture series taught by professors employed by the institute or by traveling speakers offered practical scientific training to Philadelphia’s young men and women. By the end of the century, the institute’s reputation enabled it to negotiate on behalf of Philadelphia with the U.S. government. For example, in 1869, the Franklin Institute helped petition Congress to hold the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. In 1873 it encouraged the government to undertake a statewide geological survey, later realized as the Second Geological Survey of Pennsylvania and later, in 1886, to establish a state meteorological service in the city.

[caption id="attachment_21432" align="alignright" width="300"]An aerial photograph of the new home of the Franklin Institute, taken in 1934. The Franklin Parkway home of the Franklin Institute (the white building in the center foreground) quickly became a landmark. Designed by architect John T. Windrim, the Beaux-Arts style building opened in 1934. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

In 1930, and despite the Great Depression, the Franklin Institute, in conjunction with the Poor Richard Club, began fund-raising to build a science museum. So beloved was the Franklin Institute that they raised $5.1 million in less than two weeks. By 1934, the new museum opened on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, while its first home on Seventh Street was saved from demolition when Atwater Kent purchased the building and gave it to the city for a city history museum. This event marked a gradual shift towards reimagining the institute as an influential center for popular science education. The Parkway site included the Fels Planetarium, the second planetarium to open in the United States. One of the best-known permanent exhibits, the giant walk-through heart, opened in 1954. The family-friendly exhibit allowed visitors of all ages to explore human physiology by physically engaging with the space. Artifacts on long-term display included mechanical curiosities, such as an eighteenth-century Swiss automaton created by Henri Maillardet (1745–1830), and a significant amount of Frankliniana, including a period lightning rod.

The museum expanded in 1990, acquiring an IMAX theater, and again in 2012. In the twenty-first century, the Franklin Institute sponsored a number of successful educational programs including Science Leadership Academy (2006), a science-oriented magnet public high school with an emphasis on laptop-based learning, and the Philadelphia Science Festival (since 2011),  an annual nine-day, citywide celebration of science offering activities ranging from family-friendly fun to teacher training. Although not the arbiter of scientific innovation that it was in the nineteenth century, the Franklin Institute continued a tradition of making scientific education accessible to local Philadelphians.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.


University of PennsylvPhiladelphians embraced the study of celestial phenomena and bodies, such as stars, planets, and comets, from an early date. As early as 1769, the American Philosophical Society’s involvement in tracking that year’s transit of Venus gained transatlantic scientific attention. Astronomy remained a popular scientific pursuit throughout the region’s history; the Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Astronomical Society continued to generate local interest in the science in the twenty-first century.

[caption id="attachment_21453" align="alignright" width="222"]A black and white engraving of David Rittenhouse seated at his desk with telescope and papers David Rittenhouse was a celebrated early American astronomer whose work on the 1769 transit of Venus brought him transatlantic fame. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Eighteenth-century almanacs contained various kinds of astronomical data, including schedules of eclipses and sunrise/sunset tables. Some of the more popular Philadelphia imprints included Poor Richard’s Almanack, printed by Benjamin Franklin (1706–90), and Der Hoch-Deutsch Americanische Kalender, printed by Germantown’s Christopher Saur (1693–1758). Almanacs commonly included a Zodiac Man or Man of Signs, an astrological diagram that showed how planets governed specific parts of the human body. Historically, though the practice was on the decline by the eighteenth century, the image was intended to be used in conjunction with the almanac’s astronomical data to diagnose illnesses. However it was used, the relevancy of astronomical information in almanacs was contingent upon one’s geographical location, prompting local residents, notably David Rittenhouse (1732–96), to provide almanac calculations for the vicinity of Philadelphia.

David Rittenhouse was a celebrated early American astronomer whose work on the 1769 transit of Venus brought him transatlantic fame. A transit of Venus occurs when the orbit of Venus passes between the sun and the earth, a rare though predictable phenomenon that occurs twice separated by a gap of roughly eight years after a longer gap of over one hundred years. Not to miss a literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the American Philosophical Society organized a committee consisting of Rittenhouse, William Smith (1727–1803), John Lukens (1720?–89), and John Sellers to take observations in Norriton, near Rittenhouse’s home. A second observatory was constructed in the State House Garden. The Royal Society of London published Rittenhouse’s delineation of the transit, and the American Philosophical Society released an account of the committee’s doings in the first issue of its Transactions, in 1773. This work was met with approval from European scientists. Rittenhouse supplied local astronomers, often using his mechanical talents to make complex and beautiful astronomical instruments. In addition to crafting some of the equipment for the observatories at Norriton and the State House, he made two orreries, mechanical devices for studying the movement of planets, for the College of New Jersey in 1770 and the University of Pennsylvania in 1771.

School Observatories

[caption id="attachment_21459" align="alignright" width="300"]A 1902 photograph of Central High School's building on Broad and Green Streets with its observatory Observatories were built at several Philadelphia-area schools in the nineteenth century, including Central High School. For the observatory here, the finest equatorial telescope was obtained from Von Utschneider and Fraunhofer in Munich, Germany.[/caption]

Local colleges and universities maintained a number of impressive observatories between the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries, but a Philadelphia city high school became one of the most technologically advanced institutions in the country in 1837. The city set aside $50,000 for the establishment of Central High School, which included $10,000 to build and furnish an astronomical observatory and library. Sharon Female Academy, founded by John Jackson (1809–55) in nearby Darby, seeking to emulate Central High, acquired a similar observatory and telescope.

Use of telescopes was not exclusive to observatories. Popular speakers used telescopes to teach astronomy in lyceum halls. In the 1840s, Irish lecturer Dionysius Lardner (1793–1859) offered his take on the theory of “The Plurality of Worlds,” an early argument for extraterrestrial life, while traveling through Philadelphia. The argument posited that if God had made other planets, they must be inhabited. Through Lardner’s performances telescopes became a means of visualizing intelligent design.

[caption id="attachment_21457" align="alignright" width="285"]A black and white map of the stars as they may be observed from the northern hemisphere Ezra Otis Kendall taught astronomy at Central High School and the University of Pennsylvania. This celestial chart appeared in his mid-century work, Atlas of the Heavens, which appeared in multiple editions. (Google Books)[/caption]

Popular thirst for astronomical knowledge, coupled with school curricula, encouraged local markets for textbooks and scientific instruments. Ezra Otis Kendall (1818–99), who taught at Philadelphia High School, authored Uranography and Atlas of the Heavens, which appeared in various editions in the 1840s and 1850s. The latter contained maps of stars and constellations. Kendall preferred color-printed star charts that depicted white stars on a blue field because he felt this better represented the nature of the heavens, Kendall’s charts also eschewed fanciful representations of constellations that confused his students. Fellow Philadelphian, Henry Whitall (1819–87), in Treatise on Fixed Stars (1850), followed suit. Testimonials for Whitall’s charts suggest that they were used by pupils of various ages, male and female alike. Women, too, wrote astronomy texts. Hannah M. Bouvier (1811–70), a resident of Crosswicks, New Jersey, wrote her Familiar Astronomy, a Philadelphia imprint, in 1855. The fifth part of her work dealt with practical astronomy, or the use of astronomical instruments. Philadelphians could visit local manufacturing companies, including McAllister & Brothers and James W. Queen & Co. These companies made telescopes, celestial globes, and various astronomical tools and glass lenses. In the 1870s and 1880s, James W. Queen & Co. advertised Henry Whitall’s “Moveable Planispheres,” large printed or brightly painted paper disks that could be rotated to determine visible stars for a particular time and date.

Other Astronomical Societies

[caption id="attachment_21458" align="alignright" width="234"]a black and white photograph of Dr. Roy Marshall polishing the Fels Planetarium's giant mirror The Fels Planetarium was donated to the Franklin Institute for its new museum on the Ben Franklin Parkway. It was only the second planetarium in the United States when it opened in 1933. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Philadelphia’s culture of astronomy spawned a number of popular astronomical societies in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In 1888, residents of Philadelphia and Camden met in New Jersey to found the Camden Astronomical Society, one of the oldest amateur astronomy clubs in the country. Edmund Read Jr. (1859–1923), a Camden businessman, became its first president. For the first thirty-five years, the society held its meetings at Read’s house. In 1927, it became the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, meeting at the Sproul Observatory, built in 1906, at Swarthmore College. Newly renamed, the society, with the cooperation of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, American Philosophical Society, and other area institutions, did much to promote the bicentennial of Rittenhouse’s birth in 1932, including establishing the Rittenhouse Medal, an award for outstanding achievement in astronomy. When the Franklin Institute opened a museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the society began to meet there, taking advantage of the new Fels Planetarium and Institute Observatory. Other local societies included the West Jersey Astronomical Society (founded 1967) and student-run societies at colleges and universities, such as the Physics and Astronomy Club at the University of Pennsylvania.

Well-established scientific institutions ushered in popular interest in astronomy, too. In the late twentieth century, Derrick Pitts (b. 1955) transformed the Franklin Institute’s astronomical programs. Pitts began working at the Franklin Institute as a college student in 1978 and became chief astronomer in 1990. Pitts was influential in creating the “Space Command” permanent exhibit, which provided children a hands-on experience with astronomical artifacts. In 2004, Science Spectrum magazine named Pitts one of the fifty most important African Americans in research science. In 2008, Pitts became the host of SkyTalk on WHYY Radio, a weekly broadcast of astronomical news made accessible for a popular audience. He became a NASA Ambassador in 2009. Pitts, the Franklin Institute, and the Rittenhouse Astronomical Society held various educational astronomy events during the Annual Philadelphia Science Festival, including a citywide telescope night.

Between the eighteenth and the twenty-first centuries, Philadelphians maintained a steady interest in astronomy. Scholars and popular practitioners looked to the sky to answer various questions—medical, religious, philosophical, and scientific—all means of finding their place in the universe.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

Entomology (Study of Insects)

Philadelphia and its nearby vicinities became important sites for entomological study by the nineteenth century due to the presence of the Academy of Natural Sciences (established in 1812) and the American Entomological Society (1859). Entomological writing and illustration also flourished in this center for book production. Over time, entomologists’ interest in insects shifted from the practical and taxonomic to become more focused on ecology and educational outreach.

[caption id="attachment_21044" align="alignright" width="189"]cover of silkworm breeding and management guide. 1770. This is the title page of the booklet Directions for the Breeding and Management of Silk-Worms, published in Philadelphia in 1770. (Courtesy, American Antiquarian Society)[/caption]

Eighteenth-century Philadelphians often expressed scientific interest in insects in relation to agricultural or economic matters. In 1768, Samuel Pullein (fl. 1734–68?) published The Culture of Silk to encourage American silk production. The treatise explained how to rear silkworms, the larvae of the domesticated silk moth (Bombyx mori). Pullein’s instructions proved to be very popular, and in 1769 Dr. Cadwalader Evans (1716–73) wrote to Benjamin Franklin (1706–90) for advice on introducing silk production to Philadelphia. Franklin suggested the creation of a public filature, an establishment for reeling silk from cocoons. By 1770, Evans and other prominent Philadelphians had organized a silk society. The following year their filature reeled 155 pounds of silk for export. Although the scheme ultimately failed, Philadelphians’ fascination with insects was just beginning.

Philadelphia’s early contributions to the study of entomology were largely due to the pioneering work of Thomas Say (1787–1834), a descriptive taxonomist. In 1812, Say joined the Academy of Natural Sciences, which became an important venue for his entomological collaborations, including American Entomology. In the absence of a comprehensive field guide to insects, Say sought to provide descriptions and color illustrations of all known species in North America. Fellow academy members Charles Alexandre Lesueur (1778–1846) and Titian Ramsay Peale (1799–1885) executed many of the drawings. Apart from a preliminary set of plates and descriptions issued in 1817, the three-volume work was printed in Philadelphia between 1824 and 1828. Before his untimely death by typhoid, Say discovered and formally described more than 1,500 insect species.

A New Way of Displaying Insects

[caption id="attachment_20833" align="alignright" width="236"]A black and white portrait of Titian Ramsay Peale In 1833, Titian Ramsay Peale made his first effort at publishing a work on butterflies called Lepidoptera Americana, which he continued to expand throughout his lifetime. The manuscript was ultimately acquired by the American Museum of Natural History, and was published posthumously in 2015. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Titian Peale, the youngest son of Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), was primarily interested in Lepidoptera, the taxonomic order that encompasses butterflies and moths. He curated an impressive collection of roughly four thousand specimens, for which he designed what entomologists call a “book box.” In the 1820s, Peale began hermetically sealing his butterflies in glass boxes lined with tin foil. Entomologists usually preserved insect specimens by pinning them to an opaque surface lined with cork; Peale’s boxes allowed them to study specimens from both above and below by pinning specimens to small cork discs glued to the glass bottom of the box. Peale displayed these boxes at the Philadelphia Museum. In 1899, the Academy of Natural Sciences acquired Peale’s collection. It is one of the oldest collections of insects in the United States.

Concurrently, women produced popular works that diffused entomological knowledge beyond the walls of scientific societies and museums. Philadelphia Quaker and abolitionist Mary Townsend (c. 1814–51) wrote Life in the Insect World in 1844. Townsend emphasized the practical uses or lives of insects, portraying them as diligent workers, careful artisans, and clever tradesmen. In doing so, Townsend argued for cosmic design—even small, seemingly unappealing creatures had purpose and were evidence of God’s goodness. Didactic works that used science to cultivate religious sensibility were considered to be appropriate fare for young women.

In 1859, Philadelphia became home to what would become the country’s oldest continuously active entomological society, the Entomological Society of Philadelphia. Prominent founding members included John Lawrence LeConte (1812–97), a specialist in Coleoptera (beetles), and Ezra Townsend Cresson Sr. (1838–1926), a specialist in Hymenoptera (bees, wasps, and ants). Lucy Say (1801–86), the wife of Thomas Say, became a member in 1863. The society produced various publications, including its scholarly proceedings. It also distributed, at first gratuitously and later by subscription, a circular called The Practical Entomologist. This serial aimed to acquaint farmers and agriculturalists with useful entomological knowledge. Content ranged from advice on how to deal with problematic species to the basics of taxonomy. In 1867, the society changed its name to the American Entomological Society (AES).

Illustrating Specimens

[caption id="attachment_20830" align="alignright" width="240"]A color illustration of a black butterfly hovering above a hawthorne branch Abolitionist Sarah Mapps Douglass used the image of a black butterfly to symbolize her cause. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

By the late nineteenth century, Philadelphia was home to a number of women illustrators. Local artist Mary Peart, along with Lavinia Bowen (b. c. 1820) and Patience Leslie, primarily illustrated Butterflies of North America by William Henry Edwards (1822–1909), issued in parts between 1868 and 1897. Rather than drawing from dead specimens, Peart raised and observed butterflies in her Philadelphia residence to more accurately draw and color the larval and pupal stages of her subjects. Ultimately, Edwards believed that Peart contributed more to the work than he did. In raising so many insects, she learned and passed on a great deal of information about the life cycles and habits of moths and butterflies.

Love of entomology passed from one generation to the next. Two of Ezra Townsend Cresson Sr.’s sons followed in his footsteps and became entomologists, working for periods of time at both the Academy of Natural Sciences and the American Entomological Society. George Bringhurst Cresson (1859–1919), like his father, specialized in Hymenoptera, working as a conservator at the Entomological Section of the Academy of Natural Sciences in the 1880s. Ezra Townsend Cresson Jr. (1876–1948) specialized in Diptera, the order that encompasses true flies. Cresson Jr. became a curator in at the Academy of Natural Sciences. He contributed to entomological publications up through the 1940s, co-editing the Academy’s bimonthly serial, Entomological News, with Phillip Powell Calvert (1871–1961). Under their stewardship, the publication became increasingly interested in the study of species’ evolution to expand classical taxonomy of insects.

Meanwhile, rising concern over invasive insect species prompted entomologists to team up with local Philadelphians and the United States government. In 1916, Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) appeared in Burlington County, New Jersey. Without natural predators, the beetles spread quickly, ravaging crops and ornamental plants. From roughly a dozen insects, their numbers escalated to one thousand quarts of insects captured largely by local children, during the summer of 1920. By 1923, and despite the efforts of entomologists, the infested area spanned seven hundred square miles with no sign of abatement. The situation prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to form the Division of Japanese Beetle Control in 1928; in 1933, in an early biocontrol effort, researchers produced the first commercial microbial pesticide, Milky Spore, first detected in New Jersey. By the 1940s, various branch offices littered the state; the Philadelphia office was responsible for quarantining beetles in the eastern third of Pennsylvania. Japanese beetles remained an invasive pest into the twenty-first century.

Interaction with the public was not limited to invasive species. Although the Academy of Natural Sciences and the American Entomological Society continued to foster entomological research well into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, by the end of this period, the two institutions increased efforts to educate young children. In 1986, the AES established the Calvert Award for young entomologists in honor of former AES president Dr. Phillip Powell Calvert. AES additionally offered an Insect Field Day for school-age children in conjunction with the Academy of Natural Science’s two-day Annual Bug Fest. Visitors to the Academy of Natural Sciences’ museum could enjoy the live butterfly exhibition in addition to its impressive collection of preserved specimens. Other entomological exhibits geared toward children also emerged. In 1992, the Insectarium, a museum of live insects, opened in North Philadelphia.

Though the goals of entomological study were varied, throughout its history, Philadelphians maintained a steady interest in insects. By the twenty-first century, outreach efforts worked to preserve this fascination among future generations.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

Herpetology (Study of Amphibians and Reptiles)

Over the course of three hundred years, urbanization and habitat loss in the Philadelphia region threatened amphibians and reptiles that once fostered rich scientific discussions. Nevertheless, pioneering herpetologists influenced medical, paleontological, and ecological studies of these creatures in North America.

[caption id="attachment_20202" align="alignright" width="230"]A painted self-portrait of Charles Willson Peale holding open a red curtain at the entrance of his Philadelphia Museum, exposing people browsing preserved specimens on shelves on the walls Charles Willson Peale operated the first art and natural sciences museum in the United States. In 1797, he set out with the French naturalist A.M.F.J. Palisot de Beauvois to collect rattlesnakes for the museum's collection. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts)[/caption]

Beginning in the eighteenth century, naturalists on both sides of the Atlantic became entranced with unusual North American herpetological specimens. Rattlesnakes, for example, were prized for their curious rattles, live births, and deadly venom. In February 1746, Philadelphia scrivener Joseph Breintnall (?-1746) wrote to Peter Collinson (1694–1768) about the deleterious effects of rattlesnake venom on his body; Breintnall’s account of his self-treatment of a rattlesnake bite was read before the Royal Society in London. Dangers posed by the snakes did not deter naturalists from seeking them out. In 1797, Charles Willson Peale (1741–1827), proprietor of the Philadelphia Museum, and French naturalist A.M.F.J. Palisot de Beauvois (1752–1820) traveled to Bridgeton, New Jersey, to snare rattlesnakes. They returned with nine live specimens, which they studied and put on display at Peale’s museum.

Philadelphia-area naturalists produced a number of important herpetological publications in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Between 1773 and 1777, the famed Kingsessing naturalist William Bartram (1739–1823) traveled through the American South, documenting various species of reptiles and amphibians in the process. Bartram illustrated the head and carapace of a soft-shelled turtle for an account of the trip, popularly known as Bartram’s Travels (1791). In addition to various papers published in the proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, two early herpetological synopses printed in Philadelphia were American Herpetology (1827) by Richard Harlan (1796–1843), published in 1827, and North American Herpetology by John Edward Holbrook (1796–1871). Holbrook, from South Carolina, sought to create a comprehensive illustrated index of North American reptiles and amphibians, providing both descriptions and plates of frogs, toads, lizards, salamanders, alligators, and turtles. The work originally appeared in 1836, but was panned for poor coloring. For the better-known, five-volume set appearing in 1842, Holbrook corresponded with naturalists more familiar with living species to fix this problem. One of these was Maria Martin Bachmann (1796–1863), whom he credited as “Miss Martin” on the plate of the Coluber Constrictor.

[caption id="attachment_20206" align="alignright" width="239"]A black and white engraving of William Bartram with a sprig of jasmine tucked into his jacket Naturalist William Bartram described the reptiles and amphibians of the southeastern United States in his memoir, popularly referred to as Bartram's Travels. (Library of Congress)[/caption]

Noted Philadelphia physician Silas Weir Mitchell (1829–1914) performed a number of herpetological experiments beginning in the 1860s. In 1861, he published Experiments and Observations upon the Circulation of the Snapping Turtle, in which Weir described his work monitoring turtles’ blood pressure. His study convinced Weir that the prevailing view of turtle respiration proposed by Robert Townson (1762–1827) in 1795 was incorrect. Weir later co-authored Researches upon the Anatomy and Physiology of Respiration in the Chelonia in 1863, arguing that turtle respiration more closely represents that of higher vertebrates than of amphibians. Herpetology informed Mitchell’s work as a physician; he also studied the effects of rattlesnake venom, which prompted herpetologist Edward Drinker Cope (1840–97) to name the speckled rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchelli) after him. Cope spent most of the early 1860s studying salamanders; amphibians and reptiles remained important to his later paleontological work. In 1869–70, Cope published his Systematic Arrangement of Extinct Batrachia, Reptilia, and Aves of North America.

[caption id="attachment_20205" align="alignright" width="223"]A black and white photograph of Edward Drinker Cope seated at a desk writing From an early age, Edward Drinker Cope showed an interest in herpetology. He served as curator of reptiles for the Academy of Natural Sciences and published numerous articles about herpetology and paleontology. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)[/caption]

Although many Philadelphia herpetologists were interested in North American species, a number of nineteenth-century naturalists collected species from Central and South America; examples can be found at the Academy of Natural Sciences. In the twentieth century, Alice Middleton Boring (1883–1955) looked to Asia and expanded American knowledge of Chinese species. Philadelphia-born Boring was initially interested in cell biology. She trained at Bryn Mawr, where she received a bachelor’s degree in 1904 and a doctorate in 1910. In 1918 she left to teach in China at Peking Union Medical College and became engaged with herpetology, authoring and co-authoring several studies of Chinese amphibians and reptiles in the 1930s and 1940s.

Around the same time, Roger Conant (1909–2003) came to Philadelphia. He became the curator of reptiles at the Philadelphia Zoo in 1935 and director of the entire institution in 1967. In 1952, he founded the Philadelphia Herpetological Society, which, in addition to facilitating outreach and education, operated a nature preserve in southern New Jersey. Conant described new species of water snakes and wrote Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of the Eastern United States in 1958. Through his influence, the Philadelphia Zoo remained an important institution for herpetological study and conservation into the twenty-first century. Other area institutions that maintained educational live animal exhibits emphasizing herpetological conservation in the early twenty-first century included Drexel’s Academy of Natural Sciences and Adventure Aquarium, in Camden, New Jersey. Beginning in 2012, Adventure Aquarium participated in a program for sea turtle rehabilitation, tracking, and conservation based at the North Carolina Aquarium.

Herpetologists’ increased emphasis on conservation by the twentieth and twenty-first centuries was consistent with national trends, but was also attentive to ecological changes in the Greater Philadelphia area. Philadelphia’s growth eliminated or reduced the natural resources various species of snakes, turtles, frogs, and salamanders needed to thrive. Some animals, like turtles, suffered depopulation after being targeted for the food industry. While their predecessors were concerned with possessing and displaying nature, modern herpetologists became attuned to the ways industrialization, pollution, and the introduction of nonnative species altered historic populations and sought to maintain healthy biodiversity in an urban environment.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

Dentistry and Dentists

As dentistry slowly emerged as a profession in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, innovative dentists in Philadelphia helped to shape dental care, procedures, and tools. Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, dental colleges, journals, and societies contributed to the expansion of dental training and practice, which gradually but increasingly became accessible to women and people of color.

[caption id="attachment_20157" align="alignright" width="253"]Painter and naturalist Charles Willson Peale carved dentures from ivory, the most common material for making teeth until about 1820. (Philadelphia Museum of Art) Painter and naturalist Charles Willson Peale carved dentures from ivory, the most common material for making teeth until about 1820. (Philadelphia Museum of Art)[/caption]

Before the era of professional dentists, most minor dental complaints were handled within the household. Finnish naturalist Peter Kalm (1716-79) observed these folk dentistry practices while traveling through the American colonies. Writing from Raccoon, New Jersey, in 1749, he remarked: “The remedies against the tooth-ache are almost as numerous as days in a year. There is hardly an old woman but can tell you three or four score of them, of which she is perfectly certain that they are infallible and speedy in giving relief as a month’s fasting, by bread and water, is to a burthensome paunch.” Though skeptical of women’s popular medicine, Kalm listed a number of “effectual” American cures, including botanical remedies used by Native Americans. European colonists of all nationalities relied upon Native American knowledge to assess the pharmaceutical uses of new world plants. For example, Pennsylvania Germans learned from Native Americans how to apply a decoction of a tulip tree’s (Liriodendron tulipifera) root bark to cavities.

If a tooth could not be saved, eighteenth-century Philadelphians had several options. Doctors routinely performed extractions, but in the absence of a trained doctor, artisans handy with forceps, such as blacksmiths, might also suffice. The practitioners included enslaved people, such as the runaway sought by an advertisement in the 1740 Pennsylvania Gazette: “A Negro man named Simon, aged 40 years…” who could “Bleed and Draw Teeth… .” Doctors practiced dentistry into the nineteenth century, but beginning in the 1730s, individuals identifying as dentists advertised in American newspapers. On June 15, 1738, William Whitehead became the first in Philadelphia to place such an advertisement when he offered his services as an “Operator for the Teeth” in the American Weekly Mercury.

Itinerant Dentists

From the 1760s onward, an influx of formally-trained dentists arrived in Philadelphia from England and France. Some itinerants, like Robert Wooffendale, an immigrant from London, worked in temporary offices for weeks at a time. In advertising for patients, Wooffendale emphasized his training under Thomas Berdmore (c. 1740-85), who had served as dentist to King George III. By the end of the eighteenth century, these dentists offered diverse services ranging from teeth whitening to repairing scurvy-addled gums. Prices for dental work suggest that access to dentists may have been cost-prohibitive for many. In 1785, the well-regarded French dentist James Gardette (1756-1831) charged 11 shillings and 3 pence for a cleaning. This was slightly more than the cost of an evening’s concert ticket. However, charitable dentists such as James Molan (active in the 1790s) also treated impoverished Philadelphians for free.

Individuals who extracted teeth or “plugged”–that is to say, filled cavities–often sold powders and instruments for home hygiene and cosmetics. In addition to boar-bristle brushes and scurvy lotions, their wares included false teeth made from a variety of natural materials. Making realistic, practical, and comfortable teeth required artistry. Painter and naturalist Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) carved dentures from ivory, the most common material for making teeth until about 1820. He later became an early experimenter with porcelain teeth. When he advertised porcelain dentures of his own design in 1826, local dentists responded by touting the superiority of their work. They included Frenchman Antoine A. Plantou, who very probably introduced what he called “incorruptible teeth” to Philadelphia in 1817. Incorruptible teeth were made of various inorganic materials, including porcelain, enamel, and minerals, although the exact composition varied with the manufacturer. Inorganic materials could withstand decay and wear far better than ivory, and thus became preferred materials for constructing dentures.

Many early innovations in dentistry emerged from the work of James Gardette (1756-1831), who improved the cosmetic appearance of dentures by using a mortised gold plate to mount one’s natural teeth. Gardette, a native of Agen, France, trained at the Royal Academy of Surgery in Paris in 1773-75 before becoming a surgeon in the French Navy. During the American Revolution, he was stationed in Newport, Rhode Island, where he first began practicing as a dentist. By 1784, Gardette had settled in Philadelphia, although he often worked itinerantly. Among his many accomplishments was the development of a procedure similar to extraction and reimplantation, in which he partially extracted a molar, severed and killed the nerve below, and allowed the tooth to reset in the gums. This allowed for a relatively painless filling afterward. Via this procedure, Gardette successfully determined that teeth could be replanted under particular conditions. Additional work in this vein demonstrated that it was not possible to transplant teeth from one human mouth to another.

Over 130 Dentists by 1845

[caption id="attachment_20228" align="alignright" width="300"]Advertisement for a Dentist, 1851 T.L. Buckingham was a member of the generation of dentists that began to operate in the city after 1845. Before the 1760s, professional dentists were few and far between. (Library Company of Philadelphia)[/caption]

By 1845, McElroy’s Philadelphia City Directory listed more than one hundred and thirty dentists serving Philadelphia and one serving Camden, New Jersey. Some were second-generation dentists, such as Emile Blaise Gardette (1803-87), the son of James Gardette, and Gustavus Plantou, the son of Antoine Plantou. A number of these dentists had broad medical training, as denoted by their “M.D.” suffixes. Others, like James W. Newberry, were dentists and artisans. Newberry dabbled in watchmaking, likely because dental tools were versatile for fine jewelry work. Although the vast majority of the dentists listed in the 1845 directory were white, a handful of African American dentists operated in antebellum Philadelphia. They included James McCrummell (? - 1867), an abolitionist who in 1848 created a denture for an accused fugitive from slavery, Mary Walker (1818-95?). Walker was missing several of her front teeth, so the denture disguised a distinguishing feature of a suspected runaway.

Most medical colleges in Philadelphia offered courses and lectures on dentistry, but dental colleges did not appear until mid-century. The first was the short-lived Philadelphia College of Dental Surgery, which was founded in 1852 and became the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery in 1856, with Henry C. Carey (1793-1879) as president of the institution. By 1863, a second Philadelphia Dental College opened, followed by a dental school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1878. Some of these institutions admitted women. In 1869, German-born Henriette Hirschfield-Tiburtius (1834-1911) became the first woman to complete a full college course in dentistry when she graduated from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery. She returned home to practice as Germany’s first degreed woman dentist. Dentistry also became part of the curriculum at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, which was open to women of color. By the early twentieth century, Philadelphia’s independent dental colleges merged with local universities as Temple University acquired the Philadelphia College of Dental Surgery (1907) and the University of Pennsylvania absorbed the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery (1909).

Dental journals and societies marked the growing professionalism of dentistry. The most notable of the Philadelphia-based journals, The Dental Cosmos (1859-1936), became the most important national dental journal in the United States and later merged with the Journal of the American Dental Association. The Philadelphia County Dental Society met for the first time at the College of Physicians, then at Thirteenth and Locust Streets, on November 30, 1886. By 1899, a group of dentists on the other side of the Delaware River founded the Southern Dental Society of the State of New Jersey in Camden.

Dental Equipment Breakthroughs

[caption id="attachment_19739" align="alignright" width="300"]Philadelphia was the home of Dr. Samuel Stockton White, who founded the S.S. White firm, a premier manufacturer of dental tools. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries) The S.S. White firm, a premier manufacturer of dental tools (shown here in 1948), was founded in Philadelphia by Dr. Samuel Stockton White. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

The publisher of The Dental Cosmos, Dr. Samuel Stockton White (1822-79), also founded Philadelphia’s most successful dental depot. Established in 1844, for the next century the S.S. White firm offered functional and elaborately decorated dental tools and office furniture  suitable for treating fashionable society. White’s company manufactured and sold dental engines, motor-operated machines with interchangeable heads for drilling and cleaning. A key component to the engines was a flexible rotary shaft. In contrast to a solid or fixed shaft, a flexible shaft allowed for more creative engine configurations. The realization that flexible shafts could be useful to aircraft manufacturers led the company to explore engine technology more broadly in the 1930s and 1940s. Other area companies contributed to the improvement of dental tools. In 1935, Wallace Carothers (1896-1937) invented nylon for Delaware-based chemical company DuPont, and nylon-bristled toothbrushes were introduced a few years later in 1938.

In the early twentieth century, the establishment of dental museums allowed local dental colleges to teach the history of dentistry alongside clinical practice. At their inception, these institutions consisted of collections of dental artifacts for the use of dental students. In 1915, the University of Pennsylvania acquired the Thomas W. Evans dental museum. Dr. Harold L. Faggart, D.D.S., both a practicing dentist and lecturer in dental history, helped to found Temple University’s dental museum in 1938. Faggart also donated some of his research on early dentistry to the Library Company of Philadelphia for the edification of the public. After extensive fund-raising efforts, Temple’s Dr. and Mrs. Edwin Weaver III Historical Dental Museum opened in 2003, allowing Temple’s collections to remain on permanent display. Its most notable holdings included the dental equipment of three generations of the Flagg family, but artifacts ranged from dental product ephemera to specimens of work created by former alums.

[caption id="attachment_19738" align="alignright" width="300"]The Kornberg School of Dentistry has roots stretching back to 1863, it moved to this building in 1946.(Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries) The Kornberg School of Dentistry, with roots stretching back to 1863, moved to this building in 1946. (Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries)[/caption]

Dentistry continued to diversify in the early to middle twentieth century. In 1913, Latino students at the University of Pennsylvania founded the Latin American Dental Society. The following year, Penn admitted women to the School of Dental Medicine for the first time, yielding the school's first class of women graduates in 1917. That same year, Carrie Kirk Bryant became the first woman to become an instructor in dental medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Helen E. Myers, D.D.S. (1912?-62), a 1942 graduate of Temple University, became the first woman to be commissioned by the U. S. Army Dental Corps. By 1952, women dental students at the University of Pennsylvania had founded their own dental society.

Growth of Dental Schools

As new areas of specialization developed and related professions, such as dental hygiene, emerged, dental campuses and enrollments expanded at Penn and Temple. In 1969 Penn added the Dental Research Building and the Levy Oral Health Sciences Building. By 2015, the University of Pennsylvania boasted more than 10,500 alumni of the dental school and offered both predoctoral and postdoctoral training in a variety of specializations. Temple’s Kornberg Dental School suffered a series of low ratings in the mid-1940s, but recovered by the 1980s and opened a sizable annex to its clinical facilities in 1990. Around this time, Temple faculty emphasized teaching new developments in cosmetic dentistry, as use of bleaching agents and veneers was becoming increasingly popular. Temple’s graduates maintained an active alumni community, with more than 7,000 members as of 2015. From the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, dentistry in Greater Philadelphia became increasingly characterized not only by how it was practiced, but also by who could be a practitioner.

Jessica Linker is a doctoral candidate at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and the recipient of fellowships from a number of Philadelphia-area institutions, including the Library Company of Philadelphia, the American Philosophical Society, and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her work focuses on American women and scientific practice between 1720 and 1860.

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