Established through the unique curiosity and dedication of Philadelphia merchant William Wagner, the Wagner Free Institute of Science was conceived as a vehicle for Wagner to offer free educational science courses to anyone who would attend. He would illustrate the lectures with specimens that he himself had collected over his lifetime, and – unusual at the time – the classes had an open admission policy that allowed women as well as men to attend.
As the lectures grew in popularity, he moved them out of his home, and in 1855 officially founded the museum, which was later moved to a permanent home designed by Philadelphia architect John McArthur, Jr., who would go on to design Philadelphia's City Hall.
The museum features a 100,000 specimen collection with stuffed birds and small animals in antique glass cases and complete skeletons of larger animals. In addition, an array of minerals, insects, and fossils are showcased. The museum also offers classes, and has a 45,000 research library.
The museum building itself is designated a National Historic Landmark and includes many of the original exhibits, with antique display cases and display labels date to the 1880's.
- Tuesday through Friday: 9am to 4pm
- Location: 1700 West Montgomery Avenue Philadelphia, PA
- Phone: 215-763-6529
- Website: www.wagnerfreeinstitute.org