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Philadelphia History Museum

Posted on Thursday, December 4, 2014
A Philadelphia museum dedicated to a very Philadelphian topic… Philadelphia!

The History

While the Philadelphia History Museum dates back nearly 75 years, the Atwater Kent Building that houses the museum dates back much further.  The Atwater Kent Building was constructed in 1824-1826 by renowned architect John Haviland.  Haviland, who also built Eastern State Penitentiary, designed the landmark Greek Revival structure for the purpose of housing the newly created Franklin Institute.  The Franklin Institute was founded in 1824 and named in honor of Benjamin Franklin.  In 1934 however, the Franklin Institute moved to a much larger new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, leaving Haviland’s building empty.
Plaque Inside of the Philadelphia History Museum
In 1938 the building was purchased by A. Atwater Kent, a Philadelphia inventor and radio manufacturer.  Kent had purchased the building in order to donate it to the city so that it could become the Philadelphia History Museum.  Today the building is named after Kent in honor of his contribution.  The collection for the new museum was assembled through a joint effort between the University of Pennsylvania, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Franklin Institute.  After 3 years of renovations, the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent officially opened in 1941.

What to See

You can learn a lot about Philadelphia in many of the city’s history museums.  In most museums however, Philadelphia’s history is often limited to the 30 or so year period surrounding the events of the American Revolutionary War and Philadelphia’s time as capital of the United States.  Not only that, but geographically speaking these museums often only deal with one small section of Philadelphia; historic Old City.  The Philadelphia History Museum goes beyond the 18th Century and beyond Old City, giving visitors to the city the unique opportunity to take in all of Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia History Museum has a vast collection of artifacts that spans the centuries and contains over 100,000 pieces.  At any given time hundreds of these historic pieces will be on display.  These objects are arraigned in a number of interesting exhibits.
Some of the exhibits focus on a particular part of Philadelphia such as a recent exhibit on Northern Liberties.  Northern Liberties spent decades as one of the ten most populous cities in all of America.  Located just north of the border of Philadelphia, Northern Liberties is as old as Philadelphia itself and would become a part of the city proper in 1854.  The exhibit uses artifacts to show the rise of Northern Liberties as a center of Philadelphia’s industrial economy and then later its decline as manufacturing industries relocated overseas.  The history goes right up to today; a time when Northern Liberties has been reborn as an eclectic urban neighborhood where many young Philadelphians now choose to live.
Other exhibits focus on Philadelphia as a whole.  In one exhibit, you can see how Philadelphians have pictured themselves from the 17th century to today.  Over 25 portraits painted by renowned Philadelphian artists such as Charles Wilson Peale and Gilbert Stuart are included within the gallery.  Many photographic portraits are also included within the gallery.  From early 19th century daguerreotypes to modern digital photographs, this exhibit, appropriately titled “Face to Facebook,” lets you see Philadelphians through the centuries.
The Philadelphia History Museum at The Atwater Kent

Insider Tips

For those who are short on time and yet looking to explore more of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia History Museum provides a unique opportunity.  Inside of the Main Gallery, the floor is covered by the largest walkable map of Philadelphia in the world. This enormous map gives visitors the opportunity to walk all the way across Philadelphia in a matter of seconds.
The map also gives visitors a chance to appreciate the simplistic beauty of Philadelphia’s street grid.  The first planned city in all of America, Philadelphia’s street grid was planned by our founder William Penn.  Walk the map at the Philadelphia History Museum while looking out for any areas of interest you’d like to see.  Then walk out the door and explore them for real!

How to Get There

Guests of The Constitutional Walking Tour will actually walk right past the Philadelphia History Museum during the tour.  The Philadelphia History Museum will be located across 7th Street as you walk to your next stop after the Declaration House.  You can easily return to visit the museum after your tour as The Constitutional Walking Tour ends just blocks away from the Philadelphia History Museum at the National Constitution Center.
The Philadelphia History Museum is also easily accessible by public transit as it is located just a block away from the 8th Street Station of the Market Frankford Line.  Garages nearby also provide plenty of options for those who have decided to drive.


Monday Closed
Tuesday 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
Wednesday 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
Thursday 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
Friday 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
Saturday 10:30 am – 4:30 pm
Sunday Closed

(Note: these hours are subject to change, and you may want to contact the Philadelphia History Museum to confirm.)


Additional Information

15 South 7th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106
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