Finding Aids to Personal Papers and Special Collections in the Smithsonian Institution Archives
Record Unit 7054
Philadelphia Museum Company
Records, 1792, 1808-1842 and undated
The Philadelphia Museum Company had its genesis in the collections of Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), which he placed on view in his Philadelphia home as early as 1786. In 1792, seeking to turn his enterprise into a national museum, Peale formed a Society of Inspectors, including Thomas Jefferson and Edmund Randolph, in an unsuccessful effort to attract private and government support. In 1794, he obtained a ten-year lease to lodge his collections in the American Philosophical Society building on State House Square, and in 1802 the Pennsylvania legislature authorized the Museum to occupy quarters in the State House itself.
Peale's son, Rembrandt, attempted a museum in Baltimore that failed, and attempts by Rubens Peale and Linnaeus Peale to set up museums in New York also failed. The Philadelphia Museum was incorporated in 1821 as the Philadelphia Museum Company. Charles Willson Peale died in 1827, and his sons, chiefly Rubens and Franklin, continued the enterprise in the Philadelphia Arcade, where it remained until the construction of a new building in 1836. Caught in hard economic times and a growing schism between scientific natural history on the one hand and showmanship represented by P. T. Barnum on the other, the Museum went out of existence through sale of its collections in the 1850s.
This record unit contains minutes of meetings of Peale's Society of Inspectors for the period March-July 1792, and a second minute book has a good run of entries from June 1827, just after the elder Peale's death, to the end of 1840. The remainder of this surviving remnant of records of the Philadelphia Museum Company is less than three dozen items of correspondence and oddments related to the Philadelphia Museum and the Philadelphia Museum Company. Items are scattered through the period 1808-1842. Correspondents include Charles Willson Peale, Rubens Peale, Rembrandt Peale, and Titian Ramsay Peale.
Fragile items require careful handling.
This collection is indexed under the following access terms. These are links to collections with related topics, persons or places.
- Peale, Charles Willson, 1741-1827
- Peale, Rubens, 1784-1865
- Peale, Rembrandt, 1778-1860
- Peale, Titian Ramsay, 1799-1885
- Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826
- Randolph, Edmund, 1753-1813
- Peale, Linnaeus
- Peale, Franklin, 1795-1870
- Barnum, P. T. (Phineas Taylor), 1810-1891
- Peale's Museum (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Philadelphia Museum of Art
- American Philosophical Society
- Society of Inspectors
Physical Characteristics of Materials in the Collection
Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7054, Records