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Independence Seaport Museum » Online Exhibits » Philadelphia Commercial Museum

The Rise and Fall of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum
How a Forgotten Museum Forever Altered American Industry


[1] Conn,Steven. "An Epistemology for Empire: The Philadelphia Commercial Museum, 1893–1926." Symposium: Imperial Discourses: Power and Perception. On p. 557 of his report, Conn recounts that "In a speech at Buffalo's Pan-American Exposition in 1901 [museum founder Dr. Wilson] had assured his audience that "the influence of commerce on the whole, has been steadily in the direction of peace and prosperity, until to-day it has become the one great factor in the prevention of war." For further insight on the Commercial Museum by Conn, also see his book, Museums and American Intellectual Life, 1876-1926, University of Chicago Press, 2000.

[2] See W. Colgrave Betts. "The Philadelphia Commercial Museum" The Journal of Political Economy 8.2 (March 1900) pp.222-233

[3] Rydell, Robert W. "Review: Museums and Cultural History. A Review Article." Comparative Studies in Society and History. 34.2 (April 1992) pp.242-247

[4] Betts,W. Colgrave. "The Philadelphia Commercial Museum" The Journal of Political Economy 8.2 (March 1900) pp.227

[5] Conn, Steven."An Epistemology for Empire: The Philadelphia Commercial Museum, 1893–1926." Diplomatic History, Volume 22, Issue 4 (p 533-563)

[6] See Robert Rydell's chapter, "The Culture of Imperial Abundance: World's Fairs in the Making of American Culture" in Simon J. Bronner's Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America, 1880-1920.

[7] As Conn writes, Americans were spared most of the negativity and nihilism that pervaded Europe in the post-war years due to their safe distance from the destructive fighting.   However, not only did international commerce fail at producing the peace Dr. Wilson predicted, the First World War actually drove international profits heavily for United States industries, nearly doubling revenues between 1914 and 1919 from $4.25 to $7.3 billion.

[8] The renovation and re-imagining of the Commercial Musuem, as well as the three international festivals held from 1958-1961, are discussed in great detail in Ruth H. Hunter's The Trade and Convention Center of Philadelphia: Its Birth and Renascence.

[9] See Santiago, Denise-Marie. "Hands-on museum is itself heading into history." Philadelphia Inquirer 21 February 1994.

[10] In the October 1934 issue of The Elementary School Journal, Rupert Peters writes of these cabinets, saying: "The Philadelphia Commercial Museum has placed in nearly every school system in Pennsylvania from one to twenty cabinets of exhibits. Each contains from four to nine drawers of commercial raw materials…As a rule, the materials in the lending collections are functioning, educationally, to better advantage than do many of the class trips to museums simply because the teacher receives her material when she needs it and when it fits into the work being done."  Peters, Rupert. "Free Services Offered Children by Museums and Art Galleries. II" The Elementary School Journal 35.2 (Oct. 1934) pp.123-130

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