About The independence Seaport MuseUm

Independence Seaport Museum's mission is to discover Philadelphia's river of history and world of connections.

The Independence Seaport Museum, founded in 1960 by J. Welles Henderson, was established as the Philadelphia Maritime Museum and opened its doors in 1961.  Despite Philadelphia’s long history of maritime significance to the country since the days of William Penn, there had been no dedicated museum focusing on the topic until then.  Henderson’s vision was for the museum to collect, display, preserve and study the port of Philadelphia’s maritime history and development for charitable, scientific, literary and educational purposes.  From its inception, the museum was enthusiastically received by the community and continues to this day.  In 2021, USA Today’s readers voted Independence Seaport Museum as one of the Top Ten Best History Museums of the year.  

The museum organized its first major art exhibition in 1966 to celebrate its fifth anniversary featuring works by Thomas Birch and other artists whose work focused on the Delaware Valley’s maritime tradition.  Critics hailed the exhibition as “an important and outstanding contribution to American maritime art.” Numerous acclaimed exhibitions, lectures and other programs have been a highlight of the museum’s tradition ever since.

As the museum’s visitation, membership, programming and educational opportunities expanded, so, too, did its needs for physical space. In December 1974, it moved to a new, substantially larger space on Chestnut Street. Five years later, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum became only the sixth museum in Philadelphia to receive accreditation from the American Association of Museums (now the American Alliance of Museums), a distinction it continues to hold to the present. Spurred by continued growth, the museum moved to its current location along the Delaware River at Penn’s Landing in 1995 and also changed its name, as it remains known today, to Independence Seaport Museum.

Over the years, the museum has actively acquired artifacts and works of art that support its mission. Today, the museum’s collections include not only more than 10,000 objects and one million documents but also the historic Cruiser Olympia (the oldest floating steel warship in the world) and the Submarine Becuna from the World War II-era. Among the collection’s other treasures are Benjamin Franklin’s chart showing his published discovery of the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic, the signal book used by Admiral Howe to give instructions to his fleet as they sailed up the Delaware River seeking to engage former colonists in November 1777, Captain Vernon Gridley’s sea chest used on Olympia during the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish American War that descended from the original owner’s family and the first-class passenger list for Titanic.

The Seaport Boat Shop, opened in 1981 and is dedicated to the skills and traditions of wooden boat building and sailing in the Delaware Valley and the New Jersey shore, is another educational aspect of the Independence Seaport Museum where visitors can learn about how watercraft work and are constructed.

Since 2021, under the President and Chief Executive Office Peter S. Seibert, the museum has refocused its mission that had expanded over the years to being a maritime museum with a world scope to one centered on the Delaware River, its people and the environment and how it connects to the larger world. Its collections, exhibitions and programming all reflect this renewed mandate.


An Accredited Museum

Independence Seaport Museum has been an accredited museum by the American Alliance of Museums since 1989. Alliance Accreditation brings national recognition to a museum for its commitment to excellence, accountability, high professional standards, and continued institutional improvement. Developed and sustained by museum professionals for 50 years, the Alliance’s museum accreditation program is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance, self-regulation, and public accountability. It strengthens the museum profession by promoting practices that enable leaders to make informed decisions, allocate resources wisely, and remain financially and ethically accountable in order to provide the best possible service to the public.

Out of the nation’s estimated 33,000 museums, over 1,080 are currently accredited.

Independence Seaport Museum In The Community

visit the seaport museum

Immerse yourself in award-winning exhibitions and climb aboard the Olympia, a nineteenth-century cruiser, and the Becuna, a World War II-era submarine.