Mr William Wagner (merchant, philanthropist, amateur scientist) began holding free lectures on science at his home, men & women welcome. He used the specimens he'd been collecting since he was young as examples.
He believed people had the right to education & when the lectures got so popular he could not upkeep the audience in his home, he built this natural history museum, library & auditorium to run educational workshops dealing with the questions of the day.
I had organised to hold my meeting of the day at the Wagner Free Institute of Science, smelling new fragrances for my soap range. We were for the most part the only guests & were left to our own devices to conduct our business within the upstairs museum.
The room is large, full of glass topped scientific counters & large cabinets displaying Wagner's mounted taxidermy, skeletons and large conchology (Wagner's fav topic), crustation & fossil collection. His collection is by no means complete, but a lovely personal one, that reflects the man he must have been and a sign of the times.
The building is over 3 floors, with people working away in book-lined rooms, a generous library & auditorium on the ground floor & the museum on top.
The auditorium seats about 500 and was known to be packed out when Wagner was holding court. It is set up in a semi-circle with fold down wooden perforated seats and glass display cabinets book end the stage with a large table for experiments, show & tell and demonstration. The corridors are wide, the wood well-oiled. I would love to hold workshops here, this was definitely my kind of place.
Note: If you are heading here, do not get perturbed if you feel like you're not in the right place. It is in the middle of an unlikely place in Northern Philly, that would once have been quite different. Book a cab well in advance, the friendly staff are more than happy to help. Ps. Look in the small door beside the main door.