America’s Earliest Museums, 1774-1827

About The Project

During the early national period, Philadelphia was the epicenter of American culture. Located here were the earliest museums that were accessible to the general public, the first opened in 1782 by the eccentric Swiss collector Pierre Eugène Du Simitière, and a second four years later by artist Charles Willson Peale. The two collections themselves, for the most part, are no more—long ago sold, dispersed, or destroyed by fire.

Much has been written about these two museums (especially the much better-known Peale Museum), but nowhere is there a comprehensive accounting of just what these two museums held and exhibited to the public—that is, just what could have been seen by the American and foreign visitors who experienced these collections—in modern parlance just what contributed to, or indeed constituted, much of the visual and material culture of the city.

When complete, this website—drawing on the contemporaneous sources, both manuscript and printed, that detail the contents of the two collections—will virtually reconstruct these two museums and present the most complete possible inventory of all the identifiable holdings of these remarkable collections.

Project Director: John C. Van Horne

Americas Earliest Museums on multiple screens