The Atwater-Kent Museum of Philadelphia (AKMP)

The Atwater-Kent Museum, located at 15 South 7th Street, occupies the former Franklin Institute Building, one block from Independence Hall and the Independence Visitor Center, and around the corner from the Liberty Bell. The Greek revival design of the original building by Philadelphia architect, John Haviland, features a marble entrance and iron lamps. In 1936, Mayor Wilson and Frances Wilstar, President of the Philadelphia Society for Preservation of Landmarks, convinced inventor and radio pioneer A. Atwater Kent to purchase the building for an official city museum. The AKMP opened in 1938, was formally dedicated in 194l, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. A. Atwater Kent, Jr., served as President until 1983, and his son, A. A. Kent III, remains on the AKMP Board of Trustees.

The permanent exhibition Experience Philadelphia features a 1600 square foot map of the city from South Philadelphia to Montgomery County stretching across the orientation gallery floor of the Museum. Visitors can experience the demographic, geographical, and economical aspects of the area by walking across the map. The AKMP, along with two offsite storage facilities, houses the largest and most comprehensive collection of material culture in Philadelphia, with over 100,000 items of historical significance from the 1680’s to the present. Over 50,000 prints, engravings, and panoramic photography and another 43,000 artifacts reflect the complete 300-year history of Philadelphia. Among these artifacts are Washington’s first presidential desk, one of the first industrial sewing machines from a 20th century upholstery shop, a wooden coffin from the graveyard of the First African Baptist Church, an 1828 vase for growing hyacinth bulbs indoors, a 1750 sampler made by Rebecca Jones, a Quaker teacher, and one of the earliest “breadboard” radios. Other historical memorabilia in the Museum include toys, dolls, sheet music, and textiles from the 1700’s.

In addition to the Library of approximately 7,000 books, pamphlets, and manuscripts, the Museum features a number of special collections such as the art and artifacts transferred from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 2002. Included in this collection are 800 paintings and portraits of prominent Philadelphians and national leaders by noted artists such as Thomas Sully, Thomas Birch, and the Peale family. There are over 10,000 objects in this outstanding collection from swords of Civil War heroes, Rittenhouse clocks, and 18th and 19th century silver, to items from the 1876 Philadephia Centennial Exposition, and the Evelyn Propper Strouse 500-piece collection of miniatures in silver, glass, porcelain, pewter, and ivory.

Through most of 2007, the AKMP will display a collection of 45 Norman Rockwell paintings from the covers of the Saturday Evening Post. These popular illustrations of 20th century America are world famous. The Wonderful World of Radio exhibition focuses on the radio manufacturing of two major Philadelphia companies, Atwater Kent and Philco. Early radios, artwork, and excerpts from famous radio broadcasts from 1920 — 1950 such as Eddie Cantor and the stock market crash in 1929, the Hindenburg disaster of 1937, and Lou Gehrig’s farewell address of 1939 are also a part of this interesting exhibit. Another exhibit of paintings, objects, photographs, and the original city charter of 1701 by William Penn will highlight the urban development and streets of Philadelphia. Other items of interest in the display include the wampum belt given to Penn by the Lenape Indian tribe, a Friehofer Bread Pushcart used on the streets in the 1900’s, torches from parade routes in the 19th century, an 1840 immigration opposition banner, and puppets from the Spiral Q Theater. Previous exhibits in the AKMP have included numerous items donated by CIGNA Insurance Company including pre-Civil War lithographs of many of the city’s historic buildings, and 19th century fire fighting equipment, as well as items from the Federal period and the maritime trade.

Special programs at the AKMP include presentations by professors and guest curators from Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia, a discussion by Peter Kent, grandson of the founder, on the importance of Atwater Kent radio production, and a program on the Great Gardens of Philadelphia, in keeping with Penn’s vision of a “green country towne.” The Museum also sponsors a national competition on National History Day and encourages middle and high school students interested in becoming historians to interact through research and learning.

Hours: Wednesday — Sunday, 1:00 p.m. — 5:00 p.m. Holiday closures: Memorial, Independence, Labor, Columbus, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.
Admission: Adults – $5.00, Seniors & Children (13-17) – $3.00, Members and Children under 12 free. (Other rates and hours available for guided tours.) Tickets on sale at the Independence Visitor Center at 6th and Market streets. Phones: 215-965-7676; 1-800-537-7676.
Museum Store: Open Monday — Friday, 10:00 — 4:30 p.m., and Saturday & Sunday, 1:00 p.m. — 5:00 p.m.
(Parking garages and metered street parking nearby.)

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