Philadelphia Commercial Museum

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Philadelphia Commercial Museum
William P. Wilson
Commercial Museum advertisement, November 1902

The Philadelphia Commercial Museum (also known as the International Bureau of Commerce; later, Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center) was established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1895. Its permanent home was a neo-classical building situated at 34th Street and Civic Center Blvd, erected as part of the 1899 National Export Exposition. The museum had business offices at 332 South Fourth Street.[1]

The museum's purpose was to promote domestic and foreign commerce, as well as to collect products and information regarding world trade.[2] It was the first US institution that actively promoted the country's industry and business in foreign markets.[3]


In 1893, botanist William P. Wilson, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, attended the World's Columbian Exposition and suggested the development of a "permanent world's fair museum." He purchased much of the fair's exhibits and after shipping them back to Philadelphia, the museum opened in temporary spaces. Four years after Wilson founded the museum, its official building opened, and in 1899, it was dedicated.[4] William Pepper was the first president of the board of trustees. The old offices of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company were leased, and exhibits were secured from Latin America, Africa, Australia, Japan, and India, forming the largest permanent collection of raw products in existence.

It was Pepper's idea to have the University of Pennsylvania Museum and the Commercial Museum situated near each other, on the plan of the South Kensington Museum. To this end, the City Councils, in 1896, passed an ordinance giving over to the trustees of the Commercial Museum 16 acres (6.5 ha) of land for the erection of suitable buildings.[5] The buildings cost US$1,000,000 to erect. Of this amount Congress appropriated $300,000, with the understanding that the permanent buildings were to become, after the Export Exposition, the home of the Commercial Museum. The state of Pennsylvania appropriated $75,000; the city of Philadelphia, $200,000. Other sums were brought together by general subscriptions from the citizens of Philadelphia, of Pennsylvania, and of the country at large.[6]

The institution had a name change to the Museum of the Philadelphia Civic Center in 1966.[2] The museum closed on July 1, 1994.[4]


  1. ^ The Monumental News. XIV, No. 1 (Public domain ed.). Chicago: R.J. Haight. 1902. pp. 668–.
  2. ^ a b "PHILADELPHIA COMMERCIAL MUSEUM PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION". Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  3. ^ "The Commercial Museum, 1894-1991—Philadelphia's Window on the Industrial World". WORKSHOP OF THE WORLD—PHILADELPHIA. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  4. ^ a b "The Rise and Fall of the Philadelphia Commercial Museum: How a Forgotten Museum Forever Altered American Industry". Independence Seaport Museum. Retrieved 15 November 2014.
  5. ^ Bonnier Corporation (October 1899). Popular Science (Public domain ed.). Bonnier Corporation. pp. 840–. ISSN 0161-7370.
  6. ^ Johnson, Alfred Sidney; Bickford, Clarence A.; Hudson, William W.; Nathan Haskell Dole (1899). Cyclopedic Review of Current History (Public domain ed.). Garretson, Cox & Company. pp. 859, 631.
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Bonnier Corporation's "Popular Science" (1899)
  • This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: A. Johnson, C. Bickford, W. Hudson, N. Dole's "Cyclopedic Review of Current History" (1899)