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The American Philosophical Society is a discussion group founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin as an offshoot of his earlier club, the Junto. Through research grants, published journals, the upkeep of the American Philosophical Society Museum, an extensive library, and regular meetings, the society continues to advance careful study in a wide variety of disciplines in the humanities and the sciences.


From the beginning, the Society attracted some of America's finest minds. Early members included George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine, David Rittenhouse, Nicholas Biddle, Owen Biddle, Benjamin Rush, James Madison, Michael Hillegas, and John Marshall. The Society also drew philosophers from other nations as members, including Alexander von Humboldt, the Marquis de Lafayette, Baron von Steuben, Tadeusz Kościuszko, and Yekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova-Dashkova.

By 1746 the Society had lapsed into inactivity. In 1767, however, it was revived, and, on January 2, 1769, it united with the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge under the name "American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge". Benjamin Franklin was elected first president of the group.

After the American Revolution, the Society looked for leadership to Francis Hopkinson, one of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Under his influence, the Society received land from the government of Pennsylvaniamarker, along with a plot of land in Philadelphiamarker where Philosophical Hall now stands.

Illustrious names have continually been added to the membership roster, reflecting the society's scope. Charles Darwin, Robert Frost, Louis Pasteur, Elizabeth Cabot Agassiz, John James Audubon, Linus Pauling, Margaret Mead, Maria Mitchell, and Thomas Edison became members of the Society. The Society continues to attract names of high renown today, with a current membership list (as of the April 2005 elections) of 920 members, including 772 Resident members (citizens or residents of the United States) and 148 Foreign members representing more than two dozen countries.

Many members of the Society of the Cincinnati were among APS' first board members and contributors; today the APS and SOC still maintain an informal, collegial relationship.


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In 1786, the Society established the Magellanic Premium, a prize for achievement in "navigation, astronomy, or natural philosophy", the oldest scientific prize awarded by an American institution, which it still awards. Other awards include the Barzun prize for cultural history, Judson Daland Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Clinical Investigation, the Franklin medal, the Lashley award for neurobiology, the Lewis award, and the Jefferson medal for distinguished achievement in the arts, humanities, or social sciences.


The APS has published the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society since 1771. Currently five issues appear each year. The Proceedings have appeared since 1838: they publish the papers delivered at the biannual meetings of the Society. The Society has also published the collected papers of Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Henry, William Penn, and Lewis and Clark.


The American Philosophical Society Museum hosts exhibitions exploring history, art, and science using its collections. Opened in 2001, the museum is located at the Society's Philosophical Hall, adjacent to Independence Hallmarker, at 104 South Fifth Street in Philadelphia. The Museum in Philosophical Hall features revolving, thematic exhibitions that explore the intersections of history, art, and science. The current exhibition is Dialogues with Darwin. It includes a focus on the early days of Philadelphiamarker and the nation. Exhibitions include works of art, scientific instruments, original manuscripts, rare books, natural history specimens, and curiosities of all kinds from the APS's own collections, along with one-of-a-kind objects on loan from other institutions.

Admission donations are requested.


  1. New International Encyclopedia

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