"Philadelphia of Tomorrow," painted by artist Harry Gricevics in 1952. The artwork depicts the view of Philadelphia from the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps with various artists in the foreground. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.
How much did Philadelphians pay for alcohol and tobacco in the spring of 1909? Who commissioned art showing the enormous view from the Philadelphia Museum of Art produced two decades before “Rocky” hit the silver screen?
Those answers — and many others — can be found in the Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel University, which comprises more than 130,000 objects from the former Philadelphia History Museum. As trustee of the collection, Drexel is building a “museum without walls” to preserve and highlight the history of Philadelphia and America.
To this end, Drexel recently launched an Accessible Online Collection showing more than 1,000 objects. Now, for the first time ever, a sampling of those objects is available virtually to the public. The number of online objects will grow monthly, so check back regularly to see what’s new (old)!
The creation of the Accessible Online Collection marks an important milestone in a yearslong initiative to preserve, catalog, photograph and share artifacts and materials. After the museum closure in 2018, Page Talbott, PhD, director of museum outreach in Drexel’s Lenfest Center for Cultural Partnerships, and Stacey Swigart, director of the Atwater Kent Collection, began working on records and data reorganization as well as creating a plan to determine categories and logistics for inventory and evaluation. Talbott has examined all the organizational paper records related to the collections — accession documents, research papers and catalog (object file) information, to name a few. The information was reviewed with the addition of research on the various materials in the collection. Swigart did the same for all the digital records. Digital work has included creating and updating standards and protocols, and editing and adding historical data as required — over 20,000,000 data edits and counting since the start of the project! The work from both paper and digital work led to the overall plan of inventory and evaluation of the physical objects and archives in the collection.
For Drexel faculty and professional staff, these objects cover hundreds of years and disciplines, and can be used as visual and historical references in classes and research related to the history of their disciplines and their place in Philadelphia history. For students, the collection can be used for research papers and projects, all while they absorb important historical context for the city in which they live and study. And for everyone, the collection is now accessible in ways it’s never been, for personal enjoyment and learning.
Have a question about the collection, or ways you can use it in your classes or research? Feel free to reach out to Stacey Swigart at email@example.com. Please note that the Atwater Kent Collection is currently unpacking and inventorying from a recent move to Center City. Physical access by appointment will be available later this year.
Swigart and Talbott compiled just a few of many examples from the Atwater Kent Collection available through the Accessible Collection Online that relate to Drexel’s academic offerings (and its own University history). They know better than anyone that the collection is so rich that there is no limit to the questions and research it can support. Dig in and see what this resource uncovers for you!
This typewriter was used in the early 20th century. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.
- A typewriter (circa 1900) from the Medical Examiners Office for the City of Philadelphia.
- A 1945 photograph of a Red Cross nurse spoon-feeding a child patient.
The scale used to weigh prizefighters. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.
- A scale (circa 1920) used for weighing prizefighters Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney in the World Heavyweight Title Contest, which was fought in Philadelphia in 1926 during the celebration of the U.S. Sesquicentennia
- The 1916 rulebook for "Athletic and Recreative Activities of the Public Schools of Philadelphia Pa."
The sign from the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.
- An undated poster noting that the working of horses or other animals for more than 15 hours a day or 90 hours a week was prohibited by law and subject to a $50 fine.
- A 1926 search warrant for John Wagner & Sons to look for liquor during Prohibition.