Founded in 1824 in Philadelphia, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania inspires people to create a better future through historical understanding. One of the oldest historical societies in the United States, it is home to some 600,000 printed items and more than 21 million manuscript and graphic items. Its unparalleled collections encompass more than 350 years of America’s history—from its 17th-century origins to the contributions of its most recent immigrants. The society’s remarkable holdings together with its educational programming make it one of the nation’s most important special collections libraries: a center of historical documentation and study, education, and engagement.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s building, designed by Addison Hutton and listed on Philadelphia’s Register of Historical Places, houses some 600,000 printed items and over 19 million manuscript and graphic items. The Society maintains printed collections on Pennsylvania and regional history and manuscript collections covering 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century history. The holdings of the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies were added in 2002 and those of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania in 2006. The Historical Society has recently undertaken efforts to appeal to a younger demographic, including having open bar events.
The society is one of the largest family history libraries in the nation, has preeminent printed collections on Pennsylvania and regional history, and offers superb manuscript collections renowned for their strength in 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century history. The Society has become a chief center for the documentation and study of the ethnic communities and immigrant experiences shared by people whose American history began more recently-between the late 19th century and our own times. In 2009 HSP formally transferred ownership of its museum collection to the Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia.
The society’s building on the southwest corner of 13th and Locust Streets was formerly the site of the Patterson Mansion. General Robert Patterson, a general of the Mexican-American and Civil Wars purchased the mansion from John Hare Powell, the founder of the Pennsylvania Agricultural Society. After Patterson’s death in 1881, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania purchased the mansion as its permanent home. The mansion was demolished between 1905 and 1909 and the main block of a new fireproof building, again designed by Addison Hutton, was constructed on site. The totally fireproof building was dedicated in 1910.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is one of the largest family history libraries in the nation, has excellent collections on local and regional history, and offers a manuscript collection renowned for its 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-century holdings. The Balch Institute’s merger with HSP in 2002 (and those of the Genealogical Society of Pennsylvania in 2006 through a Strategic Alliance Agreement), the Society is now also one of the nation’s leading repositories of ethnic and immigrant studies materials. The Society houses some 600,000 books, pamphlets, serials, and microfilm reels; 20 million manuscripts; and over 300,000 graphics items, making it one of the nation’s largest non-governmental repositories of documentary materials.
The Society holds many national treasures, such as the first draft of the United States Constitution, an original printer’s proof of the Declaration of Independence, and the earliest surviving American photograph. But the true strength of our collection is the overall breadth and depth of materials that together offer a rich, complex portrait of U.S. history and society from the 17th century to the present.
The Society’s collections include a number of different types of materials:
Books and pamphlets: ranging from limited-edition and out-of-print volumes to current reference works and scholarly monographs. The Society’s pre-1820 imprints are housed next door at The Library Company of Philadelphia.
Serials and newspapers: spanning almost 300 years, in either original format or microfilm copy.
Manuscripts: materials such as letters, diaries, account books, deeds, minutes, and scrapbooks. Manuscript collections include personal papers created by individuals and families, and records created by organizations and businesses.
Graphics: prints, watercolors, and other works of art on paper, architectural drawings, photographs, broadsides, maps, posters, and other images.
Printed ephemera: such as event programs, brochures, invitations, advertisements, trade cards, certificates, and menus.
Microforms: microfilm and microfiche reproductions of newspapers, genealogical resources, manuscript collections, and other mat
The society publishes Sidelights, a semi-annual newsletter, Pennsylvania Legacies, a semi-annual illustrated history magazine, and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, a quarterly scholarly journal published since 1877.
Doing research in a special collections library can be intimidating, especially if it’s your first time. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s library staff is here to help researchers use our catalogs and research tools, find books on the open stacks, access books, manuscripts and other material from the closed stacks, and request reproductions for personal research use or for publication.
The Society’s building at 1300 Locust Street was designed by Addison Hutton and is listed on the City of Philadelphia’s Register of Historical Places.