Many visitors didn't, and that's why the place was renamed the Philadelphia History Museum this year. The museum was a gift to the city by radio pioneer Atwater Kent, who made and sold radio sets in town. Kent was a history fan and a philanthropist.
In 1919, he bought the building and garden we now know as the Betsy Ross House, renovating the premises and handing the deed over to the city.
In the 1930's, the Franklin Institute left its original building downtown for a new, expanded facility on Ben Franklin Parkway. Their former building sat vacant for a few years but then Kent bought it, renovated the 1826 landmark, and deeded it over to the city.
His stipulations were that the museum would have to display city history, and that it be named for himself. An endowment he left allowed museum curators to begin amassing a collection of artifacts that's now 100,000 and growing.
Among its possessions are the desk George Washington used while serving as President in Philadelphia, and a hat Abraham Lincoln used to disguise himself while en route to his inauguration in 1891. There are some radio sets from Kent's own company as well as a much-sought-after Predicta...a forward-looking TV Philco built in town half a century ago.
You still see them in science fiction films because they still look futuristic. The newly-reopened museum has two free galleries on the first floor, in keeping with Mr. Kent's edict that there be admission-free exhibits. These spotlight local history and also city neighborhoods...some better-known than others.
Later this month, the second floor will be opened to the public with a series of galleries that will charge admission. One is themed "Made In Philadelphia" and will spotlight the city's rich manufacturing history. The first product will be beer, telling the story of brewing locally.
A century ago, Philadelphia had almost a hundred breweries. Only 17 reopened after prohibition and they, too, closed one-by-one. Today, we have a number of craft brewers and they'll be part of the exhibit. Nearby, "Played in Philadelphia" will look at everything from our sports teams to the arts.
These exhibits will change every four months, giving visitors and history buffs reason to be at he museum at least three times a year. Partially-open since May, about one in five visitors to the museum is from another country. Being located footsteps from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the museum presents itself as a starting point for encountering local history. So, for example,. If you visit and want to know more about the African-American experience, you'll be directed to the African American Museum up the street.
The staff has been trained to know all the history museums and attractions downtown, and will be able to point you wherever you might want to go next. Right now, the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater kent is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Hours may expand as the new galleries open, beginning September 22nd.For more information, access the Philadelphia History Museum or phone 215- 685-4830.