What are some of the first words that come to mind when you see or hear the word “museum?”
Old. Dusty. Educational. Relic. But what about Hands-On? Fun? Exciting? Family-Friendly?
In 1904, Dr. Levi Mengel, a science teacher at the Reading School District, sought permission from the district to purchase scientific and anthropological materials to aid in his vision of providing a “sensory education” to motivate his students to participate and to enrich their learning experience. Permission was granted, and the teaching collection grew such that, in 1907, the School District needed to convert the third floor of the Eighth and Washington Streets Administration Building into a museum to house the objects. By 1913, it was suggested that fine art be incorporated into the budding museum, and the first paintings were donated. The name of the institution became the Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery.
Envisioning that soon The Museum would outgrow its home on the third floor, a loan was passed and land was donated to the Reading School District by prominent Reading citizens Ferdinand Thun, Henry Janssen, and Gustav Oberlaender. By 1925, ground broke and construction of the current building began. The Museum opened its doors to the public in 1929 with the idea of being a home to not just students, but lifelong learners.
Mengel started The Museum with the hope of “giving a child a chance to see and handle the things about which they study.” He believed that it “…is not only the greatest timesaver, but the most effective way of giving an absolutely correct impression.” His concept can be applied to all ages, as it is today when visitors to The Museum see and learn about history and different cultures from the works on display.
Many pieces from the original teaching collection remain, joined together with an ever-growing collection of fine art and cultural artifacts spanning ancient history to present day. The Museum has been through many transformations since its inception, but the goal remains the same. The mission of the Reading Public Museum, a dynamic center of lifelong learning and discovery, is to educate, enlighten and engage current and future generations through the collection, preservation and interpretation of objects of art, science and civilization.
Through exhibitions like Thomas & Friends™: Explore the Rails, Albrecht Dürer: Master Prints, and Dinosaurs Around the World: Passport to Pangea; the Reading Public Museum strives to be a place that everyone will feel comfortable and excited to visit through hands-on learning!
Keep an eye out for upcoming stories from behind the scenes at the Reading Public Museum.
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