A Society of "Ingenious Men"
Mastodon tooth fossil
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Mastodon tooth fossil
It is… proposed, That One Society be formed of Virtuosi or ingenious Men residing in the several Colonies, to be called The American Philosophical Society; who are to maintain a constant Correspondence.
—Benjamin Franklin,
A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge, 1743
  |   In an era before widespread public education, private discussion groups and learned societies were vital to a nation’s cultural and intellectual growth. Franklin’s Junto had already demonstrated how much friends committed to one another’s mutual improvement could accomplish. In 1743 Franklin drew up a proposal to create an inter-colonial Junto of sorts: a network of scientists and philosophers who would share news of their discoveries by post.

This idea became the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in America. It was modeled after London’s Royal Society and Dublin’s Philosophical Society, and its six founding members included botanist John Bartram and lawyer-scientist Thomas Hopkinson. Fifty years later the Society included a host of prominent Philadelphia intellectuals, founding fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, and such international figures as the Marquis de Lafayette. The Society provided a forum for exchanging ideas and pooling skills and knowledge, and its members particularly strove to promote American science and invention. Today the Society still plays an active role in America’s intellectual life.

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