Established in 1785, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture is the oldest organization of its kind in the United States, and it remains active. Collections include the Society's records and its extensive library. The PSPA, a non-profit and non-partisan organization, remains active and continues its mission of promoting knowledge exchange to further the understanding and appreciation of agriculture, historical, current, and future. Learn more about the PSPA and its work.
Collection description and history
The idea of forming an American husbandry society in the British pattern was proposed by John Beale Bordley to the agricultural committee of the American Philosophical Society. Initial meetings were held in February and March 1785, and a list of nominations was drawn up and approved. Charter members include prominent judges and lawyers (John Beale Bordley, Richard Peters, James Wilson, and Edward Shippen), military leaders (General John Cadwalader, Colonel George Morgan, Colonel John Nixon), doctors (Benjamin Rush, John Jones, George Logan, Adam Kuhn), and politicians (Samuel Powel, George Clymer, Henry Hill, Philemon Dickinson, Samuel Vaughn, Lambert Cadwalader, Tench Francis, Charles Thompson). Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine became members in the first year, as did George Washington, who was elected as an honorary member since he did not reside within ten miles of the city.
The Society's books and manuscripts are a valuable record of its continuous activity from the early days of the Republic to the present. The collections were initially deposited with the University of Pennsylvania in 1888 along with funds for their preservation and growth.
The Library comprises over 1,000 titles. Included are materials on all aspects of agriculture, including farming, animal husbandry, gardening, veterinary medicine, industrialized farming, soils and fertilizers, along with several state and regional journals. With the Society's ongoing support, the collection continues to grow.
Information for researchers
PSPA archival materials are cataloged as the PSPA records (Ms. Coll. 92). The PSPA books and periodicals are cataloged by title and author in the university's online catalog, Franklin.
PSPA records (Ms. Coll. 92, 103 boxes): Correspondence, administrative and financial records, memoirs, and memorabilia from the Society, 18th-20th centuries. A full alphabetical listing of correspondence in the PSPA records can be found in the online catalog, Franklin.
Digitized records: materials in boxes 1-15 of the PSPA records of have been digitized. These include correspondence and early minutes of the Society. The Memoirs of the PSPA are also available online.
- View digital facsimiles of PSPA records on the Penn in Hand website (chronological order, oldest listed first)
- Memoirs of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture: 5 volumes of this journal were published between 1808 and 1826. A 6th volume was published in 1939. View digital facsimiles of the Memoirs (volumes 1-5) on the HathiTrust Digital Library. View digital facsimiles of the Memoirs on the Internet Archive: volume 1; volume 2; volume 3; volume 4; volume 5.
Library of the PSPA
- several early sixteenth century editions of the Scriptores rei rusticae compilation (from 1514, 1521, and 1535)
- printed editions of Pietro de Crescenzi.
- seventeenth-century English works on husbandry and gardening.
- works on agricultural and industrial machinery and improvements from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Thanks to ongoing support from the Society, the Libraries have been able to continue to add to the PSPA collection. Examples of recent acquisitions include:
- Œuvres d'agriculture de M. de Planazu (1786-1787)
- Letters to the Agriculture Society at Manchester on the cause of the curled disease in potatoes (1778)
- Farm Journal [advertising broadside] (1877)
- Quaker farmer Henry Jones’s diary (1837)
- Three Brookfield Agricultural Society broadsides (1814-1818)
- Farmer’s receipt book, a compilation of veterinary, medicinal, household, and culinary recipes (1831-1879)
- French manuscript on the cultivation and rotation of various crops, the establishment of nurseries and the cultivation of trees, the introduction of the potato, etc. (ca. 1808)
Resources described in Franklin
- Elizabeth Mosimann, Promoting Agriculture in a Changing World: 225 Years of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 1785-2010 (PSPA, 2012)
- Simon Baatz, "Venerate the plough": A History of the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 1785-1985 (PSPA, 1985)
- Stevenson Whitcomb Fletcher, The Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture, 1785-1955, rev. ed. (PSPA 1976)
- Some Treasures of the Sun (PSPA exhibition brochure, 1993)