From the Museum

Model of Independence Hall in Philadelphia (MO 1941.12.38)

“Philadelphia is a good city in which to write American history. This is fitting ground on which to reaffirm the faith of our fathers; to pledge ourselves to restore to the people a wider freedom; to give to 1936 as the founders gave to 1776—an American way of life.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt, Acceptance Speech for the Renomination for the Presidency, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, June 27, 1936

This 1/16scale painted plaster model of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is one of 2600 historical models created in 1937 by the Pennsylvania Museum Extension Project (MEP), a branch of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Constructed in collaboration with the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, the model includes a plan drawing of the building’s first floor, illustrating the “Declaration Chamber” and “Supreme Court Chamber,” as well as the center hall, tower, and east and west wings.

Models like this one were created by the MEP for distribution to schools and historical societies throughout Pennsylvania to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the United States Constitution in 1937. This model was presented to President Roosevelt by Pennsylvania Governor George W. Earle as a gift. The President displayed it for a time in the Oval Office.

Unlike the best-known WPA work programs which employed laborers on highly visible public building projects, the MEP sponsored projects that were less visible, but also important and productive. FDR recognized that white collar workers, artists, and other professionals felt the impact of the Great Depression as much as blue collar workers. The MEP employed a diverse workforce, including educators, artists, architects, and skilled craftspeople. They also provided training to unskilled assembly workers.

Twenty-four states established branches of the MEP. Pennsylvania had one of the most active branches. According to its catalog, its mission was to “offer to the educational world authentic and comparatively graphic presentations of the human race’s evolutionary efforts to house and clothe itself.” During the 1930s, many schools—especially those in rural areas—lacked visual learning materials. Such materials were increasingly being recognized by educators as important tools to foster learning. In addition to educational models, the Pennsylvania MEP created costume illustrations, national flags, illustrations, puzzles, maps, geologic and industrial models, handcraft designs, food models, and other material aimed at “enabling all young minds more readily to get a realistic grasp of vital subjects they may be studying.”

The MEP shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was commissioned to produce the Independence Hall model. The model and floor plan based on extensive physical documentation of the building. The MEP also created a short play about the Constitutional Convention to accompany the model.

The MEP and the Pennsylvania Historical Commission later collaborated on a History of the Home series, creating numerous architectural models illustrating vernacular architecture from Europe, the Americas, Asia, and Africa as well as historical buildings from Pennsylvania and other states. The Broward Library‘s Bienes Museum of the Modern Book in Fort Lauderdale, Florida has an excellent collection of these models. You can view the models on the Broward Library’s digital catalog at http://digilab.browardlibrary.org/wpa/.

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