Records of Philadelphia-based social welfare organization and nautical instrument manufacturer now available

July 1, 2008
Independence Seaport Museum
Seamen's Church Institute's hotel in proximity to the Delaware River in 1925The archives of the Seamen’s Church Institute of Philadelphia were made publicly available by Independence Seaport Museum’s J. Welles Henderson Archives and Library.  This milestone marked the completion of a twelve-month, $50,000 processing project funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation.

Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), which is still in operation in Philadelphia, was founded in 1919 to service members of the merchant marine while on shore in Philadelphia.  Amalgamating with two older seamen’s welfare organizations, Churchmen’s Missionary Association and Pennsylvania Seamen’s Friend Society, it offered affordable lodging, food, entertainment and other services to seamen of all races, religions and ethnicities. 

The Seamen’s Church Institute Records evidence the work of the SCI from 1919 to 2000 and informs the history of the Port of Philadelphia for those years.  It includes meeting minutes, publications and ephemera, financial records, correspondence and subject files, seamen's records and study materials for seamen’s licensing exams.  In addition, there are small numbers of photographs, multimedia and blueprints.  Together, the records offer a complete representation of the agency and its affiliates from its founding to the late 1990s.

Work on SCI’s records presented an ideal opportunity to educate the public and potential donors on the purpose and methods of processing an archival collection.  To this end, an online account in the style of a blog was created.  Each of three entries introduced the main components of processing a large collection: housing, arrangement and description.  The library staff intends to continue adding to this webpage periodically, to further educate our public on the work that goes into managing archives.  The blog can be viewed at www.phillyseaport.org/ArchivesBlog.

The Greenfield Foundation Project also included processing the business records of John E. Hand and Sons Company, a Delaware Valley nautical instrument manufacturing firm that operated from 1873 to 1997.  The John E. Hand and Sons Company Records were made available January 1, 2008.  John E. Hand, the company’s founder gained notoriety as the first man in America to adjust a compass aboard an iron ship.  His company engineered equipment for all varieties of floating vessels, including pleasure boats, large commercial ships, and those of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard.  In addition to manufacturing a large selection of standard navigational tools used by mariners, including compasses and binnacles, the company also developed new instruments, such as a novel underwater wrist compass for the Navy.

The Hand Collection includes financial records, patents, correspondence, contracts, catalogs and other ephemera, photographs, and engineering plans.  A majority of the material is technical in nature, and would serve any researcher interested in the design and development of nautical instruments.

Finding aids are available for both collections on the Library webpage: www.phillyseaport.org/library.