1809 The Beginning
In 1809, Philadelphia was already known for both skilled workers and as America’s main financial center, but the merchants who controlled its banks had little interest in lending to “mechanics” or manufacturers. So a small group of artisans and master craftsmen resolved to organize one that would be run by and for the mechanics themselves. The following January, they adopted a set of bylaws that required all directors to be mechanics currently working at their trades and prohibited mercantile investments like ships.
The bank would also be one of the first to acquire its capital from a large number of small shareholders instead of a few large investors. While the organizers bought some stock themselves, they reserved most of the 14,000 shares for a public sale at Independence Hall the next month. There wasn’t enough room in the building for everyone who wanted to buy stock and nearly 700 people were turned away. Within an hour, they had adjourned to a nearby coffeehouse and organized the Commercial Bank and by the end of the day, five more banks had been organized in the city.
Within weeks, the legislature had banned un-chartered associations from most banking activities and the new bank temporary closed, lent most of its capital back to the shareholders, and began lobbying for a charter, which was finally granted in 1814.
1814 A Bank in a Bonnet Maker’s
The bank was housed, for its first twenty years, in a three-story brick building formerly occupied by a hat and bonnet maker (the vault was an addition in the back yard) across the street from the Strickland building.
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In the spring of 1816, Stephen Sturdevant, a New York City grocer who also happened to be a skilled engraver, produced more than $20,000 worth of especially convincing $100 notes and began passing them off as being from the Mechanics’ Bank. Despite the bank’s use of the steel-dye process of Murray, Fairman, and Co., which was apparently impossible to duplicate, the counterfeiter and his fake money made it as far away as London. In the end he was caught after trying to exchange the notes at a bank that had strong associations with Philadelphia and the Mechanics’ Bank.
1816 The Introduction of Residential Gas Lighting
Gas as an illuminant is introduced. The first private residence in the US illuminated by gas was that of William Henry, a coppersmith, at 200 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, Pa.
1818 First School District in Pennsylvania
In 1818 Philadelphia Legislature passed an act was for the education of poor children at the public expense in the city and county of Philadelphia, forming the first School District of Pennsylvania. The School Controllers established two schools in Southwark, two in Moyamensing, two in Northern Liberties and two in Penn Township.
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In the spring of 1820, one Mr. Crabb, a bank teller at the Mechanic’s Bank , disappeared whence it was discovered that his accounts were $10,000 short. It took a few months, but by the end of May the directors had traced him to St. John, New Brunswick, where he admitted to embezzling money from the bank for more than five years. Because Mr. Crabb had already gone through his embezzled money, the directors decided that legal action in Canada would be too expensive to be worth the trouble.
On February 14, 1825, Mr. Benson, a Third Street broker, was robbed in his office and “struck several blows with a large bludgeon.” As the unfortunate broker lay unconscious, the robber began to put money in his hat for safekeeping. As he was in the act, Lemuel Lamb, the president of the Mechanics’ Bank, happened to stop by. Although he was hit a few times and “threatened with a dirk,” he kicked aside the hat and was able to foil the robber’s plan as he ran off, fearing that more people would come in before he could recover it.
On the evening of November 10, 1833, Edward Sprague, the porter of the Mechanics’ bank checked the building, locked up and went home. The next morning, he arrived to find the door unlocked and four boxes of specie (gold and silver) worth nearly four thousand dollars missing from the banking room, though the vault itself was undisturbed.
The directors immediately held a special meeting and decided to offer a $500 reward for any information regarding the robbery and ordered an investigation. Not only did a watchman say that he had thought the door loose the previous weekend, but the investigation found the multiple different aspects of the building “in a decayed state and many parts quite insecure.” They ordered repairs including an iron door and lamp on the sidewalk, hired an extra watchman and increased the reward to $1000. While there were no further burglaries, the culprit was never found. This was part of the impetus to build a proper banking facility.
1833 Striking Out
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The bank temporarily expanded into the house next door and began to buy land on the opposite side of Third Street. Unfortunately, it was only able to obtain two adjacent lots, resulting in a narrow site flanked by higher buildings on both sides.
1833 Poe’s First Publication
In 1833, publishers Charles F. Cloud and William L. Pouder of the Baltimore Saturday Visiter announced a prize of “50 dollars for the best Tale and 25 dollars for the best poem, not exceeding one hundred lines,” submitted by October 1, 1833. Edgar Allen Poe submitted “MS. Found in a Bottle” along with five others and was unanimously selected for the prize. It was Poe’s first publication.
Read Poe’s first publication, MS. Found in a Bottle »
1836 Construction of the New Bank
In the summer of 1836, the directors authorized “the erection of a Banking House… to be completed in a substantial manner of the best material, for $19,930.“ Their choice as architect and contractor was William Strickland, one of the most prominent in Philadelphia and a pioneer of the Greek Revival style who had already designed the Second Bank of the United States on Chestnut Street and was working on new buildings for the Bank of Philadelphia and Merchants’ Exchange. In addition, he had personal ties to the bank, whose directors included several contractors he had worked with, as well as colleagues from the Franklin institute and his wife’s cousin.
Because of its narrow lot, the Mechanics’ Bank is one of Strickland’s smallest buildings, but the challenge seems to have inspired him. The heavier square pilasters that support the corners of the portico instead of round columns and the especially fine stone carving (by his longtime partner John Struthers) help to keep the building from being overwhelmed by its bulkier neighbors. Because the side walls faced very narrow alleys, most of the building was a single high room in which a large skylight lit both the main banking room with its U-shaped mahogany counter and the president and cashier’s offices, which were separated from the main room by lower partitions of wood paneling. The vault and second-story directors’ room occupied a narrower wing at the back.
1837 The New Bank
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In November of 1837, the building committee reported that “the Banking House of the Mechanics’ Bank is not inferior to any in the city either in its appearance, exterior or interior, nor in respect to its perfect adaptation to the use for which it has been erected.”
1837 Queen Victoria
Alexandrina Victoria became queen of England at the age of 18 after the death of her uncle, William IV. Queen Victoria reigned for more than 60 years, longer than any other British monarch. Her reign was a period of significant economic, cultural and technological change, which saw the expansion of the British Empire and Britain’s industrial power.
1839 The 1st Daguerreotype
In 1837 Louis Jacques Daguerre made the first surviving image—of some plaster casts resting on a window ledge—using the method later named the daguerreotype process. It produced a single, positive image on a silver plate, and was eventually capable of producing astonishing degrees of detail, making it the most widely used form of photography until the 1850s.
1844 The 1st Telegram
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America’s first telegram was sent by Samuel B. Morse on January 6, 1838, across two miles (3 km) of wire at Speedwell Ironworks near Morristown, New Jersey. The message read “A patient waiter is no loser.” On May 24, 1844, he sent the message “What hath God wrought” (quoting Numbers 23:23) from the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol in Washington to the old Mt. Clare Depot in Baltimore. The message, chosen by Annie Ellsworth of Lafayette, Indiana, and later Mrs. Roswell Smith (Roswell, NM was named after her husband), was the daughter of Patent Commissioner Henry Leavitt Ellsworth. The Morse/Vail telegraph was quickly deployed in the following two decades.
1857 Philadelphia’s Streetcars and Trolleys
The West Philadelphia Passenger Railway Company, which maintained a checking account at the Mechanics’ Bank, was incorporated in 1857 and was the first streetcar line to receive a charter to operate in the city of Philadelphia. Its horse cars, which originally ran between 41st and Haverford and 66th and Vine, made possible the development of the Haddington neighborhood. It may also have been the first streetcar line to use self-propelled vehicles – it began experiments with steam-powered cars in 1877.
1858 The Academy of Music
The Academy of Music opens for its first season, which will include the American premiere of Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore. Today, it is the oldest grand opera theatre still used for its original purpose in the United States.
1861 The Outbreak of the Civil War
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Hostilities between the Union and Confederacy begin after Confederate forces attack Fort Sumter in South Carolina. The bank, during the darkest days for the Union during the Civil War, was one of the patriotic institutions which furnished “the sinews of war” and loaned the Federal Government (July and August, 1861) $745,000. This was within $55,000 of its entire capital.
1864 Mechanics National Bank
Conversion to a National Bank. By 1864 the bank was beginning to take on the characteristics of other financial institutions in its lending practices. It never stopped funding the manufacturing and industry of Philadelphia, but began attending more to industry heads and factory bosses than the mechanics and workers themselves.
1865 Stetson Hats
In 1865, John Stetson returned to his native Philadelphia to open his first Hat factory. He only had $100 in capital so he rented a tiny room and bought tools and $10 worth of fur to make felt cloth. He was the sole employee. By 1886, Stetson owned the world’s biggest hat factory and employed nearly 4,000 workers. The factory was putting out about 2 million hats a year by 1906.
1872 America’s First Zoo
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The Philadelphia Zoo, located in Fairmount Park on the west bank of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, was slated to open as the first zoo in the United States. Chartered by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on March 21, 1859, its opening was delayed by the American Civil War until July 1, 1874.
1874 Interior Makeover
In 1874 the interior and rear of the bank was remodeled by James Windrim. He replaced Strickland’s vault and director’s room with a much larger 2 story structure of fireproof brick and iron construction. The façade of the edifice remained untouched.
1876 The 1st patented Telephone
Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone. While the actual invention of the device is under dispute after patents and law suits collided with claim and counterclaim, the invention is usually attributed to Mr. Bell.
1879 Edison’s Incandescent Light
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Thomas Edison invents and patents an effective incandescent light. His design featured an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve and a high resistance lamp that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable.
1900 Beginning of the End
The records end for the bank.
1903 The End of the Mechanic’s National Bank
Feb 16 — The Mechanics’ National Bank, one of the oldest financial institutions in Philadelphia, went out of existence to-day, when about fifteen of the few remaining stockholders met at the Girard National Bank and ratified the action of the Directors in transferring the business of the bank to the Girard National. Most of the bank’s stock was sold last month and 4,220 shares were represented at the meeting to-day. The Mechanic’s National Bank was organized in 1810 and was in operation until the beginning of the present year. The bank building on Third Street above Chestnut is one the city’s examples of Greek architecture. – NYT February, 17th, 1903.
1905 E= mc ^2
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Einstein’s theory of relativity is first postulated. In his piece on the equivalence of matter and energy (previously considered separate and distinct concepts), Einstein deduced from his equations about special relativity what later became the well known expression: E = mc2, suggesting that tiny amounts of mass could be converted into massive amounts of energy.
1910 Smokeable marijuana introduced to the U.S.
After the Mexican Revolution of 1910, Mexican immigrants flooded into the US, introducing smokeable marijuana to American culture. The drug became associated with Mexican immigrants and that fear and prejudice soon became associated with marijuana. Anti-drug campaigners warned against the encroaching “marijuana menace,” and terrible crimes were attributed to marijuana and the Mexicans who used it.
1914 World War I
In June of 1914 a Serbian student shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo touching off a series of events that would culminate in World War I. More than 40 million people, both military and civilian, would die in the conflict that consumed Europe for the next 4 years.
1930 Norwegian Seaman’s Church
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During the depression, banks across the country closed as the financial crisis became more and more prevalent. It was at this time that the building at 22 South 3rd St. ceased to house banks and was sold to the Norwegian Seaman’s Church. The church would serve the religious and social needs of visiting seamen for the next fifty years.
1939 World War II
Beginning in 1939 and lasting until the Japanese capitulation in 1945, WWII was the costliest war in human history in both human lives and economic capital. Most estimates put a monetary cost at about trillion U.S. dollars in 1944 and more than 62 million casualties with fronts seeing every corner of the Earth.
1945 Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
After 6 months of intense firebombing throughout 67 Japanese cities, the United States dropped Atomic Bombs over Hiroshima and 3 days later, Nagasaki. The bombs can be directly related to the deaths of about 220,000 people, although many thousands more died from the after effects of radiation. These tremendously devastating attacks ended the Pacific War and that last vestiges of WWII.
1957 The Space Race
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With the launch of Sputnik, the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States took off. Since the original launch more than 3000 satellites from around the world have been launched into space including the International Space Station.
1961 Named a Historic Building
The Mechanics’ Bank building is named a registered historical landmark by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.
1969 Moon Landing
On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong, accompanied by Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, landed the lunar module Eagle on the surface of the Moon. Armstrong and Aldrin spent a day on the surface of the Moon before returning to Earth. A total of six such manned moon landings were carried out between 1969 and 1972.
1973 The Start of the PC Age
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The Xerox Alto was an early personal computer developed at Xerox PARC in 1973. It was the first computer to use the desktop metaphor and graphical user interface (GUI).
1982 The Close of the Seaman’s Church, and then a Revival
On June 24th, 1982, after membership at the Seaman’s Church declined concurrently with the decline in activity at the ports, the building was sold at a trustee’s auction. The building became the infamous Revival Nightclub which housed Philadelphia’s burgeoning after-hours scene. Most nights the club had DJ’s spinning new wave such as Bauhaus, Joy Division, The Clash and others. Live acts such as 10,000 Maniacs also added to the club’s character as the best underground space in the city. Revival closed in 1996.
1989 The Internet
Although the basic applications and guidelines that make the Internet possible had existed for almost a decade, the network did not gain a public face until the 1990s. On August 6, 1991, CERN, which straddles the border between France and Switzerland, publicized the new World Wide Web project. The Web was invented by English scientist Tim Berners-Lee in 1989.
1996 Post-Revival Businesses
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After Revival closed its doors, the Mechanics’ Bank building went through a series of unsuccessful businesses including microbrewery Jake and Oliver’s, dance club Life, restaurant-bar Wichita, frat-boy chain bar Foggy Goggles and even an outpost of Coyote Ugly. These businesses, however, folded quickly for numerous reasons.
2006 A New Beginning
After changing several hands and going through a string of unsuccessful ventures, the building was bought by WebLinc, a Philadelphia eCommerce company, who moved their offices upstairs, and put a new bar and restaurant, National Mechanics, downstairs. The successful restaurant’s décor and ideology use the original intent of the Mechanic’s Bank as a model, respecting both the building’s past and future.