SUSAN GLASSMAN, executive director of the Wagner Free Institute of Science, went to work at the museum two decades ago and met a man who recalled visiting it in the late 1930s or early 1940s, when the technology on display was a tube for a new invention: the television.
The Wagner institute has been housed in its Classical Revival-style building on Montgomery Avenue near 17th Street in North Philadelphia for 151 years.
But the institute is older. Its founder, William Wagner, a merchant who traveled the world collecting fossils and other specimens, incorporated it in 1855.
For years before, Wagner - who also had worked for Stephen Girard - had hosted scientific lectures in his home on Montgomery Avenue, diagonally across from the museum, which was completed in 1865.
On Wednesday, as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival, scientists from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and the Mutter Museum dressed in period costumes for a program at the Wagner called "Science Expo 1866."
Beth Ann Swan, dean and professor at Jefferson's College of Nursing, dressed as a nurse from that period to show samples of surgical and amputation tools used by doctors then.
Robert D. Hicks, director of the Mutter, explained how doctors in the 1860s experimented with using electricity to treat ailments.
There were discussions of early inventions that presented the illusion of moving pictures. Susannah Carroll of the Franklin Institute talked about the kinematoscope, patented in 1861 by Philadelphian Coleman Sellers.
Of 130 people who attended Wednesday's program, 61 percent said in a survey that it was their first time visiting the Wagner.
Last Sunday, families with children flocked to the museum for a program exploring math in nature. Dozens of children took part in an outdoor project to build the world's largest Sierpinski triangle out of K'Nex toys.
The 46,000-square-foot museum has on its second floor an exhibit space, about 10,000 square feet and two stories tall, that looks almost exactly as it did in the 1890s, when Dr. Joseph Leidy was named head of the museum after Wagner's death.
Wagner began the collection of fossils - some dating to the Jurassic period - as well as shells, gemstones, and animal skeletons. Leidy, depicted in a statue outside the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University on the Parkway, vastly expanded the collection, Glassman said.
The museum has a stuffed porcupine from Africa, elephant skulls, and examples of nearly every other creature.
"I had no idea what to expect," said Moira Bohannon, who brought her 10-year-old son, Henry Demyan, to the museum last Sunday. "It's a real cool place."
Bohannon's son had visited on school trips, but it was her first time there.
The science festival, organized by the Franklin Institute, has about 200 partners involved in 90 programs over nine days, said Franklin Institute president and CEO Larry Dubinski.
"We're very proud of it," Dubinski said Friday. "It brings new people to activities around science and technology in a city that's a great city for science."