The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York was founded in 1785 on this date by 22 men who gathered in Walter Heyer’s public-house on Pine St. in Lower Manhattan. The Society marked patriotic holidays by carrying banners emblazoned with its slogan “By hammer and hand all arts do stand,” echoing the motto of the Worshipful Company of Blacksmiths. By 1792, the Society had attained a membership of 413, and received a charter of incorporation.
Today, this organization continues to improve the quality of life of the people of New York through its educational, philanthropic and cultural programs, including its Mechanics Institute, The General Society Library, and its century-old Lecture Series. In 1820, The General Society opened one of New York’s first free schools as well as the Apprentices Library. The school, which became the Mechanics Institute in 1858, continues to provide tuition-free evening instruction in trades-related education and provides a critical service to improve job opportunities in the building and construction industry. It also provides a trained workforce for the industry. Without a tuition-free education, many of its students would be unable to get the technical education needed to advance in today’s environment. The school has over 180,000 alumni.
Each fall, over 350 students enroll in Mechanics Institute programs, including Construction Documents and Design, Electrical Technology, HVAC Systems Design, Plumbing Design, Project Management, Facilities Management and Historic Preservation. Recently, the groundbreaking Building Information Modeling (BIM) program (“BIM for the Trades”) was launched.
Founded in 1820, The General Society Library is the second oldest library in New York City and one of three remaining membership circulating libraries. It serves the educational programs of The General Society. It also makes its extensive collections available to other institutions and the public. The book and periodical collections of the Library span two centuries and are suited to both scholarly research and recreational reading. Its archives date back to 1785. Members enjoy access to current fiction, biography, and non-fiction.
The Labor, Literature and Landmarks Series continues a tradition of public lectures that started at the Society in 1837. The Series brings people of diverse interests from the entire New York area into the Library. The Artisan Lecture Series promotes the work and art of skilled master craftsmen, paying tribute to the art of craftsmanship, who speak about the intricacies of their specialized fields and help to ensure that their unique knowledge is understood and carried forth for future generations.
In 1899 The General Society acquired its fifth home, the building at 20 West 44th St. The façade is a New York City landmark and the building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The library’s main reading room soars to a height of three stories and is topped by an impressive skylight. The General Society today is a 501c3 nonprofit organization.
The Society is also home to the John M. Mossman Lock Museum, one of the most complete collections of bank and vault locks in the world, with more than 370 locks, keys and tools dating from 4000 BC to modern times. The museum is open to the public.
Sources: The General Society, Wikipedia, and Modern School.
Photo: Historic logo.