Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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WAGNER, William, philanthropist, born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 15 January, 1796 ; died there, 17 January, 1885. He received an academic education, and was desirous of studying medicine, but his parents decided otherwise, and he entered the counting-room of Stephen Girard. In 1816 he was sent as an assistant supercargo on a trading voyage that lasted nearly two years. On this voyage he made large collections of shells, plants, and fossils, which formed the beginnings of his museum. Subsequently he engaged in various business enterprises, but finally retired in 1840. After a residence abroad of two years in 1841-'2 he returned to Philadelphia and devoted himself to arranging his collections. In 1847 he began to deliver scientific lectures to those that were interested, and in 1852 his audiences had grown so large that he was compelled to secure the use of a hall. The Wagner free institute of science was inaugurated on 21 May, 1855, with a corps of lecturers. Ten years later an edifice was dedicated, and Mr. Wagner transferred the building and its collections, cabinets, apparatus, and library to trustees on condition that the property shall forever be used for instruction in natural science. It is estimated that his entire benefaction for this purpose was not less than half a million dollars. He continued president of the institute until his death, and was a member of learned societies, to whose proceedings he contributed scientific papers.
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