By 1897 handmade objects were being discarded in favor of new machine-made goods. Historian and archaeologist Henry Mercer (1856-1930) recognized the need to collect and preserve the outmoded material of daily life in America before it was swept away by the Industrial Revolution. Mercer gathered almost 30,000 items ranging from hand tools to horse-drawn vehicles and assembled this encyclopedic collection in a system of his own devising. To enhance the collection’s educational value, and to share it with the public, Mercer decided to design and build a museum to display the artifacts.
In 1916, Mercer erected a 6-story concrete castle. The towering central atrium of the Museum was used to hang the largest objects such as a whale boat, stage coach and Conestoga wagon. On each level surrounding the court, smaller exhibits were installed in a warren of alcoves, niches and rooms according to Mercer’s classifications — healing arts, tinsmithing, dairying, lighting and so on. The end result of the building is a unique interior that is both logical and provocative. It requires the visitor to view objects in a new way. Henry Mercer donated the building and his collection to the Bucks County Historical Society.
The Mercer Museum has made major advances in collections management and care, exhibitions and interpretation following contemporary museum standards while, at the same time, respecting the historical integrity of the site. The Mercer Museum is recognized as a National Historic Landmark and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums.
The Board of Trustees successfully completed a $12.5M Capital Campaign for expanded exhibit and program space; the new Mercer wing opened in 2011. The Museum is enjoyed annually by more than 65,000 visitors from around the world. The collection has grown to some 40,000 objects. Among museum professionals, technology scholars, and tool collectors, the collection is considered to be the most complete of its kind in America. Interactive programs provide insights into early American history in enjoyable and educational ways, and changing exhibits provide a reason for visitors to return.
The Mercer Museum is generously supported by: The County of Bucks, Office of the Commissioners; Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency, through its regional arts funding partnership, PA Partners in the Arts; Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission; The Pew Charitable Trusts; Members of the Bucks County Historical Society; Mercer Rainmakers, business members.
It is the mission of the Bucks County Historical Society to educate and engage its many audiences in appreciating the past and to help people find stories and meanings relevant to their lives – both today and in the future.