Our Documentary Heritage showcases holdings drawn from the vast collections of the Pennsylvania State Archives.

A photograph labeled “Model makers at work” graphically documents workers employed by Pennsylvania’s State-Wide Museum Extension Project (MEP) creating a large-scale model of Independence Hall. The MEP operated under the direction of the Professional and Service Division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) that funded the creation of architectural models, costume plates, dioramas, industrial models, miniature furniture, puppets, marionettes, posters, textiles, and transportation models used in museums and schools as teaching aids (see “’Art with a Purpose’: Pennsylvania’s Museum Extension Project, 1935– 1943,” by Curtis Miner in this issue). These images are contained in Record Group 13, Records of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Records of the Museum Extension Project of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, Pittsburgh Unit, Photographs and Models of Historic Buildings and Artifacts, (circa 1938–1939), Series 13.108.126. Created in 1913, the Pennsylvania Historical Commission was merged with the State Library’s State Museum and Division of Public Records in 1945 to form the present-day Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC).

In addition to the construction of Independence Hall, photographs in Record Group 13 depict the fabrication and shipping of plaster-of-Paris scale models of historic buildings, such as the Carnegie Museum and the 1847 Schoenberger Mansion in Pittsburgh, the 1826 Eagle Hotel at Waterford, Erie County, and the 1810 Nixon Tavern at Fairchance, Fayette County. The State Museum of Pennsylvania holds a model of Independence Hall, one of twenty-six hundred produced in 1937 to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the ratification of the U. S. Constitution.

The activities of the Works Progress Administration pervaded state government and these types of materials permeate the records of virtually every state agency active during the New Deal. A number of the manuscript groups held by the Pennsylvania State Archives, such as Manuscript Group 400, Works Progress Administration Records, contain Museum Extension Project materials such as hand-colored plates and published handbooks.

For a guide to the types of WPA and New Deal-related materials held by the Pennsylvania State Archives, consult the WPA and New Deal research guide on the PHMC’s website.


Willis L. Shirk Jr. is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives.