The weather appears now to be tolerably well settled; we have had the unusually long period of four days clear weather. Attended the meeting, held this evening in the Chinese Museum, by the Merchants of Philadelphia for the purpose of raising subscriptions for the P.Re.Rd…Much good speaking.
The Chinese Museum, by 1849, was neither Chinese nor a museum. Located at 825 Sansom Street, the two-story building was originally created as the Philadelphia Museum in 1838. The upper floor was a natural history museum and had a significant display of the Peale family art collection. The lower floor at first housed Dunn’s Chinese Museum. Nathan Dunn was a merchant who lived many years in China. He collected all manner of art and artifact in while there. His museum consisted of various tableaux of every-day life in China, complete with life-size wax figures dressed in authentic Chinese clothes. Such was the popularity of this exhibit that eventually the whole building became known as the Chinese Museum. The public interest waned, however, and by 1842, Dunn removed his collection to London, never to return. By 1847, the Peale art and the stuffed lions were gone and the entire building was opened as a public meeting place. All that remained of the original concept was the name.
The meeting, which the Philadelphia Inquirer called a town meeting, was called by the citizens of Philadelphia, especially the merchants, to light a fire under the officers of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company (what Nathan may have been calling the Pennsylvania Reading Railroad). The merchants wanted the “Central Rail Road” (i.e., the rail line between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) completed as quickly as possible. The railroad to Pittsburgh could then connect to Cleveland, the Great Lakes and beyond which meant a free flow of goods to new markets and more tourists and business travelers passing through Philadelphia. The line was expected to get as far as Lewistown (about half-way to Pittsburgh) by the summer and would only get to Portage before the capital ran out. The purpose of the meeting was to raise more capital by subscription. Essentially, it was a public offering of new stock in the railroad. Thousands of people turned up at the Chinese Museum to hear speeches by railroad officials and leading merchants. Mostly the speeches appealed to their pride, their patriotism, their love of the Keystone State, and, at least in a small way, to their greed.