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Who was Levi Mengel? Founder of the Reading Public Museum

Levi Walter Scott Mengel was born in Reading on Sept. 27, 1868, to Matthias S. and Amelie M. (Soder) Mengel.

Schooling: 1886 graduate of Reading Boys’ High School, 1891 graduate of College of Pharmacy at Philadelphia.

Professional experience: Philadelphia Academy of Natural Science staff member; Arctic explorer in Greenland with Admiral Robert E. Peary; chemist at Reading Co.; flourmill operator; real estate developer; entomologist/naturalist; Reading School District science teacher and later high school principal and Reading Public Museum founder and director.

Quote: “The eye can see more in a minute than a half hour’s descriptive reading will tell. Giving a child a chance to see and handle the things about which they study is not only the greatest timesaver but the most effective way of giving an absolutely correct impression. With careful training and having the attention called to peculiar characters, not only is knowledge imparted but the habit of attention and close observation is developed.”

Dr. Levi W. S Mengel, in a photograph accompanying a May 10, 1939, Reading Times article on his retirement, at age 70, as the director of the Reading Public Museum. He had reached the Reading School District’s mandatory retirement age.

Important Reading Public Museum collection dates relating to Mengel

1873 Mengel began collecting natural items as a child.

October of 1904 Mengel acquires about 2,000 items from U.S. and foreign exhibiters at the 1904 World’s Fair for the Reading School District.

1907 Mengel is given the third floor of the former Boys’ High School to store his collection, which was opened to the public.

1910 Mengel moves his private collection to the museum.

1911 the collection consists of 45 cases with 5,000 items.

1913 the first piece of artwork is accepted into the collection and the Reading School District dubs the growing entity Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery.

1915 Mengel leaves teaching and becomes the museum’s first director.

March 7, 1921 Reading Public Museum and Art Gallery incorporated in Berks County Court of Common Pleas.

November 1923 Reading voters approve the Reading School District’s proposal to acquire a $3.5 million loan for building expansion, which included $475,000 for a separate museum building.

January 1924 Irvin Impink and Ferdinand Thun privately offer to donate a parcel of land in the city’s 18th ward for the museum to be constructed.

February 1924 Reading City Council draws up plans to transfer City Park land on North 11th Street for the museum site. Debate ensues involving loss of green space and moving of the county jail.

May 1925 A Thun/Impink proposal becomes public and increases to 22 acres of land and an offer to plant the grounds with a variety of trees and plants.

July 1925 Reading School Board approves the Thun/Impink offer by a 5 to 4 margin.

February 1925 Ground is broken for construction of the museum at its current location.

Oct. 18, 1926 The first items of the museum’s collection are moved into the new building.

May 5, 1928 The building is formally dedicated.

Sources: Reading Times, May 10, 1939; Berks County Recorder of Deeds charter records, “Levi Mengel: The Man and His Dream” paper by Paul Roedel presented to the Topics Club, March 14, 2001


Source: Berkshire mont

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