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Thursday, 13 July 2017 06:00

Norristown's Youth Improvement Society

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Lately, I’ve been looking through business records collected by the society over the years.  In a box labeled “Receipt Books,” I found the treasurer’s book for the Youth Improvement Society.  The accounts for the group begin in April of 1839.  Membership was one dollar per year and included several young men of Norristown, including (future Civil War general and presidential candidate) Winfield Scott Hancock and his twin brother Hilary.

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From the treasurer’s book, we can get a few clues as to what the group did.  In September of 1839 the group paid Benjamin Worrell 25 cents “for turning a block for Electro-Magnetic machine.”  The following year, the society paid W. S. Hancock for copper, and Alexander Lentz was paid 25 cents for “making  a Galvanic Battery.”

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Nineteenth-Century Americans loved joining clubs.  They also loved listening lectures, and that seems to have been the main purpose of the group.  A March, 1841 entry indicated a payment for “Spirits of Wine for lecture.”  The topics, based on the items purchased, were most likely of a scientific nature.

An 1840 note on the first page says that the name of group changed in 1840 to the “Cabinet of Natural Science.”  I couldn’t find very much on this group, except for a mention in the newspaper from 1837.  Perhaps that group died out and this one decided to replace it.

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According to Hancock biographer Glenn Tucker wrote in his book Hancock the Superb, that the group fizzled out after Hancock left for West Point in 1840 at the age of 16.  

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