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General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen

About this listing

Charitable organization founded in 1785 by skilled craftsmen that offers cultural, educational, and social services to members and their families

Place Details

Borough : Manhattan
Neighborhood : Midtown
Institution, What New Yorkers Find Beautiful, Labor and Work, Education

Place Matters Profile

Founded in 1785 by the city's skilled workingmen for mutual aid and betterment, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen has served New Yorkers of ordinary means for over two centuries. The modern incarnation of the society consists of several interdependent sections: the Library and Special Collections, the Small Press Center, and the Mechanics Institute--a tuition-free technical school for adults working in industries related to the building trades. The library was founded in 1820 and is the second oldest subscription library in the city. Rates for public membership are very modest, and you'll find things here that even the New York Public Library doesn’t have.


The General Society was created as a charitable effort to provide cultural, educational, and social services to members and their families. The society keeps alive a tradition of transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next that follows the model of artisan culture prevalent...

Read More


Sean Wilentz. Chants Democratic: New York City and the Rise of the American Working Class, 1788-1850 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984)

Interview with Janet Greene by Place Matters, 2005

On The Web

The General Society website


Janet Wells Greene

Nominator submitted place name to the Census of Places that Matter.

Steve Brosnahan

In addition to their other activities, the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen leases several rooms on their 3rd floor to The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America, an interesting non-profit organization promoting classical architecture and art. See: (January 2007)

Hardy Phippen

The word "oasis" is not one usually used to describe a place in New York City, but here in the center of Manhattan, a few steps off of Fifth Ave, is a room of calm and contemplation, the main reading room of the General Society Library. For New Yorkers especially this Library is a treasure. It is heavily NYC-centric, with many books, easily available, which you can hold and touch to turn the page to learn about the city where you are and how it got the way it is. But it is also very up-to-date, wifi'd so you can check your email if you have to, too.

Formerly the indoor drillroom for a well-to-do boys' military school, it is spacious with a high-ceiling and a skylight. Standing guard duty at each of the four corners are four spectacularly finished faux-marble columns, worthy of comparison with the great faux columns in the main concert hall in St Petersburg, Russia, where the works of Tchichovsky and Shostokovitch, among others, premiered. The building facade, although altered, is a feast of architectural detail, with wonderful early ironwork fire escapes, and still retains a replica frieze of a segment of the Parthenon Marbles from the Temple of Athena.

It is not just the outside that looks so good, go inside and look: you'll find not just another ordinary high-ceilinged room. The alterations have been mininal, even in adapting the parade area into the reading room. The inside and the outside go together. It is the continuity of both inside and out that work so attractively with each other. (January 2007)

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