MECHANICS' INSTITUTES. Along with lyceums, apprentices' libraries, and other organizations that emphasized self-improvement through education in science, mechanics' institutes grew out of the reform spirit of the early nineteenth century. Many institutes—including the New York Scientific and Mechanic Institution (1822) and others in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati—employed academics in their evening lecture programs. Other societies, the Boston Mechanics' Lyceum in particular, argued for a system in which artisans educated themselves. Still others stressed their libraries. Philadelphia's Franklin Institute carried on all these activities as well as major programs in technical research and publication.
By midcentury, mechanics' institutes had lost much of their original mission—to provide low-cost technical education to the poor. Colleges took over the function of technical instruction, while evening lectures tended increasingly to be patronized by the middle classes, who wanted general talks on a miscellany of topics. In time, some institutes were absorbed into temperance societies, lyceums, museums, town libraries, new agencies for vocational training, or simply disappeared.
Royle, Edward. "Mechanics' Institutes and the Working Class, 1840–1860." The Historical Journal, 14 (June 1971): 305– 321.
See alsoLyceum Movement .
John F. C. Harrison