It’s in the third chapter of the book, on Godfathers of American Science, that author Tom Shachtman introduces James Logan as Philadelphia’s leading scientist in the 1720s and indeed America’s first scientific godfather. Born in Ireland in 1674 to Scottish-Quaker heritage, Logan became a schoolteacher and avid book collector. He made passage to the New World in 1699 and became William Penn’s secretary in Philadelphia. Working as a fur merchant was drudgery, but helped Logan pay his bills well enough to amass a library that included scientific books in English, Latin, and French as well as other works in Hebrew, Arabic, and German indicating that he was quite the linguist. Logan was also reputed to be a loner, which may help to explain his immersion in books.
Loner or not, Logan managed to influence a number of notable figures in and around Philadelphia in his day. Familiar names among them are Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Godfrey, and John Bartram. Franklin organized a “leather apron” gang of self-made scientific entrepreneurs into holding a series of regular meetings to share ideas known as The Junto Club. Franklin and Logan constructively criticized each other’s writings, and it was around 1730 that The Junto Club set up the nation’s first lending library.
The Logan Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia that its namesake help found is an indelible part of my old neighborhood’s heritage. It is closed now, its memories consigned to that place where we all go to pay homage to the people and places who paved the way for greater understanding. Books, in whatever form they take in our lives, owe a debt of gratitude to Philadelphia’s James Logan and the residents of his old neighborhood.