The First Bank of the U.S. Will Become a Museum of the American Economy

With $22.2 million in federal funding, a new museum dedicated to the history of U.S. finance is coming.

The nation’s first central bank, the hub of Alexander Hamilton’s short-lived national banking concept, is set to transform into one of the only museums focused on the U.S. economy. After receiving a hefty federal grant, plans to open the historic building to the public for the first time in nearly 50 years are finally underway.

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Classical style building with tall stone columns
The historic bank was championed by Alexander Hamilton. Hady Khandani/ullstein bild via Getty Images

The First Bank of the United States, the country’s oldest surviving federal building, opened in Philadelphia in the 1790s amid controversy. Pitched by Hamilton as a way to tie together the economies of the 13 original states, the bank was initially endorsed by the administration of President george washington. While the idea of a centralized financial institution drew opposition from figures like Thomas Jefferson and those fighting for individual state rights, the bank was signed into law by Washington in 1791 with a 20-year charter.

The First Bank went on to play a monumental role in the country’s early economic history. It established the first national currency in the U.S., paid back the nation’s debt incurred by the Revolutionary War, stabilized the post-war economy, established credit and opened branches across other cities. But when First Bank’s charter wasn’t renewed in 1811, banker Stephen Girard bought the institution’s holdings—including the building, which eventually became part of the Independence National Historical Park (INHP) when it was acquired by the National Park Service in the 1950s.

The building, with its classical architecture and two-story columns, has been closed to the public since 1976. But after receiving a new $22.2 million in federal funding, as announced yesterday (June 11), the INHP is hoping to change that. The money will kickstart a project that will transform the bank into a museum by 2026, coinciding with the country’s 250th birthday, according to INHP.

A museum dedicated to America’s history of money

The bank will reopen as an interactive museum that examines the history of the U.S. economy through artifacts and exhibits focused on land, money, slavery, trade and work. Government grants will fund repairs and electrical updates to the building and add elevators, restrooms and a new visitor entrance. Meanwhile, the Independence Historical Trust, the INHP’s philanthropic partner, is aiming to raise an additional $6.6 million to pay for the installation of exhibits, following its previous successful fundraising round of $4.5 million for the project. The trust is reportedly set to receive another donation from economist Jeremy Siegel, who previously pledged $1 million to the museum renovation.

“The restoration of the renowned building gives the park the opportunity to showcase aspects of the economy of the early republic and the role of the controversial national bank,” said Amnesty Kochanowski, acting superintendent of the INHP, in a statement. “I am thrilled to see this project truly underway.”

With its focus on the history of American finance, the upcoming museum will help fill a much-needed gap in the nation’s museum programming. New York’s Museum of American Finance, founded in 1988, remains the only independent museum dedicated to the financial history of the U.S. Meanwhile, the 2015 exhibition “American Enterprise” at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History marked the institution’s first-ever exhibition exploring the history of business in the country.

Even the INHP, which consists of cultural and historical structures like Independence Hall and Liberty Bell, is lacking in its offerings related to America’s financial history. “We tell the story of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Revolutionary War,” said Thomas Caraminco, executive director of the Independence Historical Trust, while announcing the new federal funding. “But we don’t tell the story of money.”

The First Bank of the U.S. Will Become a Museum of the American Economy