The New-York Historical Society

The New-York Historical Society is considered New York’s First Museum. It was established in 1804 by 11 men who had just lived through the American Revolution and saw that “New York’s citizens needed to take decisive action to preserve eyewitness evidence of their own historical moment”. They established the museum to make sure that the accounts and artifacts didn’t fade away with the individuals who had lived through this formative time in our country and city’s history.

The New-York Historical Society predates the founding of the Metropolitan Museum of Art by nearly 70 years and houses art from many famous NYC artists, like Gilbert Stuart, Rembrandt Peale, or Thomas Cole. The NYHS has been housed in many buildings, including the Government House (which once was a temporary residence for the President) from 1809 to 1816, until moving into its current building in 1908.

Not only is the New-York Historical Society home to a extensive art museum, it houses a library, children’s museum, and has education programs which serve over 200,000 students a year.

Fun Facts about the New-York Historical Society

  • In 2017, it opened the Center for Women’s History, which is the first of its kind within the walls of a major museum.
  • The historical society uses an archaic spelling of the city – hyphenating New-York was popular when the institution was founded and they haven’t changed the title to this day.
  • In the 1970’s and 80’s, the N-YHS was so short on cash that they closed to the public until 1995.

Do 2 museums, a library, and a women’s history center seem like a lot to cover? Let us do the work for you! Bring your team to learn about the role New York played in the American Revolution and beyond.


Hi! Want to visit the New-York Historical Society with an expert guide?

Check out our renegade tours.

5 Things to See at the New-York Historical Society

The Wooden Leg of Gouverneur Morris

This wooden and metal prosthetic leg was worn by Founding Father Gouverneur Morris after he lost his left leg in a carriage accident at 28. Morris was infamous for his many affairs and rumor has it that he may have even suffered the injuries which required his leg to be amputated after jumping from a window to escape a jealous husband.

Morris had a fraught history with injuries: scalding his right arm and side with boiling water to such a degree that he missed a year of school, and he ultimately died from the injuries and infection he sustained after attempting to unblock a urinary tract infection with a DIY catheter made from a whale bone.

You can’t make this stuff up!

Thomas Cole

Known as the founder of the Hudson River School, Thomas Cole mostly painted landscapes. Though he was occasionally known to dabble in portraiture.

Many works from the painters in the Hudson River School, and Thomas Cole’s only known self portrait are on display at the New-York Historical Society.

Mayor George B. McClellan at the controls of the first subway train

This photograph captures the first ever subway ride. NYC Mayor George McClellan was excited to be part of this historical moment. So excited in fact, that he drove the whole inaugural ride! (He was supposed to give up controls after ceremonially starting the train from the City Hall Station.)

The somewhat bumpy ride from City Hall Station to 146th Street took them 26 minutes and began a new era of transit in the city.

In addition to this photograph, the original subway handle is on display at the N-YHS museum.

Parliament Coffee

The flagship store for this small coffee chain can be found within the New-York Historical Society. It’s a great place to meet colleagues, hang out, or go get some work done since admission to the museum is not required to enter the shop.

Bonus trivia: Parliament Coffee is served at another one of our favorite museums – the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC!

We Rise

This film was created for the New-York Historical Society’s Center for Women’s History and shows once an hour in the museum auditorium. Narrated by Meryl Streep and featuring music from Alicia Keys, We Rise documents the 70 year fight for women’s suffrage.

The film was released in time for the 100 year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in New York State.