The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen of the City of New York, was founded on November 17, 1785, by 22 men who gathered in Walter Heyer's public-house on Pine Street in Lower Manhattan. The aims of the General Society were to provide cultural, educational and social services to families of skilled craftsmen.
In 1820, The General Society opened one of the city's first free schools. During the early 1800s, New York had no public school system. Only two free schools were to be found in the whole city - one in the almshouse, and the other open only to the children of freed slaves. The school opened with 70 students. Children of members were admitted free of charge, and a small fee was required from all others. Later that same year the Society added a separate school for girls. The school, which became the Mechanics Institute in 1858, continues to provide tuition-free evening instruction in trades-related education. Currently, it is the oldest privately-endowed tuition-free technical school in the city of New York, with more than 180,000 alumni.
Also founded in 1820, the General Society Library is the second oldest in New York City. The Library's main reading room-which houses The Crouse Library for Publishing Arts-soars to a height of three stories topped by a magnificent skylight.
The Society is also home to the John M. Mossman Lock Museum. The Mossman collection represents one of the most complete anthologies of bank and vault locks in the World, with more than 370 locks, keys and tools dating from 4000 BC to the modern 20th-century. The museum is open to the public.