The Past Grand Masters Gallery
The Past Grand Masters Gallery is divided by groups representing
major eras in Pennsylvania Masonic History.
The Past Grand Masters Jewel
  Colonial Freemasonry1730-1813
  Growth, Reform, Antimasonry and Recovery   1814-1855
  The Master Builders1856-1873
  Stability1874-1901
  The Masonic Homes1902-1945
  Conservators of Pennsylvania Freemasonry1946-1981
  Public Extension of Masonic Charity1982-Present
A Brief History of the Past Grand Masters of Pennsylvania
Every organization, corporation or government traces its successes to its founding and sustaining leadership. The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania's long history of tradition and innovation is attributable to the 119 men who have served as Grand Masters of the Fraternity.

This is not a comprehensive history of the office of Grand Master. That feat was accomplished in The Master Builders: A History of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania. This scholarly work of detailed research by Dr. Wayne A. Huss includes biographies of each Right Worshipful Grand Master through Arthur J. Kurtz, 1988-1989.
It is well to note here that the term "Right Worshipful" is often misunderstood and misinterpreted by critics of Freemasonry. "Right" is often used in English titles, such as "The Right Honourable Members of Parliament" or the "Right Reverend" minister of a Christian denomination. "Worshipful" indicates one who is literally full of worship, or one who, in the exercise of his leadership of men, worships God.
In closing his Preface to Volume Three of The Master Builders, Dr. Huss writes:

"So often the emphasis in Masonic historiography is upon famous men who were Masons, such as George Washington and Ben Franklin. I hope this volume will shed light on the lives of the great majority of Masonic leaders who were not nearly so well known, but who, nonetheless, made contributions both to the Fraternity and to society in general."

The on-line Past Grand Masters Gallery provides only basic information about each of these brethren. With this minimal information however, we can see some significant patterns of common experience in the lives of our Past Grand Masters.
Other than Benjamin Franklin, it is likely that the names of our Past Grand Masters are relatively unknown outside of Freemasonry, or in some cases, professional societies. But many of these men were leaders in their professions and in their communities. Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
This review includes men who served as Grand Masters of the "Modern" Grand Lodge and of the "Ancient" Grand Lodge. Pennsylvania Masons will recall that the "Moderns" came first, and were so called by the "Ancients" who came along later and professed to return to the traditions of the Fraternity. By the time these two competitive Grand Lodges had merged in England in the early 19th Century, the "Moderns" had all but ceased to exist in Pennsylvania, while thriving in almost every other State. The uniqueness of the Pennsylvania origin accounts for may of the ritualistic and traditional differences from all other state Grand Lodges.

Although no Grand Masters served earlier than age 52 for the last 70 years, the recent trend of younger leaders is closer to the age of service prior to 1836.
The youngest was William Allen who was 26-years-old when installed in 1731. William Allen
William Allen
The oldest was Earl Herold who was 72-years-old when installed in 1964. Herold also has the distinction of living the longest, passing away in his 94th year. Earl F. Herold
Earl F. Herold
The youngest to die was Thomas Hopkinson whose death at age 42 came 15 years after he served as R. W. Grand Master. Thomas Hopkinson
Thomas Hopkinson
The longest tenure of service is 17 years, by William Allen, the second Grand Master of the "Modern" Grand Lodge. William Allen
William Allen
Jonathan B. Smith, the second Grand Master of the "Ancient" Grand Lodge served for a total of 11 years. Jonathan B. Smith
Jonathan B. Smith
While 6 Grand Masters served more than 2 years, and 16 served 1 year or less, 89 Grand Masters served a two-year term. Four Grand Masters died in office.  
The tenure of Henry W. Williams in 1889, at just 29-days, was the shortest of all. Henry W. Williams 1899
Henry W. Williams
Higher education is commonly used as a measure of leadership quality, but may not be indicative in this case. Of the 119 Grand Masters, 46 had no higher education, 16 had some college or university training, 49 received degrees, and the records of 10 are unknown.

Occupation or vocation is often used as an indicator of quality, although it may be argued that it isn't the profession but rather the quality of work produced which really matters. Of no surprise is the fact that 38 Grand Masters were either attorneys or judges. The remainder were: 15 merchants, 16 businessmen, 12 bankers, 7 craftsmen, 6 engineers, 4 physicians, 4 educators, 3 accountants, 3 insurance agents, 3 manufacturers, 3 politicians, 2 real estate brokers, 1 public administrator, 1 clergyman and 1 sea captain.
Family life was important to most of our Grand Masters. The marital status of our Grand Masters shows 110 who were married with 9 remaining bachelors. Although 22 Grand Masters had no children, 33 had 5 or more, and one of those, Philip Syng, had 18. Philip Syng
Philip Syng
Our Grand Masters were also religious and were mostly, but not exclusively, of main-line Protestant theology:
  • 36 Episcopalian
  • 36 Presbyterian
  • 17 Methodist
  • 11 Lutheran
  • 5 Baptist
  • 4 Quaker
  • 2 Dutch Reformed
  • 2 United Church of Christ
  • 2 unknown
  • 1 Church of God
  • 1 Universalist
  • 1 Roman Catholic
  • 1 Jewish
Ninety different Lodges have produced the 118 Grand Masters who have served as leaders of the Fraternity. In the era of the Moderns, there were 9 Grand Masters from St. John's Lodge. In the era of the Ancient Grand Lodge, 9 Grand Masters came from Lodge No. 3, and 9 came from Lodge No. 51. Six came from Lodge No. 126, and 4 each from these Lodges: No. 59, No. 72, No. 51, No. 121 and No. 464. Thirty-two Grand Masters have had Lodges named after them and 9 of those, 2 or more Lodges.
Some of these men were great patriots; others were leaders of governments, civic servants, and business giants. Still others were simply men of faith who were committed to the ideas of the Fraternity. Each had a different story to tell, but perhaps none more compelling than that of Israel Israel whose knowledge of Masonic traditions saved him from certain execution by the British as spy for the Revolutionary Army. Israel Israel
Israel Israel
To learn the facts of this remarkable story, and the biographical details of our many distinguished Past Grand Masters, read Volume III of The Master Builders, available through the Circulating Library and from the on-line Masonic Gift Shop.

(Rev.12/27/11)
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