Assistant supercargo in Stephen Girard’s ship Helvetius to Far East, 1816-1818, during voyage gathered a large collection of minerals, shells, plants, and organic remains which became basis of Wagner Free Institute of Science. Arranged museum for his collection at his home. Obtained permission to use part of Commissioners Hall in District of Spring Garden (district absorbed into Philadelphia 1854), 1847, received permission from city government for continued use of buildings, established Wagner Free Institute of Science, granted charter by Pennsylvania Legislature, 1855, empowered to confer degrees.
Read paper before Academy Natural Science, Philadelphia, published in Journal 1839. Name applied to several fossil specimens (which he described for 1st time).