James Bowdoin, John Adams, and John Hancock founded the Academy in Boston during the American Revolution. Their objective, as stated in its charter, was to "cultivate every art and science which may tend to advance the interest, honour, dignity, and happiness of a free, independent, and virtuous people." They were joined by Robert Treat Paine and 58 local community leaders to charter the organization in 1780. Other prominent men soon joined, and early members included Benjamin Franklin (whose American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia provided a spur to the Boston leaders to create a more politically oriented society), George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.
The modern academy is headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It sponsors conferences, organizes research projects, and publishes a quarterly journal, Daedalus. Today's Academy boasts 4,000 fellows and several hundred foreign honorary members. Throughout the academic year, members are invited to regularly scheduled talks and meetings in Cambridge and at regional centers headquartered at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Irvine.