In 2000, five of Philadelphia's finest cultural institutions with ties to Benjamin Franklin came together to begin planning a birthday celebration for the first founding father to turn the big 3-0-0.
Early on, the consortium, known as the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary and made up of the American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Institute, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania, made several key decisions: the party would be big, festivities would last for an entire year, and Philadelphia would be the center of it all. Here's a peek at what individual members of the consortium are doing (in addition to the main exhibition Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World and programming) to fete Franklin in 2006:
- The Franklin Institute will celebrate its namesake's birthday with exhibits and events designed to stimulate—and satisfy—curious minds. Guests can help Ben blow out the candles on his giant birthday cake and enjoy reenactments of some of his most famous experiments during Benjamin Franklin's 300th Birthday Bash on January 14, 2006. Also kicking off in January is Sparks!. During this high-energy show, visitors will see Franklin's most dramatic experiments recreated before their eyes, watch bolts of lightning dance across the stage and learn about electricity. January 14-December 31, 2006. 222 N. 20th Street, (215) 448-1175, www.fi.edu.
- They seemed to have nothing in common. She was Ekaterina Dashkova, the Russian princess. He was Benjamin Franklin, the American printer, scientist, patriot and statesman. When they met in Paris in 1781, it was a meeting of two of the most fascinating minds of the “Age of Reason.” In the new exhibition, The Princess and the Patriot: Ekaterina Dashkova, Benjamin Franklin and the Age of Enlightenment, portraits, memoirs, letters, court attire, medals, jewelry and other decorative arts—many never seen in this country—will be on view at the American Philosophical Society. They document the extraordinary lives of America's favorite founding father and the outrageous Russian princess who spoke five languages, helped overthrow a czar and directed the most prestigious scientific organization in her country. Free. February 17-December 31, 2006. 104 S. 5th Street, (215) 599-4283, www.amphilsoc.org.
- Visitors to the Library Company of Philadelphia can explore Franklin's connection to the printed word in Franklin and the Book, an exhibition about Franklin as printer, publisher and author. Free. May 1-December 1, 2006. The Library Company is also publishing a catalog (a half a century in the making) in 2006 that reconstructs, through painstaking detective work, much of Franklin's extensive personal library. 1314 Locust Street, (215) 546-3181, www.librarycompany.org.
- Imitated but never surpassed, Franklin's iconic bust will be displayed in an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In Pursuit of Genius: Jean-Antoine Houdon and the Sculpted Portraits of Benjamin Franklin assembles the best versions of Houdon's famous sculpture in various media, as well as Franklin sculptures by other French artists. The show explores the competition among artists for the creation and control of Franklin's image in sculpture and the reaction to and influence of Houdon's portrait. May 13- July 30, 2006. 26th Street & the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, (215) 684-7862, www.philamuseum.org.
- Franklin's 300th birthday is the ideal time to examine the cultural impact of printing in the 18th century. During a major international University of Pennsylvania conference, sponsored in part by the Library Company of Philadelphia, leading historians and literature scholars will discuss The Atlantic World of Print in the Age of Franklin. Free, but pre-registration (beginning July 2006) is required for access to papers. September 28-30, 2006. McNeil Center for Early American Studies, 3619 Locust Walk, 3rd floor, (215) 898-9251, www.mceas.org/franklin. The University is also sponsoring Penn in the Age of Franklin: 1740-1790, a virtual space in which visitors can examine the University's founding and early development during Benjamin Franklin's lifetime. Updated frequently, the site includes 18th-century books, original documents, letters and minutes from the first meetings of the University's Board of Trustees. sceti.library.upenn.edu/franklin/index.cfm.
About the Celebration
Ben Franklin 300 Philadelphia is a year-long celebration of Benjamin Franklin's 300th birthday, coordinated and marketed by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, the National Constitution Center and CBS 3. Festivities will run from fall 2005 through 2006 and will focus on the world premiere of the international traveling exhibition, Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World at the National Constitution Center. The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a non-profit organization, is supported by a lead grant of $4 million from The Pew Charitable Trusts and established to reaffirm Franklin's enduring legacy in his 300th birthday year. The Tercentenary was founded in 2000 by the American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Institute, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania.
For more information about the exhibition, related programs and traveling to Philadelphia, visit www.gophila.com/ben.