Major Traveling Exhibition Celebrates Benjamin Franklin's 300th Birthday
In his time, Benjamin Franklin was this country's greatest scientist, inventor, diplomat, humorist, philanthropist and entrepreneur. Three centuries later, his image is ubiquitous and his achievements legendary, but the real lessons of his extraordinary life are less understood. To coincide with the 300th anniversary of his birth, the international traveling exhibition, Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, makes its world premiere from December 15, 2005, through April 30, 2006, at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, a city rich with Ben's legacy. The exhibition will immerse visitors in Franklin's world, expose them to his ingenious problem-solving methods and leave them inspired by his example. Anticipated highlights are a 25-foot model ship that visitors can climb aboard to recreate Franklin's method of charting the Gulf Stream; a whimsical video animation of a young Ben swimming with a kite to save energy; and five of America's key founding documents, all signed by Franklin. The exhibition is the centerpiece of Ben Franklin 300 Philadelphia, a region-wide celebration of all-things-Franklin from fall 2005 through 2006. The exhibit was conceived of and created by the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a federally commissioned consortium of five Philadelphia institutions with ties to Franklin. Members include the American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Institute, the Library Company of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania. The Tercentenary is supported by a lead grant of $4 million from The Pew Charitable Trusts.
Franklin's Legacy On View
Chief Curator and Tercentenary Associate Director Dr. Page Talbott and exhibition designers Staples and Charles Ltd., of Virginia, pair more than 250 original Franklin artifacts with more than 40 video animations, hands-on displays and computer-based interactive kiosks, which borrow from Franklin's curiosity, wit and wisdom. The unprecedented collection of artifacts will be gathered from institutions and private lenders (including many Franklin descendants) from around the United States and Europe. This unique synthesis creates an immersive environment in which visitors can demonstrate some of the progressive thinker's qualities—his investigative approach to his environment, his self-reflection and his penchant for collaboration—in the presence of objects from Franklin's material world.
The exhibition's title, Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World, expresses Franklin's lifelong desire to understand and improve the world around him. Throughout his 84 years, he used his ingenuity for the benefit of others, creating everything from the quirky (a chair with a foot-pedaled fan for cooler air, which visitors to the exhibit will be able to try themselves) to the practical (bifocals, flippers and the lightening rod). He also took on loftier work, founding the nation's first hospital, drafting the Albany Plan and serving on the committee to write the Declaration of Independence.
The 8,000-square-foot exhibition is divided into six sections:
• Character Matters, 1706-1723: Young Franklin in Boston
• B. Franklin Printer, 1723-1748: Franklin's entrepreneurial and prosperous career as a printer, as well as family life at his Market Street home
• Civic Visions, 1731-1751: Franklin's collaborative approach to community action, including his role in founding many of Philadelphia's key philanthropic, educational and civic institutions
• The Search for Useful Knowledge, 1747-1785: Franklin's many inventions, such as the discovery of the properties of electricity and his concern with practical applications for his scientific discoveries
• The World Stage, 1744-1787: Franklin's political career in colonial Pennsylvania, his years as a colonial agent in London, his diplomacy in France and his role as America's elder statesman
• Seeing Franklin, 1787-Today: Franklin's own assessment of his life and a visual journey, dating back 250 years, of Franklin's image in pop culture
The synergy between the exhibition and the National Constitution Center, site of the exhibition and just steps away from Franklin's grave at Christ Church Burial Ground, is a natural one, according to Richard Stengel, the Center's president and CEO. “We make the Constitution relevant to modern Americans. We've found more than 100 ways to teach the principles of this challenging, glorious document to people of all interest levels. This treatment of Franklin, in our venue's traveling exhibition space, is an ideal added experience for our visitors.”
Tickets to the exhibition are $14 for adults; $12 for children ages 4-12, seniors, college students and active military personnel; and $8.50 for groups of 20 or more. Admission to the Constitution Center is also included.
Why So Much Fuss?
“Americans are naturally connected to Franklin, the first founding father to turn 300. We've seen that in all of our planning for the 300th birthday celebration,” said Dr. Rosalind Remer, executive director of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary. “We can now build on that interest and introduce people to aspects of Franklin they may not have considered.”
The exhibit gives Philadelphia the opportunity to celebrate its permanent connections to Franklin,” said Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation. “He is still very much alive in Philadelphia, through the bridge, museum and boulevard that bear his name; through his statues and portraits; and especially through the civic organizations he founded that still thrive today.”
In addition to the exhibition, Philadelphia will throw Franklin a 300th birthday bash on January 17, 2006, and will present a wide array of companion exhibitions, events and promotions.
“We are proud to support Benjamin Franklin's birthday season,” said Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of The Pew Charitable Trusts. “The Trusts' grant is our gift to the nation to celebrate Benjamin Franklin in the 21st century, and we hope all citizens take this opportunity to truly reflect on his impact and strive to model his civic leadership.”
After debuting in Philadelphia, the exhibition will make the following stops:
• St. Louis, Missouri Historical Society, June 8-September 4, 2006
• Houston, The Houston Museum of Natural Science, October 11, 2006-January 21, 2007
• Denver, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, March 2-May 28, 2007
• Atlanta, Atlanta History Center, July 4-October 14, 2007
• Paris, Musée Carnavalet and Musée des Arts et Metiérs, December 4, 2007-March 30, 2008