Franklin Institute & The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial

The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, a 20’ statue of Ben Franklin, resides within the Franklin Institute. Sculpted by James Earle Fraser from 1906 to 1911, the statue of our former statesman, writer, and inventor weighs an impressive 30 tons and is seated on a 92-ton pedestal of white Seravezza marble. Dedicated in 1938 and designated a national memorial in 1972, it serves as the focal point of the Memorial Hall, which was designed by John T. Windrim. The Hall itself is 82’ in length, width, and height, with a 1600-ton domed ceiling, and marble walls, ceilings, and columns. Within the Hall are various Franklin memorabilia including the electrostatic machine he used for scientific experiments, a clock from Paris, and the odometer used to measure postal routes in Philadelphia. Interestingly enough, the Benjamin Franklin Memorial has not been placed on the National Register of Historic Places; it is actually affiliated with the National Park Service, as is the Franklin Institute. Grants are made available to the Institute through the Department of the Interior for the upkeep and addition of exhibits to the Memorial. (Note: Free admission to Memorial Hall.)

The Franklin Institute, a memorial and Science Museum, was founded by Samuel Merrick and William Keating in 1824. Architect John Haviland was commissioned to design the original building on 7th Street, now occupied by the Atwater Kent Museum, and in 1934, the Institute was relocated to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Housed within the four sections of the Institute complex are exhibits of science, technology, physics, astronomy, and history. Through these exhibits, lectures, and publications, it has furthered the development of engineering and commerce in the city. The first Electrical Exposition was held here in 1884, and the first public demonstration of international telephone service in 1916. Outside the entrance to the Museum stands a well-known Philadelphia landmark, the Budd BB-1 plane, designed by Enea Bossi in 1935.

Other unique, permanent attractions at the Franklin Institute include the Fels planetarium, a walk-through human heart, and a simulated ride on the Baldwin 60000 steam locomotive through the Train Factory. The Institute houses the largest of the Wright Brothers’ collections, and the propeller from Paul Macready’s Gossamer Albatross, the airplane that successfully crossed the English Channel in 1979, powered by amateur cyclist, Bryan Allen. The two-story giant heart, an interactive exhibit covering 5,000 square feet, features sound, lighting, and 3D monitoring. Originally named the “Engine of Life” in 1954, the heart underwent extensive restoration and reopened in 2004. Sir Isaac’s Loft, on the 3rd floor of the Museum, is a recent exhibit that focuses on scientific demonstrations of energy, physics, and the polarization of light. National astronomy and earth day takes place at the Institute on April 21, with five tours at the Fels Planetarium and visits to the Joel Bloom observatory, open from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

The Mandell Futures Center is a large space within the Institute, consisting of an upper and lower level for traveling exhibits. It houses eight futuristic exhibits of space, earth, computers, chemistry, and health. Some recent exhibits have included Charles Darwin & evolution, the Titanic, and Body Worlds. Currently, daily through September 2007, the Museum is hosting the Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs exhibit. Over 130 Egyptian artifacts from the 18th dynasty make up this outstanding collection including the boy king’s crown and throne among the 50 objects taken from King Tut’s tomb. There are other items in the exhibit, as well, dating back more than 3500 years, recovered from five other tombs of the Pharaohs. Shows are held daily in the virtual reality of the IMAX dome theater. Visitors to the exhibit can take one of the two Tut Trolleys that run between the Franklin Institute, the Penn Museum, and the Independence Visitor Center. One-way tickets – $2.00/per person.

The fourth area of the Institute complex is the CoreStates Sciences Park, a 25,000 square foot outdoor exhibit area, open May — September from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The Park features interactive exhibits for children to enjoy learning about science through play structures including a stand-on organ, a maze, a high wire bicycle, sand pendulums, sundials, and periscopes.

The awards program of the Franklin Institute, established by the Committee on Inventions, has been in existence since 1824. These Ben Franklin Medals are given to individuals who have exhibited outstanding skill or innovation in the fields of earth, life, and computer science, physics, engineering, and chemistry. Among the recipients in the past were the Curies, Alexander Graham Bell, and Albert Einstein. In 1998, the Bower Award for Business Leadership and the Bower Award for Science were made possible through a gift of $7.5 million from Henry Bower of Philadelphia. The international Science Award includes a $250,000 cash prize, one of the largest given for this field.

There are tours, publications, and seminars provided by the Franklin Institute, all designed to encourage public awareness and creativity through education and resources to keep Benjamin Franklin’s vision alive.

Museum Hours: Sunday — Thursday, 9:30 a.m. — 5:00 p.m., Friday & Saturday — 9:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve & Day, New Years Day, and Independence Day.
General Admission: Adults – $13.75, children and seniors – $11.00. IMAX – $9.00.
Dining Facilities: Ben’s Bistro & Coffee Bar, Atrium Café, and Tut’s Oasis for full-service dining. Vending machines and lunchrooms available.
Parking: Limited garage parking on 21st Street. Rates: $12.00 — up to 5 hours; $15.00 — 5 to 12; $25.00 — 12 — 24 hours. (Maximum rate)

Leave a Reply