One of the most fascinating people in American history called Philadelphia home: Ben Franklin. From his home in Philadelphia, Franklin made his way in the world as a writer, printer, publisher, diplomat and postmaster. A man driven by curiosity, Franklin also invented items and made discoveries that still enhance our lives today.
Philly pays tribute to this man among men at the Benjamin Franklin Museum. Located in Franklin Court, the museum recently completed a major renovation and reopened to the public with some exciting new amenities. Want to know what’s in store for your visit?
Let’s start with the artifacts. There are 45 historical artifacts in the 9,500-square-foot Benjamin Franklin Museum. The smallest of these artifacts is a piece from a French chess set that was made between 1750 and 1780 and owned by Franklin himself. Known for his competitive spirit, Franklin loved the game and spent many late nights playing with friends, stopping only when there were no longer enough candles on hand to create light with which to see the board.
The largest artifact in the collection is a wood-and-metal Sedan chair, a type of vehicle consisting of a one-person cabin perched atop two poles that are carried by bearers. Suffering from gout in the knees and a painful bladder stone, Franklin got around Philadelphia by way of a Sedan chair. Mules bore him in such a chair as he made his way across France on his return to America in 1785; in Philly, his bearers often consisted of prisoners from the Walnut Street jail.
While the majority of the artifacts in the museum are from the 18th century, there is one that’s considerably older. A mastodon tooth fossil discovered at Franklin Court in 1959 is believed to be part of a collection of fossils found near the Ohio River. In 1767, the fossils, which were sent to Franklin while he was in London, were deemed by the statesman to be “extremely curious.”
Next, let’s take a look at the exhibits. It’s likely that Ben Franklin himself would have been extremely pleased with the variety of interactive and touchable exhibits at the museum that bears his name. In fact, there are 30 computerized interactive programs or animations at the museum, some depicting Franklin doing the activities he enjoyed most — writing or working on one of his many inventions. There are also nearly a dozen mechanical or hands-on objects, four flipbooks containing excerpts of his writings and five guessing games that let visitors learn while having fun.
Of course, no museum about Franklin is complete without some of his inventions. Among the fascinating inventions on display is Franklin’s glass armonica, a musical instrument made of graduated glass bowls mounted crosswise on a horizontal spindle. By touching the bowls with moistened fingers and operating the spindle with a foot pedal, the musician could produce sounds similar to those made by a violin and flute. Over time, the armonica became quite controversial. Listeners suspected its tone of making them ill, and some believed the vibrating glass caused nerve damage.
Looking for other cool things to see? Outside the museum is a steel framework, or “ghost structure,” that represents where Franklin’s house once stood. The home was razed in 1812 and no visual records of it have been found; all that remains are the foundation, wells and privy pits.
Today, the ideas of Ben Franklin are still relevant, and the Benjamin Franklin Museum provides a glimpse into the man who embodied the spirit of Philadelphia.
Benjamin Franklin Museum
317 Chestnut Street
Hours: Open daily, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Admission: $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 4-16, free for children age 3 and under.
Entrance to the Franklin Court courtyard is from Market or Chestnut Streets, between 3rd and 4th Streets.
To learn about more learning-based activities for the kids, download our eBook, “Top 15 Family-Friendly Activities in Philadelphia (for under $100).