The Franklin Institute

Specialty: Science museum

In the spirit of inquiry and discovery embodied by Benjamin Franklin, the mission of The Franklin Institute is to inspire an understanding of and passion for science and technology learning. It realizes this mission through its Science Museum, and since 1995, through the Center for Innovation in Science Learning. The Center has been a pioneer in the digital presentation of the Institute’s unique artifact and document collections in the history of science.

Collections

The Institute holds a number of historically significant collections that document America’s scientific inquiry, technological inventiveness, and entrepreneurial acumen, from the mid-1820s to the present day.  In particular, these holdings include the organizational records of The Franklin Institute since its founding in 1824, the Graff Collection of original drawings of the Fairmount Water Works, the extensive collection of drawings of industrial machinery of the William Sellers Company, the Frederick E. Ives Collection of the early development of color photography, and the Wright Brothers’ Aeronautical Engineering Collection.  In particular, the organizational records of the Institute are of considerable value in researching the history of science and technology in American history.  These holdings consists of the traditional board minutes, correspondence, committee reports, and membership lists of one of the nation’s oldest and most important organizations devoted to the development, promotion, and dissemination of scientific and technological information and knowledge in America. 

The Institute’s organizational records also include the archives of the Committee on Science and the Arts (CSA).  Established in 1834, the CSA was mandated by the Institute to examine and evaluate new inventions and technological processes, particularly for science-based industries.  Today, the CSA Collection contains over 4,000 case files of peer-review evaluations, supporting correspondence, patents, drawings, and promotional material of major figures in the fields of science and technology in the 19th and 20th centuries.  The list of individuals represented in the Collection’s case files reads like an international “Who’s Who” in science and technology:  Samuel F.B. Morse, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas A. Edison, Nicola Tesla, Emile Berliner, Rudolph Diesel, Marie Currie, Max Planck, Reginald Fessenden, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, William Coolidge, Elmer Sperry, Enrico Fermi, and many others.  Many of the historical documents associated with these case files appear on the Institute’s website, developed by the Center for the Innovation in Science Learning as an educational resource.  Similarly, The Journal of The Franklin Institute, one of the oldest technical journals in continuous publication, provides another valuable resource for tracing the history of science and technology in American life for the past 180 years.

The Institute’s museum holdings, dating from the early 19th century, document the visual and material culture of scientific inquiry and technological inventiveness, particularly in the areas of “experimental” and “cutting edge” technologies.  Strengths in these holdings rest in:  scientific apparatus and instruments for measuring and testing the physical properties of electricity; equipment for image-making, such as photography, film, and early television imaging; technologies associated with steam and electrical power; and machine technology related to 19th- and early 20th-century manufacturing. 

Visit the collections.

Skunk, as illustrated by John James Audubon, in his Viviparous quadrupeds of North America, 1846-1854. Image courtesy of The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.