The Franklin Institute


The Franklin Institute


It’s one of the oldest, most historic science museums. It’s an American Dream story of a young man who started with nothing and became quite successful in a time of rapid, industrial change in the US. And The Franklin Institute even once predicted the end of the world was coming!


The founding of the Institute is thanks to American Samuel Vaughan Merrick who was offered a job at machine manufacturer in Philly, but he had a problem. He didn’t know anything about being a mechanic. He tried to join the local association and they wouldn’t let this inexperienced, young kid join the club. So he made his own, joining forces with William Keating, a professor of the Mechanical Arts and the University of Pennsylvania. They rallied support and opened the institute in 1824, naming it fittingly for Benjamin Franklin, just 34 years after his death. The timing was right, the Industrial Revolution, and the world was changing. The Franklin Institute was a game changer, being one of the first museums to have hands-on learning about the physical world. Many famous inventors have been associated and honored by The Franklin Institute over the years including Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and also Philo Taylor Farnsworth. He made the world’s first public demonstration at The Franklin Institute of his invention that would change the world. A prototype of the first all-electronic television!

Visit It:

20th St & Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Center City Philadelphia PA. Parking garage costs money! GPS address:

271 North 21st Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Adults 12+ $19.95, Age 3-11 $15.95, Age 2 and under are free.

General admission grants access to all permanent Franklin Institute exhibitions including Your Brain, The Giant Heart, Sir Isaac’s Loft and the Fels Planetarium. Check their website for costs for the special exhibits like IMAX, 4D Movie, flight simulators. Family memberships are also available for $140/year for 2 adults and 4 kids.  Membership allows free entrance and discounted exhibits.

The Full Scoop

Early 1800’s

Having moved from Maine to Philly where his uncle owned a wine shop, a young 19 year old man named Samuel Vaughan Merrick was offer a job of his own at machine manufacturer.  This led to the establishment of a new firm Merrick and Agnew! The only problem? Young Samuel didn’t know anything much about being a mechanic.   And when he tried to join the local associate of mechanics, they gave him the boot! But young, aspiring, self taught, and following a suggestion of a friend, he went about trying to start an institute of his own that would have nothing to do with cliques. No luck at first until he was introduced to a man with a similar mission. William Keating, professor of Chemistry applied to Agriculture and the Mechanical Arts and the University of Pennsylvania.

The timing was right. It was still the Industrial Revolution [around 1760-1840]. Right around this time steam power was ramping up, cement was invented, and technology for gas outdoor lamps was lighting the night. So much more was to be learned and invented so there were quite a few friends who were interested in supporting a progressive endeavor like an institute for science and technology.



The Franklin Institute was founded and named fittingly for yes, Benjamin Franklin. That’s just 34 years after Benjamin Franklin died. The original purpose was “the promotion and encouragement of manufactures, and the mechanic and useful arts”. Lectures and a library collection soon followed [Journal of the Franklin Institute, Volume 139].



The Franklin Institute grew and grew and outgrew its space.   Though it was the Great Depression, they began to seek funds to build a new science museum building. In just twelve days, The Franklin Institute raised $5.1 million from the community.



The new Franklin Institute opened at its current location, 20th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It was a game changer, being one of the first museums to have hands-on learning about the physical world.

This year, Philo Taylor Farnsworth also made the world’s first public demonstration of his prototype for an all-electronic television. Talk about game changer.


March 31, 1940

Press agent William Castellini for the institute issued a press release picked up by KYW radio saying: “Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fool joke. Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city.”   Public panic! But it was an April Fool’s joke. Just an idea to promote their “How will the world end?” planetarium show. Clearly they had to take it back. And Castellini? Fired.


Big Sil’s Top Spots

Fels Planetarium, the second oldest planetarium in the new world.

The permanent Your Brain exhibit lets you explore neuroscience with your own senses.

The Giant Walk-Through Heart that shows how the heart works. Featured in his book!


What Happened to Samuel Vaughan Merrick?

Merrick was president of The Franklin Institute until 1854 but he was a very busy man in many other ways. In 1836, Merrick established the Southwark Iron Foundry which built engines for the USS Mississippi! He helped bring gas lighting to Philly. He was the first president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, then president of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad and the Catawissa Railroad (later part of the Reading Railroad). He was probably largely responsible for connecting Pennsylvania to California! His obituary read that “His life does not stand out before us in bold relief, in marked individuality…but he was buried and mingled in the moving and surging mass of the world around him. It might be thought fitting, therefore to dismiss our notice of him in a few passing words; but to me there seems to be special reasons for pursuing the opposite course.” Oh the eloquence of the old times. The obituary is 14 pages long. Quite an interesting read.