Mission & History

The Baldwin 60000 Locomotive arrives at The Franklin Institute in 1933


Founded in honor of America’s first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest and premier centers of science education and development in the country.  Today, the museum continues its dedication to public education and creating a passion for science by offering new and exciting access to science and technology in ways that would dazzle and delight its namesake.

The Franklin Institute's Mission
In the spirit of inquiry and discovery embodied by Benjamin Franklin, the mission of The Franklin Institute is to inspire a passion for learning about science and technology.

About The Franklin Institute
As the most visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a top-five tourist destination in the City of Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute (TFI) is one of the leading science centers in the country and serves as both a prominent educational and cultural resource and as an anchor of the local economy. Science and technology have the potential to solve some of the most critical issues of our time, improve our lives, and inspire our curiosity about the world around us. Every day, The Franklin Institute provides resources that help people connect with science and technology in creative ways that resonate with learners of all ages and backgrounds. The museum directly reaches more than 1 million people each year with informal learning experiences that engage students, adults, and families. Though its historic museum is a central learning space, TFI has evolved to provide people with educational resources in their own neighborhoods through hands-on activities in classrooms, workshops in libraries, community centers, and online. Since 1824, The Franklin Institute has pursued its commitment to making these resources available to as many people as possible throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

On February 5, 1824, Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating founded The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts. Within three years of its founding, that promotion took place through public lectures, a high school, a library, public exhibitions, and a research journal, and many of these endeavors remain core activities to this day. Since then, The Franklin Institute has played a central, yet constantly evolving, role in meeting America's educational needs in the fields of science and technology. For the organization's first century, classes were offered in mechanics, drafting, and engineering, and promoted science and invention. In 1930, despite the Great Depression, The Franklin Institute and the Poor Richard Club began to seek funds to build a new science museum and memorial hall. In just twelve days, the community contributed $5.1 million, and in 1932, the cornerstone of the new Franklin Institute was laid at 20th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The Franklin Institute Science Museum opened to the public on January 1, 1934, titling itself a "Wonderland of Science," and was one of the first museums in the nation to offer a hands-on approach to learning about the physical world. Three major capital campaigns (1990, 2003, and 2012) enabled physical and programmatic expansion, resulting in the existing facility, which contains more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space and two auditoriums. TFI also operates the Fels Planetarium, the second oldest planetarium in the Western Hemisphere. The museum is home to the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, which was fully restored in 2010 and is open free to the public. It is one of just a handful of national memorials in the custody of a private institution.

In 2014, the museum opened the 53,000-square-foot Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pavilion, which houses a STEM education and conference center, a climate-controlled traveling exhibition gallery, and the now award-winning exhibit Your Brain, in which visitors can explore neuroscience and their own senses. With its many energy-saving and “green” features, the new building is LEED-Silver certified and has received an award from the American Institute of Architects.

Today, TFI offers three floors of permanent exhibits that provide hands-on learning experiences that introduce and reinforce key science concepts in creative and engaging ways. The museum also hosts renowned traveling exhibits that draw local, national, and international visitors to the museum, such as King Tut, the most visited museum exhibit in the world in 2007, and Body Worlds in 2010. As an American Association of Museums-accredited organization, the muesum holds curatorial collections—particularly those related to Benjamin Franklin and the Wright Brothers—that are considered national treasures.

Celebrating its 200th year in 2024, The Franklin Institute Awards Program is the nation's oldest and most prestigious recognition of achievement in science, technology, and industry. The annual presentation of the Benjamin Franklin Medals in seven fields of science and engineering, the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science, and the Bower Award for Business Leadership provides public recognition and encouragement of excellence in science and technology and celebrates the legacy of our namesake, Benjamin Franklin. The list of Franklin Institute laureates reads like a "Who's Who" in the history of science and technology, virtually charting their advancement through the past two centuries—from the development of the typewriter to the dawn of quantum computing. The honor roll of more than 2,000 Franklin Institute Awards laureates includes Nikola Tesla, Marie and Pierre Curie, Rudolf Diesel, Orville Wright, Thomas Edison, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, Frank Lloyd Wright, Stephen Hawking, Gordon Moore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Blackburn, Steven Squyres, Bill Gates, and Frances Arnold—to name but a few. To date, 125 Franklin Institute laureates also have been honored with Nobel Prizes.

The Franklin Institute’s programmatic offerings serve a range of audiences, with a focus on underserved youth in Philadelphia and beyond. Partnerships with cultural organizations and corporations support unique collaborative outreach initiatives and events, including youth programs that build leadership skills, provide mentorship opportunities, and open paths to formal education and careers in science and technology. Gender and family learning programs engage families in science enrichment experiences to increase interest and knowledge in STEM subjects. Community-based programs encourage diverse audiences to explore the value of science education and literacy. The Franklin Institute’s wealth of educator resources and workshops enable teachers to bring the spark for hands-on science interaction into their daily lessons and help them align classroom education with nationally mandated standards.

The Franklin Institute presents public lectures, academic symposia, and opportunities for discussion of current science events as they unfold throughout the year to create an informal and educated dialogue about the most important science issues facing the public. From heart health to neuroscience awareness to immunology, the museum addresses themes currently impacting residents of Greater Philadelphia and beyond.  TFI is currently a lead or partner in more than a dozen federal grant-funded programs through agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and NASA.

The Franklin Institute is located in Philadelphia's Parkway Museums District.

American Alliance of Museums Accredited Museum Logo
Photograph of the inside of Franklin Hall, showing part of the large marble statue of Benjamin Franklin.

As the most visited museum in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and a top-five tourist destination in the City of Philadelphia, The Franklin Institute is one of the leading science centers in the country and serves as both a prominent educational and cultural resource, and as an anchor of the local economy.

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