National Archives Opens Benjamin Franklin Exhibition February 10, 2012
Press Release · Thursday, December 15, 2011

Washington, DC

"Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" explores life of enigmatic, creative genius

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On Friday, February 10, 2012, the National Archives will unveil an electrifying new exhibition, Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World. Founding Father, mad scientist, diplomat, humorist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur, Benjamin Franklin is one of the most remarkable and influential Americans of any generation. Learn more about the many sides of Benjamin Franklin and discover his impact on the world in this fascinating, interactive exhibition.

Meet young Franklin in Boston, as a rebellious, ambitious teenager, and then travel with him to Philadelphia, London, and Paris. Learn about Franklin’s scientific experiments and civic initiatives, while exploring the world through his ever-curious eyes.

A special section appearing in Washington, DC, features original documents from the holdings of the National Archives -- including original Franklin letters, the original journals from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, and a rare 1787 printed version of the Constitution. This section includes the original Treaty of Paris, negotiated and signed by Franklin. In France, war-weary American and British negotiators met to negotiate peace. Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams locked horns with their British counterparts over issues such as boundaries, fishing rights and financial compensation. The agreement they reached, the Treaty of Paris, signed September 3, 1783, formally ended the Revolutionary War and established the United States as an independent and sovereign nation.

Other exhibition highlights include:

  • Twenty hands-on interactives, including games, experiments, demonstrations, animations, and maps.
  • A print shop setting featuring 18th-century equipment and an opportunity to learn how to set type.
  • Original scientific instruments dating from Franklin’s time, and correspondence from Franklin about his electrical experiments.

Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World is free and open to the public, and will be on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, through May 6, 2012.

Instead of a traditional chronological approach, the exhibition is divided into six sections: Character Matters, B. Franklin Printer, Civic Visions, Useful Knowledge, World Stage, and Seeing Franklin.

Character Matters shows the young Franklin in the Boston of his youth. Franklin was profoundly affected by his upbringing in early 18th-century Boston where he was steeped in Puritan traditions and teachings, and where he received his training as a printer. This section features books he read, an animation about of the story of Franklin and his whistle, and a computer game called Seeking Opportunity.

B. Franklin, Printer covers the years when Franklin made his fortune as Philadelphia’s premiere printer. Arriving in Philadelphia in 1723, Franklin steadily expanded his network of personal and professional acquaintances, advanced his publishing business, and became a wealthy entrepreneur by age 42. He diligently pursued the cause of self-improvement. This section features Franklin’s original printing equipment juxtaposed with several hands-on activities.

Civic Visions outlines Franklin’s philanthropic, educational and civic outreach. From self-improvement, Franklin turned his attention to community improvement. Franklin and a group of working-class friends, known as the Junto, founded several Philadelphia institutions that continue today, including the Pennsylvania Hospital and the University of Pennsylvania.

Having made enough money to retire from active business at the age of 42, Franklin searched for Useful Knowledge, and founded the American Philosophical Society. This section features science-related interactives and an array of scientific instruments used by Franklin and other scientists— known as philosophers— of his day.

World Stage begins with Franklin’s political career in colonial Pennsylvania, proceeds to his years in England, and concludes with his time in France. Franklin’s many interests — literature, science, politics, diplomacy, and his fascination with the material world— converged in his later years and at a critical time in modern history. Franklin returned to Philadelphia as an elder statesman, deftly re-entered the Philadelphia political scene, became President of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and served in the Constitutional Convention. At the very end of his life, Franklin espoused a new cause -- the abolition of slavery.

The final section, Seeing Franklin, includes Franklin's Autobiography, with original versions of all the early translations, the last life portrait of Franklin, and his epitaph. Pictures of Franklin from the 19th and 20th centuries combine with quotations suggesting Franklin's relevance to our time.

This Exhibition is organized by the Minnesota Historical Society in association with the Bakken Museum and Library and the National Archives. It is made possible in part by the Foundation for the National Archives and Lead Sponsor the General Motors Foundation with additional support from Stradley Ronon. Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World was originally organized by The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, a consortium of five Philadelphia institutions: the American Philosophical Society; The Franklin Institute; the Library Company of Philadelphia; Philadelphia Museum of Art; and University of Pennsylvania, with leading support from The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Benjamin Franklin: In Search of Better World-related products -- including items featuring some of Franklin's many timeless quotes -- will be featured in the Archives Shop. All Archives Shop proceeds support the National Archives Experience and educational programming at the National Archives.

The National Archives is located on the National Mall on Constitution Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Fall/winter Exhibit Hall hours are 10 AM – 5:30 PM daily except Thanksgiving and December 25 (through March 14). Spring/summer hours are 10 AM – 7 PM (March 15-Labor Day).

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For more information on or to obtain images of items included in the exhibition, call the National Archives Public Affairs staff at 202-357-5300.

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