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The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute manuscript collection


Held at: The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute [Contact Us]222 N 20th St, Philadelphia, PA, 19103

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1824, in honor of America's first scientist, Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest and most important science institutes in the nation. Its mission is to inspire a passion for learning about science and technology.

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. The original purpose was to honor Benjamin Franklin and advance the usefulness of his inventions. In addition to conducting scientific inquiry, the Institute fostered research and education by running schools, publishing the influential Journal of The Franklin Institute, sponsoring exhibitions, and recognizing scientific advancement and invention with medals and awards. The Franklin Institute Awards program, begun in 1824, is America's oldest and most prestigious recognition of achievement in science and technology.

From 1826 to 1933, The Franklin Institute was housed in a Greek Revival building on South Seventh Street in Old City Philadelphia that was built for the Institute by noted architect John Haviland. (The building is now home to the Philadelphia History Museum.) On January 1, 1934 the new Franklin Institute science museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway opened to the public, one of the first museums in the nation to offer a hands-on approach to learning about the physical world. Capital campaigns in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century enabled major physical and programmatic expansion to the facility, which contains over 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, two auditoriums, the Tuttleman IMAX Theater, the Fels Planetarium, and the Karabots Pavilion. The museum is also home to the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial, one of only a handful of national memorials owned by a private institution.

As of 2016, The Franklin Institute offers twelve world-class permanent exhibits that provide hands-on learning experiences that introduce and reinforce key science concepts in creative and engaging ways. The Institute also hosts major traveling exhibits that draw local, national, and international visitors to the museum. As an American Association of Museums-accredited organization, the Institute holds curatorial collections that are considered national treasures.

The Institute's programmatic offerings serve a range of audiences, with a focus on underserved youth in Philadelphia and beyond. It also presents public lectures, academic symposia, and opportunities for discussion of current science events. The Institute is a founding organizer of the Philadelphia Science Festival, which was established in 2011, and has been 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. "Mission & History." 2016. Accessed August 22, 2016.

The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute manuscript collection, 1762-2003, includes small groups (less than 1 linear foot each) of papers of scientists, inventors, science-oriented groups and organizations, industrial businesses, and others in the scientific community, as well as other science and engineering related materials. Documents in the collection include correspondence, journals and notebooks, patents and patent-related papers, reports, scrapbooks, photographs, illustrations, prints and drawings, technical drawings and blueprints, reel-to-reel films, booklets and pamphlets, ephemera, newspaper clippings, and other materials. Subjects covered in the collection include transportation (trains, boats, airplanes), history of ink, automobiles, electrical and mechanical engineering, meteorology, cameras and photography, aviation, and other topics. Following is a partial inventory of these materials:

50th Anniversary of the North Transatlantic Flight SIAI Marchetti, 1983 Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, Inc. "Legal and Legislative Bulletin," 1934-1941 Alan Heaslip papers on William Heaslip, circa 2003 Alexander D. Bache published reports on scientific observations from survey of the East Coast, 1844-1850 Allen Reeves & Company financial records, 1837-1840 Army and Navy Journal newspaper clippings, 1895-1910 Baldwin Locomotive materials [Lawrence Neebe patents, newspaper clippings, photographs] C. E. Zortman scrapbook on railroad engineering, 1930-1935 C. F. Goppelsroeder scrapbook and artifacts on the Franklin Institute International Electrical Exhibition of 1884 C. Francis Jenkins manuscript and scrapbook on the Jenkins phantoscope, circa 1922-1932 Certificates for cargo ships, 18th century, some certificates mention human cargo Charles P. Steinmetz papers on electrical engineering, 1893-1917 Commercial airlines pamphlets and printed matter, 1933-1953 Compiled railroad company inventories and annual reports, circa 1885 Composition of steel research and charts Correspondence and published materials on meteors and possibility of mining them, 1928-1929 Correspondence scrapbook, 1890s-1901 Cramp Shipyard records [technical drawings, blueprints, book of lines number 110-201, and other records], circa 1902-1903 Cyrus R. Chambers, Jr. papers on steam engines, circa 1868-1892 E. L. Forstall travel ephemera, maps, and scrapbook, circa 1929 Eadweard Muybridge Animal Locomotion prints, catalogs of plates, and essays relating to Muybridge's work at University of Pennsylvania, 1887-1888 Emily Duane Wallace Williams papers, 1958-1974 Frank N. Blake journals on bromo-gelatin, 1881-1915 Frederick H. Shelton manuscript "A Treatise upon Windmills of the Old-Fashioned Kind," 1912 George Corliss (1817-1888) memorial book, 1930 George M. Harrison papers on radio, 1923-1950 Greville Bathe papers on Oliver Evans orukter amphibolos, circa 1933-1934 H. deC. Hamilton papers, 1887-1949 Henry Colvin correspondence and newspaper clippings on locomotives, 1894-1915 Henry Howson Jr. papers [includes several materials relating to Howson's work at The Franklin Institute, as well as patent materials], 1871-1934 Illustrations of early steam fire engines, circa 1877 Jacob Bellak papers [in German], 1817-1841 John Cresson Trautwine notebooks, drawings, and prints, 1827-1872 John Ernest Worrell Keely papers John Sharpe patent papers, 1937-1951 Lalor Fuel Oil Systems Company blueprints and drawings, circa 1920s Lee De Forest papers, 1905-1964 Letter from Samuel Morse, 1848 Lighthouse technical drawings, 1870s Log book of vessel sailing from India to New York, 1810 Manuscript relating to the development of minimotion keyboard, circa 1942 Marie Marvingt papers, 1949-1968 Materials relating to exhibitions at other science museums including the Camp Transparent Woman exhibit at the New York Museum of Science and Industry, 1936 Michael Faraday papers, 1852-1856 Miscellaneous business cards and calling cards Miscellaneous manuscripts, late 19th century-mid-20th century Miscellaneous notebooks, circa 1900-1950 Miscellaneous oversized blueprints, plans, and technical drawings, 19th and 20th century, related to water engineering, hydrography, machinery design, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, bridges and road paving, railroads, milling, smelting, astronomy, civil engineering, nautical design, communication, the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, and other topics Miscellaneous prints and drawings (including a cyanotype), late 19th century-early 20th century, of machinery, aviation, the moon, inventions (including the incandescent lamp), industrial settings (factories, ships, and others) and other subjects Miscellaneous ship records [passenger lists, "How to Cut a Schooner" notebook, 1896] Nathan Hayward correspondence on the Franklin Institute, 1929-1945 Naval Intelligence Charts of Sea Strength Notebooks on mechanisms and mill engineering [typed copies of notes from 1814-1815 with handwritten notes and blueprints] Pedro G. Salom copies of late 19th century United States patent specifications on airships, 1933 Philadelphia Advisory Council on Vocational Education for National Defenses Executive Committee meeting minutes, 1941-1942 Philadelphia area bicycle clubs photographs and ephemera, 1875-1900 Photographs from an electron microscope Photographs of conestoga wagons Portrait engravings Posters Prints, drawings, and photographs relating to water engineering, early 1900s-1940s Railroad pamphlets and booklets, 1848-1900s Reel to reel 8mm travel films Reeves & Fraley sales books [6], 1837-1840 Research on Arthur and Norman Brock and the Brock Process [aerial camera and mapping instrument development] Robert W. Leslie and A. W. Newberry papers on patents, circa 1920-1923 Samuel Vaughan papers, circa 1777-1782 Science research data rolls Ship drawings, charts, photograph negatives Spectrum of the calcium arc wavelength cards photographed by Henry Crew and George McCauley Stereo-optic images, postcards, photographs, astronomy images Suburban Gas Company report, 1909 Technical drawings, maps, photographs relating to railroads and locomotives, circa 1870s-1930s Technology in Industrial America manuscript, 1977 The History of the Coach drawings by Edward Penfield, circa 1830s Trautwine, Graff, Latrobe drawings [focus on water engineering, but other drawings as well], 1799-1840 U.S. and British patents, 1860s-1870s U.S. patents and related drawings, 1804-1865, including patents for Oliver Evans signed by President Thomas Jefferson (1804) U.S. patents and related drawings, 1870s-1880s University of Pennsylvania lecture tickets and course cards, 1826 William and Robert Thompson Merchants records, 1817-1826 William H. Greene and William H. Wahl patent papers, circa 1882-1905 William P. Deppe correspondence, 1925-1926

Additional oversized materials in the collection include maps (geographical, topographical, geological); scientific data charts; drawings of inventions, correspondence, and other materials from inventors who were awarded the Scott medal, 1822-1832; posters; various oversized photographs, including some from the Radio Club of America; prints; published materials; and a document signed by George Clinton of New York, 1786.

More detailed inventories for specific parts of this collection may be available on-site.

Materials collected by The Franklin Institute from various sources over time

Summary descriptive information on this collection was compiled in 2014-2016 as part of a project conducted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania to make better known and more accessible the largely hidden collections of small, primarily volunteer run repositories in the Philadelphia area. The Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR) was funded by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

This is a preliminary finding aid. No physical processing, rehousing, reorganizing, or folder listing was accomplished during the HCI-PSAR project.

In some cases, more detailed inventories or finding aids may be available on-site at the repository where this collection is held; please contact The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute directly for more information.

The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Sarah Leu and Anastasia Matijkiw through the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories
This preliminary finding aid was created as part of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania's Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories. The HCI-PSAR project was made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
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