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The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute glass plates and lantern slides 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 glass plates and lantern slides collection, late 19th century-early 20th century, consists of over two hundred images including children's story slides, travel slides, positive and negative glass plate images of the phases of the moon and an eclipse, and other images. Of special interest in this collection are several glass plate negatives created by artist Thomas Eakins depicting some of his studies of human motion, as well as some glass plate positives from Eadweard Muybridge his own studies of human motion.

Children's story slides consist of fifteen lantern slides with color cartoon images from unidentified children's stories. Each slide measures 3.5" x 11".

Garrison Trip to the Orient lantern slides consist of fifty-six slides depicting people, landscape and scenery, street scenes, and other images in Shanghai, China. There is also an image of Garrison. Each slide measures 3.5" x 4".

Glass plates of the moon in the collection consist of about ninety positive and negative images, including about thirty-five or forty glass plates measuring 3.25" x 4.25", most of which show the phases of the moon, 1891, as well as an eclipse that took place on November 15, 1891. Two of the plates showing images of the eclipse depict the corona of the eclipse. Other images of the moon in this grouping include several 2.5" x 2.5" glass plate negatives showing the phases of the moon from 1892.

There are several glass plate negatives in the collection from noted Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins. In 1884 and 1885, Eakins devoted much of his time to studying human motion. Using a technique he derived from Etienne-Jules Marey, Eakins used a camera and a shutter of his own invention to photograph men walking, running, jumping, and vaulting. Eakins's glass plate negatives include a series of very small-sized plates showing a man in multiple poses, a large plate to which several of these smaller plates have been adhered, large plates showing motion studies in which one fluid action is captured with overlapping but sequential motions, and other motion study images. A couple of the plates are octagonal in shape. Also in the collection are a few glass plate positives from Eadweard Muybridge showing his own studies of humans in motion, circa 1875-1887.

Additional glass plates in this collection include thirty-one glass plate negatives measuring 3.5" x 4" of travel scenes from Rome, Italy and elsewhere (some are labeled "GW Hewitt"); stereopticons of travel scenes, marionettes, machinery, engines, technical diagrams for machinery, and other subjects; seven glass plate negatives of airships; Finlay colour process glass plate positives; and various miscellaneous lantern slides relating to railroads, weather, metallurgy, mining, travel, and other topics. The miscellaneous travel lantern slides include images of the western coast of the United States and other images.

Materials acquired over time from various sources

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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