Main content

The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute photograph and negatives 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 photograph and negatives collection, circa 1860-1990s, includes small collections of photographs and photograph albums as well as other photographic materials collected by The Franklin Institute over time. The materials consist of images related to science, industry and technology, engineering, transportation, and other related topics. There are also portrait, landscape, and aerial images. The collection includes prints, negatives, slides, and some early forms of photographs, including talbotypes/calotypes and albumen prints. Some photographs are oversized.

Identified image groupings in the collection include:

35 mm color slides of stamps and currency Aerial photographs of Philadelphia, circa 1930s Astronomer expedition to Wadesboro, NC to view total solar eclipse photograph album, 1900 Cabinet cards, late 19th century DaCosta firefighting photographs, late 19th century-early 20th century Edison and the phonograph photograph series, late 19th century-mid 20th century Ellersley Wallace images of foreign and American scenery photograph album, 1860-1880 Illinois Steel Company photograph album, 1900s Industrial processes: Cast iron pipe manufacture photographs, late 19th century-early 20th century Industrial processes: Various scenes from steel foundry photographs, circa 1945 Industry and industrial plant photographs J. B. McCord Philadelphia street maps and surveys and Benjamin Franklin Parkway models photograph album, early 20th century James Watt and sculpture copying machine photograph album, circa 1883 Jenny Sayre Ramberg Franklin Court photograph albums, 1992 John F. Geiger Chicago drainage canal photographs, 1890s Land transportation-power photographs [cars, horseless carriages], 1920s Light bulb production photographs, circa 1890s-1900s Machinery photographs Miscellaneous oversized photographs Miscellaneous photographs [mechanical and technology subjects, Bethlehem Iron Company, Hadfields Ltd (bulletproof steel), Adler planetarium, and other subjects], circa 1892-1920 Miscellaneous photographs and negatives Miscellaneous portrait photographs, circa 1920s Miscellaneous slides Northern Contracting Company of Georgia Railway & Power Company construction views of Tallulah Falls hydro-electric development photograph album, 1910s Philadelphia 18th and 19th century street scenes and drawings of street scenes photographs [print copies], 20th century Photographs from various World Expositions [New Orleans, Chicago, Paris, and others], 19th century Railroad photographs RCA electron micrograph prints, undated Richards, London, & Kelley Atlantic Works photograph albums, circa 1873 Scott collection of telephone photographs Simon Newcomb photographic portraits, 1880s Snow and ice crystals, frost and dew photograph album Southwestern United States and Mexico military photographs, 1880s Tannett Walker & Co. machinery photograph album, 1880s The Consolidated Lake Superior Company photograph albums, 1930s Trial of armor plates at Indian Bend photographs, 1891 Trolleys and light rail photographs, early to mid-20th century Water engineering, Yakima County photographs, circa 1895 William and Frederick Langenheim early photographic negatives and prints [talbotypes, albumen prints], circa 1851 William Sellers Company machine and product photography, circa 1881-1925

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.
Access Restrictions

Contact The Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute for information about accessing this collection.

Collection Inventory

Print, Suggest