Main content

Franklin Institute records


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 Franklin Institute records, 1824-2016, consist of administrative and financial records, membership materials, files from various departments and committees at The Franklin Institute, property records and materials relating to the Institute's building, photographs and audiovisual materials, publications, marketing materials, ephemera, and other materials. The records are divided into twelve series as follows: Series I. Administrative Series II. Financial Series III. Department files Series IV. Committees and sections Series V. Journal of the Franklin Institute Series VI. Benjamin Franklin Memorial, Incorporated Series VII. Property and buildings Series VIII. Events Series IX. Research facilities Series X. Institutional history reference files Series XI. Photographs, drawings, and audiovisual Series XII. Pamphlets, ephemera, and other materials. For additional description, see the series and subseries in the inventory listing.

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. Some records, such as employee records and financial records may be restricted due to privacy concerns.

Collection Inventory

Series I.. Administrative.
Scope and Contents Note

Administrative records include constitution and by-laws, publications, officer election and other officer related materials, records from the board, correspondence, visitor logs, and other materials.

Publications from The Franklin Institute (TFI) include strategic and long range planning materials, 1980s-1990s; "The Franklin News" or "Franklin Institute News," a member newsletter/booklet with news highlights and/or short articles from TFI, 1930s-1980; "The Filter," an internal newsletter, 1956-1963; yearbooks (booklets) with by-laws, membership directory, staff list and other general information about TFI, 1912-1929; guidebooks to TFI materials; and annual reports, 1960s.

Officer materials include ballots, letters, tally sheets, member attendance records from elections for officers of The Franklin Institute, 1825-1885; volumes with annual listings of officers and committee members, 1911-1945; ballots related to matters voted on by members; staff badge records, 1899-1915; typescripts of speeches given by the Joel N. Bloom, Vice President of The Franklin Institute, 1970s; and vice president meeting minutes, 1991-1993.

Board records include Board of Managers and Board of Directors minutes, 1823-1987; Board of Trustees minutes and some minutes from Trustees sub-committees, 1888-1924, 1987-1993; General meeting minutes (quarterly), 1824-1881; Stated Monthly Meeting of The Franklin Institute minutes, 1942-1987; Board of Managers Select Committee on Inventions minutes, miscellaneous reports, and other documents, 1824-1825; Committee on Publications (part of the Board of Managers) meeting minutes, 1893-1933; Sub-Committee on New Subjects and Preliminary Examination meeting minutes, 1923-1960, includes three volumes of "New Subjects Abstracts"; and Sub-Committee on Planning meeting minutes, 1960-1974. Other Board of Managers documents include by-laws and resolutions, 1825-1897, 1937; calls for meetings 1824-1873; petitions to congress and legislature and requests for appropriations; reports, 1824-1916; committee membership lists, 1837-1841; rough minutes, 1825-1867; and other Board of Trustees materials, 1990s-2000s.

Correspondence consists of both letter books and original letters. There is incoming correspondence, 1824-1921, and outgoing correspondence, 1824-1826, 1876-1900, 1914-1917. There are short hand letter books, 1884-1885, and standard letter books, 1841-1870, 1900-1910, as well as letter books of the actuary, 1872-1882 [Holman], 1886-1900 [Heyl]. Some correspondence relates to the Minor City Trust. One section of correspondence is organized by individual and topic including John E. Titus, 1880-1895; A. D. Bache, 1829-1863; B. F. Isherwood, 1850-1881; Luther Stierringer, 1892-1901; Electrical engineering at the Columbian World's Fair; Pan American Exposition; Philadelphia Electric Company; and 75th Anniversary of The Franklin Institute. Another section of correspondence contains letters sent and received by individuals, including Mr. Knight, June 1876-Feb 1878, and Mr. Wahl, Feb 1878-June 1895. There are also copies of form letters used by various administrations.

Visitor registers include logs from 1830 to 1889 and 1911 to 1977. There is a visitor register from the National Export Exposition, 1899.

Series II.. Financial.
Scope and Contents Note

A portion of financial materials, 1824-1971, includes a number of volumes such as financial ledgers, cash books, cash and check stub ledgers, account books, sales books, contract sales, stock ledger and certificates, debt fund ledger, and a lecture and event financial ledger from the actuary (Heyl, 1890). There are also receipts, bills, treasurer reports, employee payroll records/salary and earnings reports, and other financial papers and records. The financial ledgers include: Financial ledgers, 1826-1874, 1881-1904, 1908-1927 Cash book, 1828-1845 Cash ledger, 1893-1897 Cash and check stub ledgers, 1825-1844 Account books, 1824-1871 Cash books, 1890-1930 Ledgers, 1839-1929 Sales books,contract sales, account book, cash books, ledgers to 1967

The series also includes tax materials, payroll documents, receipts, trust materials, and cash disbursements, 1950s-1960s; a social security journal, 1960s; capital campaign files, 1960s, 1981-1984, 1991; and finance department files, 1980s-2000s.

Some of these materials may be restricted.

Series III.. Department files.
Scope and Contents Note

This series consists of various files, records, and other documents pertaining to the various departments at The Franklin Institute and their activities.

Curatorial records include donation records, loans, exhibit files (incoming receipts and outgoing receipts, shipment info, correspondence), deaccessioning records, 1930s-1980s; collection records, 19th-20th century; curator minutes, 1872-1890; and other materials. Additional curatorial materials from the 20th century include files that are organized into topics, 1970s-2000s.

Exhibitions and exhibits records include materials relating to the Committee on Exhibitions, exhibitions held at the Franklin Institute, and specific museum exhibits at TFI.

Committee on Exhibitions materials include meeting minutes, 1824-1836, 1843-1858; catalog and invoice records, 1826-1854; and reports from exhibitions. There are also exhibition catalogs from 1825-1874.

Early on exhibitions were referred to by number (e.g. First Exhibition, Second Exhibition, etc.) materials for Exhibitions 1-27 (1824-1874) include: reports on exhibitions; correspondence and letter books, circa 1825-1899; administrative materials; applications for space; rules and regulations; judges' reports, judges' notebooks, award winner lists; ticket records, receipts for displayed goods, and other financial materials; catalogs and announcements; and stereo photos.

Another group of materials relates to the Electrical Exhibition (1884) and the Novelties Exhibition (1885). These materials include exhibit rules; cafe menus; scrapbooks about the exhibitions and the items, objects, and topics featured in exhibitions; exhibition catalogs; scientific pamphlets, booklets, and papers; correspondence; blueprints; and other documents. A large portion of these materials is from the Electrical Exhibition.

Materials from the 1899 National Export Exhibition include items that are similar to the ones listed above, but also include tests, reports, test data, inquiries, permits, laboratory data, programs, handouts and other printed matter, materials relating awards, and scrapbooks.

There is a small amount of materials relating to other exhibitions and expositions, circa 1850-1897. There is also a small amount of materials from other mechanics institutes and their exhibitions.

Materials from TFI museum exhibits includes research and planning materials for traveling Air Show exhibit in 1930s, such as lists of objects or other items to use in exhibit, lists of people and organizations with related collections, research on air defense plans and other aviation topics, possible lecture topics for exhibit, interpretation scripts, publicity materials, letters, photographs, and statistics. There is also material pertaining to the traveling Chemistry Exhibit in the 1930s; blueprints and line drawings for exhibit installations, 1932-1938; and items from the temporary exhibit "Ship Building on the Delaware," 1980s.

Additional matierals relating to exhibitions and exhibits include Exhibits Department files, circa 1970s-2000s.

Library records include Library Committee meeting minutes, 1825-1938; correspondence and letterbooks, 1880-1930s, some attributed to Petty Vaughn, and some relating to "remains of bound book library"; Alfred Ringling papers (former librarian and assistant secretary), 1883-1933; catalog records; member recommendations for books; circulation records; additions to library; financial records; catalog records for books and pamphlets from the late 19th century to 20th century, 1974; and an accession book, 1896-1910.

Membership records include Membership account books, 1872-1930 Membership cash books, 1967-1969 Constitution with member signatures [4 volumes], 1824-1940 Alumni Association list [of those with membership for 50 or more years] book, 1875, 1950 Membership resignations A-Z Printed membership directories, 1876-1931 (incomplete) List of members who served in World War I

Additional materials include obituaries, reception programs and tickets, requests for membership, resolutions, member lists, honorary member lists, applications for junior associates, membership renewal letters (1980s), membership certificates from the 19th century, and other materials.

Public relations and marketing records include clippings binders and scrapbooks, 1885-1996, that contain newspaper clippings about TFI. Some have lists detailing mentions on local radio stations. There are also materials related to the Futures Center, circa 1990s, including posters, clippings, and printed matter.

For materials from the finance department, see Series II. Financial.

Other materials in this series include subject files with research materials on various science related topics, such as coral reef and aquaculture, recycling, satellites, population, and the future; a space collection with newspaper clippings, photocopies, and research related to space; Center for Naval Analysis files, 1962-1967; and Center for Innovation in Science Learning (CISL) files, 1990s-2000s.

The Committee on Science and the Arts.
Scope and Contents Note

One of the primary objectives of The Franklin Institute when it was founded was the recognition and encouragement of scientific invention. In 1824, the Committee on Inventions was established to provide counsel and advice to inventors with an impartial endorsement of ideas of value that would commend them to the public. The name of the committee was changed to the Committee on Science and the Arts (CSA) in 1834. The first award from the CSA, the Elliott Cresson Medal was established in 1848 for industrial invention and innovation in technology. Other medals were established in the following years including the Edward Longstreth Medal (1890), Franklin Medal (1914), Louis E. Levy Medal (1923), John Price Wetherill Medal (1925), Walton Clark Medal (1926), and other awards. In the 1990s all of the medals were consolidated so that there would be one medal, the Franklin Medal, which could be awarded in each of the various arenas of science.

Records from the Committee on Science and the Arts include administrative materials and thousands of CSA case files containing applications to the Committee. There are also approximately 4,000 lantern slides and a couple hundred small photographic prints that correspond to the CSA case files. All of the CSA case files have been microfilmed, and some are digitized. CSA case files are restricted for fifty years from the file date.

Administrative records include: meeting minutes, 1932-1996; committee roll books, 1881-1884, 1888-1937; application record books (tracking the applications and their status) for application numbers 1,765-2,471, spanning the years 1892-1909; Boyden Premium materials, 1930s; photostats of a Vermilye Medal scrapbook, 1939; booklets from award ceremonies; list of awardees, 1831; a file index for 20th century applications; Special Committee on Chairman and Members correspondence, reports and minutes, 1931-1947; Cresson Medal reports, correspondence, and other materials, 1848-1925; Levy Medal reports and correspondence, 1949-1984; Clark Medal reports and correspondence, 1943-1957; CSA regulations, 1893-1934; membership lists, 1834-1958; John Scott legacy premiums and medals materials, 1822-1970s ; Medal Day planning materials, letters to finalists, other materials, 1960s-1997; and files on nominees for various medals. There is a small amount of materials, 1990-2009, relating to the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science and the Bower Award for Business Leadership. The materials include research on nominees, letter of recommendation, photocopies of notification letters to recipients, correspondence, and ceremony planning materials, 1990s-2010. Bower Award materials may be restricted.

The Committee on Science and the Arts (CSA) case files, 1834-2015, are arranged in chronological order, and each case file has been assigned a number beginning with the number "1." The case files are also labeled with applicant name, year of application, and the name of the applicant's invention or the specific science subject area to which the invention relates, such as canal boats, hydraulically forged steel, icebreakers, improved lock-nut, brewing method, moleculare structure of cast iron, architectural design and city planning, microseal processes for wood, centrifual pumps, high-speed motion picture apparatus, and various other topics. Case files that are less than fifty years old, are restricted. The files contain applications and/or materials that relate to applications sent to the CSA, such as letters, application forms, techinical drawings, handwritten notes, reports from Committee investigations into the applicant and his or her credentials, letters of recommendation, resumes, and other materials. More recent case files have photocopies of the award, if received.

The CSA lantern slides, 1848-1949, and the CSA photographic prints, circa 1904-1970, are housed in envelopes labeled with the number of the CSA file to which it corresponds and both the lantern slides and prints are arranged in numerical order. Both the CSA lantern slides and the prints depict images of technical drawings, drawings of prototypes, data sets and other relevant materials that relate to the CSA applications.

Committee on Instruction.
Scope and Contents Note

The Committee on Instruction, which was responsible for administering the various schools of the Franklin Institute. Materials are organized into the following groupings: Administration, Drawing School, High School, Arts and Sciences, School of Design for Women, Night Schools (such as Naval Architecture School), Mechanic Arts, Other Schools (such as School of Mathematics), and Alumni Association. Materials include student enrollment records, correspodence, resolutions, exam results, commencement invitations, course catalogs, and other materials. Drawing school prints.

Other committees and sections.
Scope and Contents Note

This series contains small amounts of materials from various other committees and sections of The Franklin Institute.

Sections and date spans of materials include: Mechanical Engineering Section, 1898-1923 Mining and Metallurgical Section, 1896-1923 Photographical and Microscopic Sections, 1899-1919 Physical and Chemical Section, 1909-1923 Physical and Astronomical Section, 1899-1900 Physical Section, 1900-circa 1905 Electrical Section, 1882-1922 Chemical Section, 1889-1909

Materials for the committees and sections include meeting minutes, correspondence, roll books, proceeedings, reports, various testing reports and data, scrapbooks with committee and section announcements (1902-1925), event bulletins

Also in this series are meteorological reports for the State of Pennsylvania, 1838-1840, from the Joint Committee on Meteorology of the American Philosophical Society and the Franklin Institute.

Papers of individual committee members.
Scope and Contents Note

Series V.. Journal of The Franklin Institute.
Scope and Contents Note

The Journal of the Franklin Institute (JFI), was initially published under the title Franklin Journal and American Mechanics' Magazine in 1826. This series includes materials that relate to the journal, as well as to lectures that are associated with the Journal.

Subscription records, 1828-1883, include early subscription records consist entirely of letters relating to an individual or organization's subscription. In the mid-1800s the subscription records are documented with a detailed form.

Correspondence and written communication materials include letterbooks, 1828-1841; Jones E. Keller correspondence, 1828-1862; B. B. Owens correspondence, 1914; and other JFI related correspondence.

Materials from the committee on publications include some reports, general correspondence, and other related materials, 1830-1897.

There are bound compilations JFI, 1826-Present. There are paper indexes for the years 1826-1935, and microfilmed versions for the 1940s-1960s.

Also in the collection are delivery records "walk books", 1836-1871; lecture and JFI indexes, some issues of JFI, and lecture programs, 1826-1935 (incomplete); manuscripts submitted to JFI with letters, 19th century; and lecture correspondence (with JFI), 1894-1929.

Series VI.. Benjamin Franklin Memorial, Incorporated.
Scope and Contents Note

Volumes in this series include Benjamin Franklin Memorial, Incorporated meeting minutes, 1928-1939; financial ledger, 1930; subscription receipt stubs including donor name, address, amount pledged and amount paid, 1940-1942; and Benjamin Franklin Memorial, Inc. Audit report book, 1929-1935.

Additional materials in this series include legal documents; Board of Directors, Executive Committee, Annual Meeting, and Collection (monetary) meeting minutes; treasurer's reports; event planning materials; telegrams; miscellaneous financial records; 1929-1935; alphabetical subject files with various administrative, financial, and legal documents; division reports; correspondence, 1930s; scrapbook, 1938; blueprints; Memorial and Museum Committee meeting minutes, 1933-1954; Dedication Committe meeting minutes and dedication planning materials, 1936-1938; and other related materials.

Series VII.. Property and buildings.
Scope and Contents Note

This series includes property records and building plans relating to the Masonic Hall, the S. 7th Street property (TFI's original building, now the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent), and the current building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Masonic Hall records, 1832-1865, include correspondence, treasurer reports, lease agreements. TFI bought Masonic Hall on Chestnut Street from the Masons in the 1830s and leased it out to people.

S. 7th St. property records, 1825-1826, include building committee notes, introductory lecture and opening of hall in 1826, building loan materials, maintenance records, brief of title for building, and building loan subscription ledgers, 1825.

Additional property and building materials include materials related to various sites and site proposals for a new building, 1859-1913; proposed building plans and sketches, 1900-1915; blueprints for the building on the Parkway (boilers, exhibit cases, and other aspects), circa 1930s-1980s; Franklin Fund Committee (raised money to construct new building) records, including correspondence, 1906-1931, and Franklin Fund and Building Committee minutes, 1906-1925; archaeological surveys and reports relating to construction site (former site of the Magdalene Society) for TFI's Futures Center, 1988-1989; and other related materials.

Series VIII.. Events.
Scope and Contents Note

This series includes planning materials for fundraisers, award ceremonies, and other events, such as lectures at TFI; scrapbooks with clippings relating to events, invitations, and programs; loose materials from events; lecture announcements and booklets, 1949-1977; booklets and programs from Franklin Institute events, including family night, Delaware Valley Science Fair, and others, 1950s-1970s; Jayne Memorial lectures materials, 1963-1971; James Marple Dodge lecture materials (photos, planning letters, meeting notes, reports), 1953-1974; and other event-related materials.

Series IX.. Research facilities.
Scope and Contents Note

Bartol Research Foundation

The Bartol Research Foundation of The Franklin Institute was established in 1924 to conduct research in the physical sciences and is now part of the University of Delaware. Barnabas H. Bartol (1816-1888) was an engineer who had many business interests and a sugar refinery in Philadelphia. He was a good friend to The Franklin Institute and started a scholarship there.

Bartol Research Foundation materials include Bartol Research Foundation Committee records, 1919-1924; committee meeting minutes, 1921-1926, 1930-1934; Bartol Research Foundation Library accession book, 1925-1927; meeting minutes 1924-1925; building fund materials and building contracts for research building on 19th and Cherry street; letters, reports, and minutes, 1920s; photographs of committee members; materials relating to projects at the research facility; materials relating to Bartol and his bequest [FI received interest from Bartol's properties on Kimball and Carpenter streets in Philadelphia]; and voucher books, 1922-1940.

Laboratories of the Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute Research Labs (FIRL), Franklin Institute Laboratories for Research and Development (FILRAD), and the Franklin Research Center (FRC) were established in 1946 and operated from the 1940s to the 1980s, when they were sold to Calspan Corporation (Arvin Industries) in 1984.

Materials from the labs include documents relating to various projects conducted and topics studied at FIRL, such as accelerometer projects, electromagnetic radiation, parallax computer, aeronautical engineering, camoflage, masonry preservation, and other subjects. The materials include photographs, reports, work orders, data sheets, diagrams, and other related documents.

Other Franklin Institute research related materials included in this series are a financial journal, 1935-1949; Franklin Institute Chapter of Sigma Chi (a scientific research society) financial ledger, 1953-1993; minutes, reports, letters, 1935-1950, from the Biochemical Research Lab of the Franklin Institute.

Series X.. Institutional history reference files.
Series XI.. Photographs, drawings, and audiovisual.
Scope and Contents Note

This series consists of visual and audiovisual materials from The Franklin Institute, including photographs, film negatives, contact sheets, stereograms, glass plate negatives, lantern slides, 35mm slides, reel-to-reel films, prints, drawings, posters, and other related materials.

Most of the images in all formats depict the buildings (interior and exterior), exhibits, lectures and other events, people associated with the institute, and images related to science.

Glass materials include exhibition lantern slides from the 1842 Exhibition, 1874 Exhibition, and the Electrical Exhibition in 1884; glass plate negatives from the Institute's School of Mechanic Arts; lantern slides of schematics used in lectures at the Institute; and lantern slides of TFI interiors taken by William N. Jennings.

Photographic prints include building interiors of the South 7th Street building and the Parkway building, aerials with building in it, images of events and people associated with institute, group portraits, photographs of architectural documents, TFI exhibits and construction of exhibits (including the heart exhibit), images of science, science demos, the FELS Planetarium, images of former collection objects, Ben Franklin Memorial progress photographs, images used in exhibits, and other photographs.

There is a large amount of negatives in the collection. A large portion relate to the Franklin Institute Research Laboratory (FIRL), 1948-1980. There are additional negatives that show the museum, visitors, meetings and other activities. Several negatives have been indexed. Another large portion of negatives in the collection, which provide documentation from 1934 to the early 1950s, are from Gladys Muller, the official photographer of The Franklin Institute.

For photographs, lantern slides, and other visual materials relating to the Committee for Science and the Arts, see Series IV. Committees and sections, Subseries A. Committee for Science and the Arts.

Series XII.. Pamphlets, ephemera, and other materials.
Scope and Contents Note

This series includes booklets and pamphlets from other organizations; other printed matter and ephemera; awards and certificates received by the Institute, including proclamations from City of Philadelphia, medals and awards bestowed upon TFI from other organizations, congratulatory letters on anniversaries and dedications, 1920s-1980s; and other materials.

Print, Suggest