St. Paul, Minnesota

Nov. 27, 2009 - July 4, 2010
Minnesota History Center

Santa Ana, California

Dec. 16, 2010 – Mar. 13, 2011
Bowers Museum

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Apr. 14, 2011 – July 31, 2011
Heinz History Center

Grand Rapids, Michigan

Sept. 2, 2011 – Jan. 8, 2012
Gerald Ford Museum

Washington, D.C.

Febr. 10, 2012 – May 6, 2012
National Archives

Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World


The exhibit presents artifacts related to Franklin’s inventions – including bifocals, the Franklin stove, the armonica (glass harmonica), microscope – and his activities in publishing, firefighting, postal service, libraries and education, abolition of slavery, and diplomacy and government. Here are some highlights.

"Poor Richard", 1733 (1739 edition is in exhibit)

Library Company of Philadelphia
Printed and sold by B. Franklin.

When "Poor Richard's Almanack" was first published in 1733, it was an instant best seller. Franklin, writing as the humble and henpecked Poor Richard, skillfully combined useful information--astronomical and meteorological predictions--with entertainment, in the form of proverbs, humor and poetry.

Chess set (French), 1750-1780

American Philosophical Society Museum, Philadelphia
Photo by Peter Harholdt

Owned by B. Franklin; descended in the family of Deborah Bache Duane.

Franklin enjoyed chess, played it all of his adult life, and made frequent references to it in his writings. This 18th-century set descended in his family with the history of having belonged to him.

Glass armonica, 1760-1780

Wood, glass, tinned basin, and cloth
Collections of The Bakken Library and Museum

According to family tradition, this armonica was owned by Mme. Brillon de Jouy, a friend and neighbor of B. Franklin in Passy, France.

Franklin bells with Leyden jar (English), 1800-1900

Mahogany, glass, brass, gold foil and paint
Collections of The Bakken Library and Museum

Bells would ring whenever this Leyden jar capacitor was charged with electricity. This is the same concept Franklin used in installing his lightning bells. He explained: "In September 1752, I erected an Iron Rod to draw the Lightning down into my House, in order to make some Experiments on it, with two Bells to give Notice when the Rod should be electrified."

Ink balls (American), ca. 1740

Wood, wool and sheepskin
Historical and Interpretive Collections of The Franklin Institute, Inc., Philadelphia
Owned by B. Franklin; descended in the Bache family.

Using the ink balls, pieces of solid ink were mixed with a small amount of water on the surface of the ink stone, until the ink was of a uniform consistency. Then, with an ink ball in each hand, the pressman picked up the ink and applied it to the metal type with a dabbing, rolling and beating motion before each pull of the press.

Snuffbox with portrait of Benjamin Franklin (French), Francois Dumont, 1779

Horn, satinwood, gilt, painting on paper, and glass
Library Company of Philadelphia

Franklin gave a snuffbox like this one to his young friend Georgiana Shipley as a token of his affection. The portrait on its cover was one of Franklin's favorites; he later lent it to be copied by other artists who wanted him to sit for portraits.

Signature, B. Franklin

*Photos courtesy of the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary, photography by Graydon Wood