I had no idea that Ben Franklin had a museum dedicated to him, let alone that it was such a cool place!
Located at 317 Chestnut Street in Philly, just a couple of blocks from Independence Hall, is this neat little museum dedicated to Ben Franklin, who, as it turns out, was a pretty quirky and fun guy. I mean, I know Ben had nothing to do with it, but you have to love a museum that has this sign out front:
You can still get a carriage ride around this part of the city to feel what it was like to travel back in Ben’s day. I mean, he wasn’t dodging SUVs with his carriage so that part’s a little different than the authentic experience, but there are still cobblestone streets in a lot of places and it’s nice to know that there are places that the carriages can go that the cars cannot.
We were downtown on a pretty hot and humid day, so the cool dark of the museum felt wonderful. It’s open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (except for select holidays throughout the year) and costs $5/adult and $2/child ages 4-16. Children 3 and under are free. The Ben Franklin Museum is on the list of National Parks (yep, as a museum) that are free for fourth graders and several members of their families during the “Every Kid in a Park” program. Up to three additional adults are allowed in at no charge with the fourth grader, so those who can should take advantage of the deal and save money where you can.
See, Ben agrees with me.
The museum is dark and cool with lighting concentrated on all of the different exhibits. The walkways around and through the exhibits were really spacious; we had no problems navigating them as a family, and no issues getting Vivi’s chair around.
I was surprised at how interactive a lot of the exhibits were. There were several banks of interactive screens throughout the museum where you could see how Ben Franklin influenced the course of history, both in Philadelphia and the U.S. in general. Like most five year olds, Vivi liked touching the screen and learning through what is essentially a large iPad. (For point of reference in this picture below, Vivi is about 40″ tall, so I estimated the display to be less than three feet tall.)
The museum isn’t very big, but there were a lot of interesting facts and display laid out in an easy-to-find way. I gave the camera to our 8-year-old and told him to take pictures of some of his favorite things in the museum. Two notables included this touchscreen keyboard that taught you how to play an electronic version of the Glass Harmonica that Franklin invented, and a soup bowl portioned out that could be used by sailors on a ship. The idea is that the bowl sits in the middle of the table, the sailors sit around it, and every time the boat rocks a little, the spilled liquid from the middle of the soup bowl “spills” into the little outer-ring cups, which is where the sailors get the soup they eat. Partially brilliant, partially not. I mean, the liquid in the small cups can still spill out in your lap like a regular bowl, but points for creativity.
My favorite was the chart of daily wine consumption that Franklin’s servants kept. Suffice it to say that the Franklins liked their wine.
You do have to pass the gift shop when you leave, as any good museum designer will tell you is a necessity. My favorite item? A neon Ben Franklin profile. I mean, who doesn’t want that hanging in their dining room to start conversations at their next dinner party?
On our way out, we walked through the courtyard right next to the museum where they have the actual physical markings of where his original house stood. It would be easy to pass through without looking at the ground, but you definitely need to do it. The pavers are engraved with things that Ben Franklin and his family members wrote to each other when they were apart. Here’s one of my favorites:
That’s right – one of the most influential men of his time was getting a letter from his wife telling him what curtains go where in their house. Wives everywhere are going to want to Pin this picture and keep if for the next time their husbands complain about a household chore. If Ben Franklin can take time away from writing the Declaration of Independence and inventing electricity to make sure the right curtains go in the right room, what’s their excuse?