Ben Franklin Exhibit Lays out Deeds, Ties to Pittsburgh

Article excerpt

Cities such as Philadelphia and Paris generally are associated with Benjamin Franklin, but the kite-flying Founding Father has many links to Pittsburgh.

With 150 artifacts and 30 interactive stations examining various aspects of a rich life, a display opening Saturday at the Senator John Heinz History Center in the Strip District will look at a man whose accomplishments range from creating a nation to inventing an efficient stove.

"Everything he touched, he made better," says Andy Masich, president and CEO of the center. "From founding a library to heating the house."

"Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" will be at the center until July 31. It will deal in great length with his famous work as a diplomat in London and Paris and as a nation founder in Philadelphia. But it also will deal with his ties to Pittsburgh.

They range from his arrangement of wagons used in the ill-fated expedition of Gen Edward Braddock in 1755 to his ownership of a mastodon tooth found near Pittsburgh.

Franklin (1706-90) received the tooth from George Crogan, a trader at Fort Pitt. Franklin lost the tooth, which will be on display, and it was recovered only when excavations were being done for the Franklin triennial in 2006, which was when this display began.

Franklin's nephew, Josiah Davenport, served for a time as head trader at Fort Pitt.

Emily Ruby, assistant curator at the center, says assembling material for the wagon section of the display, naturally, made her look deeper into the work of Franklin. While she may not have been a Franklin enthusiast when she started, "I am now," she says.

The display is filled with Franklin artifacts, from the blue ball that hung over his father's candle shop in England to the first bowl and spoon he and his common-law wife, Deborah Read, bought together. It also includes the glass armonica he invented. The instrument makes an eerie, ringing sound when its cylindrical frame is rotated and rubbed by fingers.

"There is Franklin stuff everywhere you turn," Masich says of the range of artifacts.

The display opens with a symbolic display of kites, a reference to his work with lightning and electricity. …