In Search of Our Favorite Founding Father

USA TODAY, December 2009 | Go to article overview

In Search of Our Favorite Founding Father


In some ways, Benjamin Franklin (170690) is the Founding Father nobody knows-misunderstood because of the sheer breadth and diversity of his accomplishments. You probably have heard about Franklin's famous experiment with a kite, a key, and some lightning, but are you also aware of his rebellious youth--or that he pioneered wind surfing and invented swim fins; helped found the nation's first hospital; was an environmentalist; and charted the Gulf Stream to assist in ocean travel?

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"Ben is by far the most charismatic Founding Father," maintains Dan Spock, director of the Minnesota History Center Museum. "... Franklin went from self-taught teenage runaway to pivotal statesman and scientist--and his writings are still hilarious."

A touring exhibition, originally developed in 2006 in celebration of the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth, and redesigned by the Minnesota Historical Society, is meant to immerse the visitor in Franklin's world of curiosity, wit, and wisdom, as well as provide an introduction to many previously unknown aspects of his life and career.

Exhibit highlights include:

* More than 40 hands-on experiences, including games, experiments, demonstrations, animations, maps, and other interactives.

* A print shop display featuring 18th-century equipment and an opportunity to learn how to set type.

* Original scientific instruments dating from the time of Franklin, correspondence from Franklin about his electrical experiments, and some of his favorite brainteasers.

* "Electricity Party" area with hands-on scientific demonstrations that include creating static electricity to make confetti dance, sparks fly, and your hair stand on end.

* An original of the 1776 "Pennsylvania Constitution." a model for the U.S. Constitution, with notations in Franklin's own hand. Franklin is the only American to sign all of the founding documents for the U.S.: Declaration of Independence, Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution, and Constitution. Facsimiles of these documents are included in the exhibit.

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* Artifacts related to Franklin's inventions--including bifocals, the Franklin stove, the armonica (glass harmonica), and microscope--and his activities in publishing, firefighting, the postal service, libraries and education, abolishing of slavery, and diplomacy and government.

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* Personal objects such as books (those he wrote and printed as well as read), a chess set, china, furniture, coins, and other possessions, many of which have been in the hands of Franklin's descendants and rarely are displayed to the public.

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The central theme of the exhibit is to show how Franklin's astonishing achievements stemmed from his lifelong desire to understand and improve the world around him.

The exhibition is divided into six sections:

Character Matters, 1706-1723 explores Franklin's upbringing in early 18th-century Boston, where he was steeped in Puritan teachings and received his training as a printer. …

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