Franklin Institute - History

History

On February 5, 1824, Samuel Vaughn Merrick and William H. Keating founded The Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts. The museum began in 1825 in its original building at 15 South 7th Street (now the site of the Atwater Kent Museum) and moved into its current home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, near that parkway's intersection with 20th Street, over 100 years later, in 1934. Funds to build the new Institute and Memorial on the Parkway came from the Poor Richard Club, the City Board of Trust, the Benjamin Franklin Memorial, Inc., and The Franklin Institute. John T. Windrim's original design was a completely square building surrounding the Benjamin Franklin Statue, which had yet to be built. Despite the effects of the Great Depression, the Benjamin Franklin Memorial, Inc. raised $5 million between December 1929 and June 1930. Only two of the four wings envisioned by Windrim were built. The Franklin Institute was integrated in 1870, when Philadelphia teacher and activist Octavius Catto was admitted as a member.

Many scientists have demonstrated groundbreaking new technology at The Franklin Institute. From September 2 to October 11, 1884, it hosted the International Electrical Exhibition of 1884, the first great electrical exposition in the United States. Nikola Tesla demonstrated the principle of wireless telegraphy at the institute in 1893. The world's first public demonstration of an all-electronic television system was later given by Philo Taylor Farnsworth on August 25, 1934.

On March 31, 1940, press agent William Castellini issued a press release stating that the world would end the next day. The story was picked up by KYW, which reported, "Your worst fears that the world will end are confirmed by astronomers of Franklin Institute, Philadelphia. Scientists predict that the world will end at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard Time tomorrow. This is no April Fool joke. Confirmation can be obtained from Wagner Schlesinger, director of the Fels Planetarium of this city." This caused a panic in the city which only subsided when The Franklin Institute assured people it had made no such prediction. Castellini was dismissed shortly thereafter.

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