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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.

Ben Franklin's 300th Birthday

By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 23, 2005

Benjamin Franklin, one of the best known of America's founding fathers, will celebrate his 300th birthday on January 17, 2006. I speak of Ben Franklin in the present tense, since he has been described as one of the most extraordinary men of his time - and ours!

He established the first public hospital, university, and public library.

He was a printer, writer, scientist, inventor, civic leader, revolutionary, and international diplomat.

He was one of the senior statesmen through the American Revolution, being past 80 years old during the formation of the United States government.

To honor Franklin's 300th birthday, The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary was formed in 2000 by a consortium of organizations, including: The American Philosophical Society, The Franklin Institute, The Library Company of Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the University of Pennsylvania. The consortium is supported by a $ 4 million dollar gift to the nation by the Pew Charitable Trust. In 2002, the federal government established a Commission of 15 members to continue planning events to commemorate Franklin's birthday.

As a librarian, the most exciting part of this commemoration is the development of the Frankliniana Database of images of objects and images relating to Franklin.  This will continue forever and supplement existing resources about the life of Franklin.

An exhibition titled, "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" will open December 15, 2005 in Philadelphia.  Over the next two years, it will travel to St. Louis, Houston, Denver, Atlanta, and Paris. It will convey the genius, wit, and imagination of Ben Franklin through a series of multimedia exhibits combined with the largest collection of Franklin materials ever assembled. If you are unable to see the exhibit, the Yale University Press has just released a new book with the same title.  The 375-page book is spectacular, with color photos and reproductions of many of Franklin's printed pages and notes.

One of Franklin's civic improvements was the establishment of the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731.  The subscription library started with 40 books from London, placed in Louis Timothee's house, which was "down the alley from the Boar's Head Tavern."

Franklin published a "Catalogue of Books" in 1741 showing the 375 volumes in the collection.  Writings of philosopher John Locke outnumbered other authors.The combination of Franklin's writing skills, with his curiosity for science produced many early inventions. His interest in weather and famous encounter with lightning is combined with his development of bifocal glasses and the telescope, thermometer, and air pump.

In 1744, B. Franklin is listed as the publisher of information on the construction of the Pennsylvanian Fire-Places. Lightning rods, odometers, and clocks are pictured in the book as designs of Franklin. In addition to the Exhibit, the Franklin Tercentenary will create, coordinate, and promote programming about Franklin. Activities will take place worldwide promoting the life of Benjamin Franklin.

Franklin expressed his hope that his legacy would last for two hundred years past his death.  America has past that goal, with no end in sight.If you can't visit the exhibit, read the book.  Check out the Tercentenary Web site at www.benfranklin300.org as it expands with lesson plans, essays, facts and timetables, links, and an almanac.