This exhibit tours historic locations in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, home of Ben Franklin and the U.S. Constitution.
Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” was founded in 1683 by William Penn (1644–1718), who also founded the colony of Pennsylvania. Like Pennsylvania itself, the new city attracted many members of the Quaker faith to which William Penn belonged. The new city had a number of natural advantages: a safe inland port, easy access by river to agricultural lands in the interior, and easy access by sea to New York, Boston, Charleston, and other seaports. Roads in Britain’s North American colonies improved during the 1700s, making Philadelphia’s central location even more important to American life. Its shipbuilding industry flourished, and many of its merchants did well in the West Indies trade. The city was an important staging area for British troops during the Seven Years War (called the French and Indian War in North America). Because of its size, influence, and central location, Philadelphia also became the center of American government during the American Revolution (1775–1783) and during the early years of the United States. There are many traces in Philadelphia of stirring events from American history. The Independence National Historic Park maintains over 20 museums and other sites that celebrate Philadelphia’s role in American history, including Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
State House (Independence Hall)
Independence Square faces the State House (now called Independence Hall), the birthplace of the United States of America. The building, which was constructed between 1732 and 1756, housed the government of Pennsylvania, which was then a British colony. A generation later, the State House became the center of American resistance to Great Britain. It was in this hall, in 1776, that the nation’s founders signed the Declaration of Independence. In 1789, delegates from thirteen new states met here to craft the United States Constitution.
John Barry Statue
This statue honors John Barry (1745–1803), a hero of the American Revolution who has been called “the father of the American navy.” He was a merchant who owned trading ships. At the start of the Revolution, Barry helped to organize the first Continental fleet. During that war, ships under his command captured over 20 British vessels. After the American victory, Barry returned to merchant shipping and took part in the expanding trade with China. The Naval Act of 1794 called for new American ships, and Barry supervised their construction. In 1797, President George Washington officially presented Barry with Commission Number One in the new United States Navy.
Philosophical Hall, located next to Independence Hall, was built in 1789 to house the American Philosophical Society. Benjamin Franklin and a group of his friends founded the organization in 1743. Their goal was to study “natural philosophy,” which we now call science. In his proposal for the new society, Franklin argued that “. . . Philadelphia, being the city nearest the center of the continent colonies, communicating with all of them northward and southward by post, and with all the islands by sea, and having the advantage of a good growing library, be the centre of the Society.” Today the building contains the American Philosophical Society Museum.
American Philosophical Society Library
The modern building right across the street from Philosophical Hall is the library of the American Philosophical Society. The building is on the site where the Library Company was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. This was the first free library in North America.
This building was completed in 1789, to serve as the Philadelphia County Courthouse. It soon became the Capital of the nation. The United States Congress met in this building between 1790 and 1800. The downstairs chamber was for the House of Representatives, and the upstairs assembly room was for the Senate.
The Liberty Bell Center
The Liberty Bell Center is a modern building that allows large numbers of people to view the Liberty Bell, one of the best-known symbols of American freedom. This bell once hung in the tower of the State House, now known as Independence Hall. The bell rang out to announce important news, including the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Later the bell became a symbol of abolition, the movement to end slavery.
National Constitution Center
At the far end of the mall is the National Constitution Center, which inspires active citizenship as the only place where people across America and around the world can come together to learn about, debate, and celebrate the greatest vision of human freedom in history, the U.S. Constitution. A private, nonprofit organization, the Center serves as America’s leading platform for constitutional education and debate, fulfilling its Congressional charter “to disseminate information about the U.S. Constitution on a non-partisan basis.” As the Museum of We the People, the Center brings the Constitution to life for visitors of all ages through interactive programs and exhibits. As America’s Town Hall, the Center brings the leading conservative and liberal thought leaders together to debate the Constitution on all media platforms. As a center for Civic Education, the Center delivers the best educational programs and online resources that inspire, excite, and engage citizens about the U.S. Constitution. For more information, call 215-409-6700 or visit constitutioncenter.org.
Statue of Benjamin Franklin
This statue honors Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), one of the founding fathers of the United States. He was also a printer, a writer, a scientist and inventor, and a founder of the Library Company, the American Philosophical Society, the Pennsylvania Hospital, and many other Philadelphia institutions. Between 1757 and 1775, Franklin spent most of his time in London, representing the interests of Pennsylvania and other colonies at the British court. He returned to Philadelphia and joined the Second Continental Congress, signing the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Then he spent much of the American Revolution in France, successfully seeking French support for the American cause. He helped negotiate the peace at the end of the war and returned home to take part in debates about the United States Constitution.
American Philosophical Society Museum
This building, completed in 1789, was the headquarters of the American Philosophical Society. Today the building contains the Society’s museum, a collection of over 12,000 books, scientific instruments, patent models, maps, and other objects. The museum’s treasures include a copy of the Declaration of Independence handwritten by Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration’s author. The museum also holds samples gathered by the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific Ocean, which took place in 1805-1806.
This is a replica of an eighteenth century post office. It is much like the post offices that Benjamin Franklin operated, alongside his printing and bookselling business. Franklin was appointed Postmaster-General for Philadelphia in 1737. In 1753, he was appointed deputy postmaster-general for all the colonies.
Benjamin Franklin was born and started his working life in Boston, apprenticed to his older brother James, who was a printer. When he could not get along with James, young Benjamin ran away to Philadelphia, where he found a job as a printer’s assistant. Through hard work and talent, Franklin made his fortune in printing. He printed newspapers, hymnbooks, sermons—even paper money. He also printed Poor Richard’s Almanack, a popular periodical for which he did most of the writing. This replica of an eighteenth-century printing office allows visitors to experience the technology Franklin used to build his career.
Home of Benjamin Franklin Bache
Benjamin Franklin Bache (1769–1790), the grandson of Benjamin Franklin, lived in the house next to the printing office. He was the son of Franklin’s daughter Sarah. Bache was a writer and newspaper publisher who opposed many of the policies of Presidents George Washington and John Adams. Washington and Adams were Federalists who favored a strong central government. Bache represented the Republican point of view, which assigned more importance to the rights of individual states.
Market Street, once called High Street, was an important artery in Old Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin walked down this street on his very first day in Philadelphia. It was 1723, and he was only 17 years old. After landing at the Market Street wharf, he bought three large loaves of bread. “Thus I went up Market Street, as far as Fourth Street, passing by the door of Mr. Read, my future wife’s father, when she, standing at the door, saw me, and thought I made—as I certainly did—a most awkward appearance.” Within a few weeks, young Benjamin had a job as a printer’s assistant. Mr. Read, a friend of his employer, rented Ben a room.
Military Museum at New Hall
This museum introduces visitors to the history of the United States Army, Navy, and Marine Corps during the American Revolution and the first years of the United States. The building is a reconstruction. The original was built in 1791. That building contained the office of Henry Knox, the first Secretary of War.
The neat cobblestoned streets and bricked sidewalks of Philadelphia’s historic district are yet another legacy of Benjamin Franklin. During the 1750s he led a campaign for paving streets and sidewalks and keeping them clean. He presented a formal proposal with his street plans to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1757.
Greek Revival architecture
The original house was a three-story mansion built in the Greek revival style. The classical columns and simple pediment over the front door are characteristic of this style. The house’s owner was Robert Morris (1734–1806), a wealthy merchant who helped finance the American Revolution. Morris rented the house to Presidents George Washington and John Adams.
State House (Independence Hall)
Independence Hall (originally called the State House) is another example of the Greek Revival style in architecture. The hall’s rows of regular windows and its two arched passageways are two examples of this style, which stressed symmetry and simplicity of form. The building was constructed between 1732 and 1756.
Independence Visitor Center
The Independence Visitor Center provides services for the thousands of visitors who come to Independence National Historic Park. The center has background exhibits and provides public restrooms and food services. The ticket desk for Independence Hall is located in this building. Walking tours of the park begin here as well.
Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
National Constitution Center