Thursday, April 14, 2011

Ben Franklin Comes to Pittsburgh

A type-setting tool used by Ben Franklin and the saber he carried in France are two of the more than 150 original objects in the exhibit “Ben Franklin: In Search of a Better World,” set to open at the Heinz History Center Saturday.

The exhibit was assembled from more than 50 different collectors and museums for the 300th anniversary of Franklin’s birth in 2006. The collection was taken on a world tour but only allowed to make one stop in each US state and Pittsburgh lost out to Philadelphia. So when the show was about to be disassembled, History
Center CEO Andy Masich stepped in. He says they asked for the show to be allowed to make one more stop and were granted permission. “Then we redid it,” says Masich. “We added objects to it and we changed the interpretations slightly to make the Western Pennsylvania connection even more apparent.”

Masich says a goal of the museum is to create exhibits where kids and adults can be entertained and informed at the same time and in the same space. To that end, there are more than 30 hands-on displays including a working model of Franklin’s invention to create static electricity and chairs outfitted with foot powered fans that helped to keep him cool during hot Philadelphia summers.

Among the other original artifacts in the exhibit is the “sign of the blue ball” that used to hang outside of Franklin’s Father’s shop in Boston and money Franklin printed for Pennsylvania. “To prevent that money from being counterfeited, he came up with the idea of using leaves. The leaf of a tree, with its intricate vein structure, made an impression on the paper money that could not be counterfeited.” says Masich.

The exhibition highlights several other Franklin inventions, discoveries and writings including his thoughts on slavery, his map of the gulfstream and his bifocals.

Listen to an audio slide show tour of the Franklin exhibit with History Center CEO Andy Masich.

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