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past News – 2010

Benjamin Franklin’s iPod!

'Benjamin Franklin’s iPod was recorded from the House, and aired on 18 December on Radio 4.

Benjamin Franklin, scientist, inventor and founding father of the USA was also a song-writer. He wrote drinking songs for his friends, love songs to his wife, and songs of political protest.

David Owen Norris recreated the songs and explored what they revealed about a great eccentric. On location in Franklin's house in London, he talked to historians Lady Joan Reid, Dr Catherine Jones and Dr Julie Flavell and played on Franklin's proudest invention - the glass armonica. With singers Gwyneth Herbert, Thomas Guthrie and Laura Crowther.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Benjamin Franklin House celebrated Thanksgiving at the Butchers’ Hall on the 25 November, with a traditional American feast of turkey, vegetables, and of course, pumpkin pie! Thank you to our sponsors including Bloomberg and Whole Foods and to all who attended!   


Read the press release

neh logo

NEH Challenge Grant Awarded to Benjamin Franklin House

The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded the House, via Benjamin Franklin House Foundation, $575,000 in support of our World of Possibilities endowment campaign.  The campaign will secure the future of the House and enhance existing programming:

  • Providing long-term funding for core salaries, enhanced visitor services, and technology upgrades, including a new Historical Experience show which illuminates Franklin’s time in London from the perspective of others like his black servant Peter and his son William, illuminating the evolution of his ideas on liberty and loyalty. 
  • Creating a specially targeted children’s Historical Experience that makes use of the House’s innovative technology.  We will also further develop our Sister Schools program, which aims to unite children from both sides of the Atlantic through shared activities centered on Franklin’s curiosity, ingenuity, and commitment to freedom.
  • Offering new research opportunities through the House internship program aimed at U.S. universities and their American history and museum studies students.  We will initiate a Franklin scholar in residence program, in partnership with other Franklin-related institutions, to advance knowledge of Franklin’s life and legacy and broaden outreach activities through a greater number of events that bring America’s founding values to an international audience.

There is much exciting work ahead.  The NEH Challenge Grant program requires that grant monies be matched 3:1, and we look forward to successfully raising the required $1,725,000 in matching funds – we have four years in which to do this but we are hoping we can reach the goal far sooner.

Support the campaign by making your online donation here.

For more information email

Benjamin Franklin and the Barbican

Benjamin Franklin was known to invent a new version of glass armonica during his stay in London, as well as composing music and playing various music instruments. More then two centuries later musicals developed into one of the distinctive American film genres, thanks to the masters like Vincente Minnelli, whose films are celebrated in the Barbican’s Directorspective series on 12 September – 2 October. Starring Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire and Kirk Douglas. Find out more here

Benjamin Franklin House will be offering Barbican Newsletter subscribers 2for1 entry to the Historical Experience using performance, sound, lighting and visual projection to tell Franklin’s London story.  The offer is valid for the duration of the Minnelli season (12 Sep-2 Oct 2010). Find out more here


Jon Bon Jovi and wife Dorothea visit Benjamin Franklin House!

Rock superstar Jon Bon Jovi and his wife Dorothea visited Benjamin Franklin House on 21 June.  Both are passionate about history, particularly the revolutionary period.  They toured the House's atmospheric spaces in the company of Director Dr. Márcia Balisciano before exploring the Student Science Centre, where Jon tried his hand at the glass armonica. It didn't take long before he was composing the beginnings of a song!  Says Jon, "Seeing Benjamin Franklin's house in London is a treat to anyone who is a fan of the great man or just a fan of his great accomplishments.  I remain one of his biggest fans...."  Thanks to this special visit, the House's cool credentials have risen significantly!

Jon Bon Jovi

Hear an excerpt of the string quartet suite attributed to Benjamin Franklin!

Benjamin Franklin was passionate about many things, including music.  In addition to all his other accomplishments, he was also a musician.  He invented his own musical instrument called the glass armonica. On Thursday, 3 June 2010 Benjamin Franklin House hosted an eighteenth century music soiree in association with our Craven Street neighbours, the Concordia Foundation. The Piatti String Quartet performed Benjamin Franklin Suite, said to be written by the great man himself, and other Franklin-era pieces.  Hear the excerpt here.  Join us for our next music-related event on 8 July when Franklin scholar Lady Joan Reid gives a lecture on Franklin and his musical pursuits.

Piatti String Quartet

“Benjamin Franklin, Scotland and the Enlightenment” 29 August - 6 September, 2010

The Friends of Franklin invite you to attend their tour to Scotland where they will explore the time Benjamin Franklin visited and met with the intellectuals of the eighteenth century.   We will hear from experts on David Hume, Adam Smith, James Watt, Henry Home (Lord Kames), and Joseph Black and learn about their relationship with Franklin and their contributions to the Scottish Enlightenment period. 

During our visit we will spend time in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and St. Andrews.  This customized tour will include scholars, historians, curators, and archivists who have planned very special programs and visits to some of the most revered and learned institutions in Scotland. 

Members of the Benjamin Franklin House may register for the Land Only Package at The Friends of Franklin member rate.  A brochure is available to interested members by emailing

Friends of Franklin logo

Eric Sandweiss, US-UK Fulbright Distinguished Scholar, the City Museum and the Museum City

Professor Sandweiss summarises his intriguing remarks from his 29 April lecture on the interplay between cities and museums.

On any given day, as he walked out of his Craven Street house and onto the nearby Strand, Fleet Street, or Piccadilly, Benjamin Franklin would have encountered many small establishments dedicated to what his generation called “rational amusement.”  To Franklin and his contemporaries, that phrase suggested stimulating the mind with enjoyable, novel experiences.   In dozens of small museums that sprang up in the 18th and 19th centuries, Londoners like Franklin found such novelty in displays of strange inventions, exotic fossils and skeletons, ancient artifacts, and wax figures. Eric Sandweiss

The experience of going to these museums was not altogether different from that of walking down a city street at that time:  you never knew what might lie around the next corner, or whom you might meet as you turned it.

By the late 1800s, the age of the small museum had begun to wane.  Curators at influential institutions such as the British Museum conceived of their responsibilities as, instead, making collections more rational and less amusing;  they worked to separate knowledge from speculation, culture from nature.  At the same time, city planners and public officials embarked on a similar mission outside of the museum walls, in the city streets—separating one use from another, rationalizing traffic patterns, and in general working to make the cities of Franklin’s generation into more predictable, safer , and more financially lucrative places.

Inevitably, changes in the city and the museum connected.  They did so in the form of new “city museums”—like the London Museum, established in 1912—that purported to tell the history of the city, even as they promoted a certain kind of future endorsed by civic and commercial leaders.  Until recently, these city museums remained pretty quiet places, by and large.  Visitors never fully took to their didactic messages, and people showed more interest either in flashier science and art museums or—if urban history interested them—in the preserved streets and neighborhoods of the city itself.  In response, we have begun to see a shift in city museums:  recent ventures have become bigger and more ambitious than ever before, and they seek to capture some of the novelty and the diversity that their predecessors once worked to limit from the visitor’s experience.   Can they succeed in imparting a new understanding of the urban past?  And can they fulfill their ambitions of nurturing a different sort of urban future? 

Reception in association with Chevening

Letters are wonderful historical artefacts.  They were the centre of attention at a reception featuring one Franklin wrote in praise of William Pitt, the Elder in January 1775. The 235 year old note is in the collection of Chevening in Kent, the country residence of the UK Foreign Secretary.  It was the first time it had returned to Franklin’s Parlour, where it was surely written on the eve of the American Revolution. Colonel Richard Brook, Secretary of Chevening, brought the letter and explained its significance.  It was displayed for the evening alongside the House's own Franklin letter which Franklin wrote in 1772 to his sister Jane Mecom.

Chevening Reception

Franklin was a great man of letters, as demonstrated in the House’s Historical Experience (Wednesdays to Sundays) which draws on Franklin's writings.  During the reception, House director Dr Marcia Balisciano shared one of her favourite letters of Benjamin Franklin.  In 1771, Franklin was a guest of Bishop Shipley (brother of the founder of the Royal Society of Arts, William Shipley), his wife and four young daughters at their home in the English countryside.  Here he began the first part of his famous Autobiography.  Franklin asked his wife Deborah to send a squirrel from the United States as a gift to the little girls. The squirrel died after a time and Georgiana, the littlest Shipley, asked Franklin to write a eulogy which resulted in his well known rhyme: “Here Skug lies, snug as a bug in a rug."

Colonel Brook explained that Franklin wrote the 1775 note to Lord Stanhope, then owner of Chevening, who like Franklin was also engaged in scientific study. Stanhope and Franklin were members of the Royal Society where they likely met.  The reception came to be thanks to Lord Geoffrey Howe, who lived at Chevening during his years as Foreign Secretary between 1983 and 1989.  Lord Howe is a member of the House's Endowment Advisory Committee and he never forgot the letter in which Franklin hails Pitt's balanced stance on cause of the Americans.

By Vicky Thoma, a Benjamin Franklin House volunteer

Student wins place at Benjamin Franklin Summer Institute

Benjamin Franklin House co-hosted a student debate on the theme of global citizenship with the US Embassy London on 24 March 2010.  One lucky student, Priscilla Mensah of London's Burntwood School, was chosen as the UK delegate to the Benjamin Franklin Summer Institute.  This month-long gathering in North Carolina each July allows young people from the US and other parts of the world to explore global issues.  Read more.

Franklin and his Craven Street Gazette, 22 March 2010

In her lecture on Franklin's charming spoof about his London household, the Craven Street Gazette, House Director Dr Marcia Balisciano, showed its importance in providing insight into Franklin’s private life and social activities in the final years of his stay in the capital. Yet the light and humorous tone belies the increasing challenge he was facing in public affairs.

Set between 22 and 25 September 1770, Dr Balisciano highlighted things that can be gleaned from the Gazette about London community life in the eighteenth century, including dining, social clubs, domestic chores, the weather, shopping and more.  The Gazette also provides details about the House itself: chests of drawers, faulty locks, fires in the chambers, an easy chair and little square table, uneven floors, candles and strewn newspapers. 

Biographer Carl Van Doren (1938) described Franklin as less of a lodger than head of the household while living at Craven Street.  In the Gazette, his adopted London family receive affectionate nicknames; landlady Margaret Stevenson is Queen Margaret and her daughter Polly is Lady Chamberlain and First Ministress. Of the brief absence by Stevenson reported in the Gazette due to a trip to Rochester, Franklin wrote: “It is remark'd that the Skies have wept every Day in Craven Street the Absence of the Queen”.  He calls himself the Great Person, Dr Fatsides and his Highness.

Yet Dr. Balisciano showed that Franklin was facing real challenges in his public political and diplomatic duties at this time, while in the final throes of working to keep Crown and Colonies together. He had concerns over: increasing tensions in Boston which would eventually spark the American Revolution; restriction to colonial trade; unsettled affairs in Philadelphia; and mounting personal attacks.  Ultimately there was no political breakthrough and his warm days at Craven Street came to an end.  Yet he maintained his London friendships, including with Polly who came to live near him in Philadelphia with her children, for the rest of his life - they were special relationships, marks of the special relationship between Britain and America which remain today.

Today’s Craven Street Gazette for all news, events and fundraising progress can be read here.

By Vicky Thoma, a Benjamin Franklin House volunteer

Lady Reid Lecture- Franklin In Portraiture, 10 March 2010

Lady Reid Lecture Portraiture was the subject of Franklin historian Lady Joan Reid’s first talk in her 2010 lecture series. The image of Franklin the man has evolved throughout his lifetime and Lady Reid explored how Franklin’s travels, connections, and experiences shaped his image - influencing how others, including artists, saw him.

The iconic view of Franklin as a champion of liberty was introduced in 1777 with a portrait by French artist Duplessis. In this ornately framed picture, Franklin appears in a red suit with a fur collar, the symbolic rattlesnake symbol of American Independence beyond.  It is perhaps the most famous picture of Franklin, which helped confirm his status as one of the new America's essential leaders.  Many subsequent images of Franklin were based on this painting.  

From a working class family in Philadelphia, when he had achieved some success as a printer and a publisher, in 1748 Franklin commissioned his first portrait by Robert Feke. His brown wig shows his relative youth and humble origins.  His next portrait done in London by Benjamin Wilson in 1759 shows a full wig of white hair denoting Franklin's elevated social status. Franklin’s favourite portrait produced during his years at Craven Street was by David Martin in 1767. It features Franklin seated in a carved chair, suggesting his prominence. Later in Paris, Franklin was first painted by August De St Aubin in 1777.  Here he is depicted as the wise colonial wearing a marten hat and spectacles. A variant of this image can been seen on the Nini medallion in the House's collection.  While in Paris, Franklin sat for the portrait by Duplessis, the last picture painted from life. In a 1779 letter to his daughter Sally, Franklin wrote:

"The clay medallion you say you gave to Mr. Hopkinson was the first of the kind made in France. A variety of others have been made since of different sizes; some to be set in the lids of snuffboxes, and some so small as to be worn in rings; and the numbers sold are incredible. These, with the pictures, busts, and prints, (of which copies upon copies are spread everywhere,) have made your father's face as well known as that of the moon, so that he durst not do anything that would oblige him to run away, as his phiz would discover him wherever he should venture to show it. It is said by learned etymologists, that the name doll, for the images children play with, is derived from the word IDOL. From the number of dolls now made of him, he may be truly said, in that sense, to be i-doll-ized in this country."

By Vicky Thoma, a Benjamin Franklin House volunteer

Read more about Lady Reid's 2010 lecture series

Benjamin Franklin House receives Sandford Award For Heritage Education

In 2009, Benjamin Franklin House was awarded a prestigious Sandford Award. The Award recognises heritage sites which have achieved excellence in heritage education through work with schools.

Ben in Party Hat

The recipients' awards ceremony and celebration took place on 15 February in St. George’s Hall, Windsor Castle.  Director Márcia Balisciano received the award for Benjamin Franklin House from His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex KG KCVO.

Since opening, nearly 5000 children, many from London’s poorest boroughs, have come to Benjamin Franklin House on our weekly free education days to discover Franklin’s relevance in our time. In-House educational activities are supported by class visits from our Education Manager, who ventures out weekly with Ben’s Travelling Suitcase, a valise full of Franklin at Craven Street related items.

We are committed to developing our educational and outreach programme through 2010 and look forward to launching a Sister Schools initiative, connecting students from our London partner schools with their counterparts in America, allowing them to share information about themselves, their cultures and studies, as a testament to Franklin’s belief in international understanding and engagement. 

Happy Birthday Ben and Benjamin Franklin House!

Ben in Party Hat

On Sunday, 17 January 2010, Benjamin Franklin celebrated his 304th birthday and Benjamin Franklin House celebrated it's 4th birthday as an open and dynamic museum and educational facility.

In the last four years we have achieved many milestones: more than 33,000 visitors; served nearly 5000 children free of charge in the Student Science Centre, the majority from inner city London schools, and reached an equivalent number through outreach activities beyond the House, including Ben's Traveling Suitcase; and held some 40 thought-provoking events!

In 2010 we look forward to pursuing excellence in our key offerings and developing new activities including a Sister Schools programme linking children from UK and US schools. Please consider lending your support!

News Archive - 2012

News Archive - 2011

News Archive - 2010

News Archive - 2006

News Archive - 2005

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