Travel – Philadelphia, PA (Part Two)

Previously, I posted a travel report from our family’s 2009 trip to Philadelphia, PA.  Due to Philadelphia’s numerous historic sites connected with the colonial and revolutionary periods in America history, I have divided the content into two separate posts.  The first post, Philadelphia, PA (Part One), covers Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell Center, Franklin Court, Betsy Ross House, Christ Church and Burial Grounds.  In this second post about Philadelphia I will cover the Franklin Institute, the National Constitution Center and the Philadelphia U.S. Mint.

The Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute is one of the oldest centers of science education in the United States and its purpose is to honor the ideas and principals of Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman and scientist.  The Institute opened in 1825 on South 7th Street (as shown in the photo below on the left) and in the beginning it promoted science and offered classes in engineering, drafting and mechanics.  Throughout the years, the Institute held various scientific demonstrations of new technology and even hosted the International Electrical Exhibition in 1884.

Franklin Institute - original building  Franklin Institue 

Almost 110 years after the Institute opened, the Institute moved to its current location near the intersection of 20th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1934 (as shown in the 2009 photo below on the right). 

For more detailed visitor information on the Franklin Institute, such as operating hours and admission prices, please click on their website at

A brief tour of the Franklin Institute

The Franklin Institute covers has more than 400,000 square feet of exhibit space, there are currently 12 permanent exhibits which offer visitors learning experiences with engaging displays regarding various aspects of science.  The Institute also offers space for various traveling exhibits, such as the very popular “King Tut” in 2007.  (Personal Note: When our family visited the Institute in 2009, we saw “Star Trek – The Exhibition” featuring costumes, props and other memorabilia which my Trekkie husband really enjoyed!)

Some of the highlights of the Franklin Institute are listed below:

The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial –

An immense marble statue of Benjamin Franklin is located in the Franklin Institute rotunda, the 20 foot-tall, 30 ton marble statue was sculpted by James Earle Fraser and sits on a 92 ton white Seravezza marble pedestal.  The Institute rotunda in which the Benjamin Franklin statue is placed was opened in 1938 and was designed by architect John T. Windrim.  The room measures 82 feet in length, width and height and features a floor, walls, columns, pilasters and cornices crafted from various types of marble imported from Portugal, Italy and France.  In 1972, the U.S. Congress designated both the rotunda and the statue as the official Benjamin Franklin National Memorial; it is the only privately owned National Memorial in the United States.  (Travel Note:  Visitors should check to see the time for the three and a half minute multimedia show which briefly discussed Benjamin Franklin’s contribution to the world as statesman and scientist)

Benjamin Franklin statue

The Benjamin Franklin Collection –

Located in the Pendulum Staircase area of the Institute is a rotating display of several items pertaining to Benjamin Franklin.  Visitors will see a scale model of the bust from the Benjamin Franklin Memorial, the figurehead from the USS Franklin, Franklin’s ceremonial sword from the court of King Louis XVI and the odometer that Franklin used to measure the postal routes, in 1775 Franklin was the Postmaster in Pennsylvania when it was still an English colony.  The 1751 publication of Franklin’s “Experiments and Observations on Electricity” as well as Franklin’s lightning rods, electricity tube and Franklin Electrostatic Generator are displayed in the Institute’s Electricity exhibition.

(Travel Note:  Please check out the Travel post Philadelphia – Part One for information on Franklin Court which holds not only the home of where Benjamin Franklin lived and worked but currently an active Post Office and an underground museum with displays of inventions and other items associated with Benjamin Franklin) 

The Giant Heart –

One of the most popular exhibits at the Institute, especially for visitors with children, is the Giant Heart.  The 5,000 square foot exhibit opened in 1954 and it allows visitors to crawl through the artery of Giant Heart.  Other interactive displays in this area of the Institute explain the anatomy and physiology of the human body.  (Trivia: The Giant Heart would be the correct size for a 220 foot tall person, which would be the approximate height of the Statue of Liberty)

Cardiac Adventure sign  Cardiac Adventure 1

Foucault’s Pendulum –

The Institute has a display which duplicates an 1851 experiment by Jean-Bernard-Leon Foucault, a French physicist which set out to prove the Earth’s daily rotation around its axis.  The Foucault’s Pendulum demonstrates this theory; during the course of day the pendulum knocks down a peg every 20-25 minutes and appears to change direction throughout the day which is an effect caused by the Earth’s rotation.

Franklin Institute - Pendulum

Fels Planetarium –

The Fels Planetarium opened in 1933 and at the time that it was built it was only the second planetarium in the United States.  In 2002, the Planetarium underwent an extensive reconstruction project which replaced the dome and installation of new sound and special effects equipment.  The Planetarium now has several astronomical presentations.  Please check the Institute website for current shows, time and admission prices at

The National Constitution Center

The National Constitution Center is located within walking distance from Independence Hall and it is the first institution completely dedicated to the United States Constitution.  In September 1988, President Reagan signed the Constitution Heritage Act which began the process of establishing the Center, although the idea dates back to 1887 at the time of the centennial celebration.

It took another twelve years before ground broke on September 17, 2000, which was coincidentally the date 213 year after the Constitution was signed.  The Center opened on July 4, 2003 and is located at 52 Arch Street which was specifically chosen because it was May 25, 1787 that the Constitutional Convention began in Philadelphia. 

National Constitution Center

Some of the highlights of the National Constitution Center are listed below:

Freedom Rising –

“Freedom Rising” is a multimedia 17 minute performance performed in a theater in the round at the Center.  The production takes visitors through over 200 years of constitutional history from the American Revolution to the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movements in an entertaining and musical way.

National Constitution Center - Freedom Rising

The Story of We the People –

The Story of We the People is the Center’s main exhibit where visitors can move through interactive multimedia displays involving several milestones in America’s history while demonstrating how the U.S. Constitution is relevant and important in the lives of the American people.  Displays include a rare copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, see Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s Supreme Court robe, there is a large American National Tree which has an interactive touch screen featuring over 100 average citizens and visitors can take the Presidential Oath of Office on a large screen and.  Please note that the memorabilia are rotated on display and are subject to change.

National Constitution Center - We the People - interior

Signer’s Hall –

In Signer’s Hall visitors can walk among 42 life-size bronze statues of the “Founding Fathers” who signed their names to the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.  The room and statues are meant to recreate the Assembly Room at nearby Independence Hall in the final day of the Constitutional Convention.  Some of the famous faces include George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton.  Travel Note:  Visitors can have fun taking photos with the various statues, just imagine standing next to one of the Founding Fathers.

National Constitutional Center - Signer's Hall

For more detailed information about hours, admission fees and other exhibits, please see the National Constitution Center’s website at

The United States Mint – Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Mint is the largest mint in the United States and the current facility opened in 1969, there have also been three previous buildings located in Philadelphia.  The Philadelphia location is also the site of the master die production for the U.S. coinage and the design and engraving departments of the U.S. Mint are also located there.  (Special Note: The United States Mint was created by Congress with the Coinage Act of 1792 and was originally a part of the Department of State. In 1799, the Mint was made an independent agency and later in 1873 it became part of the Department of the Treasury)

US Mint Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Mint is the world’s largest U.S. mint and offers free self-guided tours which will take approximately 45 minutes, during the Spring and Summer months there could possibly be a short wait.  As visitors tour the facility they will learn the history of the Mint and see the process involved in making U.S. coins from creating the coin designs to sculpting the molds to the manufacturing of the actual coins, visitors will be able to look onto the factory floor 40 feet below where one million coins can be produced in 30 minutes. 

US Mint Philadelphia 2 US Mint Philadelphia 4

Travel Note:  Adult visitors will be asked to provide photo identification, such as a driver’s license, for security purposes.  The United States Mint reserves the right to deny access to anyone at any time; in addition, members of the general public wishing to tour the facility may be subject to search by the United States Mint Police.  Photography, smoking, eating and drinking are prohibited.  Prohibited items include, but are not limited to, weapons and large packages.  All visitors are required to enter through a metal detector.

Travel – Philadelphia, PA (Part One)

Second Continental Congress voting for independence    Betsy Ross the Birth of Old Glory

For the month of July and during the week preceding our Nation’s Independence Day celebration, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to share the trip we made to Philadelphia back in 2009.  During our visit we stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott across the street from City Hall and it proved to be a great choice because the historic and visitor sites were all located within an easy walking distance from the hotel.  We would suggest starting a visit to the city by stopping at the Independence National Historic Park Visitor Center.  This is the best place to get information such as location, hours and fees for all of the Philadelphia historic sites but most importantly it is the place to pick up timed tickets for a tour of Independence Hall.

Independence Hall

Independence Hall was originally known as the Pennsylvania State House which was used by their colonial government, later the building was loaned as a meeting place for the Second Continental Congress during the American Revolutionary War.  It was here that the Congress appointed George Washington as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1775.  Independence Hall is known as the birthplace of the United States and in the Assembly Room is where the Continental Congress debated and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the U.S. Constitution in 1787.  Later, the room was used to display the Liberty Bell and original paintings of the Founding Fathers.

Independence Hall 10     Independence Hall - George Washington StatueAssembly Room 2a

TRAVEL NOTE:  Tickets are required to tour Independence Hall; the timed tickets are available for free on the day of a visit at the Independence Visitor Center starting at 8:30 a.m.  Visitors can request a specific time and are limited to ten tickets, everyone needs a ticket even small children and infants.  We advise visitors to arrive early for tickets because during the busy summer season tickets are often gone by 1 p.m.

Advanced Ticket Reservations are recommended if you required a specific date and time.  Visitors can reserve tickets up to one year in advance through the National Park Reservation system.  The tickets are free but there is a reservation fee of $1.50 per ticket, call 877-444-6777 or see the NPS website at for more information.

The Liberty Bell Center

The Liberty Bell Center was completed in 2003 during an extensive recent renovation of the Independence National Historic Park Mall.  When visitors enter the building they will see several exhibits that tell the story of the Liberty Bell through displays and video presentations before finally reaching the glass enclosed area where the historic Liberty Bell hangs from what is believed to be the original yoke made of American elm.  Visible across the street is Independence Hall where the Liberty Bell was displayed for a very long time before it was moved into a glass pavilion located a short distance away on the Independence Mall during United States Bicentennial celebration in 1976 until it moved to the permanent location in the Liberty Bell Center.

Liberty Bell and Independence Hall 3     Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell, a symbol of America and freedom, was ironically cast in London, England and arrived in Philadelphia in 1753 where it hung in the Pennsylvania State House bell tower.  The Liberty Bell has a circumference is 14 feet and weighs 2,080 pounds and the yoke from where it hangs weighs about 100 pounds.  It is made of 70% copper and 25% tin with traces of other metals.   The inscription at the top of the bell reads, “Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants therof”.  Unfortunately, the first time the bell was rung, the 44 pound clapper cracked the bell.  The bell was recast twice by local Pennsylvania craftsmen John Pass and John Stow, their names along with the city and the date appear on the front of the bell.

TRAVEL NOTE:  Tickets are NOT required to visit the Liberty Bell Center, but the security lines can be very long during the busy summer months.  Along with National security concerns after 9/11, a visitor tried to damage the Liberty Bell with a hammer in 2001.  Since the incident visitors are no longer allow to touch the bell and it hangs out of reach guarded constantly by NPS security.

Franklin Court

Benjamin Franklin was one of the most fascinating people of early American history who lived in colonial and revolutionary Philadelphia.  At a young age of 17 he moved there from Boston.  He was a printer, author and publisher, as well as a scientist, inventor, postmaster, statesman and diplomat.

Located a short distance from Independence Hall is Franklin Court which is currently undergoing an $18 million renovation.  Located on the site of Benjamin Franklin’s home, which was destroyed in 1812, is a 54 foot high steel “Ghost Structure” which was designed by Robert Venturi to represent the former residence.

Also located in the area of Franklin Court is an underground museum with displays of portraits, inventions and other items associated with Benjamin Franklin.  One of the featured inventions is a reproduction of an instrument known as an Armonica, when consists of a set of glass bowls which rotate on a shaft and musical tones are produced when a finger is pressed onto the moistened edges of the bowls.

Located on Market Street in the Franklin Court area is the only active U.S. Postal Office that is not required to fly the American flag since at the time that Franklin was the Postmaster in 1775 Pennsylvania was still an English colony.  Upstairs in the same building is a small U.S. Postal Museum which displays a selection of Franklin memorabilia including several original Pennsylvania Gazettes and historically important U.S. stamps.

Franklin Court - Post Office

TRAVEL TIP:  This U.S. Post Office in Philadelphia is the only place that uses the historic postmark of “B. Free Franklin” to cancel stamps when mailing letters and packages.  Come prepared with your own pre-written postcard to mail and it will make a unique and inexpensive souvenir!)

B. Free Franklin postmark

Betsy Ross Home

Located several blocks from Independence Hall and it is one of the most visited historic sites in Philadelphia.  Betsy Ross is supposed to have rented this home that was originally built in 1740 and she lived there between 1776 and 1779 after the death of her first husband.  Betsy Ross was a local seamstress who has been credited as the person who created the first American Flag.

Betsy Ross House

According to the story told by Betsy Ross’s grandson, William Canby, who told the Pennsylvania Historical Society at the time of the 1876 Independence Day centennial celebrations, that George Washington was a customer of Mrs. Ross while he was the General of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.  Washington frequently visited Philadelphia to report to the Second Continental Congress and in June of 1776, he requested that Mrs. Ross create a flag according to his rough pencil drawing.  She reviewed the design and made one suggestion, that the six point stars be changed to five point stars instead.   As the years have passed, historians have found no documented proof to substantiate the claim but the legend still continues.

Christ Church and Burial Grounds

Christ Church is a privately managed historic site, part of the Independence National Historical Park, and located within walking distance from Independence Hall.  Christ Church was originally founded in 1695 and the current building dates back to 1744.  During and after the Revolutionary War many members of the Continental Congress, such as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams and other prominent Philadelphia parishioners like Betsy Ross have attended services and for this reason Christ Church has been given a very significant role in the birth of the nation.

Considered one of the finest examples of an Early American church; the exterior of Christ Church has an impressive steeple which was added in 1754 making it the tallest structure within the British colonies for 56 years.  Later, the interior was redesigned by Thomas Walter, the same architect who designed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.  Displayed with Christ Church is the baptismal font from the 1300s donated by All Hallows Church in London, England that was used when William Penn was baptized.  The pulpit that was built in 1769 and the chandelier which was originally installed in 1740 is still in use today.

Christ Church

TRAVEL NOTE:  Christ Church is currently an active Episcopal parish but visitors can enter the Church for free, but it is suggested that a minimal donation be given to help maintain the Church and the nearby Burial Grounds.  Docent talks about the Church’s history, the famous parishioners and the historic artifacts are given on a regular schedule throughout the day.

In 1719, Christ Church purchased two acres of land at the corner of 5th and Arch Streets.  The Christ Church Burial Grounds became the final resting place for over 4,000 of the parishioners including five signers of the Declaration of Independence.  Today, over 1,300 of the historical markers still remain and in 2003 plaques were placed in front of some of the deteriorating gravestones with the words that once appeared and have faded away.

When Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, he was buried in his family plot in the northwest corner of the burial grounds.  In 1858, the descendants of Franklin requested that an opening be made in the brick wall and a metal fence was placed so the public could easily see Franklin’s grave site.  Today, visitors show their respect for Franklin by leaving pennies on his grave as a remembrance of his words once written so long ago, “a penny saved is a penny earned.

Christ Church - Franklin plaque    Christ Church - Franklin's grave
TRAVEL NOTE:  The Christ Church Burial Ground is open every day except during the months of January, February and December.  There is a small admission price, maps and guided tours are available for an additional charge.

These are just some of the historic sites to see when visiting Philadelphia.  Other places to visit within the Independence National Historic Park include:  Declaration House, Elfreth’s Alley, Philosopher’s Hall and Carpenter Hall.    In Philadelphia, PA – Part Two there are several more sites to see, such as the National Constitution Center, the U.S. Mint and the Franklin Institute and Science Museum.  Another place of historic significance, which is located within an easy drive from Philadelphia, is Valley Forge National Historic Park.