The Franklin Institute brings hands-on science fun at Pennsylvania's most visited museum. Spanning three floors, the Institute gives a voice to human ingenuity—past and future—with hundreds of interactive exhibits such as The Giant Heart, Changing Earth, and Sports Challenge, as well as explosive live science shows, an indoor SkyBike ride, and the city's tallest IMAX theater,which is 5 stories high. Though now filled with a range of space-age attractions, the Institute began with single purpose.
Samuel Vaughan Merrick and William H. Keating established The Franklin Institute in 1824, to honor the life and achievements of Benjamin Franklin. In the following decades, the Institute hosted forward thinkers such as Nikola Tesla, who gave a demonstration on wireless telegraphy in 1893. In 1930, the board decided to expand the space into a new science museum—and raised the funds in 12 days. The museum opened to the public in 1934—and in the same year hosted the first public demonstration of an all-electronic TV system.
A visit to The Franklin Institute’s includes access to three floors of permanent interactive exhibits including the iconic, two story tall Giant Heart. Other exhibits include Space Command, which invites visitors to recover an unmanned space probe and examine real astronaut equipment. At Changing Earth, visitors create their own weather patterns, play with steams of water, and build structures that can stand up to earthquakes or all-elephant 5Ks.
At various daily showtimes, the Franklin Theater’s high-contrast screen displays 3D films on animals, earth ecosystems, and human history. In the recently renovated Fels Planetarium, the second oldest in the nation complete with a rooftop observatory, audiences witness projections of weather and space spread across a 60-foot seamless aluminum dome. Daily live science shows draw an enthusiastic crowd, and interactive science carts invite visitors to observe a live heart dissection or try their hand at paper-making.
The National Museum of American Jewish History's core exhibition traces more than 350 years of American Jewish history, documenting their triumphs and struggles since first settling in 1654. Spread across 25,000 square feet on five floors, the exhibition's historical objects and lifelike environments cover subjects such as the late 19th-century Jewish immigration and the involvement of American Jews in the Civil Rights Movement. As the exhibition moves into the present day, visitors can share their own stories and opinions in two of the museum's interactive stations: It's Your Story and the Contemporary Issues Forum. After sharing their own journeys, guests can explore the Only in America Gallery/Hall of Fame, where multimedia displays and original artifacts highlight the lives of prominent Jewish Americans, including Irving Berlin and Estée Lauder.
Cups of Old City Coffee, baked goods from LeBus, and vegetarian and dairy cuisine from Di Bruno Bros. reenergize museum-goers at the Pomegranates Café; kosher fare is also available. Additional museum programming includes educational opportunities for adults and kids, as well as live events such as lectures, discussions, and concerts.
By most people’s standards, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is old — founded in 1812, it’s the oldest natural sciences institution in the Western Hemisphere. But the Academy is a baby compared to the specimens it houses, some of which date back more than 350 million years.
Explorers Stephen Long and Ferdinand Hayden’s series of western wilderness expeditions formed the foundation of the Academy's 18-million-item collection, which it began displaying to the public in 1828. Over the subsequent 60 years, the Academy grew to three times its original size through donations, museum purchases, and daily doses of multivitamins. Now situated at 19th and Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Academy houses more than 35 dioramas of plants and animals collected during global wildlife expeditions, a live animal center with ceiling-to-floor observation windows, and nearly a hundred mollusk specimens. A tropical garden hosts live butterflies from around the world, while Dinosaur Hall contains skeletal mounts of more than 30 Mesozoic species, including a 42-foot-long T. rex.
Visitors to Elfreth's Alley Museum walk the same floors that two dressmakers once did in the 1790s. Today, the museum space’s restored rooms fill two of Elfreth's Alley's 32 historic homes; many of the others are still occupied by families. Staffers relate these houses' history from their construction in 1755 to the roles they’ve since played in a locale known for its connection to the arts and industry. During regular tours, guides share insight into why alleys and side streets were built, how middle-class people lived and worked in the 18th century, and why alleys were never known as roadlets. Visitors can take in exhibits including Fashioning Philadelphia, which recounts the lives of the area’s dressmakers, shoemakers, and tailors through the centuries, and The Irish and Elfreth's Alley in 1900, which tells the story of immigrant family life during the 19th and 20th centuries.
Born out of the three core principles of public engagement, collaboration, and design excellence, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture stays true to its founding vision by connecting professionals and community leaders through activities ranging from exhibits and competitions to charitable functions and workshops. The center also reels in a wider audience with public walking tours scheduled in conjunction with the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, revealing the secrets of some of the city’s most notable buildings with the help of trained guides. As a chapter of AIA Philadelphia, the center also hosts public forums between architects and community members, promoting dialogue about the importance of sustainable neighborhoods and the need for public spaces dedicated entirely to sack races.