History

Benjamin Franklin

Ken Burns’s two-part, four-hour documentary, "Benjamin Franklin," explores the revolutionary life of one of the18th century's most consequential and compelling personalities, whose work and words unlocked the mystery of electricity and helped create the United States.

Spanish Version | “An American” (1775-1790)

1h 54m

Benjamin Franklin leaves London and returns to wartime Philadelphia where he joins Congress and helps Thomas Jefferson craft the Declaration of Independence. In Paris, he wins French support for the American Revolution then negotiates a peace treaty with Britain. He spends his last years in the new United States, working on the Constitution and unsuccessfully promoting the abolition of slavery.

Episodes

  • Spanish Version | “An American” (1775-1790): asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Spanish Version | “An American” (1775-1790)

    S1 E4 - 1h 54m

    Benjamin Franklin leaves London and returns to wartime Philadelphia where he joins Congress and helps Thomas Jefferson craft the Declaration of Independence. In Paris, he wins French support for the American Revolution then negotiates a peace treaty with Britain. He spends his last years in the new United States, working on the Constitution and unsuccessfully promoting the abolition of slavery.

  • “An American” (1775-1790): asset-mezzanine-16x9

    “An American” (1775-1790)

    S1 E2 - 1h 54m

    Benjamin Franklin leaves London and returns to wartime Philadelphia where he joins Congress and helps Thomas Jefferson craft the Declaration of Independence. In Paris, he wins French support for the American Revolution then negotiates a peace treaty with Britain. He spends his last years in the new United States, working on the Constitution and unsuccessfully promoting the abolition of slavery.

  • Spanish Version | “Join or Die” (1706-1774): asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Spanish Version | “Join or Die” (1706-1774)

    S1 E3 - 1h 55m

    Leaving behind his Boston childhood, Benjamin Franklin reinvents himself in Philadelphia where he builds a printing empire and a new life with his wife, Deborah. Turning to science, Franklin's lightning rod and experiments in electricity earn him worldwide fame. After entering politics, he spends years in London trying to keep Britain and America together as his own family starts to come apart.

  • “Join or Die” (1706-1774): asset-mezzanine-16x9

    “Join or Die” (1706-1774)

    S1 E1 - 1h 55m

    Leaving behind his Boston childhood, Benjamin Franklin reinvents himself in Philadelphia where he builds a printing empire and a new life with his wife, Deborah. Turning to science, Franklin's lightning rod and experiments in electricity earn him worldwide fame. After entering politics, he spends years in London trying to keep Britain and America together as his own family starts to come apart.

Extras + Features

  • An American Celebrity in France: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    An American Celebrity in France

    4m 37s

    In 1776, people in France had never heard of any American, except for Benjamin Franklin. Congress sent Franklin to Paris to win foreign support for the American Revolution, and the French people treated him like a celebrity when he arrived. But Franklin had serious business to attend to. Without aid from the French monarchy, America’s fight for independence might be lost quickly.

  • Official Trailer: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Official Trailer

    31s

    Ken Burns’s four-hour documentary, Benjamin Franklin, explores the revolutionary life of one of the 18th century’s most consequential figures, whose work and words unlocked the mystery of electricity and helped create the United States.

  • Benjamin Franklin Invents the Glass Armonica: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Benjamin Franklin Invents the Glass Armonica

    1m 55s

    Franklin developed a musical instrument that he called the armonica (after the Italian word for harmony). To play the armonica, a musician powered a foot pedal to rotate 36 concentric glass bowls and produced notes by putting wet fingers to the spinning glass. In Austria, the glass armonica provided the music for a royal wedding. Mozart and Beethoven would compose chamber pieces for it.

  • The Stamp Act: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Stamp Act

    3m 46s

    The recent war with France had expanded England’s empire, but left its treasury depleted. In the spring of 1765, the king’s ministers and Parliament came up with a new way to raise more money from the American colonies: The Stamp Act. Now, all legal documents, newspapers, books, almanacs—even decks of playing cards—would need official stamps, purchased from the government.

  • The Declaration of Independence: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Declaration of Independence

    3m 17s

    After reading Thomas Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence, Franklin offered only a few edits, but one of them was pivotal. In his draft, Jefferson’s most important sentence began, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable, that all men are created equal…” Franklin crossed out “sacred and undeniable” and wrote in “self-evident.”

  • Franklin and the Antislavery Movement: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Franklin and the Antislavery Movement

    7m 5s

    Franklin, though a former slave owner, had joined the growing antislavery movement in Philadelphia. With the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, he petitioned the new federal government to end slavery in the United States. Because of Franklin’s reputation, the petition was heard. But the House of Representatives voted it down, and the Senate tabled it without discussion.

  • Franklin and Slave Labor: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Franklin and Slave Labor

    1m 49s

    Slavery was legal in all thirteen colonies that eventually formed the United States. In the middle of the 18th Century, nearly a tenth of Philadelphia’s residents were enslaved—working in businesses and homes, including Franklin’s. Many Philadelphians, including Franklin’s friends and colleagues, were vocally antislavery. But Franklin, committed to slave labor, did not join them.

  • Franklin Hears About Washington’s Victory at Yorktown: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Franklin Hears About Washington’s Victory at Yorktown

    2m 39s

    In November 1781, Franklin heard news of the victory at Yorktown, the decisive battle of the American Revolution that was won by the combined forces of the French military and George Washington’s Continental Army. Back in 1778, Franklin had secured the alliance that brought France into the war, and without the French Army and Navy, the outcome at Yorktown would not have been possible.

  • Franklin Makes a Name for Himself as a Printer: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Franklin Makes a Name for Himself as a Printer

    3m 53s

    Franklin, who had only two years of formal education, largely taught himself through reading and on the job. At age 12, he joined his older brother James’s print shop as an apprentice printer. Later, when an essay appeared in James’s newspaper over the name Silence Dogood, no one, including James, knew the real author was 16-year-old Benjamin.

  • Publicly Humiliated in London: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Publicly Humiliated in London

    6m 2s

    As Britain and the colonies grew apart, Benjamin Franklin, the most famous American in London and an agent for several colonies, found himself caught in the middle. After the Boston Tea Party, he was publicly humiliated in a government meeting room called the Cockpit and blamed for the crisis across the ocean. It was clearer than ever that Franklin would have to choose a side.

  • The Treaty of Paris, 1783: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Treaty of Paris, 1783

    4m 20s

    On September 3, 1783, Franklin and the other peace commissioners signed the Treaty of Paris. The American Revolutionary War was over, and Britain officially recognized the independent United States of America and its claims to a third of the North American continent. For others who were not party to the peace talks, especially Native Americans, the treaty was devastating.

Schedule

  • Image
    Benjamin Franklin: TVSS: Iconic

    Benjamin Franklin

    Join or Die (1706-1774)

    Saturday
    Jun 10

    2 Hours 30 Minutes

    Following his success as a printer in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin earns worldwide fame from electricity experiments and then turns to politics.
  • Image
    Benjamin Franklin: TVSS: Banner-L1

    Benjamin Franklin

    An American (1775-1790)

    Saturday
    Jun 10

    2 Hours 30 Minutes

    Benjamin Franklin helps Thomas Jefferson craft the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia; in Paris, Franklin wins French support for the American Revolution; Franklin works on the U.S. Constitution.
  • Image
    Benjamin Franklin: TVSS: Iconic

    Benjamin Franklin

    Join or Die (1706-1774)

    Sunday
    Jun 11

    2 Hours 30 Minutes

    Following his success as a printer in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin earns worldwide fame from electricity experiments and then turns to politics.
  • Image
    Benjamin Franklin: TVSS: Banner-L1

    Benjamin Franklin

    An American (1775-1790)

    Sunday
    Jun 11

    2 Hours 30 Minutes

    Benjamin Franklin helps Thomas Jefferson craft the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia; in Paris, Franklin wins French support for the American Revolution; Franklin works on the U.S. Constitution.
  • Image
    Benjamin Franklin: TVSS: Iconic

    Benjamin Franklin

    Join or Die (1706-1774)

    Sunday
    Jun 11

    2 Hours 30 Minutes

    Following his success as a printer in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin earns worldwide fame from electricity experiments and then turns to politics.
  • Image
    Benjamin Franklin: TVSS: Banner-L1

    Benjamin Franklin

    An American (1775-1790)

    Sunday
    Jun 11

    2 Hours 30 Minutes

    Benjamin Franklin helps Thomas Jefferson craft the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia; in Paris, Franklin wins French support for the American Revolution; Franklin works on the U.S. Constitution.

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