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.

“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.

  • “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.

  • 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.

Extras + Features

  • 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.

  • Franklin Faces His Racial Prejudices: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Franklin Faces His Racial Prejudices

    1m 58s

    Deborah Franklin encouraged her husband to visit a new school for enslaved and free Black children in Philadelphia. After his visit, Benjamin Franklin admitted that he had previously held a low opinion of the “natural Capacities of the black Race,” but observing the children at school had proven his prejudices wrong. He now knew they were “in every Respect equal to that of white Children.”

  • Franklin and Adams: Rivals on the Same Diplomatic Mission: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Franklin and Adams: Rivals on the Same Diplomatic Mission

    4m 3s

    Benjamin Franklin and John Adams served the United States together as diplomats to France during the American Revolution, but they frustrated each other with their conflicting approaches to the job. Adams was impatient and did not recognize that Franklin’s popularity was an important asset in securing vital French support for the war effort.

  • Benjamin Franklin and Inoculation: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Benjamin Franklin and Inoculation

    6m 9s

    An African slave in Boston, Onesimus, introduced Cotton Mather to the concept of inoculation, which meant fewer deaths in a smallpox epidemic. Franklin was an early proponent of inoculation but when smallpox struck Philadelphia he and Deborah delayed inoculating their son. Franky contracted smallpox and died. This extended scene from BENJAMIN FRANKLIN includes bonus material not in the final film.

  • The Franklins Choose Opposing Sides in the Revolution: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    The Franklins Choose Opposing Sides in the Revolution

    2m 26s

    In the decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin and his son William collaborated intimately to promote the British Empire in America. But when war broke out, their family, like countless others, was torn apart. Benjamin Franklin supported George Washington’s army and sided with the rebels—the Patriots. William Franklin, the Royal Governor of New Jersey, remained loyal to the King.

  • Franklin’s Endlessly Quotable Poor Richard’s Almanack: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Franklin’s Endlessly Quotable Poor Richard’s Almanack

    4m 37s

    From 1733 to 1757, Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanack, an annual bestseller in the colonies. In addition to weather predictions and astronomical observations, his almanac was notable for including aphorisms that combined wisdom with humor, philosophy with word play—an early example of a homespun American writing style that has continued through the generations.

  • Franklin’s Observations and Experiments on Electricity: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Franklin’s Observations and Experiments on Electricity

    5m 31s

    Franklin made groundbreaking discoveries in his study of electricity. He wrote up his observations and experiments, which were published abroad and made him world-famous. He coined new terms—like “positive,” “negative,” “charge,” “conductor” and “battery.” And he proved that lightning was electrical in nature with his famous experiment in 1752 with a kite and a key.

  • Compromise and the Constitution of the United States: asset-mezzanine-16x9

    Compromise and the Constitution of the United States

    6m 36s

    As impasse threatened to derail the Constitutional Convention, Franklin worked to find common ground. In order to pass the proposed Constitution of the United States, the delegates agreed to several compromises—some tragic. On September 17, 1787, Franklin, who saw the new federal government as an experiment to be improved by successive generations, delivered a speech endorsing the Constitution.

  • 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.

  • 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.

Schedule

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