Benjamin Franklin

Scientist, inventor, writer of enduring epigrams of homespun wisdom, creator of America’s first subscription library and one of its most prestigious universities, Benjamin Franklin was (with the possible exception of Thomas Jefferson) the nation’s most complex and compelling Founding Father—and certainly its wittiest. During his 84 years, he rose from being a lowly printer’s apprentice to become a central figure in the American story; a man who could guide his fellow colonists in declaring their independence and crafting their Constitution, charm all of Paris as one of our first diplomats, and yet stay true to his guiding principle—a “dislike of everything that tended to debase the spirit of the common people.”

In our two-part, four-hour film we will follow his colorful and extremely consequential life, peering into the man behind the bifocals he invented and to a great extent using his own words to get to know him and his times. “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten,” he said, “Either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.” Benjamin Franklin did both.

Directed and executive produced by Ken Burns, written by Dayton Duncan, and produced by David Schmidt and Ken Burns, Benjamin Franklin is slated for broadcast on PBS in 2022. (4 hours)

Educational Resources

The Better Angels Society is seeking $125,000 to support PBS LearningMedia in creating and sharing additional educational materials for Benjamin Franklin, a documentary film from the award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns.

In November 2019, PBS launched the Ken Burns in the Classroom hub on its PBS LearningMedia (PBSLM) platform. Since the launch, the Ken Burns Classroom resources have seen more than 1,086,695 page views and 499,010 unique visitors, and the Classroom landing page has consistently been in the top ten most visited pages on the PBS LearningMedia platform each week. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, PBSLM has been serving even more educators, families, and students in this time of need. In March 2020, overall platform traffic more than doubled year-over-year to 2.5 million unique visitors.

As teachers transition to virtual learning in the wake of school closures due to the pandemic, many have written to us specifically requesting Ken Burns content. Ken Burns and Florentine Films’ body of work highlights enduring values of character and agency and has motivated generations of Americans to both focus on those things we share in common, as well as celebrate and inspire a deeper understanding of our differences—at the highest level of civic engagement. These messages are more critical now than ever, and will continue to be as our country grapples with the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming years, and the struggle to address systemic racism in the United States