The long, distinguished history of The Franklin Institute Awards Program dates back to 1824, when the Institute was founded by a group of leading Philadelphians to train artisans and mechanics in the fundamentals of science. Philadelphia, then the largest city in the United States, was also a burgeoning manufacturing center. In 1824, the Institute arranged the first of a series of annual exhibitions of manufactured goods.
With the exhibit came the presentation of awards—at first certificates, and later endowed medals—for achievement in science and technology. Recipients were selected by the Institute's Committee on Science and the Arts, established in 1824 as the Committee on Inventions. The Institute's all-volunteer Committee still selects recipients of the Benjamin Franklin Medals. Fields recognized today include Chemistry, Computer and Cognitive Science, Earth and Environmental Science, Electrical Engineering, Life Science, Mechanical Engineering and Physics. The Committee members represent academe, corporate America, and government; they evaluate the work of nominated individuals for its uncommon insight, skill, or creativity, as well as its impact on future research or application to benefit the public.
Through its awards program, The Franklin Institute seeks to provide public recognition and encouragement of excellence in science and technology. In 1998, the Institute's long-standing endowed awards program was reorganized under the umbrella of The Benjamin Franklin Medals. The list of Franklin Institute laureates reads like a "Who's Who" in the history of 19th and 20th century science, including Alexander Graham Bell, Pierre and Marie Curie, and Rudolf Diesel, who received Cresson Medals at the beginning of this century; as well as Thomas Edison, Niels Bohr, Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, who received the equally prestigious Franklin Medal. To date, 113 Franklin Institute laureates also have been honored with 115 Nobel Prizes.
The newest awards, the Bower Award for Business Leadership and the Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science, are made possible by a $7.5 million bequest in 1988 from Henry Bower, a Philadelphia chemical manufacturer. The Bower Science Award carries a cash prize of $250,000, one of the richest science prizes in America.
Today, The Franklin Institute continues its dedication to education and science literacy, serving the public through its museum, outreach programs, and curatorial work. Recognizing leading individuals from around the world is one important way that the Institute preserves Benjamin Franklin's legacy.
- The Franklin Institute Awards Program was launched in 1824 when the Institute began giving awards and premiums for superior products and inventions at the annual American Manufacturer's Exhibition. These exhibitions continued for the next 50 years.
- The first written record of the Awards was in Volume 1, Number 1 of the Journal of the Franklin Institute in January 1826.
- The endowed Awards Program began with a gift of $1,000 from Philadelphia philanthropist Elliott Cresson to establish the Cresson Medal in 1848.
- Today the Awards Program includes the Benjamin Franklin Medals and the Bower Awards with a total endowment of over $11 million.
- The Bower Fund is the largest award fund with an endowment exceeding $9 million. Established in 1988 by Philadelphia chemical manufacturer Henry Bower, The Bower Award for Achievement in Science is accompanied by a cash prize to an individual for a minimum of $250,000.
- The Bower Award for Business Leadership recognizes outstanding leadership in American business or industry, promoting the advancement of sound economic practice and adherence to the highest ethical standards, and serving as an inspiration to present and future leaders of business and industry.
- Award winners for the Benjamin Franklin Medals are chosen by the prestigious Committee on Science and the Arts. Founded as the Committee on Inventions in the early 1820's, this group of distinguished international leaders in science and technology is charged with evaluating thousands of nominations to choose men and women whose achievements truly reflect the spirit, innovation, and inspiration of Franklin himself.