Lady Joan Reid Children’s Author in Residence, Professor Sarah B. Pomeroy, is to publish her upcoming book for young adults, Benjamin Franklin, Swimmer with the American Philosophical Society Press

We established the Lady Joan Reid Children’s Author in Residence at Benjamin Franklin House in 2018 to honour the memory of Lady Joan Reid, the House’s historian who served for nearly 15 years as a member of the Houses’ Board.

The inaugural Lady Joan Reid Children’s Author in Residence at Benjamin Franklin House is Professor Sarah B. Pomeroy, a distinguished Professor of Classics and History and author of many publications on Greek and Roman women. She is the accomplished author of numerous books, articles, and reviews on the topic of Women in Antiquity, including the classic Goddesses, Whores, Wives, and Slaves: Women in Classical Antiquity. She has won many awards, including the Ford Foundation Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, the National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship, and a Mellon Foundation Fellowship. Her pioneering work has been instrumental in our understanding of women in the ancient world.

Professor Pomeroy’s previous book for young adults, Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer (Los Angeles: Getty, 2018), won awards from the American Library Association and a Moonbeam Children’s Books Gold Award.

Professor Pomeroy’s book as Lady Joan Reid Children’s Author in Residence, entitled Benjamin Franklin, Swimmer, will be published by the American Philosophical Society Press in 2021. It is the first book to look at the importance of swimming to Franklin’s important, long and decorated life.  Professor Pomeroy has kindly shared this exciting excerpt. You can also listen to an interview on the subject with our Founding Director, Dr Marcia Balisciano here.

Image Credit: The Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary

Benjamin Franklin, Swimmer 


Benjamin Franklin’s earliest unique memories and first inventions are connected to swimming.  In his Autobiography after a traditional opening reviewing his family’s history, his formal education, and his brief apprenticeship as a candlemaker, he wrote a long paragraph about his interest in the sea, and in boats and swimming.  Franklin’s youthful inventions were swimming paddles and a method of kite surfing;  he boasted of them later in life.  Yet this aspect of Franklin’s biography has never been studied.

There are countless publications about Benjamin Franklin:  some of these mention his swimming briefly in passing.   This book is the first study that focuses on Franklin as a swimmer.  The modern reader, especially the sedentary scholar, may be surprised at my choice of subject, considering this American icon’s swimming of little importance when compared to his scientific discoveries and civic and political achievements.  Franklin himself, however, thought swimming was of major importance. He swam wherever and whenever he could, from boyhood through old age and he chose to live close to rivers where swimming was possible.

Franklin’s personality emerges through the lens of swimming.  We see him clearly as a leader, an inventor, and a strong, proud man. As he was in many fields, he was self-taught.  He interacted with family, friends, and acquaintances through swimming.  When he was a young man in London, swimming offered him an entrée into British society.  It is possible to trace Franklin’s travels by noticing the places where he swam.

Franklin discusses swimming in his Letters and in his Autobiography. Friends and family also comment on his swimming.   Though the evidence is sparse, varied references to swimming occur throughout Franklin’s lifetime and in a variety of contexts.  He praises swimming because it promotes health, hygiene, and safety especially when people find themselves suddenly in the water.  Therefore knowing how to swim was essential not only for a professional sailor but also for anyone who travelled by boat.  In those days travel by boat was common. In his Autobiography Franklin mentions taking boats and ferries in his first journey from Boston to Philadelphia and of course in his subsequent journeys:  he records the perils and pleasures of these voyages in detail.  Drownings were such a common occurrence that only multiple disasters destroying entire families or boatloads attracted much attention.  The water played a decisive role in Franklin’s life. Fearing ocean travel, Franklin’s wife Deborah refused to join him in Europe and they spent most of their married life apart.

When Franklin’s grandson Benjamin Franklin Bache was in his care in France he allowed him to swim across the Seine, an activity that was fraught with danger from strong winds and passing ships.  Benny’s Journal constitutes another important primary source for this book.  The escapades of this engaging literate teenager in France with a benevolent indulgent chaperone have never before been published.  Benny is an astute and likeable guide to the 18th century.  There is no doubt that the Journal of Ben Franklin’s grandson will be of great interest both to sophisticated younger readers and to scholars and amateurs of Ben Franklin.


Franklin was in good health due to diet and exercise.  He was proud of his physique (which can be attributed to swimming).  Being nude did not embarrass him at all, and he continued to swim even when he was eighty years old.  Swimming in cold water was fashionable in the 17th and 18th centuries, but as usual Franklin  was an independent thinker:  in his fifties he preferred to take “air baths” naked in front of the window at his lodging on Craven Street, London.

On his first trip to London, Franklin lived in Little Britain and then moved to Duke Street (now known as Sardinia Street).   Returning later as an affluent gentleman from 1757 to 1775 he rented the parlor floor in the building now preserved as “Benjamin Franklin House” at 36 Craven Street.  He would have taken his airbaths in front of the large windows.  His lodging on Craven Street (1757-1775) was a very short walk to the Thames.  Proximity to the river probably influenced Franklin’s decision to choose this location.

@Copyright Sarah B. Pomeroy. 2018. Do not reproduce without permission of the author.

The American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, 2021)

We’ve Reopened!

We are excited to announce that following new UK government guidelines on museums and galleries, Benjamin Franklin House will be reopening to the public.

In celebration of American Independence Day, we will offer Architectural Tours from 2-4pm on 4 and 5 July.  Please make a booking for this special celebration here.

Following, we will be open Friday-Sunday, 12-5 for Architectural Tours from Friday, 10 July.  We hope to begin running our primary offering, the Historical Experience, before the close of summer.

Please make a booking here.

Changes to ensure the safety of visitors and staff

To ensure we keep everyone safe:

  • We are limiting group sizes to 4 people from separate households. If your group has more than 4 people from your household, please contact us at or +44 207 839 2006 to arrange your booking
  • All staff and visitors (excluding those exempt under current UK government guidance) will be required to wear a mask inside the House – on entry, visitors will find a station with hand sanitiser, masks, and gloves
  • Our staff will be regularly cleaning the public areas throughout the days we are open to the public to ensure a safe environment

We look forward to welcoming you again to Benjamin Franklin’s only surviving home in fulfilment of our mission to bring history and innovation to life!

Benjamin Franklin House Team

Benjamin Franklin House and Black Lives Matter

Our Statement in regards to the Black Lives Matter Protests: 

Benjamin Franklin’s last public act was to serve as the President of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.  Shortly before his death in 1790 he wrote, “equal liberty… is still the Birthright of all….”  This remains as much an unalienable tenet in 2020 as in 1790.

Benjamin Franklin House is committed to inclusion and openness and lending our support, wherever we can, to furthering these principles.

Frankly Speaking 2020

On Friday, 28 February 2020, 32 students from six schools across the UK joined us for Frankly Speaking, the annual Benjamin Franklin House debate competition in collaboration with the US Embassy London and The Daughters of the American Revolution (Walter Hines Page Chapter). Bloomberg also generously supported the event, with members of their London team volunteering as judges and invigilators on the day. Teams traveled from Coventry, Portsmouth and London to take part. The heats and semi-finals were held at Benjamin Franklin House, while the finals took place at the US Embassy London.

Students were challenged to address questions relating to the environment, education, penal reform, internet safety and freedom of speech. Judges were impressed by the students’ level of preparation as well as their confidence and powers of persuasion.

The winning in the junior category, Years 10&11, was Whitley Academy, represented by Duncan Van Den Top and Ciaran Wyllie (Ciaran was also the individual runner-up for this category). Daniel Fourman from Southbank International School won the individual prize for this category: a tour of the Houses of Parliament with the Rt Hon. Baroness Anelay of St Johns DBE – made possible with support from the DAR.

The winning team in the senior category, Years 12&13, was Saint Cecelia’s Church of England School, represented by Benjamin Sturley and Agnes Moon. The individual runner-up for this category was Isabelle Lewitt from Southbank International School in Westminster. Agnes was awarded the individual prize and will be put forward as the US Embassy London’s nomination for the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute at Purdue University, Indiana. Postponed to 2021, Agnes will be joining students from across the US and Europe to explore American culture and politics and discuss opportunities to improve civil society.

All participants will be invited to a reception at Benjamin Franklin House. Many thanks to the US Embassy, the DAR (Walter Hines Page Chapter) and Bloomberg for their support.







Congratulations to our 2019 Literary Prize Winners!

Benjamin Franklin is one of history’s great figures. While he made lasting contributions in many fields, his first passion was writing. He believed in the power of the written word as the bedrock of a democratic society, to inform, and stimulate debate.

Each year a question or quote exploring Franklin’s relevance in our time is open for interpretation in 1000-1500 words. The competition is exclusively for young writers, aged 18-25, with a first prize of £750, and a second prize of £500.

The Benjamin Franklin House Literary Prize is endowed by Benjamin Franklin House Chairman John Studzinski, a leading executive and philanthropist.

The quote for the 2019 Literary Prize was: ‘Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults’ Poor Richard Improved, 1756. We accepted both fiction and non-fiction entries from aspiring young writers.

Our first-place winner was Alys Key, a business journalist and aspiring writer. Read Alys’ entry, here.

Robert Walmsley was our second-place winner. He is currently completing work to qualify as a solicitor. Robert has a strong interest in history and non-fiction writing. Read Robert’s entry, here.

Thank you to all who participated, the standard of submissions was extremely high! The quotation for this year’s competition is: ‘Glass, China, and Reputation, are easily crack’d, and never well mended’ Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1750. For more information on how to apply, follow the link here.

Benjamin Franklin and the Glass Armonica

Everyone knows the eerie, tinkling notes of the ‘Aquarium’ movement in Camille Saint-Saëns’ symphony for children, The Carnival of the Animals, even if we can’t name the music. But few people realise that the instrument which creates that other-worldly sound – also used in some renditions of the Harry Potter film music – was invented by Benjamin Franklin while living in London in 1761. And fewer still are aware of the role that Franklin’s instrument played in the strange story of hypnotism.

Franklin was inspired to create his glass armonica after hearing an English friend, Edward Delaval, playing a tune on wine glasses filled with water. Delaval was using the tried and tested technique, familiar to anyone who’s run out of things to say in the pub, of running a wet finger around the rim of a wine or beer glass to produce high-pitched ‘singing’. Franklin was convinced he could do better. With his typical ingenuity and attention to detail, he drew up an elaborate design and commissioned a London glassblower, Charles James, to create the first glass armonica.

Franklin’s armonica, also known as a glass harmonica, was made from 37 glass bowls of varying thicknesses and sizes threaded horizontally on an iron spindle which could be turned by a foot pedal. By moistening their fingers with water, a player could produce up to ten notes or chords at a time. The bowls were colour-coded for different notes. Franklin was delighted with the results. ‘Of all my inventions,’ he later said, ‘the glass armonica has given me the greatest personal satisfaction.’ Franklin’s instrument enjoyed its world premiere in 1762 and became hugely popular throughout Europe, inspiring compositions by celebrated musicians including Mozart.

Mozart first encountered the glass armonica in 1773 on a visit with his father to the house of a family friend, the physician Franz Anton Mesmer, in Vienna. After hearing the doctor play the instrument ‘unusually well’, the 16-year-old took a turn at tinkling the glasses himself. Mozart later wrote compositions, including his mournful Adagio for Glass Harmonica, for the instrument.

But it was Mozart’s host, Mesmer, who made the fullest use of the armonica’s ethereal qualities. Mesmer had studied medicine at the University of Vienna before settling in the city as a physician. Becoming disillusioned with orthodox medical therapies, such as bloodletting and blistering, Mesmer was eager to find alternatives. So when a fellow academic, the fabulously named Father Maximilian Hell, said he had cured his heartburn by applying magnets to his body, Mesmer was intrigued. He tried the method on his patients and was convinced he had discovered an invisible force which could be manipulated by magnets. He named this force ‘animal magnetism’. Abandoning magnets, Mesmer found that by using repetitive hand motions and strong vocal suggestions he could induce a kind of sleep in his patients. In this state, patients would slavishly follow his commands, lose their inhibitions and become insensitive to pain.

What Mesmer had stumbled upon, of course, was hypnotism. Although similar techniques had been used since ancient times to induce sleep-like states, Mesmer was the first to harness such methods systematically for medical purposes. Mesmer elevated his technique, which became known as ‘mesmerism, into an art form.

Settling in Paris in 1778, Mesmer became an overnight phenomenon. People flocked to his mesmerism salons where they would sit in a darkened room walled with mirrors as Mesmer, dressed in a flowing lilac robe, waved his hands to the accompaniment of the unearthly strains of his armonica. To treat more people at once, he had a tub or ‘baquet’ filled with water and iron filings. His patients, many of them wealthy ladies of leisure, sat around the tub and grasped one of the protruding iron rods. Handsome male assistants sat behind the patients and clasped them between their knees while applying ‘gentle pressure upon the breasts of the ladies’. According to one observer, ‘the cheeks of the ladies began to glow, their imaginations to become inflamed; and off they went, one after the other, in convulsive fits’.

Feted by Parisian society, including Marie Antoinette – herself a proficient armonica player – Mesmer amassed a fortune which was further increased as he sold his secret to eager disciples. But it was not long before his erotic exhibitions attracted the scorn of the French medical establishment who persuaded Louis XVI in 1784 to set up a royal commission to investigate mesmerism. The inquiry team comprised some of the most eminent scientific thinkers of the era, including Franklin, now aged 78, who was living in exile in France.

Meeting at Franklin’s house, the commission concluded that Mesmer’s invisible force did not exist and any benefit from his methods was due to ‘imagination’. Franklin’s musical invention had helped Mesmer create the highly-charged atmosphere at his mesmerism salons but Franklin’s intervention now helped to end Mesmer’s career. With his methods discredited, Mesmer left town, taking his armonica with him, and spent the rest of his life wandering Europe until he died in obscurity in 1815.

Mesmerism, however, flourished. It was introduced to Britain, by a second-generation disciple of Mesmer, in 1837 and was renamed hypnotism, by the Scottish physician James Braid, in 1841. After various resurgences, hypnotism remains popular today. Franklin’s armonica went on to inspire musical works by Beethoven, Donizetti and Richard Strauss as well as Saint-Saëns. In the early 19th century, however, the armonica fell from favour, partly fuelled by fears that its ghostly music could cause hallucinations and even madness.

Today a rare original armonica survives in the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and a modern replica can be seen – and heard – at Benjamin Franklin House during Architectural Tours and group visits. And the mystical strains of the armonica are still occasionally produced in music by Bjork, David Gilmore and others.

This article is contributed by Wendy Moore – author, journalist, and one of our distinguished Literary Prize judges. Her most recent book Endell Street (UK)/No Man’s Land (US) is available to purchase online. 

Temporary Closure of Benjamin Franklin House

Our priority is protecting our visitors, staff, volunteers – and of course our precious, historic building.  To do our part to discourage the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we will be closing Benjamin Franklin House for all offerings effective Tuesday, 17 March 2020.

If you have tickets between now and 15 June, you can re-book here, or if you prefer, we will refund the cost of your ticket(s). However, we would be grateful if you would consider donating the cost of your ticket(s) to help Benjamin Franklin House weather this difficult time. We are continuing to pay our staff and key suppliers to ensure their well-being.

We do not take this decision lightly as our mission is to bring history and innovation to life for a global public through the world’s only surviving home of Benjamin Franklin.

While we are closed, we will take time to progress a number of core and new projects and explore opportunities for more distance programming.

Please do not hesitate to contact us at if you have any questions or concerns.

We will remember Benjamin Franklin’s advice: “it is in the first Place necessary to be careful in preserving Health (1786).”

Kind regards,

The Benjamin Franklin House Team

Congratulations to our 2018 Literary Prize Winners

The quote for the 2018 Literary Prize was as follows ‘Let all man know thee, but no man know thee thoroughly’ Poor Richard, 1743. We accepted both fiction and non-fiction entries from aspiring writers aged 18 to 25.

Our first place winner for 2018 was James Waddell, who is currently studying at the University of Law, Moorgate. Read James’ entry here.

Rachel Thomson was our second place winner, she is currently working in retail and spends her free time writing, painting and reading. Read Rachel’s entry here.

Thank you to all who participated, the submissions for this year were fantastic! We will be announcing the quote for our 2019 competition very soon, please watch this space for further information.


Frankly Speaking!

A Benjamin Franklin House Debate Competition in collaboration with the US Embassy in London, Bloomberg and The Daughters of the American Revolution (Walter Hines Page Chapter).

On Friday 16 March 2018, 40 students from eight schools across the country joined us for Frankly Speaking 2018, the annual Benjamin Franklin House debate competition in collaboration with the US Embassy and The Daughters of the American Revolution (Walter Hines Page Chapter). Teams travelled from Coventry, London and Leeds to join us and this year the event was hosted by Bloomberg at their new London head office.

Throughout the course of the day students were challenged to address questions related to the environment, tuition fees, a second UK referendum on EU membership and space exploration.  The standard throughout the day was high, with judges impressed by the debating skills and research of the students.

Lucas Cury from Southbank International School in Westminster won first prize in the Years Ten/Eleven category: a tour of the Houses of Parliament with the Rt Hon. the Lord Cope of Berkeley – made possible with support from the DAR; Southbank International School also won the Years Ten/Eleven team debate.

The overall winning team in the Year Twelve/Thirteen category was Brampton Academy featuring debaters Melanie Nneka Onoyo and Osauewese Omoragbon. Isla Lury from Prince Henry’s Grammar School, Otley won the Year Twelve/Thirteen individual first prize, a place at the Benjamin Franklin Transatlantic Fellows Summer Institute  at Wake Forest University, North Carolina. Isla will be joining students this summer from across the US and Europe, she will explore American culture and politics and opportunities to improve civil society. Team prizes were also awarded.

All participants will be invited to a reception at Benjamin Franklin House. Many thanks to the US Embassy, Bloomberg and the DAR for their partnership, support and expertise.

Remembering Lady Joan Reid

It is with great sadness that we report the loss of Lady Joan Reid, who passed away on Friday, 10 November 2017.

She was the Benjamin Franklin House’s Historian and also served for nearly 15 years as a Governor.  Born in 1932 on a train to her doctor mother in India, she fittingly lived in fascinating places, among them, Borneo, Nigeria, Kenya, Thailand and Australia.  She supported her husband Sir Bob Reid who would serve as Chairman of Shell UK among other important posts, and their three sons, of whom – and eventually their families – she was most proud.  It required a practical nature and flexibility, which she had in abundance. During those years she taught in schools, lectured on art and culture, established charities and became a careers advisor.

It was while serving on the Council for the Royal Society of Arts in the late 1990s that she discovered Benjamin Franklin House, which the Society had taken an interest in given Franklin’s role as its first international member.  Her passion for American history, cultivated as an early Fulbright scholar at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, ensured she would become critical to the project to turn a derelict building into a must-see heritage site, recruiting Sir Bob to Chair (1999-2007) along the way.

Her exquisite curiosity and capacity for knowledge ensured that she became Britain’s leading Franklin scholar. Walter Isaacson, award winning author of Benjamin Franklin, An American Life, thanked her for “being both meticulous and unflinching in her crusade to separate facts from lore.  In doing so, she expended not only an enormous amount of intellectual energy but a huge pile of colored Post-it notes filled with suggestions.”  Benjamin Franklin’s Author in Residence, George Goodwin, noted in the dedication to his 2016 book, Benjamin Franklin in London, the “hours of insight about a man of so many talents and ambitions,” that Lady Reid provided.

She helped shape our Historical Experience which uses Franklin’s words, live performance, sound and visual projection to tell his London story.  She delivered countless lectures on Franklin and wrote many articles highlighting the way Franklin thought and influenced humanity.  She worked with clients of neighbouring homeless charity, The Connection, to interest them in writing and recording their lives as Franklin did in his Autobiography.  She was a judge for our annual young writer’s literary prize and early House science fairs.  She turned her dining room into a project office when the House was in the final stages of conservation, and she was there when the ribbon was cut by a UK Foreign Secretary and US Ambassador, to officially open the House for the first time to the public as a dynamic museum and educational facility.

During her career she had been Founder and Chair of the Unicorn School for Dyslexic Children, Chairman of Club L International, a Trustee of YMCA College and the London Mozart Players, Chairman of the British Federation of Women Graduates Charitable Foundation and so much more.  She was brilliant and generous in every way.  We will miss her greatly and are considering ways we can honour her legacy.

Obituary in The Scotsman