The World of Franklin & Jefferson


1975 – 1977

The Eames Office’s last exhibition was its most complex. Celebrating the American Revolution Bicentennial, The World of Franklin & Jefferson explored the connections between the two men and their impact on America’s independence.
Former Office staff member Jeannine Oppewall recalls working on the exhibition: “I actually got up in the morning and considered who was important to put on a timeline about the history of ideas and America during the revolution. Who else gets to do that for a living!”
The exhibition revealed specific individuals who shaped Franklin and Jefferson’s thinking; it stressed their commitment to the independence movement; it highlighted the men’s roles in creating the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights; and it explored their interest in America’s westward expansion. As with some of their previous shows, Charles and Ray also created a book and a film about the exhibition.
During its tour, Franklin & Jefferson travelled throughout Europe and the United States, showing everywhere from the Grand Palais in Paris to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Here is a review of this Eames exhibition from Vogue (British edition)
“It is the humanity and reality of the exhibition that is so striking, and the meticulous job of assembling the exhibition and casting aside conventional ways of seeing and showing that makes this Eames’ masterpiece so outstanding. The layout and visual impact are staggering: one wants to spend days studying the documents, photographs, and artifacts that bring the period vividly to life.”

Read additional exhibition reviews below, as reproduced in the United States of America Congressional Record.

Proceedings and Debates of the 94th Congress,
First Session
Vol. 121 Washington, Friday, December 5, 1975 No. 179

Friday, December 5, 1975

(Legislative day of Tuesday, December 2, 1975)


Mr. PELL. Mr. President, I am delighted to note the outstanding successful foreign tour of an American-sponsored exhibit marking the beginning of the observance in Europe of the Bicentennial of the American Revolution.

The exhibit, entitled, “The World of Franklin and Jefferson,” was on display in Paris and Warsaw earlier this year and recently concluded a highly acclaimed showing at London’s British Museum.

I commend the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration and its director, John W. Warner, for their sponsorship of this superb exhibit, and I am pleased that the exhibit will be returning to the United States in March of next year to be viewed by the American people.

The 7,000 square foot traveling exhibition was designed for the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration by the office of Charles and Ray Eames.  The ARBA is presenting the exhibition in cooperation with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York through a grant from the IBM Corporation.

“The World of Franklin and Jefferson” exhibition spans 120 years of American history—1706 – 1826—from the American Colonial experience and its European heritage, to the point when the young Nation was able to make its great move Westward.  The exhibition follows the careers of Franklin and Jefferson through the important times during the formulation of the Declaration of Independence, throughout the Revolutionary War, and during the early stages of the Constitutional Government.

From all accounts, the ARBA exhibition has been warmly received at all three European cities of showing: The exhibition first opened at the Grand Palais in Paris on January 10, 1975, and during 2 months of showing, was seen by 50,000 persons—the largest attendance ever recorded in a French national museum for a foreign show.

The exhibition then proceeded to Warsaw where it was on view at the National Museum from May 17 through July 9.  During its 7-week run, it was visited by 53,000 persons.  According to the American Embassy in Warsaw, the Franklin and Jefferson exhibition was the most successful and impressive show the United States has ever mounted in Poland. At the British Museum, the exhibition was seen by one of the largest audiences ever recorded at that renowned institution.

Mr. President, in March of 1976, “The World of Franklin and Jefferson” will begin its tour of the United States at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and then visit the Art Institute of Chicago before ending in Los Angeles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

I hope that all Americans interested in enhancing the observance of our Nation’s 200th birthday will make an effort to see this exceptional exhibit.

I ask unanimous consent that excerpts from a number of reviews of the exhibition by French, Polish, and British magazines and newspapers be printed in the RECORD.

There being no objection, the excerpts were ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:

This is a reconstruction of 125 crucial years in the history of liberty.  It is literally an exemplary exhibition, not only for its richness and groupings of its contents, but also by its truly revolutionary presentation. . . . The result is a feast.  Nothing could be more fun than this sparkling collection.  A living entity for those who do not come for a history lesson but more for impressions.  Charles Eames has recreated the atmosphere of an era, the moral and social climate of the birth of a nation, forever marked by the principles on which it was founded.

The exhibit which opens today in the Grand Palais is worth a special visit. Its theme is The World of Franklin and Jefferson, two companions of one of the greatest revolutions of the universe, the veritable creators of the nation which was going to become, in less than a century-and-a-half, a power without equal. . . . This historical truth goes without saying. But it goes even better if it is said in the way that Charles and Ray Eames have said it; they succeed in bringing alive with a dazzling clarity, much talent, and infinite taste this World of Franklin and Jefferson installed for two months at the Grand Palais.

The exhibition has been arranged like a richly illustrated portrait album of outstanding historical personalities, philosophers, politicians, and scientists whose activity and life were devoted to strengthening the foundations of the young nation.  The exhibition entitled The World of Franklin and Jefferson originated under the auspices of the ARBA, but the visual form was given to it by Charles and Ray Eames, the prominent exhibition designers.  They deserve the credit for the fact that this enormous mass of historical materials has been clearly conveyed…the physical setting of the exhibition is functional to such a degree that one does not actually perceive it.

Together, Franklin and Jefferson understood very well the ideas of European enlightenment and they applied a practical knowledge of these ideas towards the growth of the United States.  The authors of the exhibit, Charles and Ray Eames, have brought together a collection of original materials, reproductions, photographs, and texts that excellently illuminate the life and intellectual creativity of these men and of America in the 18th and 19th centuries, their revolt against a reactionary Europe, and their unity in bringing forward new ideals in politics and Science.

It is the humanity and reality of the (Franklin and Jefferson) exhibition that is so striking, and the meticulous job of assembling the exhibition and casting aside conventional ways of seeing and showing that makes this Eames’ masterpiece so outstanding.  The layout and visual impact are staggering: one wants to spend days studying the documents, photographs and artifacts that bring the period vividly to life.

Maxims and aphorisms float overhead on red, white and blue banners; elsewhere we see all manner of things, from a stuffed bison to paintings of the West by George Catlin, to fossil bones which Jefferson sent to France to show how big American animals were, silver tankards by Paul Revere, Franklin’s glass harmonica and Jefferson’s superbly crafted wooden plough blades, an important technical innovation, and various undeniably impressive yet amiable eighteenth-century experimental electrical apparatus.  It does all strike a spark, in an energetic attempt to suggest aspects of American political, practical and social innovation as part of the European Enlightenment.

Historic documents

  • The Eames Franklin & Jefferson Exhibition Floor Plan

    Metropolitan Museum of Art 1976