Two learned societies make a smart bet on Super Bowl

Benjamin Franklin, in all his glory — and ready for a win on Sunday (American Philosophical Society)

Benjamin Franklin, in all his glory — and ready for a win on Sunday (American Philosophical Society)

If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, he’d definitely be an Eagles fan. That’s why the statute of Franklin perched high atop the American Philosophical Society library on Independence Mall depicts him sporting an Eagles cap and holding an Eagles flag.

As a young man, Franklin left his stodgy Boston birthplace to come to Philadelphia, a vibrant city teeming with possibility.

“Boston was hard for somebody who was ambitious and intelligent to get ahead,” said Patrick Spero, librarian at the American Philosophical Society. “Franklin realized that Philadelphia was a young city that was growing. It was someplace where he could put his roots down and grow with the city.”

Did he ever. Franklin became one of the foremost Founding Fathers, helping draft the Declaration of Independence and making important contributions to science, especially in the understanding of electricity. He founded important institutions, such as Pennsylvania Hospital and the Library Company of Philadelphia.

So Franklin would be undoubtedly pleased to hear that the American Philosophical Society, the learned organization he founded in 1743, placed a friendly Super Bowl wager with its Cambridge, Massachusetts, counterpart — the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, established by fellow Founding Father John Adams in 1780.

The bet? If the Patriots win, the American Philosophical Society will loan out the first of three writings by Adams in defense of the American Constitution, written in 1787.

If the Eagles win, it will receive Franklin’s manuscripts — in the form of letters written to a colleague in England — describing his electrical observations. Franklin is largely credited with proving that lightning is electricity through his experiments with lightning rods.

“This are very important documents, and I hope we can have them on loan for some period of time,” said Robert Hauser, CEO of the American Philosophical Society.

Healthy and intellectual rivalry

(American Philosophical Society)

The wager represents the societies’ mutual histories and illustrates that history is meant to be shared, Spero said.

“We have a healthy rivalry with the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. They’re great friends, and we’ve collaborated on so many things,” he said. “But sports is a time that brings people’s rivalries out, and we thought it would be fun to share in the competitive spirit.”

American Academy of Arts and Sciences president Jonathan Fanton said, just as competition brings out the best in athletes, the same could be said for the two learned societies, which go back centuries.

Both organizations were created to advance knowledge through historical publications, research and museum exhibitions. Their membership comprises the nation’s leading thinkers — including more than 100 Nobel Prize winners who belong to both societies.

“The academy is rooting for the Patriots, for a victory for member [and Patriots owner] Robert Kraft, and for winning our bet with the American Philosophical Society,” Fanton said.

Of course, Spero has a different take.

“Like Ben Franklin, I was born in Boston, but moved to Philadelphia,” he said. “I’ve been in Philadelphia for 11 years and remember watching the Eagles lose to the Patriots [in 2004]. I don’t think they’ll lose again. I think they’ll pull it out.”

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