Big Idea: Rename PHL for Ben Franklin

Philadelphia's great statesman, inventor, humorist and printer died 225 years today. Rechristening the airport is the proper way to honor him.

“No other town, burying its great man, ever buried more of itself than Philadelphia with Franklin.”

—Carl Van Doren, 1938

The United States has buried many a great leader throughout its storied history.  The funerals of Presidents Washington, Lincoln (150 years ago this month), Roosevelt, Kennedy and Reagan immediately come to mind.

Among American leaders who never occupied the presidency, the burial of the slain Martin Luther King Jr. 47 years ago, also this April, was another moment of immense national sadness.

And in Philadelphia, precisely 225 years ago on April 21st, the city’s most internationally renowned citizen, Dr. Benjamin Franklin, was laid to rest at Christ Church Cemetery in the presence of 20,000 mourners who had gathered at the State House (now Independence Hall) to pay final respects to their friend and neighbor — without whose unsurpassed contributions to the American Revolution the United States might have never been born.

A man of enormous talent and wit, Dr. Franklin could have lived a life of comfort and ease, but chose, instead, to work hard and collaborate with others — constantly bringing useful knowledge and enlightened ideas to the forefront — so that all could benefit. (Franklin never patented his inventions.)

Whether discovering electricity, inventing a musical instrument, or founding the first U.S. hospital (Pennsylvania Hospital), Franklin’s energies and curiosities not only raised America’s standard of living, but the world’s as well. Indeed, today’s technologies might not have been possible without his considerable input.

The cutting-edge Franklin not only predicted spaceflight, he was a hot-air balloon enthusiast who marveled at the idea of traveling long distances in the sky — as opposed to getting around by coach and horse-back on land.  Many a school child is well aware of his fancy for kites.

Franklin’s lifelong career as statesman, diplomat, politician, philosopher, scientist, inventor, author, humorist, and printer was unprecedented. He wasn’t simply his era’s Steve Jobs. He was Steve Jobs, Condoleezza Rice, Milton Friedman, Albert Einstein, Will Rogers, Mark Twain and John Quincy Adams contained in one human package.

Upon Franklin’s death, no less than Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson proposed to President Washington “that the executive department should wear mourning [for a month]; he declined it because, he said, he would not know where to draw the line if he once began that ceremony. … I told him that the world had drawn so broad a line between him [Washington] and Dr. Franklin, on the one side, and the residue of mankind, on the other, that we might wear mourning for them [like the House of Representatives].” President Washington politely refused to reconsider.

Paying tribute to our national heroes is not something we take lightly. Like Presidents Jefferson and Washington before us, we seek to pay appropriate homage — yet sharp differences of opinion can arise.

In the past two centuries, our city has named a bridge, a park, a stadium and an Institute in Franklin’s honor.

While these are fitting tributes, they are a bit parochial in nature. They do not adequately serve to remind the world of Franklin’s amazing contributions to it — contributions that are still relevant in the 21st century.

Franklin’s adopted hometown has strived, for decades, to redefine its sagging image — an image epitomized by the late W.C. Fields’ sardonic quote, “all things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.”  Fields, a native Philadelphian, thought the city not a great place to visit. To some extent, that reputation still lingers.

As acclaimed historian, Carl Van Doren wrote in his biography, Benjamin Franklin, “No other town, burying its great man, ever buried more of itself than Philadelphia with Franklin.”

And that was one of the greatest mistakes the city has ever made — burying the spirit of Franklin.

As Philadelphia struggles to become a leading international tourist destination — an endeavor being aided and abetted by a visit from His Holiness, Pope Francis — The Independence Hall Foundation proposes that the city resurrect itself and the spirit of Benjamin Franklin by renaming Philadelphia International Airport as the Ben Franklin International Airport.

You may think, “What good can come from a name change?”

Renaming the airport would hopefully remind its millions of annual visitors, many of whom use the airport to connect with other flights (and not to visit the city), of Philadelphia’s illustrious past as the Revolutionary Capitol of the United States and as a leading city of enlightenment, as practiced by Franklin, a man of humor and knowledge who discovered electricity by flying a kite.

Many throughout the world are familiar with Franklin’s legacy — and those who are not might quickly Google it upon hearing the name Ben Franklin International Airport.

They will not only learn how Franklin impacted today’s world by discovering electricity — they may come to appreciate his enlightened ideas of representative constitutional democracy, respect for all religions, promotion of useful knowledge, and a freedom marked by liberty and virtue.

Resurrecting Franklin by renaming the Philadelphia International Airport after him would be a fitting tribute to a man who died 225 years ago this April 17th, and who continues to inspire his city.

For more information on the campaign to rename Philadelphia International Airport for Ben Franklin, visit: Adams is co-founder of the Independence Hall Foundation and author of the screenplay Kingbird and Franklin. Michael Johns is an American conservative commentator, policy analyst, and a former speechwriter for George H. W. Bush.