History of the Institute's Walk-Through Heart

The Franklin Institute's Giant Walk-Through Heart was originally built in 1953 as a temporary exhibit, called The Engine of Life, at a cost of $40,000. The idea for the future Philadelphia icon was conceived by Dr. Mildred Pfeiffer, a major figure in public health in Pennsylvania after World War II, and was designed by illustrator Richard Albany and engineer Albert Jehle. The exhibit opened to the public on January 29,1954.

Originally scheduled to remain open for only six months, the Heart was constructed of temporary materials including four tons of plaster and paper mache. However, due to its immense popularity, the Heart remained opened, undergoing various surgeries and name changes in the 1970's, 1980's and 1990's.

In April 2004, the Heart and surrounding exhibit (Bioscience and the Heart) were closed for six months of extensive renovations. On October 1, 2004, the Institute re-opened the Heart as part of the Museum's newest exhibit, The Giant Heart: A Healthy Interactive Experience.

The Giant Heart - Through the Years

Giant Heart Giant Heart Giant Heart

Giant Heart Fast Facts

  • The original name of the Heart exhibit was "The Engine of Life."

  • Originally built in 1953, the Heart opened to the public on January 29, 1954.

  • The idea for a walk-through heart was conceived by Dr. Mildred Pfeiffer, a major figure in public health in Pennsylvania after World War II.

  • Four tons of plaster and paper mache over metal lathe were used in the Heart's construction.

  • The Heart's size makes it ideal for a 220 foot tall person.

  • The Heart's initial sponsors were The Heart Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Division of Adult Cardiovascular Diseases of the Department of Health of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Charles Bailey, M.D. and colleagues at the Bailey Thoracic Clinic.

  • The latest renovations to the Heart include new paint, repairs, and updated audio and lighting systems.


  • The Giant Heart exhibit is comprised of four thematic zones: blood, heart anatomy and physiology, health and wellness, and diagnostics and treatment.

  • For guests who are unable to walk through the Heart, a 3D monitor is available that recreates the experience virtually.

  • The latest advances used in the treatment of the human heart will be on display, including an Abiomed artificial heart.