A small piece of the original Fels Planetarium played a big role on the final mission of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program. CLICK HERE for the story. CLICK HERE for an image of the star-shaped piece of the original dome.

Fels Planetarium Theater Information

In 1933, Samuel S. Fels contributed funds so that the new Franklin Institute could have a planetarium, only the second in the United States. The Planetarium's popularity continues today; it has provided an experience for more than 9 million visitors and school children.

The Planetarium's new design optimizes the viewing experience. The 2002 renovations included replacement of the original 40,000 pound-plus, perforated stainless steel dome, built in 1933. The new premium seamless dome is lighter and is 60-feet in diameter. Manufactured by Spitz Inc. of Chadds Ford, PA, the dome is the first of its kind in the United States.

Enhancements include a state-of-the-art aluminum dome that envelopes the audience and provides the ultimate screen for cosmic projections, upgraded video projection and super-fidelity systems, theater controls, lighting system, carpeting and theater seating, and ADA accessibility. The planetarium is also outfitted for visitors who are hearing impaired.

The Fels' Planetarium is the nation's second oldest planetarium.  Although it is a historic cornerstone to The Franklin Institute, the planetarium has come a long way from the "Giant Ant" (Zeiss Optical) projector some of you may remember from when you were kids.  Now, this state-of-the-art digital projection planetarium offers the same traditional Sky Tonight presentations along with cutting edge astronomical presentations. The awe inspiring dome measures 60 feet across and 4 stories tall, which coupled with surround sound, makes the planetarium experience one you will not soon forget.

Early History of the Fels Planetarium

The Fels Planetarium opened on November 6, 1933, about two months before the opening of The Franklin Institute Science Museum as "The Wonderland of Science." Philadelphia philanthropist Samuel S. Fels, also President of the soap firm, Fels & Co., funded the construction of the Institute's new planetarium. (Fels & Co. were the makers of Fels-Naptha Soap.) In the early 1930's, Samuel S. Fels took the advice of Max Adler, Vice President of Sears, Roebuck & Company, and decided that one of his civic charities would be to create the nation's second oldest planetarium—the Fels Planetarium. As one of Chicago's major philanthropists in the early 20th century, Adler provided the funds and leadership for creating the first planetarium in the Western hemisphere—the Adler Planetarium—which opened in 1930.

When the Fels Planetarium first opened its doors to the public, it contained a Mark II Zeiss projector. The Zeiss projector enabled the operator to project onto the Fels' hemispheric ceiling the earth's galaxy—its stars, sun, moon and planets—as they appeared in the night's sky from any place on earth at any time. During its formative years, the Fels Planetarium fell under the creative leadership of the versatile James Stokley. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Stokley developed a strong orientation to the popularization of science, as a newspaper photographer and then as a reporter who covered the meetings of scientific societies in the 1920's. In 1927, he visited the planetaria in Berlin and Jena, Germany. This early encounter with imaging the night's sky in a theater setting convinced him that his career rested in being a director of a planetarium. In 1929, the Institute selected him as the head of their proposed Fels Planetarium. He started working on this new project on January 1, 1931. By 1936, he was the only person in America to have lectured at all four existing American planetaria—the Adler in Chicago, the Fels in Philadelphia, the Griffith in Los Angeles, and the Hayden in New York City. As the first Director of the Institute's Fels Planetarium, he gave more than 900 lectures to audiences of young and old with the remarkable Mark II Zeiss projector. As a result, he gave many of them their first visual experience of the astronomical features of the night sky.

The Franklin Institute celebrates World Space Week in October with informative lectures from experts, special shows in the three theaters at The Franklin Institute, demonstrations and in-museum activities for the whole family.

Please Note: Group shows will only run for pre-booked, reserved groups.