Penn has a proud tradition of translating knowledge into social-minded action that dates back to our founder, Benjamin Franklin. This tradition of active pragmatism, articulated in Franklin’s maxim “well-done is better than well-said,” lives today through the inclusive policies, innovative work, and impactful engagement of our faculty, students, and staff.
Penn dates its founding to 1740, when prominent evangelist George Whitefield had the idea of building a Philadelphia charity school that would double as a house of worship for his followers. After construction was underway, however, the cost was seen to be much greater than the available resources, and the project went unfinished for a decade.
Penn’s 302-acre West Philadelphia campus reflects its rich heritage—a heritage closely bound with the birth of the United States—boasting more than 200 buildings and many notable landmarks, including the nation’s first student union and first double-decker college football stadium .
The 165 research centers and institutes on campus also reflect the University’s innovative, civic-minded and pragmatic creator: More than 250 years after Ben Franklin broke new ground in founding Penn, its faculty, students, and alumni continue to make breakthroughs in research, scholarship, and education. Its many subsequent “firsts,” include the world’s first collegiate business school (Wharton, 1881), the world’s first electronic, large-scale, general-purpose digital computer (ENIAC, 1946), and the first woman president of an Ivy League institution (Judith Rodin, inaugurated in 1994) as well as the first female Ivy League president to succeed another female (Amy Gutmann, inaugurated in 2004).
From campus walkways engraved with Franklin’s words of wisdom to the University’s most important strategic initiatives such as Penn Compact 2020 and the President’s Engagement Prizes, Penn continues to educate and inspire future leaders to move our now-global society forward.