In 1906, the United States Congress authorized a commemorative medal to mark the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin. The first medal was presented "under the direction of the President of the United States" to the Republic of France. In recognition of its founder, subsequent medals were given to the American Philosophical Society for its use.
From 1937 to 1983 the medal was given for especially noteworthy contributions to the APS.
From 1985 to 1991 the medal was the Society's highest award for the humanities and sciences.
In 1987, the Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Public Service was established to honor exceptional contributions to the general welfare. In 1993, when the Thomas Jefferson Medal was authorized by Congress, the Benjamin Franklin Medal was designated for recognition of distinguished achievement in the sciences. The medal is the Society's highest award for distinguished public service and the sciences.