By: Eric B Deponceau
When one takes a look at the world in which he currently lives, he sees it
as being normal since it is so slow in changing. When an historian looks at
the present, he sees the effects of many events and many profound people.
Benjamin Franklin is one of these people. His participation in so many
different fields changed the world immensely. He was a noted politician as
well as respected scholar. He was an important inventor and scientist.
Particularly interesting is his impact on the scientific world.Order now
Benjamin Franklin was a modest man who had had many jobs in his lifetime.
This may help explain his large array of inventions and new methods of
working various jobs. He did everything from making cabbage growing more
efficient to making political decisions to being the first person to study
and chart the Gulf Stream movement in the Atlantic Ocean.
Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706. He was the
fifteenth child in a family of seventeen kids. His parents, Josiah and
Abiah Franklin, were hard working devout Puritan/Calvinist people. Josiah
Franklin made candles for a living. Since the Franklins were so poor,
little Benjamin couldn’t afford to go to school for longer than two years.
In those two years, however, Franklin learned to read which opened the door
to further education for him. Since he was only a fair writer and had very
poor mathematical skills, he worked to tutor himself at home.
Benjamin Franklin was a determined young man. As a boy, he taught himself
to be a very good writer. He also learned basic algebra and geometry,
navigation, grammar, logic, and natural and physical science. He partially
mastered French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Latin. He was soon to be
named the best-educated man in the country. When he was 12-years-old, he
was apprentice to his brother in printing. Benjamin’s brother founded the
second newspaper in America. Many people told him that one newspaper was
enough for America and that the paper would soon collapse. On the contrary,
it became very popular. Occasionally, young Benjamin would write an article
to be printed and slip it under the printing room’s door signed as
“Anonymous”. The following is a direct quote from Franklin’s Autobiography.
It describes his writing the articles as a boy.
“He (Benjamin’s older brother) had some ingenious men among his friends,
who amused themselves by writing little pieces for this paper, which gained
it credit and made it more in demand, and these gentlemen often visited us.
Hearing their conversations, and their accounts of the approbation their
papers were received with, I was excited to try my hand among them; but,
being still a boy, and suspecting that my brother would object to printing
anything of mine in his paper if he knew it to be mine, I contrived to
disguise my hand, and, writing an anonymous paper, I put it in at night
under the door of the printing-house. It was found in the morning, and
communicated to his writing friends when they called in as usual. They read
it, commented on it in my hearing, and I had the exquisite pleasure of
finding it met with their approbation, and that, in their different guesses
at the author, none were named but men of some character among us for
learning and ingenuity. I suppose now that I was rather lucky in my judges,
and that perhaps they were not really so very good ones as I then esteemed
Benjamin liked the printer’s job but couldn’t stand being told what to do
all of the time. He desperately felt the need to be his own boss. That day
In 1730, Franklin married Deborah Read, who was the daughter of the first
Philadelphia landlady. Read was not nearly as well educated as her husband.
In old letters that she had written to him, there are many misspellings and
improper punctuation marks. They were a very happy couple despite their
differences. They eventually had two boys and one girl. One of the boys,
William, became governor of New Jersey.
When Franklin was 21-years-old, he began his career as a civic leader by
organizing a club of aspiring tradesmen called the Junto, which met each
week for discussion and planning. They hoped to build their own businesses,
insure the growth of Philadelphia, and improve the quality of its life.
Franklin led the University of Junto in founding a library in 1731, the
first ever-American fire company in 1736, a learned society in 1743, a
college (the University of Pennsylvania) in 1749, and an insurance company
and a hospital in 1751. The group also worked to pave, clean, and light the
streets and to make them safe by organizing an effective night watch. They
even formed a voluntary militia. Franklin’s leadership skills helped
himself and others throughout much of his life.
In 1740, Franklin stumbled onto a new career: inventing. That year he
altered his heating stove by arranging the flues so that the stove would
heat the room twice as well while using only one-fourth the fuel. The stove
was first called the Pennsylvania fireplace but later named the Franklin
stove out of respect for the inventor. The Franklin stove heated the homes
and businesses all over Europe and North America.
Around the time Franklin invented his stove, he began to read about new
discoveries involving electricity. He started to experiment with it with
help from his friends in Philadelphia. He claimed that experiments carried
out in France in 1752 showed that lightning was actually a form of
electricity. Determined to further establish his belief that lightning was
electricity, he performed his famous kite experiment. He flew a kite with a
metal needle attached to the tip on a very fine metal wire. He had a key
attached to the wire and hypothesized that the key would spark while
absorbing the electricity. The experiment was a success.
A direct effect of Franklin’s work with lightning as electricity was his
invention of the lightning rod. The first lightning rod he made he attached
to the top of his own house. Soon after, it was hit by lightning, saving
his house from damage. He said of the lightning rod, “An ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure.” News spread about the invention by
way of the Royal Society’s publications. Soon, buildings as well as ships
all over the world were equipped with lightning rods. The invention made
Franklin world famous. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1756. It was
a rarity for a colonist to be elected to this London based elite society.
In dealing with electricity, Franklin worked with great personal risk.
Once, while attempting to kill a turkey with electricity, he accidentally
knocked himself unconscious. Of the event he said, “I meant to kill a
turkey, and instead, I nearly killed a goose.”
The Franklin stove and the lightning rod were by far not the only things
Franklin invented. He had poor vision and needed glasses to read. He got
tired of constantly taking them off and putting them back on, so he decided
to figure out a way to make his glasses let him see both near and far. He
had two pairs of spectacles cut in half and put half of each lens in a
single frame. Today, we call them bifocals.
Although Benjamin Franklin had invented many things in his lifetime, he
refused to patent any one of them. His philosophy was that it is better to
help everyone than it is to help one’s self. His experiments and inventions
were meant only to be used for the convenience of other people, not to make
himself any money or fame.
Other than inventing things to better people’s lives, Franklin created new
techniques to aid people in doing all sorts of things. In the early 1760’s,
Franklin took the title of Postmaster in Philadelphia. He decided to better
organize the mail route. He invented a simple odometer and attached it to
his carriage. With it, he measured the route and calculated a more
efficient course by which to deliver the mail. This shortened the time
required to get mail by days in some cases. Franklin also showed Americans
how to improve acidic soil by treating it with lime before planting. This
made much more land cultivable. He discovered that when oil is poured into
rough seas, the water is calmed and more easily navigable. (Not that that
would be a common practice today.) Franklin discovered that diseases
flourished in poorly vented places. This lead to sterile hospital rooms
hence better health care.
Franklin had very logical opinions on everything he dealt with. During
Franklin’s life, many people complained about daylight saving time. It was
an inconvenience for them to set their clocks back and ahead annually.
Franklin liked the concept. He is quoted as saying, “It is silly and
wasteful that people should live much by candle-light and sleep by
sunshine.” In Paris while observing the first successful hot air balloon
flight, Franklin observed many skeptic people asking, “What good is it?” He
replied, “What good is a newborn baby?” He could see potential in all new
Benjamin Franklin was a mild-mannered widely loved “jack-of-all-trades”.
His name and reputation will live on forever not only in history books but
also in the hundreds of inventions, discoveries, improvements, and methods
he had devised during his eighty-four year stay in the fields of politics,
science, and humanity. What would the world be today had Benjamin Franklin
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