The Life of Benjamin Franklin


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 wise 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 the impact on the scientific world. 
 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 Franklin's 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 amus'd themselves by writing little pieces for this 
paper, which gain'd 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 call'd 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 n!
ow that I was rather lucky in my judges, and that perhaps they were 
not really so very good ones as I then esteem'd them." 
 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 would come. In 1730, Franklin married Deborah Read, 
who was the daughter of the first Philadelphia landlady. Read was not 
nearly so 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. 
(The fame part was apparently inevitable.)
 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 things. 
 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 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 not 


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