Benjamin Franklin, also called Ben Franklin, is considered one of the most influential founding fathers of the United States.
He was a whole package, from being a leading writer, printer, political philosopher, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and a diplomat.
His theories and discoveries contributes greatly to the history of physics. Benjamin Franklin was a major figure in the enlightenment of America.
He is also remembered throughout history for his inventions which include; the lighting rod, bifocals and the Franklin stove.
Benjamin Franklin was on the forefront in the foundation of many civic organizations including the Library Company, Philadelphia’s first fire department, and the University of Pennsylvania.
In the political field, Benjamin Franklin earned his title as ‘The First American’. He was the first United States ambassador to France.
Benjamin Franklin led in the definition of the American ethos as a marriage of the practical values of thrift, hard work, education, community spirit, self-governing institutions and opposition to both political and religious authoritarianism.
Benjamin Franklin is considered the most accomplished American of his age and is the most influential in inventing the type of society America would have become.
- Name: Benjamin Franklin
- Also Known As: Ben Franklin, The First American
- Profession: Writer, Printer, Political Philosopher, Politician, Postmaster, Scientist, Inventor, Civic Activist, Statesman and Diplomat
- Famous As: The Founding Father of the United States, The First Postmaster General of the United States
- Born On: 17 January 1706
- Place of Birth: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
- Died On: 17 April 1790
- Parents: Josiah Franklin (father), Abiah Folger (mother)
- Spouse: Deborah Read
- Children: William Franklin (illegitimate son), Francis Folger Franklin (son) and Sarah Franklin Bache (daughter)
Early Life and Childhood
Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the 10th son of a soap maker, Josiah Franklin and his mother Abiah Folger.
His father, Mr Franklin had wanted his son to enter into the clergy, however, Josiah could not afford to send his son to school for one year which was the recommended period of study for clergymen.
Franklin learned to read at an early age and despite his success at the Boston Latin School, he dropped out of his formal schooling at 10.
Benjamin Franklin then began a full time work in his cash-strapped father’s candle and soap shop. Later on, he apprenticed to his brother James who was a printer.
During this period, Benjamin taught himself how to read and write effectively. He learned poetry, and ‘The spectator’ which was a famous periodical essay that featured Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele was very helpful.
Young Benjamin would read the paper over and over, copied and recopied them and then tried to recall them from his memory. He would then turn them into poetry and then back into prose.
Franklin realized that writing was such a rare talent in the 18th century that anyone who knew how to do it could attract so much attention.
During his time working with his brother James, he would sell pamphlets along the streets. When Benjamin was 15, his brother started ‘The New-England Courant’ which was the first newspaper in Boston.
James’s newspaper carried articles, opinions advertisement, and the news of ship schedule. Benjamin Franklin so much wanted to write for the newspaper, but his elder brother James would not let him.
Benjamin Franklin started writing letters at night and signing them with the name of a fictional widow Silence Dogood.
Dogood was filled with advice and very critical of the world around her. Dogood particularly focused on how women were treated and oppressed.
After doing all the writing, Benjamin would then sneak the letters under the print shop door at night so no one knew who was writing the pieces.
After writing 14 letters, Benjamin confessed that he was the man behind the mask who had been writing the letters all along. His brother unhappy about the attention Benjamin had received, he became very jealous and scolded his brother.
Before long the Franklins found themselves in trouble with Boston’s most powerful family. James was against inoculation which was used to prevent the spread of smallpox.
Although people agreed with James, they were not happy at how he made fun of the clergy. James was later thrown in jail for his viewing leaving his younger brother to run the printing shop.
Upon release from jail, James was not grateful to his brother for keeping the paper business going. Instead, he kept harassing his younger brother administering beating from time to time. Benjamin could not take it anymore, and so he decided to run away in 1723.
In early America, running away was illegal. Benjamin Franklin took a boat to New York where he hoped to find a job as a printer. When things did not turn out as he had hoped, he walked across New Jersey and finally arrived in Philadelphia.
Finally, Benjamin Franklin found a job as a printer. He worked so hard and perfect that the governor of Pennsylvania promised to help him set up a business of his own, if only he agreed to get to London to buy fonts and printing equipment.
Young Benjamin did go to London, but the governor bailed out on his promise. This forced Benjamin to spend several months in England doing printing jobs.
The Diligent Young Businessman
Benjamin Franklin started his own printing business, and he was so hardworking that he attracted the attention of the people in Philadelphia. Soon he began getting contracts to do government jobs and started growing in his business.
Before leaving London, Benjamin Franklin had been living with the Read’s family. Deborah Read talked about marriage with the young printer Benjamin, but young Benjamin got cold feet, and so Deborah got married to another man. However, in 1730 destiny brought the two lovebirds together after Deborah’s husband had run off and Benjamin married Deborah.
The couple had their own enterprise as in addition to the printing shop, Benjamin Franklin had a store where Deborah would sell everything from soap to fabric.
Benjamin earlier had fathered a son William who the couple took care of. The couple had two children of their own. Sadly, their first son Francis died at the age of 4 leaving Sarah who was born in 1743.
After returning to Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin did various jobs including bookkeeping, shopkeeper and currency cutter.
In 1728, he returned into printing paper currency before finally opening a print shop in Philadelphia that published government pamphlets and books.
‘The Junto’ was a self-improvement study group formed by Benjamin Franklin for young men. The men met every Friday to discuss morality, philosophy and politics. The expansion of the junto group gave rise to the Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731.
Benjamin Franklin published several pamphlets that brought him money. The money was later used to purchase the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper. Under his ownership, the newspaper was transformed into the most widely read in the colonies.
Fire Company and Freemasons
Benjamin Franklin was very influential and he brought together volunteers that formed the union fire company to counteract dangerous fire hazards in Philadelphia. He later joined the Freemasons in 1731 and was eventually elected the grandmaster of the Masons of Pennsylvania.
In 1734, he edited and published the first Masonic book in the America. Benjamin Franklin remained a member of freemason for the rest of his life.
The Gazette gave franklin a forum for agitation about a variety of local reforms and initiatives through printed essays and observations.
Like many publishers, Benjamin Franklin build a book shop in his printing office and he would take the opportunity to read new books before selling them.
Being an Author
In 1733, Benjamin Franklin began to publish the noted ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack’. His content both original and some borrowed, he liked to use the Pseudonym Richard Saunders. Benjamin used the book to equip his readers with wisdom and knowledge.
“We should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”
Hidden Fact: Benjamin Franklin never patented his inventions.
His exploration began in 1746. Benjamin Franklin proposed that vitreous and resinous electricity were not different types of electric fluids. He became the first to label them Positive and negative, and was the first to discover the principle of conservation of charge.
In recognition to his work, he received the Royal Society’s Copley Medal. The unit for electric charge had been named after him ‘one franklin (Fr) is equal to one statcoulomb’. Franklin also received honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale.
Benjamin Franklin published a proposal proving that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm. Benjamin Franklin was clever to perform the experiment while standing on an insulator, keeping dry under a roof to avoid the dangers of electric shock.
Benjamin’s experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod. He said that conductors with a sharp rather than a smooth point could discharge silently and at a far greater distance.
Following a series of experiments on his own house, lightning rods were installed on the Academy of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania State House.
The kite experiment made Benjamin very famous and was also noted by many for using his kites to pull humans and ships across waterways.
In the 1740s, Benjamin Franklin started studying population growth and its causes. Benjamin was also helpful in the study of ocean and currents.
He published his Gulf Stream chart in 1770 in England where it was completely ignored. It took several years before the British sea captains adopted Franklin’s advice on navigating the currents.
Wave Theory of Light
Benjamin Franklin was among the people who supported the wave theory of light proposed by Christiaan Huygens. The wave theory was completely ignored by the rest of the scientific community.
In 1743, Benjamin Franklin’s effort to witness the lunar eclipse were denied after strong winds from the north east contrary to what he had expected.
The storm did not reach Boston which was in the Northeast until after the eclipse. He then concluded that storms do not always travel in the direction of prevailing wind, a concept that greatly influenced meteorology.
Cooling by Evaporation
Benjamin Franklin was able to note a concept of refrigeration. He observed that on a very hot day, he stayed cooler in a wet shirt in a breeze than he did in a dry one.
This concept was experimented in England by continually wetting the ball of a mercury thermometer with ether and using bellows to evaporate the ether. The thermometer read a lower temperatures after each subsequent evaporation. He later noted that there is a possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer day.
Benjamin Franklin made many scientific discoveries, and in 1743, he founded the American Philosophical Society (APS) to help scientific men discuss their discoveries and theories.
In 1748, Franklin was actively involved in politics and was selected as a councilman, and in June 1749, he became a justice of peace for Philadelphia.
Benjamin Franklin was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly on 10, august 1753. He later on rose to become the deputy postmaster general of the British North America.
Benjamin Franklin was the leading Spokesman for the American interest in England. In his work as a diplomat, he defended the American cause.
In 1754, Benjamin Franklin opened the first post office to offer regular, monthly mail. He saw the mail service expand while in England.
In 1775, the second continental congress established the United States Post Office and named Benjamin Franklin as a postmaster general.
Ambassador to France
In 1776 December, Benjamin Franklin moved to France as the commissioner for the United States. Benjamin remained in France until late 1785.
During his tenure, he conducted the affairs of his country towards the French nation with great success which included securing a critical military alliance in 1778 and negotiating the Treaty of Paris.
Illness and Death
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the home of his daughter. He died at the age of 84 after suffering from gout, he died from pleuritic attack. With his last words being ‘a dying man can do nothing easy’.
Benjamin Franklin left a legacy. He is considered one of the leading founding fathers of the United States. His likeness is ubiquitous and has adorned American $100 bills since 1928.
His portrait was also on the half dollar which was sometimes referred to in slang as ‘Benjamins’ or ‘Franklins’. Benjamin Franklin also appeared on the US postage stamps.
Lesser-Known Facts about Benjamin Franklin
- He was an expert swimmer who swam with the fish.
- He printed Benjamins, before they were Benjamins.
- He was terrified of debt and viewed it as slavery.
- He had several pseudonyms including Richard Saunders, Silence Dogood, Busy Body just to mention a few.
- He travelled a lot crossing the Atlantic Ocean eight times.
Famous Quotes by Benjamin Franklin
“A right heart exceeds all.”
“A true Friend is the best Possession.”
“Wish not so much to live long as to live well.”
“Look before, or you’ll find yourself behind.”
“There never was a good war or a bad peace.”
“Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.”
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
“It is better to take many Injuries than to give one.”
“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
“If you desire many things, many things will seem but a few.”
“Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.”
“Don’t throw stones at your neighbors, if your own windows are glass.”
“If you would keep your Secret from an enemy, tell it not to a friend.”
“We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
“He that would live in peace and at ease, must not speak all he knows, nor judge all he sees.”
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
“Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
“They who can give up essential Liberty to obtain a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
“I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it.”
“If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.”
“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”