Benjamin Franklin


Michael Benton, Contributor

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benjamin franklinBenjamin Franklin had already made great contributions to American society before he became involved in the movement for Independence. His career as a printer, publisher, scientist, inventor, postmaster, politician and diplomat had made him famous around the world. As a diplomat with years of experience representing the colonies in Europe, his role during and after the conflict was essential in securing an independent and prosperous nation. Born in 1706, he was one of the oldest and most distinguished of the Founding Fathers. Along with John Adams, Franklin was chosen to advise Thomas Jefferson on the drafting of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. This team also journeyed to France together as part of a delegation to secure an alliance with France, Britain's perpetual nemesis. Later, Franklin and Adams would be part of the American delegation during the peace talks that led to the Treaty of Paris, ending the Revolutionary War on favorable terms. Despite all of his success, the humble Franklin still preferred to be known as a printer first and foremost.

Ben Franklin's earliest success involved mutual ownership of a print shop in Philadelphia and the takeover of a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette. The Gazette had been a failure before he bought it but he quickly turned it into a profitable periodical. His most popular publication, however, was the annual "Poor Richard's Almanack" which he wrote in character. The "Almanack" was widely read in the American colonies as well as Europe; it included poetry, satire, and essays as well as the usual meteorological, astronomical, and astrological information found in an almanac. After he published the findings of his famous kite experiment, Franklin became an important figure in contemporary science and was invited to meet the King of France to explain the possible future applications of electricity. As a founding member of a social club known as the Junto, Franklin also established the first subscription library in the world. In 1751, he became a co-founder of the Academy and College of Philadelphia which later merged with another school to become the University of Pennsylvania.

The most interesting part about Benjamin Franklin may have been his quirky list of inventions. At the age of 11, Franklin crafted his first common sense innovation, wooden swimming flippers that fit over his hands and feet allowing him to swim much faster. After his kite experiments and further understanding of the nature of lightning, Franklin invented the lightning rod which protected wooden buildings from catching fire in electrical storms by drawing the current along a metal rod from the roof down to the ground. Franklin's glass 'armonica' instrument became so popular in Europe that Mozart and Beethoven composed music for it. In his later days, Franklin invented useful items to help him continue his self-education including bifocals, a rotating library chair, and a mechanical extension arm to reach books on the highest shelves. He never took out a patent on any invention as he believed that all people receive the benefits of others inventions and should be willing to give back in the same way. Who was Benjamin Franklin? The greatest polymath in American history.