Benjamin Franklin Biography: Facts about an Extraordinary Life of an American Patriot
Credit: Opensource

Who is Benjamin Franklin?

The image that most people have is somewhat of a caricature.  His image on the $100 bill is responsible for the slang term “Benjamins”, as well as referring to the creation of wealth itself. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of pictures of Benjamin Franklin.

But there was much more to this man than a slang term or a cartoonish image of a bald man flying a kite in a storm. It is fair to say that he accomplished more in his life than any other American, especially given the era in which he lived when life was much simpler and technology virtually non-existent.

Born in Boston in 1706, Franklin had no formal education and only spent two years in any kind of school as a child. He never attended any college and taught himself everything he knew  including the ability to read four other languages besides English: French, Spanish, Latin, and Italian.

Franklin is best known for his work with the Continental Congress and all of the founding documents of the United States of America. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and the U.S Constitution, and negotiated the Treaty of Paris 1783, which officially ended of the Revolutionary War.

If you polled most Americans, a surprising number would say he was President of the United States at one time. However, Franklin was never a real politician although he was appointed to the Governorship of Pennsylvania when he returned from France as the unofficial first ambassador of the United States.

Franklin was one of the greatest inventors and statesmen the country has ever known. In terms of the sheer number of practical inventions, he is only surpassed by the great inventors such as Edison and Tesla.

Here are a few facts about Benjamin Franklin to give you a better appreciation of the man.

Benjamin Franklin Childhood

Franklin always had an interest in writing and when he began working at his brother’s print shop, he wrote a series of articles at the age of 14. When his brother refused to publish his work, he started using  pseudonyms for his writing such as "Mrs. Silence Dogood" and "Polly Baker".  He was finally able to get himself published in her brother’s newspaper The New England Courant at age 16, with a controversial series of letters entitled “Silence Dogood”. His brother was furious.

By the age of 22, Franklin had his own paper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. His printingBenjamin Franklin Biography: Facts about an Extraordinary Life of an American PatriotCredit: Opensource company was responsible for printing the paper money that was used by the colonies of Pennsylvania and Delaware.[1]

While still in his 20s, Franklin was made Postmaster of Philadelphia, which helped him circulate his own newspaper and writings.

Franklin amassed real estate holdings and various businesses during the first half of his life that were so successful, he retired at age 42 a wealthy man at the time. He devoted the rest of his life to being an inventor, scientists and statesmen.

Benjamin Franklin Inventions

What did Benjamin Franklin invent? Perhaps a better question would be what did he not invent. After his retirement in his early 40s, he was very active in his personal pursuits.

Franklin invented something called the “busybody” in Philadelphia that can still be seen today on the sides of many buildings in the city. The idea was to see who was at your door without looking through your window and exposing yourself to an unwanted guest.

The design was simple. Three small mirrors are arranged at right angles on an iron frame and attached on the outside of an upstairs window.[1] This allowed the homeowner to look out of the upstairs window at the mirrors and see who was knocking.

Franklin invented a type of writing chair which was simply a chair with an attached arm on one side with a surface to write on. This type of device is still used today in many learning centers.

Perhaps the first remote control system for anything, Franklin invented a system of pulleys that allowed him to lock and unlock his bedroom door without getting out of bed.

He also improved the design of street lamps at the time which tended to look hazy through the glass blocking a lot of the light. He fitted four panes of glass with an open top and bottom to allow more air to circulate through the lamp.[4]Benjamin Franklin Biography: Facts about an Extraordinary Life of an American PatriotCredit: Opensource

He developed the first known set of Bifocal glasses. It is said that he got the idea because when we was having dinner with guests at the table, he couldn’t make out the food on his plate and recognize the faces of the people at the table at the same time.[4]  

Franklin was a musician who taught himself the violin, harp, and guitar and even became a composer, his most famous musical creation being a string quartet called "Simplicity".

He also created the first original musical instrument in America, something called the glass harmonica, not to be confused with the regular harmonica at the time. This device was a large standing glass device.

Finally, he fitted a regular chair with curved pieces of wood to make the first rocking chair.

Five Amazing Inventions by Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin Education

At age 21, Franklin and a philosophical association he was a member of agreed to form a lending library, the first one of its kind in the colonies.[3]  They recognized that their combined purchasing power would led to greater knowledge among the members if they could read each other’s purchases rather than having to go out and buy the books themselves. The lending library originally included 50 subscribers.

Did Benjamin Franklin go to college?

No, but in 1751 he founded a school that was designed to focus on English composition and grammar. During its first year, 100 students enrolled. In 1755 it was chartered as a college and in 1791 officially became the University of Pennsylvania.[1]

Franklin proposed that the English alphabet be tweaked. His idea was to eliminate the letters C, J, Q, W, X and Y because they were redundant in his view. It never caught on though.[1]

Throughout his life, he earned honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, Oxford University in England, and the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.[4]

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Benjamin Franklin Civic Leader

In 1726, Franklin organized the first volunteer fire department called The Union Fire Company.[3] In addition, he wrote and published articles with fire safety tips. At the time, fire was the number one cause of destruction and death in homes and buildings.  He stressed that an "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Some of his practical advice included telling people to carry hot coals from one floor to the next in a closed warming pan so as not to drop embers that would spark up later in the dry wood of the home.

In 1762, Franklin mapped the entire colonial postal routes through the 13 original colonies.

Franklin the Electrician

Franklin's scientific pursuits included investigations into electricity and mathematics. If he had done nothing else in his life, Franklin would be remembered as the first electrician in Benjamin Franklin Biography: Facts about an Extraordinary Life of an American PatriotCredit: OpensourceAmerica.

Franklin invented the first practical application of what he called a “battery” because it looked like a cannon battery.

During his research, he had to create new terminology as he went along in his experiments with electricity.  As many as 25 current electrical terms still in use today can be traced back to Franklin. Examples include brush, charged, conductor, plus and minus and positive and negative charges.[3]

He conducted the famous kite-and-key experiment in 1752 after some of his findings and observations on electricity were published in England in 1753.

Concerned about the lightning damage being done to many buildings at the time which usually resulted in fires that spread to other buildings, he used his knowledge of electricity to create the lighting rod to redirect lighting from the tops of buildings down into the ground through a wire.

It is likely if not for sheer luck, we would have never known the greatness of Ben Franklin is his later years. As he experimented with electricity, it was all trial and error and he was nearly killed by his early experiments.  He was knocked cold twice and was only saved by managing to take the entire charge through his hands and arms.  

Franklin’s "single fluid theory" led to the electron theory in 1900 which stated that electrons move about conductors much as a fluid might move. At the time, Nobel Prize winner Robert A. Millikan called Franklin's early experiments with glass tubes "probably the most fundamental thing ever done in the field of electricity".[3]

Franklin the Statesmen and Diplomat

Benjamin Franklin Biography: Facts about an Extraordinary Life of an American Patriot
Credit: Opensource

Franklin was named as a foreign diplomat for the Pennsylvania Assembly in England, and later for the Massachusetts, Georgia and New Jersey.[1]

By the 1760’s, he was actively involved in independence movement for the colonies.

He is considered the first US Ambassador to France even before the nation was officially a country. There he lobbied intensely for French intervention in the war and secured funding, soldiers for hire and eventually, intervention by the French navy.

His adeptness at diplomacy is credited for leading to the peace treaty with England in 1783 and other foreign alliances and trade treaties.

Benjamin Franklin in France

Franklin the Business Man

Franklin began publishing a yearly almanac under the pseudonym “Poor Richard” in 1732.[2] It was a bestselling pamphlet in the colonies for almost 30 years during Franklin’s life.  It consisted of news stories in a serial format so that the reader would want to see what happened in the next edition, as well as practical advice on seasonal weather forecasts, practical household hints and puzzles.

He also invented a fireplace called the Pennsylvania Fireplace that was first marketed in 1742, but Franklin himself refused any personal profits for it. The heating stove was more efficient at distributing heat throughout the home, however it never caught on because of its complex design.

In 1751, Franklin organized the first insurance company in the colonies called the Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss By Fire.[3]

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Final Thoughts

Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By then he was in bad health and virtually incapacitated.

His legacy is one that is hard to match, especially given the era he lived when life was simpler, but much harder. In a time when it took months to travel overseas or weeks to go from one city to another by horse, Franklin made the most of his 84 years traveling multiple times across the Atlantic to England and France and all over the new colonies.

He is directly responsible for founding universities, libraries and the U.S. Postal System. He was extremely instrumental in shaping the early foreign policy of the new nation as well as helping draft the Declaration of Independence, which is all the more remarkable given that he never finished school or had any formal education.

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