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 lived?