Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) American
Patriot, printer, inventor
“B. Franklin, Printer’ as he still described himself after he had become an international figure, was an extraordinary combination of shrewdness, wit, curiosity, earthiness, formidable talents and ingenuity; -in brief a genius.
Youngest son of a poor tallow chandler, who could give him only two to three years of schooling, but he encouraged him to study on his own, a habit which was to remain with him all his life. At 17 he set out to make a living. Seven years later he owned his own printshop, a stationery store and a newspaper in Philadelphia where he had settled down by then. At 26 he began his highly profitable annual publication of ‘Poor Richard’s Almanack’. His printing press was so lucrative that he retired from it at forty-two. His career is a classic American success story.
His interest in improving the community of Philadelphia led him to help establish a city hospital, police force and fire brigade. His pursuit of knowledge for its own sake inspired him to found America’s first circulating library, the American Philosophical Society (1743) and an Academy for Youth (1753) that was to become the University of Pennsylvania.
As a man of leisure and ideas he found himself more and more drawn into politics. He became a member of the Penn. Legislature, the Committee of Five charged with drafting the Declaration of Independence.
His statement in the hearings before British Parliament of the case of the Colonies against the hated Stamp Act was masterly and helped bring about the Repeal of this Act. Merely by being himself he dignified and glorified his country, which he represented abroad in one way or other for a total of 25 years. During the Revolution he was United States’ Ambassador to France, where his unpretentious democratic bearing made him the idol of the French people.
Public office sought him. He served at the Albany Congress of 1754, where his plan to unite the colonies was adopted in preference to others. Curiously enough it was he who popularised swimming in England.
Science, however, was this versatile man’s abiding interest. He invented the so called Franklin’s stove, and an ingenious musical instrument called an armonica for which Mozart and Beethoven composed. He studied the Gulf Stream, the effects of cooling by evaporation, the character of a whirlwind, and the common cold. Most famous is his contribution to the field of electicity.
He was 40 when he discovered electricity which made him the first American Scientist to win universal aclaim.