Benjamin Franklin facts

Benjamin Franklin
6th President of Pennsylvania
In office
October 18, 1785 – November 5, 1788
Vice President Charles Biddle
Thomas Mifflin
Preceded by John Dickinson
Succeeded by Thomas Mifflin
United States Minister to France
In office
September 14, 1778 – May 17, 1785
Serving with Arthur Lee, Silas Deane, and John Adams
Appointed by Continental Congress
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Thomas Jefferson
United States Minister to Sweden
In office
September 28, 1782 – April 3, 1783
Appointed by Congress of the Confederation
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Jonathan Russell
1st United States Postmaster General
In office
July 26, 1775 – November 7, 1776
Appointed by Continental Congress
Preceded by New office
Succeeded by Richard Bache
Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly
In office
May 1764 – October 1764
Preceded by Isaac Norris
Succeeded by Isaac Norris
Member of the Pennsylvania Assembly
In office
1762–1764
In office
1751–1757
Personal details
Born (1706-01-17)January 17, 1706
Boston, Massachusetts Bay
Died April 17, 1790(1790-04-17) (aged 84)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Nationality American
Political party Independent
Spouse(s) Deborah Read
Children William Franklin
Francis Folger Franklin
Sarah Franklin Bache
Profession Scientist
Writer
Politician
Signature

Benjamin Franklin (January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790), known as "the First American," was an American statesman whose efforts were critical to the success of the American Revolution and the unification of the 13 colonies into a new nation. Serving as the American minister to France along with John Adams, he secured decisive military and financial support during the Revolution, while asserting the values of democracy and republicanism. He assisted Thomas Jefferson in writing the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and helped legitimize the U.S. Constitution in 1787. His effective diplomacy, creative nationalism, promotion of civic virtue and devotion to republicanism earned him high rank as a Founding Father.

Franklin was also a world class scientist during The Enlightenment, famed for his discoveries in electricity and his invention of the lightning rod. He was also a noted printer and civic leader in Philadelphia.

Early life and family

Franklin was born in Boston. After two years of school he stayed home as an apprentice in his father's candle-making shop. Two years after starting to work at his father's shop, he went to work at his brother James' printing shop. While working there, Franklin secretly wrote articles for the newspaper and labelled them as being by "Mrs. Silence Dogood". He quarrelled with his brother and ran away to Philadelphia, then to London and then back to Philadelphia.

Franklin loved books and reading. Franklin, at the age of 21, established the colonies' first circulation library for all interested citizens. He became rich and famous as a printer, publisher and writer. Later, he sold his businesses and became busy with science and politics. Franklin's father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow chandler, a soap-maker and a candle-maker. Josiah was born at Ecton, Northamptonshire, England on December 23, 1657, the son of Thomas Franklin, a blacksmith-farmer, and Jane White. His mother, Abiah Folger, was born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, on August 15, 1667, to Peter Folger, a miller and schoolteacher, and his wife, Mary Morrill, a former indentured servant.

Josiah Franklin had seventeen children with his two wives.

Ben Franklin's mother, Abiah Folger, was born into a Puritan family that was among the first Pilgrims to flee to Massachusetts for religious freedom, when King Charles I of England began persecuting Puritans. They sailed for Boston in 1635.

Newspaperman

Franklin the printer
Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on a printing press. Reproduction of a Charles Mills painting by the Detroit Publishing Company.

In 1728, Franklin had set up a printing house in partnership with Hugh Meredith; the following year he became the publisher of a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette.

Franklin saw the printing press as a device to instruct colonial Americans in moral virtue.

Freemason

In 1731, Franklin was initiated into the local Masonic Lodge. He became Grand Master in 1734, indicating his rapid rise to prominence in Pennsylvania. That same year, he edited and published the first Masonic book in the Americas, a reprint of James Anderson's Constitutions of the Free-Masons. Franklin remained a Freemason for the rest of his life.

Success as an author

In 1733, Franklin began to publish the noted Poor Richard's Almanack (with content both original and borrowed) under the pseudonym Richard Saunders, on which much of his popular reputation is based.

In 1758, the year he ceased writing for the Almanack, he printed Father Abraham's Sermon, also known as The Way to Wealth. Franklin's autobiography, begun in 1771 but published after his death, has become one of the classics of the genre.

Daylight saving time (DST) is often erroneously attributed to a 1784 satire that Franklin published anonymously. Modern DST was first proposed by George Vernon Hudson in 1895.

Inventions and scientific inquiries

Franklin was a prodigious inventor. Among his many creations were the lightning rod, glass harmonica (a glass instrument, not to be confused with the metal harmonica), Franklin stove, bifocal glasses and the flexible urinary catheter. Franklin never patented his inventions; in his autobiography he wrote, "... as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously."

Electricity

Benjamin West, English (born America) - Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky - Google Art Project
Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky c. 1816 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Benjamin West
BEP-JONES-Franklin and Electricity
Franklin and Electricity vignette engraved by the BEP (c. 1860).

Franklin started exploring the phenomenon of electricity in 1746.

Kite Experiment and Lightning Rod

In 1750, he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted Franklin's experiment using a 40-foot-tall (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite, and he extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15 Franklin may possibly have conducted his well-known kite experiment in Philadelphia, successfully extracting sparks from a cloud.

Franklin's electrical experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod.

Wave theory of light

Franklin was, along with his contemporary Leonhard Euler, the only major scientist who supported Christiaan Huygens' wave theory of light, which was basically ignored by the rest of the scientific community. In the 18th century Newton's corpuscular theory was held to be true; only after Young's well-known slit experiment in 1803 were most scientists persuaded to believe Huygens' theory.

Meteorology

On October 21, 1743, according to popular myth, a storm moving from the southwest denied Franklin the opportunity of witnessing a lunar eclipse. Franklin was said to have noted that the prevailing winds were actually from the northeast, contrary to what he had expected. In correspondence with his brother, Franklin learned that the same storm had not reached Boston until after the eclipse, despite the fact that Boston is to the northeast of Philadelphia. He deduced that storms do not always travel in the direction of the prevailing wind, a concept that greatly influenced meteorology.

After the Icelandic volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783, and the subsequent harsh European winter of 1784, Franklin made observations connecting the causal nature of these two separate events. He wrote about them in a lecture series.

Traction kiting

Though Benjamin Franklin has been most noted kite-wise with his lightning experiments, he has also been noted by many for his using kites to pull humans and ships across waterways. The George Pocock in the book A TREATISE on The Aeropleustic Art, or Navigation in the Air, by means of Kites, or Buoyant Sails noted being inspired by Benjamin Franklin's traction of his body by kite power across a waterway. In his later years he suggested using the technique for pulling ships.

Concept of cooling

Franklin noted a principle of refrigeration by observing that on a very hot day, he stayed cooler in a wet shirt in a breeze than he did in a dry one. To understand this phenomenon more clearly Franklin conducted experiments. In his letter Cooling by Evaporation, Franklin noted that, "One may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer's day."

Oceanography findings

BenFranklin Waterspout 1806
An illustration from Franklin's paper on "Water-spouts and Whirlwinds"

An aging Franklin accumulated all his oceanographic findings in Maritime Observations, published by the Philosophical Society's transactions in 1786. It contained ideas for sea anchors, catamaran hulls, watertight compartments, shipboard lightning rods and a soup bowl designed to stay stable in stormy weather.

Decision-making

In a 1772 letter to Joseph Priestley, Franklin lays out the earliest known description of the Pro & Con list, a common decision-making technique, now sometimes called a decisional balance sheet

Oil on water

While traveling on a ship, Franklin had observed that the wake of a ship was diminished when the cooks scuttled their greasy water. He studied the effects on a large pond in Clapham Common, London. "I fetched out a cruet of oil and dropt a little of it on the water ... though not more than a teaspoon full, produced an instant calm over a space of several yards square." He later used the trick to "calm the waters" by carrying "a little oil in the hollow joint of my cane".

Musical endeavors

Glassharmonica
Glass harmonica

Franklin is known to have played the violin, the harp, and the guitar. He also composed music, notably a string quartet in early classical style. He developed a much-improved version of the glass harmonica, in which the glasses rotate on a shaft, with the player's fingers held steady, instead of the other way around; this version soon found its way to Europe.

Public life

Early steps in Politics

Benjamin Franklin - Join or Die
Join, or Die: This political cartoon by Franklin urged the colonies to join together during the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War).

Franklin became involved in Philadelphia politics and rapidly progressed. In October 1748, he was selected as a councilman, in June 1749 he became a Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia, and in 1751 he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. On August 10, 1753, Franklin was appointed deputy postmaster-general of British North America, (see below). His most notable service in domestic politics was his reform of the postal system, with mail sent out every week.

PennsylvaniaHospitalWilliamStrickland
Pennsylvania Hospital by William Strickland, 1755

In 1751, Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond obtained a charter from the Pennsylvania legislature to establish a hospital. Pennsylvania Hospital was the first hospital in what was to become the United States of America.

Between 1750 and 1753, the "educational triumvirate" of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, created what people called, a "new-model" plan or style of American college. Franklin printed in 1752, and promoted an American textbook of moral philosophy to be taught in the new colleges to replace other courses.

1757 UPenn Seal
Seal of the College of Philadelphia

In June 1753, they decided the new-model college would focus on the professions, with classes taught in English instead of Latin, have subject matter experts as professors instead of one tutor leading a class for four years, and there would be no religious test for admission. The College was to become influential in guiding the founding documents of the United States: in the Continental Congress, for example, over one third of the men who contributed to the Declaration of Independence were affiliated with the College.

In 1753, both Harvard and Yale awarded him honorary degrees.

In 1754, he headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the Albany Congress.

Sketch of Tun Tavern in the Revolutionary War
Sketch of the original Tun Tavern

In 1756, Franklin organized the Pennsylvania Militia (see "Associated Regiment of Philadelphia" under heading of Pennsylvania's 103rd Artillery and 111th Infantry Regiment at Continental Army).

Declaration of Independence

Declaration independence
John Trumbull depicts the Committee of Five presenting their work to the Congress.

By the time Franklin arrived in Philadelphia on May 5, 1775, after his second mission to Great Britain, the American Revolution had begun – with fighting between colonials and British at Lexington and Concord. The New England militia had trapped the main British army in Boston. The Pennsylvania Assembly unanimously chose Franklin as their delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In June 1776, he was appointed a member of the Committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Although he was temporarily disabled by gout and unable to attend most meetings of the Committee, Franklin made several "small but important" changes to the draft sent to him by Thomas Jefferson.

At the signing, he is quoted as having replied to a comment by Hancock that they must all hang together: "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Postmaster

Franklin SC1 1847
    Benjamin Franklin
First US postage stamp
Issue of 1847

Well known as a printer and publisher, Franklin was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737, holding the office until 1753, when he and publisher William Hunter were named deputy postmasters–general of British North America, the first to hold the office.

On July 26, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established the United States Post Office and named Benjamin Franklin as the first United States Postmaster General. Franklin had been a postmaster for decades and was a natural choice for the position. It established a postal system that became the United States Post Office, a system that continues to operate today.

Ambassador to France: 1776–1785

Franklin1877
Franklin, in his fur hat, charmed the French with what they perceived as rustic New World genius.

In December 1776, Franklin was dispatched to France as commissioner for the United States.

During his stay in France, Benjamin Franklin was active as a Freemason, serving as Venerable Master of the Lodge Les Neuf Sœurs from 1779 until 1781.

Libertas Americana silver medallion 1783
While in France Franklin designed and commissioned Augustin Dupré to engrave the medallion "Libertas Americana" minted in Paris in 1783.

Franklin's advocacy for religious tolerance in France contributed to arguments made by French philosophers and politicians that resulted in Louis XVI's signing of the Edict of Versailles in November 1787. This edict effectively nullified the Edict of Fontainebleau, which had denied non-Catholics civil status and the right to openly practice their faith.

Franklin also served as American minister to Sweden, although he never visited that country.

President of Pennsylvania

Special balloting conducted October 18, 1785, unanimously elected Franklin the sixth president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania, replacing John Dickinson.

Virtue, religion, and personal beliefs

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) MET DT2883
A bust of Franklin by Jean-Antoine Houdon
Pedro Américo - Voltaire abençoando o neto de Franklin em nome de Deus e da Liberdade
Voltaire blessing Franklin's grandson, in the name of God and Liberty, by Pedro Américo
Benjamin Franklin by Hiram Powers
Benjamin Franklin by Hiram Powers

Like the other advocates of republicanism, Franklin emphasized that the new republic could survive only if the people were virtuous. All his life he explored the role of civic and personal virtue, as expressed in Poor Richard's aphorisms. Franklin felt that organized religion was necessary to keep men good to their fellow men, but rarely attended religious services himself.

Thirteen Virtues

Franklin bust at Columbia University IMG 0924
Franklin bust in the Archives Department of Columbia University in New York City

Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of 13 virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his 13 virtues as:

  1. "Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation."
  2. "Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation."
  3. "Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time."
  4. "Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve."
  5. "Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing."
  6. "Industry. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions."
  7. "Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly."
  8. "Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty."
  9. "Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve."
  10. "Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation."
  11. "Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable."
  12. "Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation."
  13. "Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates."

Slavery

When Franklin was young, African slavery was common and virtually unchallenged throughout the British colonies. During his lifetime slaves were numerous in Philadelphia.

In his later years, as Congress was forced to deal with the issue of slavery, Franklin wrote several essays that stressed the importance of the abolition of slavery and of the integration of blacks into American society.

Death and legacy

Philly 2010 transit 071
The grave of Benjamin Franklin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Benjamin Franklin National Memorial
Marble memorial statue, Benjamin Franklin National Memorial
New100front
Franklin on the Series 2009 hundred dollar bill

Benjamin Franklin died from pleuritic attack at his home in Philadelphia on April 17, 1790, at age 84. Approximately 20,000 people attended his funeral. He was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.

A signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, Franklin is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. His pervasive influence in the early history of the nation has led to his being jocularly called "the only President of the United States who was never President of the United States."

Since 1928, it has adorned American $100 bills, which are sometimes referred to in slang as "Benjamins" or "Franklins." From 1948 to 1963, Franklin's portrait was on the half dollar. He has appeared on a $50 bill and on several varieties of the $100 bill from 1914 and 1918. Franklin appears on the $1,000 Series EE Savings bond. The city of Philadelphia contains around 5,000 likenesses of Benjamin Franklin, about half of which are located on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway (a major thoroughfare) and Benjamin Franklin Bridge (the first major bridge to connect Philadelphia with New Jersey) are named in his honor.

In 1976, as part of a bicentennial celebration, Congress dedicated a 20-foot (6 m) marble statue in Philadelphia's Franklin Institute as the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. Many of Franklin's personal possessions are also on display at the Institute, one of the few national memorials located on private property.

In London, his house at 36 Craven Street, which is the only surviving former residence of Benjamin Franklin, was first marked with a blue plaque and has since been opened to the public as the Benjamin Franklin House.

Franklin on U.S. postage

Benjamin Franklin 1861 Issue-1c
Issue of 1861
Benjamin Franklin2 1895 Issue-1c
Issue of 1895

Benjamin Franklin is a prominent figure in American history comparable to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, and as such he has been honored on U.S. postage stamps many times. The image of Franklin, the first Postmaster General of the United States, occurs on the face of U.S. postage more than any other notable American save that of George Washington.

Franklin appeared on the first U.S. postage stamp (displayed above) issued in 1847. From 1908 through 1923 the U.S. Post Office issued a series of postage stamps commonly referred to as the Washington-Franklin Issues where, along with George Washington, Franklin was depicted many times over a 14-year period, the longest run of any one series in U.S. postal history. Along with the regular issue stamps Franklin however only appears on a few commemorative stamps. Some of the finest portrayals of Franklin on record can be found on the engravings inscribed on the face of U.S. postage.

Benjamin Franklin 2-Big-Bens 1918 Issue
Issue of 1918

Places and things named after Benjamin Franklin

Further information: List of places named for Benjamin Franklin

As a founding father of the United States, Franklin's name has been attached to many things. Among these are:

  • The State of Franklin, a short-lived independent state formed during the American Revolutionary War
  • Counties in at least 16 U.S. states
  • Several major landmarks in and around Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Franklin's longtime home, including:
    • Franklin and Marshall College in nearby Lancaster
    • Franklin Field, a football field once home to the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League and the home field of the University of Pennsylvania Quakers since 1895
    • The Franklin Mercantile Chess Club in Philadelphia, the second oldest chess club in the U.S. (Franklin was a keen chess enthusiast and the first writer on chess in America)
    • The Benjamin Franklin Bridge across the Delaware River between Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey
    • The Franklin Institute, a science museum in Philadelphia, which presents the Benjamin Franklin Medal
  • The Sons of Ben soccer supporters club for the Philadelphia Union
  • Ben Franklin Stores chain of variety stores, with a key-and-spark logo
  • Franklin Templeton Investments an investment firm whose New York Stock Exchange ticker abbreviation, BEN, is also in honor of Franklin
  • The Ben Franklin effect from the field of psychology
  • Benjamin Franklin Shibe, baseball executive and namesake of the longtime Philadelphia baseball stadium
  • Benjamin Franklin "Hawkeye" Pierce, the fictional character from the M*A*S*H novels, film, and television program
  • Benjamin Franklin Gates, Nicolas Cage's character from the National Treasure films.
  • Several US Navy ships have been named the USS Franklin or the USS Bonhomme Richard, the latter being a French translation of his penname "Poor Richard". Two aircraft carriers, USS Franklin (CV-13) and USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) were simultaneously in commission and in operation during World War II, and Franklin therefore had the distinction of having two simultaneously operational US Navy warships named in his honor. The French ship Franklin (1797) was also named in Franklin's honor.
  • Franklinia alatamaha, commonly called the Franklin tree. It was named after him by his friends and fellow Philadelphians, botanists James and William Bartram.
  • CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin, a Chinese-built French owned Explorer-class container ship

Benjamin Franklin Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.