- WHO: Benjamin Franklin was one of the most prominent Founding Fathers of the United States. As a renowned polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, diplomat, freemason, businessman, revolutionary, statesman, postmaster, inventor, and scientist.
- Birth: Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts.
- Parents: Franklin was born as the tenth son of Josiah Franklin, a Puritan candlemaker, and Abiah Folger, a housewife and Josiah's second wife.
- Education: Josiah only had enough money to send Franklin to school for two years. He attended Boston Latin School, although he didn't graduate. He continued his education by intense reading and self-study. Throughout his life, Franklin became well-versed in a plethora of different topics, as he had an insatiable curiosity.
- Siblings: Franklin had a total of 16 siblings. His older brother, James, was arguably the most impactful upon his life. After his schooling ended, Franklin became an apprentice to his brother, a printer, who taught him the printing trade.
- Spouse and Children: On September 1, 1730, Franklin married Deborah Read, a woman he knew from a very young age. Before their marriage, however, Franklin had an illegitimate son, William, who they adopted as their own. Altogether, Franklin and Read had two children. Their first child was named Francis Folger Franklin and was born in October of 1732. Unfortunately, he passed away only four years later from smallpox. Sarah Franklin, their next child, was born in 1743. She lived a relatively normal life and grew up, got married, and had her own children.
- Religion: Franklin was raised as a Puritan and an Episcopalian. But as an Enlightenment thinker, Franklin became a self-proclaimed deist later in life, though he was always kind and sympathetic towards Christianity.
The background of this site is deeply connected to the life of Benjamin Franklin. As previously stated, Franklin was a printer, by occupation, which is symbolized with a newspaper in the background. After returning to Philadelphia, Franklin officially started his own printing press, where he printed a multitude of things, including The Pennsylvania Gazette, Poor Richard's Almanac and the Philadelphian currency. In addition, there is a cup of coffee in the background, alluding to the fact that Franklin was a huge coffee addict. He used to drink more than ten cups of coffee a day, sold his own coffee beans, and socialized at coffee shops before most of the world did. This can be proven when viewing Franklin's quote, "Among the numerous luxuries of the table…coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions…is never followed by sadness, languor or debility..." (Morgan 93). In conclusion, one can easily view that the newspaper and cup of coffee in the background have great meaning to Franklin's life.
- He knew 5 languages: He taught himself to read French, Latin, Italian, and Spanish, after already knowing English. He was always looking for ways to improve himself and figured being fluent in other languages would help him in his future.
- He was an avid chess player: Not only was Franklin a prolific player, he was also responsible for popularizing the sport in America. Franklin also wrote a highly-influential essay entitled, “The Morals of Chess,” detailing the rules of conduct for playing the game.
- He is credited for America's first hospital: Established in 1751 by Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond, Pennsylvania Hospital was built “…to care for the sick-poor and insane who were wandering the streets of Philadelphia...” (Morgan 76). It appears that Franklin was more proud of this accomplishment than most; he said later of the hospital’s establishment, “I do not remember any of my political maneuvers, the success of which gave me at the time more pleasure..." (Morgan 87).
As a renowned polymath, Benjamin Franklin accomplished countless things.
Inventions and Improvements
- Bifocals: Franklin devised this invention that would help him to see long distances and be able to continue his favorite hobby, reading. Furthermore, he couldn't see properly with regular spectacles, as he suffered from an eye condition known as presbyopia. Due to this invention, Franklin was be able to avoid the hassle of switching glasses while he moved between reading and walking about.
- American Political Cartooning: Benjamin Franklin has often been seen as the first to utilize political cartoons. In 1752, when the American colonies stood on the brink of war with France, Franklin created a political cartoon entitled, "Join or Die." Franklin depicted a snake cut into eight pieces: One piece for each of the colonies. The engraving referenced a popular superstition at the time that if the pieces of a decapitated snake were arranged together before sunset, the snake would come back to life. Franklin had unknowingly invented a new form of satire and art which would greatly influence the American way of life in the years ahead.
- The Lightning Rod: After Franklin retired from the publishing business at the age of 42, he devoted his work time to electrical experiments. This was mainly because in the 18th century, lightning was still only known as a supernatural misfortune. Franklin desperately wanted to stop lightning fires in the age of wood. After countless hours spent tinkering with static electricity, Franklin figured that if a metal rod could be fixed to the top of a building and wired to the ground with a cable, "...it could gently extract the "fire" from a cloud before it had a chance to do any damage..." (Morgan 149). Franklin, in 1749, sent news of his protective rod across the Atlantic, where it was first adopted in the churches and cathedrals of the French countryside.
- Poor Richard's Almanac: Franklin published this almanac in 1732 with the pseudonym of Richard Saunders, or Poor Richard. Franklin wanted to spread his immense knowledge and enlighten the citizens of the colonies. Poor Richard presented himself as a slightly dull, but often funny, country fellow who believed in hard work and simple living. Many of Franklin's most famous quotes are from Poor Richard's Almanac. Franklin's almanac was an immediate success, as Franklin published one edition each year for the next 26 years and sold almost 10,000 copies every year.
- The Constitution: Although 81 years old and in poor health, Franklin was instrumental in devising a proper outline for the Constitution of the United States, as a key part of the Constitutional Convention. Interestingly though, Franklin had many controversial beliefs that didn't appear in the Constitution. For example, " He believed that executive power was too great to be placed in the hands of one person and that a committee was a much better option" (Morgan 231). In addition, he preferred a unicameral legislative branch, which the majority voted against. Nonetheless, Franklin's contributions in the formation of the Constitution are too great to be ignored.
Benjamin Franklin was actively involved in the struggle for American Independence in the 18th century. Franklin's diplomacy with Great Britain and France greatly impacted, if not ensured, the revolution against the monarchy. To begin with, Franklin devised the Albany Plan of Union in 1754, as a means of unifying the colonies under a temporary constitution. Although his Albany Plan was later rejected, it helped lay the groundwork for the Articles of Confederation, which became the first constitution of the United States when ratified in 1781. As the Revolutionary War approached, Franklin wrote many more pamphlets promoting union among the colonies. In addition, he was a Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress and "...spent much of the war in France as a diplomat, charming America's French allies" (Morgan 297). He helped negotiate and write the 1783 Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, and in 1787, he signed the new U.S. Constitution. Many argue that Franklin's legendary diplomacy was the most prominent factor in America's independence from Great Britain in 1776.
As Benjamin Franklin left his schooling at age 10, he was turned over to his brother, James Franklin, as an apprentice to become a printer. When Franklin turned 15, his brother started The New England Courant, the first "newspaper" in Boston. Franklin wanted to write like an official publisher, but knew his brother wouldn't let him, calling him a "lowly apprentice." Sick of his brother's terrible treatment and tyrannical rule, Franklin secretly started penning his own letters and articles, under the name of Silence Dogwood, which were often about the mistreatment of women. Over a period of time, Boston was hustling with talk about the articles. Eventually though, his abusive brother found out, and gave him frequent beatings and scoldings, so much to the point where Franklin became a fugitive and fled to New York and eventually London. "James Franklin turned out to be an early example of the consequences of accepting tyranny and monarchical rule for Franklin" (Morgan 71). This example would be his platform to stand up actively in the American Revolution.
At the time, not many formal awards were given recognition, which is why Franklin received very few of them:
- The Copley Medal: The Copley Medal is the highest award from the Royal Society of London. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Copley Medal was the equivalent of today’s Nobel Prize. For his work with electricity, Benjamin Franklin was awarded the Copley Medal in 1753, the second person to ever receive that honor.
- Franklin was also awarded many honorary doctorate degrees from many prestigious universities, such as Harvard and Yale.
Hobbies and Interests
- Swimming: In his early years, Franklin was a built man, as he loved to swim in the outlets near his home. In fact, his advocacy for swimming was recognized by his induction into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968.
- Reading: Franklin was an avid reader, always trying to find ways to satisfy his insatiable curiosity. He justified his attachment to reading by stating, "A man who has stopped reading is as good as dead."
- Music: Benjamin Franklin was a fine amateur musician who was very knowledgeable in the history, theory, and harmony of music. He studied music as a science, and practiced it as an art. It is said that he could play violin, cello, harp, and guitar. Franklin loved to sing and often joined friends in evenings of songs. He felt singing was a melodious way of speaking.
From viewing the life of Benjamin Franklin, one can easily conclude that a light bulb is the best tangible symbol to represent his life. A light bulb symbolizes new ideas and innovation, not to mention curiosity. These are qualities that are clearly pronounced in Franklin's life. For example, "...Franklin's inquisitive relationship with the concept of electricity and lightning..." (Morgan 312) allude to the symbol of a lightbulb, which is known as "the symbol of inquiry." In addition, Franklin's innovative contributions, such as bifocals and the Franklin Stove, can be alluded to a light bulb. Lastly, Franklin was called, "A Man of Immense Ideas," by William Penn, which is a name that can be represented by a light bulb. Altogether, a light bulb is a perfect symbol to illustrate Franklin's inquisitive nature and ingenious personality.
I believe that Benjamin Franklin would most definitely be my friend because of the following three reasons:
- He was generous: Franklin had a magnanimous personality, which would allow him to assist me in time of need, as a true friend. During his lifetime, he was known for supplying the people he worked with and served valuable information that enabled them to progress in their daily lives. This temperament would make him a good benefactor.
- He was humorous: Franklin was especially known for his jocularity, which was present in countless of his works, from Poor Richard's Almanack to the his famous "Join or Die" political cartoon. Even Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "I shall not be as robust with many energy without, alas!...the beauty of Franklin's humor." I typically get along well with witty comical people, which is another reason he would make a valuable friend.
- He had respect for everyone: Franklin was popular for his reverence towards all people, regardless of past and, at the time, skin color. This man had a high regard for anyone he would meet, from a local beggar to the King of England. Franklin believed that everyone had something to share, which is why they should all be treated with equal respect. This is another justification for my belief that he and I would be fine friends.
Benjamin Franklin reminds me of my uncle because of the following reasons:
- They are both early risers: Like my uncle, Benjamin Franklin was known to be an early bird, in an effort to accomplish more in an effective manner. He was famously quoted saying, “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” Benjamin Franklin rose at 5 AM every morning, asking himself the question “what good shall I do today?” Likewise, my uncle wakes up at the same time in order to increase productivity.
- They both have their own set of morals: Similar to my uncle, Franklin organized a list of 13 virtues that "are necessary to live with good morals" when he became a self-proclaimed deist. The thirteen virtues were of temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility, Benjamin Franklin not only implemented important moral goals, but also found ways to hold himself accountable by marking his own progress, which corresponds with my uncle's view on life.
- They both frugal: My uncle has always been leading a life of minimum spending and maximum savings in fear of falling into debt. In a similar fashion, Franklin realized the importance of living debt-free and spending minimally. He is quoted saying, “a penny saved is a penny earned” and “when you run in debt, you give to another power over your liberty.”
Benjamin Franklin is certainly considered a true altruist, as he was a selfless leader and social figure throughout his life. There are two main reasons why he is an altruist:
- Franklin was the founder of a number of institutions integral, today, to an American way of life, such as, the first lending library (the Philadelphia Library in 1731), the first scholarly voluntary association (the Junto or "Leather Apron" Club), the first fire department (the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia in 1736), and the postal system. Franklin never gave himself full credit on any achievement. He would never boast with pride, on the contrary, would remain cautiously humble, as he believed a large ego was bad for society.
- The revolutionary selflessly served is a renowned diplomat during the American Revolution, trying to appease both France and Great Britain, in an attempt to avoid war. At no point in time did Franklin build his ego and put it before the interest of the colonies. "Franklin always acted in favor of the needs and rights of the people he served" (Morgan 394), making him prominent altruistic leader in the mid to late-18th century.
Why is he on $100 Bill?
One may come across this question: Why is Benjamin Franklin on the $100 bill? Well, there are two main reasons:
- Franklin was arguably the most important Founding Father the US. His work in forming the Declaration of Independence is considered monumental in the forming of the nation, so it is well-accepted that his face be on this important bill.
- Franklin effectively negotiated the French’s support of the colonists’ efforts toward independence which committed troops and education to the colonial effort. "Thus, Franklin’s role in securing French reinforcements made the making of the United States, and its currency, a reality" (Morgan 304).
What Exactly was "The Junto"
In the fall of 1727, Franklin organized a group of men into a club whose most prominent purpose was inquiry into a variety of intellectual questions. This club thrived for nearly four decades, eventually evolving into the American Philosophical Society. With few exceptions, the members of the group, like Franklin, were practical men: entrepreneurs, tradesmen, merchants. "The Junto was both an inquiry group and a mutual aid society through which members could borrow books and money and get support for various enterprises" (Morgan 58). Mutual respect and support were foundational values. All were required to contribute. Although the membership could easily have grown large – many wanted to join, Franklin limited the group size and suggested instead that interested persons form their own like-minded groups. Thus, many other groups can cliques evolved as a consequence.