Benjamin Franklin aka “The Founding Father of America” was a scientist, writer, postmaster, and Freemason, etc. As a scientist, he made several significant inventions and discoveries that remain relevant to date. On the educational side, he is credited for founding many organizations such as the University of Pennsylvania.
As a politician, he was widely admired by the Americans and French and played a significant role in the development of Franco-American relations. Since Benjamin Franklin’s portfolio is as big as it gets, it is only right that we revisit history and recall what made him one of the most acclaimed personalities in the world.
Benjamin Franklin was the 10th son of a father who had 17 children and made soap and candles. At the time, preference was given to the firstborn son. He particularly highlighted this fact in his autobiography as “the youngest Son of the youngest Son for Five Generations back”.
Benjamin Franklin learned to read at a very young. Although he had spent a year in Grammar school and under the guidance of a private teacher but his formal education had ended by the time he turned 10.
Then, at the age of 12, he was apprenticed to his brother who taught him the printer’s trade. Franklin worked tirelessly to learn the art and was proud of learning the trade till his last breath. It was also the time when Franklin worked hard to teach himself to write.
It wasn’t long until Franklin discovered an interest in poetry. However, since his own was quite bad, he soon gave up. But then he came across a volume of The Spectator featuring Joseph Addison and found it a great source of improving his writing ability. Franklin used to read the essays and copy them by writing over and over again. Back then, anyone who could write competently would gain a lot of attention.
It was a rare talent in the 18th century. Franklin used to turn the essays into poetry and back into prose. This gave birth to “Prose Writing”. It was one of the primary reasons for Franklin’s advancement during the early years.
Achievements and Inventions of Benjamin Franklin
Even though Benjamin Franklin is credited for hundreds of achievements but you should know that it all did not come easy. As a young guy, Franklin had spent a considerable amount of time in Philadelphia. Since his interests contradicted with what he was doing to earn a living at the time, Franklin would soon become bored. It was also the time when he saw his future wife Deborah.
Franklin had also spent some time in London and by 1726 had become tired of it. He thought of becoming an itinerant teacher of swimming but a Quaker merchant Thomas Denham offered him to work in his store in Philadelphia. Franklin decided to return home. By the time Franklin entered his store, Denham had passed away. Then in 1728, Franklin set up a partnership with his friend. Two years later, he borrowed some money to become a sole proprietor.
While he was on his way to make some impactful inventions, his personal life was extremely complicated. However, that did not stop him from becoming a prodigious inventor. As a result, Franklin first started studying the electricity phenomenon in 1746 when he came across Archibald Spencer’s lectures related to using electricity for illustrations.
At the time, it was thought that “vitreous” and “resinous” were the same types of electrical fluid. However, Franklin offered his perspective of the concept and stated that they were indeed the same “fluid” but under different pressures. He was the first one to label them as positive and negative and the first one to discover the conservation of charge principle.
Franklin came up with a multiple plate capacitor in 1748 by installing and placing eleven glass panes between lead plates, connected by wires and suspended using silk cords. Back then, his experiments were termed “Nothing in This Way of Use to Mankind”. However, being an inventor, Franklin hosted a dinner party where he planned on killing a Turkey using an electric shock. However, Franklin used a pair of Leyden jars in one of his experiments leading to numbness in his arms for one evening. He termed the experiment a blunder and was extremely ashamed of it.
He continued his work in the electricity field and earn received many honors and awards including the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1753 and 1756. Additionally, he also received his first honorary degrees from Yale and Harvard.
Atlantic Ocean Currents and Other Scientific Inquiries
While he was working as deputy postmaster, Franklin developed an interest in studying and reading the circulation patterns of the North Atlantic Ocean. Franklin in England in 1768 heard a complaint from the Colonial Board of Customs that why did it take British packet ships several weeks longer to reach New York as compared to an average merchant ship to Newport, Rhode Island?
Franklin asked the same question from his Nantucket whaler captain who replied that the merchant ships routinely avoided strong east-bound mid-ocean current. However, the mail packet ships sailed right into them. As a result, Franklin worked with his captain cousin and other experienced captains to chart and name the current the Gulf Stream. It is still known by the same name today.
Franklin wanted to put his study out in the public and he did it in 1770 in England. However, it was ignored. Subsequent versions were released in France and the U.S as well. The original British edition of the chart was so thoroughly ignored that almost everyone forgot that it even existed until a Woods Hole oceanographer Phil Richardson discovered it in Paris in 1980 at the Bibliotheque Nationale.
The discovery of this edition made it to the front page of The New York Times. Although it took many years for ship captains to adapt to Franklin’s current detection method but once they did, they were able to reduce their sailing time significantly.
According to a popular myth in 1743, Franklin was denied the opportunity to witness and experience a lunar eclipse by a storm from the southwest. Franklin was noted to have said that the winds prevailed from the northeast, contrary to what he had expected. Upon discussing the situation with his brother, Franklin came to know that the storm only reached after the eclipse took place, keeping in mind that Boston is northeast of Philadelphia.
As a result, he concluded that the storms don’t need to travel in the direction of the prevailing winds. This concept served as a huge discovery and advancement in the field of meteorology.
Apart from studies related to Atlantic Ocean currents and electricity, Franklin offered a fair share of his contributions to the emerging field of demography. Franklin began noticing the population growth in the 1730s and 1740s and concluded that America featured the fastest population growth on earth. He was of the view that population growth is dependent on food supplies. He managed to calculate that America’s population was growing every twenty years and its population would surpass England’s population in a century.
Franklin in 1751 drafted Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, People of Countries, etc. Four years later, a draft was printed in Boston provoking the interest of Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus. Franklin was credited for discovering the rule of population growth and his predictions raised alarms amongst British leaders regarding the unsustainable British Mercantilism. Since the leaders did not want the colonies to surpass, they were willing to impose restrictions on the colonial economy.
Benjamin Franklin in 1736 created the Union Fire Company. At the time, it was one of the first volunteer firefighting companies existing in America. The same year, he introduced a new currency for New Jersey as a part of the anti-counterfeiting techniques he devised.
As Franklin matured, he became more interested in public affairs. For instance, in 1743, he came up with a scheme for the Academy, Charity School, and College of Philadelphia. However, the person Franklin had in mind to run the academy refused his offer. As a result, Franklin in 1749 printed his own pamphlet, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania. He became the Academy’s President in 1749 while the Academy and School opened in 1751.
In 1743, Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society allowing scientists to discuss their theories and discoveries. He was the only individual to sign the Treaty of Paris, Declaration of Independence, and the constitution. His extensive work in the UK, U.S, and Europe earned him a legacy that would continue for generations to come. There was a time when he also appeared on $50 and $100 bills.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the very few individuals in the world who tried their hands at everything provoking their interest and succeeding in making important contributions. His studies helped change the direction of conventional concepts that were followed for centuries. At the same time, these concepts also inspired and motivated scientists, astronomers, and politicians to lead additional discoveries and scientific studies and see better ways to serve the public.