Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin    1706 - 1790

    U.S. writer, inventor, and statesman

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

Benjamin Franklin is one of the greatest Americans in history. He contributed to society in almost every aspect. He was a writer, printer, newsman, publisher, editor, civic leader, inventor, scientist, philosopher, musician, patriot, statesman, and diplomat.

Ben was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. He came from a big family and had 16 brothers and sisters.

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Founding Father
When Ben was born, the United States of America had not been formed. Massachusetts was one of 13 colonies ruled by England.

Ben played a key role in forming the United States of America, and he is known as one of the Founding Fathers. In 1775, he was a member of the Second Continental Congress, and in 1776, he helped draft the Declaration of Independence. In 1787, he was a member of the Constitutional Convention and helped draft the U.S. Constitution.

There were four key documents which led to the formation of the United States of America. Ben was the only person to sign all four documents. They are:

1. The Declaration of Independence: it declared the American colonies independent from English rule.

2. The Treaty of Alliance with France: it brought French money, troops and arms to the American colonies to aid their fight against England.

3. The Treaty of Paris: it ended the American Revolution and recognized the independence of the United States.

4. The Constitution of the United States: it describes the laws of the United States.

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Printer and Writer
Ben loved to write. When he was sixteen years old, Ben wrote a series of letters for his brother's newspaper. Ben did not want his brother to know he was the author so he signed the letters Silence Dogood.

Ben ran his own newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette and printed an almanac called Poor Richard's Almanack. Ben included bits of advice and good humor to the almanac, like "Haste makes waste" and "A penny saved is a penny earned."

Ben was America's first great writer and humorist. He published the first political cartoon in the colonies.

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Civic Leader
Ben was a civic leader and improved life in America. He created the first public library in America, helped pave the first streets, established the first fire and sanitation departments, reformed the police department, started the first free hospital in America, and founded the University of Pennsylvania.

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Franklin Stove
Ben invented the Franklin Stove between 1742 and 1744. The Franklin Stove is a heater, not a cooking stove. Before the Franklin Stove, people used fireplaces for heat. Fireplaces gave off some heat, but most of the heat went up and out the chimney. The Franklin Stove, however, gave off more heat than the fireplace and used less fuel. Ben called his invention the Pennsylvania Fire Place. Today, it is known as the Franklin Stove.

Ben invented bifocals in 1784. Ben needed eye glasses to help him see things far away and up close. A pair of eye glasses only corrected one or the other of these problems so Ben had to carry two pairs of glasses. Ben got tired of always having to switch glasses, and he decided to put two lens (one to see far away and one to see up close) into one pair of glasses. The top lens allowed him to see far away, and the bottom lens allowed him to see up close. This new type of eye glasses is called bifocals. "Bi" means two, and "focal" means focus.

Bifocals also made Ben very recognizable. In Ben's time, many people did not wear glasses and even fewer people wore bifocals. Whenever Ben's picture appeared in the newspaper, he was portrayed wearing bifocals. Soon people recognized Ben by his bifocals alone. Have you seen pictures of Ben wearing bifocals?

Ben invented the armonica. The armonica is a type of musical instrument made of glass bowls. Armonica is an Italian word meaning harmonies. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven composed music for the armonica.

Swimming Ideas
Ben made swimming paddles for his hands and feet to help him swim faster. These paddles were made out of wood and were too heavy to aid his swimming. Today, the paddles are made out of rubber and are called swim fins.

Ben also floated in the water while holding onto a kite. He hoped the kite would pull him across the water. Today, we use water skis and are pulled across the water by holding onto a rope attached to a boat.

Other Inventions
Ben invented the odometer to measure distances traveled in his carriage. Today, all automobiles have odometers to measure distances traveled in our cars.

Ben invented a rocking chair with a fan. Every time Ben rocked in the chair, the fan would turn and cool him.

Ben also invented a writing desk with a built-in chair, a mechanical hand for getting books off high shelves, and a stepladder stool with a chair.

Although Ben invented many items, he did not patent any of them. A patent is a legal protection the government gives an inventor to protect the use of his or her invention. It gives an inventor the exclusive right over the invention, usually for a period of time. A patent excludes other people from producing or making use of the invention without the inventor's permission. Ben thought ideas should be used to benefit all people.

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Kite and Key Experiment
Ben had a theory that lightning is electricity, and he performed an experiment to prove this theory in 1752. Ben and his 21-year old son, William, flew a kite and a key in a thunderstorm. (Remember, this is a dangerous experiment and not recommended for you to recreate.)

Ben made a special kite for this experiment. First, it was made out of silk because Ben knew silk would not be torn apart during the storm. Also, silk would be safer to use because it is not a good conductor of electricity. This meant Ben would have less risk of being shocked if his theory proved to be true. Second, Ben secured a metal wire at the tip of the kite and a metal key to the string to attract the lightning. Third, the kite string was made of a silk ribbon for Ben to hold.

Ben and William stayed under cover during the experiment. It was important to keep the silk ribbon dry because water is a good conductor of electricity. If the silk ribbon got wet, there would have been a greater chance of Ben being shocked. If Ben were shocked, he could have been killed.

During the storm, Ben noticed parts of the string standing up (like our hair stands up when there is static electricity in the air). When Ben touched the kite, he got a shock. This shock proved lightning is electricity. Luckily, the shock did not harm Ben.

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Lightning Rod
Ben's famous kite and key experiment led to his invention of the lightning rod in 1753. With his recently gained knowledge of lightning, Ben sought out ways to prevent fires from igniting when lightning struck buildings. Ben invented a metal rod to attach to houses, barns, or other structures. During storms, lightning would hit this rod rather than the structure. This invention saved many buildings from being burned.

Ben attached the lightning rod on his house to a bell. When lightning struck the rod, the bell rang. This was a very clever idea. Ben did not get to enjoy the bell, however, because he was away in England and France for a long period of time. His wife, Deborah, on the other hand, had to listen to the bell every time it rang.

Did you know the lightning rod is also known as the Franklin rod?

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Daylight Saving Time
Did you know Ben suggested the idea of Daylight Saving Time as a good way to save fuel? Yes, in 1784, Ben believed if we changed our clocks when the sun changed, we could better use the natural light of the sun, rather than the extra fuel.

Daylight Saving Time began in the United States in 1918. Some states follow Daylight Saving Time. This means twice a year some states adjust their clocks by an hour to gain extra sun light. In the spring the clocks are turned ahead one hour, and in the fall the clocks are turned back an hour. You can remember which way to turn your clock by remembering to "Spring forward" and "Fall back."

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Remembering Ben
Ben Franklin died on April 17, 1790, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was 84 years old.

In 1847, Ben was pictured on the U.S. five cent stamp. Today, Ben is pictured on the $100 bill.

There are many things in America named for Ben. They include towns, counties, streets, colleges, libraries, hotels, banks, stores, stoves, and ships. The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia was named after Ben. There is a football field at the University of Pennsylvania named Franklin Field. Two Presidents of the United States were also named after Benjamin Franklin: Franklin Pierce and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Benjamin Franklin was a man of great vision and a great American.

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©  2009 D. K. Malowney