January 17, 1706
Born in: Boston, Massachusetts
Career: Author, Printer, Satirist, Political Theorist, Politician, Scientist, Inventor, Civic Activist, Statesman and Diplomat
Died on: April 17, 1790
Benjamin Franklin was an American author and printer, satirist, political theorist, politician, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and diplomat. He is credited as being one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America as well as a major figure in the Enlightenment. Franklin is known, throughout the world, for inventing lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer and a musical instrument. He also laid down the foundation of the first public lending library in America as well as the first fire department in Pennsylvania.
Benjamin Franklin was born on 17th January 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of Josiah Franklin, a maker of candles and soap, and Abiah Folger, Josiah’s second wife. Franklin was the fifteenth child, and the tenth and last son, of his father. Being born into a poor family, Franklin attended school for two years only. Though he did attend Boston Latin School, he did not graduate from there. Rather, he continued his education through rapacious reading. After attaining 10 years of age, Franklin started working for his father.
Two years later, he became an apprentice to his brother James, a printer. Around the year 1721, James took out New England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. On being denied an opportunity to write for the newspaper, Franklin started writing letters under the pseudonym of Mrs. Silence Dogood. When James came to know about this, he became unhappy with Ben. This resulted in Franklin’s leaving his apprenticeship without permission and in turn, becoming a fugitive.
After leaving his brother’s apprenticeship, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and started working in several printer shops. Sometime later, he went to London and worked as a compositor in a printer's shop in the Church of St Bartholomew-the-Great, in the Smithfield area of London. In 1726, he returned to Philadelphia, with the help of Thomas Denham, a merchant. The following year, he created the Junto, a discussion group of concurring aspiring artisans and tradesmen, for pondering over issues of the day.
The members of Junto started a library, funded by the monetary resources pooled by members. It was this library that later led to the birth of the Library Company, with the charter of the Library Company of Philadelphia, created in 1731 by Franklin. In the early years of its formation, the books of the company were kept in the homes of the librarians. It was only in 1739 that the entire collection was shifted to second floor of the State House of Pennsylvania (now Independence Hall).
In 1791, a new building was built specifically for the library. Today, the library houses 500,000 rare books, pamphlets and broadsides, along with more than 160,000 manuscripts and 75,000 graphic items. Coming back to Franklin, he had set up his own printing house by 1730 and also started publishing a newspaper, called ‘The Pennsylvania Gazette’. It was with Gazette only that he got an opportunity to campaign against local reforms and initiatives, through printed essays and observations.
As time passed and more and more of his observations were published, Franklin gained social respect. Franklin established a common-law marriage with Deborah Read on 1st September 1730. The next year, he was initiated into the local Freemason lodge. By 1734, he had reached the position of a grand master. The 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.
Career as Author
It was in 1733 that Franklin started publishing the famous Poor Richard's Almanack, with original as well as borrowed content. He used to write under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders. Throughout his life, Franklin used pseudonyms for his publications. He stopped writing Almanack in 1758, the same year in which he printed Father Abraham's Sermon, also known as The Way to Wealth. He also wrote an autobiography, known as ‘Franklin’s Biography’, which was released after his death.
Career as Inventor
Franklin is known for making a number of inventions and discoveries, during his life. Amongst the most popular one are the lightning rod, the glass harmonica, the Franklin stove, bifocal glasses and the flexible urinary catheter. He was the one who charted the ‘Gulf Stream’, along with Timothy Folger, his cousin and Nantucket whaler captain, and other ship captains. In 1743, Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society, with the aim of helping the men associated with scientific research, to discuss their discoveries and theories.
It was Franklin who proposed that "vitreous" and "resinous" electricity were not different types of "electrical fluid" (i.e. electricity). Rather, he argued them to be the same electrical fluid, though under different pressures, and labeled them as positive (vitreous) and negative (resinous). He was the first to propose the principle of conservation of charge. In 1750, Franklin published a proposal for an experiment that would prove that lightning is nothing, but electricity. Though he never performed it, he did prove the statement through other experiments. The principle of refrigeration was another one of his works.
- Created the Union Fire Company (1736)
- Proposed The Academy and College of Philadelphia (1743)
- Selected as a councilman (1748)
- Became a Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia (1749)
- Founded Pennsylvania Hospital (1751)
- Elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly (1751)
- Appointed Joint Deputy Postmaster-General of North America (1753)
- Headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the Albany Congress (1754)
- Organized the Pennsylvania Militia (1756)
- Became a member of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce – Now Royal Society of Arts (1756)
Benjamin Franklin left for the holy abode on 17th April 1790, at age of 84 years. His funeral was attended by approximately 20,000 people, after which he was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. As per his wishes, as mentioned in the will, his grave reads "Benjamin and Deborah Franklin." In his will, Franklin bequeathed £1,000 (about $4,400 at the time) each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, in trust to gather interest for 200 years. While Philadelphia spent it on scholarships for local high school students, Boston established a trade school that became the Franklin Institute of Boston.
- 23rd Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly (1765)
- United States Minister to France (1778-1785)
- United States Minister to Sweden (1782-1783)
- President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (1785)
- 6th President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania (1785-1788)
- Delegate to the Philadelphia Convention (1787)
- Received Royal Society's Copley Medal (1753)
- Awarded Honorary degrees, by Harvard and Yale (1753)
- Elected as a Fellow of the Society (1756)
- Cgs unit of electric charge has been named after him
- Awarded Honorary Doctor of Laws degree, by University of St Andrews (1959)
- Awarded Honorary Doctorate, by Oxford University (1762)