Benjamin Franklin is often referred to as “The First American” due to his multifaceted contributions to ideas, inventions, and social endeavours. Despite lacking formal education, his insatiable curiosity, dedication to learning, and quick intellect propelled him to remarkable achievements. Franklin’s wisdom is immortalized in his profound words, which continue to stand as milestones in history. His early commitment to reading and learning facilitated fluency in more than five foreign languages, further exemplifying his intellectual prowess and lifelong commitment to self-improvement.
Benjamin Franklin was also one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Alongside figures like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton, he played a crucial role in the American Revolutionary period. Between the 1760s and 1820s, they united the Thirteen Colonies, oversaw the American War of Independence from Great Britain, established the United States of America, and crafted a framework of the Federal Government of the United States.
Born: 17 January 1706, Boston, USA
Died: 17 April 1790, Philadelphia, USA
On his 318th birth anniversary today, we have highlighted a few interesting yet less-known facts about Benjamin Franklin:
- Early Life: Franklin was born on Milk Street, in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706. Although he started his education at Boston Latin School, financial constraints prevented him from completing it. Undeterred, he took charge of his own learning through extensive self-reading. By the age of ten, Franklin was already contributing to his family’s tallow-chandler and soap-boiling business, working alongside his father.
- Passion for reading: From a young age, Franklin harboured a deep passion for reading and willingly invested his money in acquiring books. Following his father’s advice, he became a part of his brother James’s printing business at the age of 12. Franklin’s avid interest in reading soon proved to be an advantageous quality, enhancing his value to his brother. With this newfound connection, Franklin gained access to superior books. Occasionally, he would borrow books from booksellers’ apprentices, spend entire nights engrossed in reading in his chamber, and dutifully return them the following morning.
- In October 1723, at the age of 17, Franklin ran away from Philadelphia to New York with only a few dollars in his pocket. In New York, he found employment in various printing shops, although the opportunities initially proved less than fulfilling.
- Man of ideas: In 1725, at the forefront of his innovative thinking, Franklin published a pamphlet titled ‘A Dissertation upon Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.’ This work delved into diverse aspects of human behaviour and explored their consequential outcomes.
- Marriage: Franklin married Deborah Read on September 1, 1730, and had two children. Unfortunately, Deborah’s fear of the sea prevented her from accompanying Franklin on his extensive journeys to Europe. In November 1769, she expressed her unwellness in a letter to Franklin, citing “dissatisfied anxiety” due to his prolonged absence. Despite her plea, Franklin continued with his affairs. Tragically, Deborah Read passed away from a stroke on December 14, 1774, during Franklin’s extended mission to Great Britain.
- Success as an author: Franklin’s success as an author took flight in 1733 when he commenced the publication of the renowned Poor Richard’s Almanack, adopting the pseudonym Richard Saunders. This annual publication achieved remarkable popularity, selling approximately ten thousand copies each year until 1758, solidifying its status as a cultural phenomenon. In 1741, Franklin extended his literary endeavours with The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle for all the British Plantations in America. In 1758, he further enriched his bibliography with the publication of The Way to Wealth. Franklin’s autobiography, initiated in 1771 but released posthumously, stands as a masterpiece within the genre.
- Monumental Contributions: Franklin made enormous contributions to founding the Academy of Philadelphia, which later evolved into the University of Pennsylvania. His dedication to self-education garnered recognition from prestigious institutions such as Harvard, Yale, Oxford in England, and Andrews in Scotland, each bestowing upon him prestigious degrees in acknowledgement of his intellectual accomplishments.
- Benjamin Franklin is indeed credited with the invention of the rocking chair. In addition to this innovation, he tried his hand at simplifying the English alphabet due to his struggles with spelling inconsistencies. Franklin devised his own set of letters, excluding the letters c, j, q, w, x, and y. He went so far as to publish his idea, but unfortunately, it was not embraced and was ultimately rejected.
- ‘Join or Die’: Benjamin Franklin’s renowned cartoon, ‘Join or Die,’ was featured in his ‘Pennsylvania Gazette’ newspaper. The iconic illustration depicted the consequences of the conflict between England and France over the Ohio Valley. The image, with a segmented snake representing the colonies, conveyed Franklin’s call for unity among the American colonies in the face of external threats.
- In the 1740s, Benjamin Franklin delved into the study of electricity after encountering Archibald Spencer, an itinerant lecturer using static electricity in demonstrations. Franklin proposed that “vitreous” and “resinous” electricity were not distinct types but the same fluid under different pressures. He was the first to label electricity as positive and negative and discovered the principle of conservation of charge. In 1748, Franklin constructed a multiple plate capacitor, which he termed an “electrical battery,” using eleven panes of glass sandwiched between lead plates, suspended with silk cords, and connected by wires.
- Birth of the Lightning Rod: Benjamin Franklin proposed an experiment to prove lightning’s electrical nature by flying a kite in a storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard in France conducted Franklin’s proposed experiment using a 40-foot iron rod, successfully extracting sparks from a cloud. On June 15, 1752, Franklin conducted a similar kite experiment in Philadelphia and described it in The Pennsylvania Gazette on October 19, 1752. Franklin, aware of the dangers, offered alternative methods to show lightning’s electrical nature, emphasizing the concept of electrical ground. Contrary to common depictions, he didn’t wait to be struck by lightning but used the kite to collect electric charge from a storm cloud. Franklin’s experiments led to the invention of the lightning rod, advocating sharp conductors for silent and effective discharge. Following tests on his own house, lightning rods were installed on prominent structures in 1752.
- Benjamin Franklin harboured a constant fear of debts, likely influenced by witnessing numerous friends succumb to the burdens of financial obligations.
- Benjamin Franklin’s curiosity led to the discovery of the Gulf Stream. He measured the ocean’s temperature and, through his reasoning, deduced the existence of the Gulf Stream based on the prolonged duration of westbound sea journeys.
- During Franklin’s tenure as an ambassador to France, his wit and diplomatic acumen played a crucial role in developing the Treaty of Paris in 1783, ultimately ending the Revolutionary War.
- In 1776, Benjamin Franklin was one of the five men who drafted and signed the ‘Declaration of Independence,’ with Thomas Jefferson as its primary author. Additionally, Franklin was appointed as a commissioner to Canada during this pivotal period in American history.
- Benjamin Franklin actively opposed the institution of slavery and expressed disapproval of the consumption of liquor. He wrote and published numerous articles advocating for the abolition of slavery and even petitioned the U.S. Congress, urging them to take measures to end slavery in 1790. His efforts reflected a commitment to social justice and moral causes.
- Following the death of his wife, Deborah, at 74, Benjamin Franklin proposed to a French widow named Madame Helvetius. However, his marriage proposal was declined.
- Benjamin Franklin made significant financial contributions to the construction of America’s first hospital and played a crucial role in persuading others to donate to this noble cause. In 1749, he organized 24 trustees from prominent citizens of Pennsylvania, contributing to the formation of the University of Pennsylvania.
- Benjamin Franklin was a prolific inventor with numerous groundbreaking contributions. Some of his notable inventions include the Franklin stove, a more efficient heating stove; the urinary catheter, a medical device; bifocal glasses, which allow for both distance and close-up vision; and the Glass Armonica, a musical instrument.
The post is part of a B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from the Tech Industry, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators or renewed leaders who moved the industry with his exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian Assange, Sir Richard Branson, and Sergey Brin, by following this link or subscribing to your daily newsletter.