Most people think of Benjamin Franklin as the man who discovered electricity, and they would be right, but there was really so much more to the man that just that. While we think of Ben Franklin as a genius, and he was, he only had two years of actual schooling. After that, he quit school to help his family make soap and candles, and later, joined his brother, James as an indentured apprentice at a printing shop when he was twelve. This led to an obsession for books. Franklin loved the written word, and spent much of the little money he made to buy books. Because of his love of books, he became known as an author, printer, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, activist, statesman, and diplomat…all of it self taught.
While much of Ben Franklin’s life was centered around serious accomplishments, he also had a human side. There were things that he felt strongly about. He left 2,000 pounds of sterling silver to Boston and Philadelphia, with the stipulation that the money be held for 100 years, and then a small percentage could be used for loans for local tradesmen. After that, the rest was to be saved for another 100 years. The rest of the funds were used to build the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, and the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston. I’m not sure that was exactly what he wanted done with that balance, but it is a nice way to honor his memory.
Ben Franklin believed in the importance of fire prevention, and created the first volunteer fire department in 1736 called the Union Fire Company. Because he created it, the company was often called Benjamin Franklin’s Bucket Brigade. He also loved swimming, and he was a bit of an inventor there too. As a child, he used a kite to skim across the water, and he invented a pair of hand paddles that he used to navigate the Charles River. He was given an honorary induction in the International Swimming Hall of Fame.
All that is interesting, but to me one of his coolest accomplishments was the Glass Armonica. You might be wondering what that is, but if you have ever played a water glass with a damp finger, you would have a pretty good idea how to play the Glass Armonica. Debuted in 1761, it was beautifully engineered with blown glass bowls. To play it, you simply wet your fingers and touched the various bowls to get a variety of sounds. The instrument was so popular that Beethoven and Mozart began creating music for it. Unfortunately the novelty wore off after a time, and that is why most people don’t even know what it is today. Ben Franklin was a man of many talents, and yet all we ever really thought about was the discovery of electricity.