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.
I don’t know of any family relationship that exists in my family or in Bob’s family, but I have always had an interest in Benjamin Franklin anyway. I have done a lot of hiking in my life, and sometimes, like it or not, bad weather comes in before we were done with our hike. I think anyone who has hiked much knows that one of your worst enemies on a hike…other than mountain lions, bears, or snakes…is lightning. Personally, when I start to hear thunder, I figure it’s time to head for shelter, but when you are four or five miles from your car, in the middle of a bunch of trees, heading for shelter isn’t always an easy task.
Ben Franklin, on the other hand saw lightning as a challenge to be explored. I think he had to have known the dangers of such an adventure, because he was a scientist after all. That didn’t really matter to him much, or if it did, he did not show it. Ben Franklin became interested in electricity in the mid-1740s. Not much was known about the subject, but he would spend the next decade conducting experiments using electricity. It was Ben who coined terms still in use today. You now them…battery, conductor, and electrician. He also invented the lightning rod, which is now used to protect buildings and ships. All of these things came from his many experiments. Ben Franklin was an amazing man, publisher, and writer, but it is really not in his writings that I find myself intrigued, but rather his electrical experiments. On this day, June 10, 1752, Ben flew his now infamous kite during a thunderstorm to collect a charge in a Leyden jar, when the kite was struck by lightning. He wanted to demonstrate the electrical nature of lightning.
Benjamin Franklin was born January 17, 1706. People might think that Benjamin Franklin was a highly educated man, but in reality, his formal education ended at age ten. Then he went to work for his brother, James as a printer, but after a dispute in 1723, he left Boston and moved to Philadelphia and found work as a printer. He moved to London for a short time and worked there as a printer, and then returned to Philadelphia. He became a successful businessman whose publishing ventures included the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack, a collection of homespun proverbs advocating hard work and honesty in order to get ahead. Eventually, Benjamin Franklin became an overachiever…or at least in the eyes of many people. I think he was just interested in a lot of things.
Of course, we all know about Benjamin Franklin’s career as a statesman, which spanned for decades, his years as a legislator, and his diplomatic years in England and France. He is the only politician to have signed all four documents fundamental to the creation of the US: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris (1783), which established peace with Great Britain, and the U.S. Constitution (1787). Yes, he was an all around amazing man, but I will always love the idea of his lightning experiments the best.