Benjamin Franklin: Biography and Accomplishments
Benjamin Franklin was a prominent Founding Father and a statesman of the United States of America. Over the course of his life, Benjamin pushed himself in areas far and beyond politics. Hence, he ended up becoming one of America’s most renowned inventors, postmasters, printers, civic activists, scientists, authors and diplomats.
He holds the singular honor of having his signature on all four of America’s most sacred documents- the Declaration of Independence; the Alliance Treaty with France in 1778; the Treaty of Paris in 1783; and the U.S. Constitution in 1787.
Below is an in-depth look at the biography, facts and major accomplishments of Benjamin Franklin- America’s greatest statesman and diplomat.
Early Life and his Printing Businesses
On January 17, 1706, Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts to Josiah Franklin and Abiah Folger. He was born into a very large family. He had 9 siblings and 7 half-siblings. The relatively large size of the family meant that the Franklins had to do the best that they could to make ends meet since money was not always easy to come by.
Benjamin Franklin’s father, Josiah Franklin, was an English-born soap and candle maker. This form of artisanship was considered one of the lowest paid and ill-attractive type of jobs in 18th century America. Although he hated doing so, the young Benjamin had no option than to help out at his father’s soap and candle shop.
His favorite pastime was rather reading. At the age of 10, Benjamin Franklin began to self-educate himself by extensively reading and writing, a character that ended up paying huge dividends in Franklin’s future endeavors.
Benjamin’s father wanted him to become a clergyman. However, and owing to financial difficulties, there was very little to go around the family. As a result, Benjamin Franklin could only get two years’ worth of (formal) schooling in his life. He spent some of those two years at the Boston Latin School.
Upon attaining the age of 12, Franklin took up apprenticeship training at his older brother’s (James) printing shop in Boston. Gradually, the young Benjamin expertly built skill sets in writing, printing and editing. Under the pseudonym Silence Dogood, Benjamin Franklin penned several essays in James’ newspaper- the New-England Courant. Benjamin resorted to such cunning tactics because the older Franklin refused publishing his works in the newspaper.
However, all hell broke lose when James discovered that the middle-aged Mrs Silence Dogood was none other than Benjamin Franklin. The fallout between the two brothers was massive; and in 1723, Benjamin Franklin left James’ shop in Boston and set his sights on Philadelphia. The reason why he left was because he felt James failed to treat him well.
With the experience he garnered at his brother’s printing business, Benjamin was able to get a job as printer in Philadelphia. A year later, he was again on the move. This time around, he journeyed across the Atlantic and made his way to London, England. Over there, he worked in Samuel Palmer’s printing shop as a typesetter.
The Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s almanack
After a couple of years abroad, Benjamin Franklin returned to America and collaborated with Thomas Denhem to setup a successful printing business in 1726. By 1729, he had started publishing extensively in a Pennsylvania newspaper (The Pennsylvania Gazette) that had reasonably wide distribution in the state. The most famous piece of writing published by Franklin in the newspaper has to be “Poor Richard’s almanack”. The publication, which ran from 1732 to 1758, was fondly received by the public because of its message of frugality and diligence. The newspaper went on to sell about 10,000 copies of the Poor Richard’s Almanack for close to 25 years.
His ultimate goal in entering the printing business, aside from financial reasons, was to propagate what we might now call the “American Dream”. He tried to use the print media to construct a very morally upright and industrious society across the American colonies. Politically, his association with the “Pennsylvania Chronicle” enabled him drum up support for the American Revolution.
Benjamin Franklin’s Wife and Children
All in all, Franklin had 3 children. His first child, William Franklin (c. 1730-1813), was borne out of wedlock. And even up to this day, William’s mother remains unknown to historians. From 1763 to 1776, William served as the colonial governor for New Jersey. It is believed that Benjamin Franklin facilitated his appointment. Unlike his father, William Franklin fought to preserve the British crown’s interests in America. Due to his staunch support for Britain, he had no option than to commit himself into exile in London after he was deposed by the colonies in 1776. Prior to his exile, William briefly fought in a guerrilla movement against the American colonies. The movement was based in New York and they were called the Board of Associated Loyalists. The group’s activities often brought William into direct confrontation with Benjamin Franklin- a supporter of the American Revolution.
Benjamin’s other two children were the product of a common marriage to Deborah Read. His second son, Francis Folger Franklin, was born in 1732. However, 4 years after his birth, Francis sadly died due to smallpox infection. Seven years later, Benjamin and Deborah had a daughter called Sarah (1743-1808).
Due to his numerous trips abroad, Franklin and his wife (Deborah Read) spent long periods of time away from each other. Furthermore, Read’s phobia of the sea prevented her from joining her husband in Europe. This, as well as many other marital disputes, hampered their marriage. During one of Franklin’s trips abroad, Deborah Read Franklin passed away at the age of 66. The cause of death was a stroke.
Major Social and Civic Accomplishments
Franklin always believed that the highest form of service that an individual could render in this world was being of service to his community and humanity in general. As a result of his high need for civic virtue, he spent the remaining half of his life setting up organizations and think-tanks to help advance this ambitions.
A library enthusiast
In 1731, Franklin played a key role in the establishment of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Until 1850, the library held the record of being the largest library in America.
Exploits in Population Science
Another stellar achievement of Benjamin Franklin came in the field of population science. He took extensive notes on the growth of population in America. He even predicted that America’s population was poised to exceed that of England’s in the near future. Also, he came out with several theories to explain the reason why America’s population growth was the fastest at that time. Some of his writings about population growth had strong influence on the British economists Adam Smith and Thomas Malthus.
The Union Fire Company and a Police Patrol
Franklin was also involved in setting up of Philadelphia’s first fire station. The Union Fire Company, as it was called, was America’s first volunteer fire fighting organization.
Franklin was very generous with the fortune amassed from the newspaper business. It was out of this fortune that he was able to establish and fund such pioneering civil and social organizations. For example, his 1727 think-tank organization, the Junto (also known as the “Leather Apron Club”), laid the foundation for the establishment of a paid community watch or police patrol in Philadelphia. With ideals such as frugality and hard work, the Junto’s goal was to promote civic virtue and improve the lives of its members as well as the society in general.
Benjamin Franklin’s Think-tank – the Junto
As the Junto expanded and stretched into other American colonies, Benjamin Franklin thought it wise to establish the American Philosophical Society in 1743. The goal of the society was to serve as a hub for the discussion and sharing of scientific ideas and discoveries.
America’s First Hospital
In 1751, and with the help of Thomas Bond, Benjamin Franklin secured a charter from the Pennsylvania Parliament to set up the United States of America’s first hospital- the Pennsylvania Hospital. That same year, Benjamin served as the first president of the Academy of Philadelphia (currently known now as the University of Pennsylvania).
First Postmaster General
During his tenure (from 1753 to 1774) as deputy postmaster general of the colonies, he revolutionized the entire postal system in the American colonies. After a few skirmishes and condemnation of British rule in America, Franklin got dismissed in 1774. A year after his dismissal, Benjamin got his job back. This time, his bosses were not the British rather the Continental Congress. Congress appointed him as the first postmaster general of the United States. He would go on to occupy that position from 1775 to 1776.
To mark his phenomenal work in the postal service, Benjamin Franklin’s picture was featured on the first postage stamps in July, 1, 1847. As a matter of fact, after George Washington, Benjamin Franklin is the second most featured American on US postage stamps.
Scientific Accomplishments and Inventions made by Benjamin Franklin
After establishing a very successful printing business all across the American colonies, Benjamin Franklin retired at the age of 42 years with a sizable amount of money. It has been estimated that as at 1740, Franklin was the wealthiest Northern Colonists in America. He continued investing in the printing business, and even became a silent partner with David Hall in 1742. For 18 years, Franklin enjoyed half of the profits that was made by the business.
The Lightning Rod and his famous kite experiment
Now a “gentleman of leisure”, Benjamin had enough time to pursue other things that were of interest to him. He ventured into areas of science and technology. The 42 year old Franklin started researching and studying electricity as well as its various applications. After years of work, he invented the lightning rod to shield buildings from lightning strikes that could cause fires and destruction.
In a very brave and remarkable experiment, Benjamin Franklin famously conducted the “kite experiment” during a thunderstorm in order to prove that lightning was a form of electricity. His work in electricity was ground breaking. The findings earned him immense praise from the scientific community in Europe. In addition to this, Benjamin has been credited with the coinage of the following electricity-related words: battery, conductor and charge. In 1748, Franklin built the plate capacitor and named it “electrical battery”. He is regarded as the first scientist to come up with the principle of conservation of charge.
Ocean and Weather Studies
Benjamin’s experiments were not solely bound to electricity. He conducted studies into ocean currents, refrigeration, the weather and common cold. Along with his cousin Timothy Folger, Franklin explored the impact ocean currents had on travelling speeds from Britain to America. They charted the ocean currents and coined the name Gulf Stream for the currents. Using this chart, the voyage on the Atlantic could be reduced by a couple weeks. Franklin was the first to discover that storms in some cases did not follow the path of the wind.
Other famous inventions of Benjamin include: the wooden flippers, the Franklin stove and the bifocal lenses. With regard to his stove, Benjamin devised a mechanism that allowed less usage of fuel in order to heat people’s homes.
In 1761, Franklin also invented a special type of musical instrument called the glass harmonica. The instrument was so good that it received the attention of composers such as Beethoven and Wolfgang Mozart.
As a result of his tireless works and inventions in science, he earned a call up into the Royal Society in 1756. Back then, the society was known as the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce. In 1753, the society awarded him the Royal Society’s Copley Medal for his groundbreaking working in electricity.
Accomplishments during the American Revolution
Franklin always believed that service to people was the most important virtue an individual could have. So, after spending a decade or so in the lab, Franklin decided to serve his state. In 1751, he got elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly.
In a meeting at Albany, New York in 1754, Franklin proposed a plan that called for unity among all the American colonies. Unfortunately his proposal was not taking seriously.
In 1757, his assembly dispatched him as a representative of the Pennsylvania in London. During his time in London, Benjamin sought for ways to improve the relationship between the British Parliament and the American colonies. His lengthy testimony in parliament helped repeal the very contentious Stamp Act of 1765. From then onward, Benjamin would spend a significant amount of his time in London.
Continental Congress Delegate and the Declaration of Independence
In 1775, he returned to America. And in May, 1775, Benjamin Franklin was elected as a Pennsylvania delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In Congress, he worked on several issues. He was part of the Five-man Committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776 (the other four members of the committee were: Thomas Jefferson -Virginia delegate; Roger Sherman- Connecticut delegate; John Adams – Massachusetts delegate; and Robert R. Livingston-New York delegate).
Minister to France
Taking cognizant of his astute skills and flare for diplomacy, Congress dispatched Benjamin Franklin as minister to France. He was tasked with securing both political and economic support from France. He brilliantly carried out his duties by building a solid reputation in the political and royal courts of France. In 1778, he successfully secured an alliance with France (the 1778 Treaty of Alliance) in order help advance the colonies’ pursuit of independence.
1783 Treaty of Paris
Benjamin rallied his fellow Founding Fathers in the development of an efficient federal government. He was very instrumental in the development and drafting of the Articles of Confederation, which became the first U.S. Constitution as it was ratified in 1787. Prior to that, in 1783, Franklin was the leader of the American delegation that signed the 1783 Treaty of Paris. This meant that he is the only American to have signatures on all four important documents of the United States- the Declaration of Independence; the Treaty of Alliance with France; the Paris Treaty of 1783; and the Constitution of the United States in 1787.
Post Revolution – President of the Council of Pennsylvania
Briefly back in the United States in 1785, Benjamin’s fame was at all-time high. He was undoubtedly the second most influential person in America, after George Washington. He also took part in abolitionists’ efforts to bring an end to slavery and the international trade of slaves. To show his strong commitment to this cause, Benjamin freed the slaves that he owned.
After an illustrious career of diplomacy abroad, Franklin came back to America. On October 18, 1785, the State of Pennsylvania elected Franklin to serve as the sixth president of the state (state governor). From 1785 to 1788, the state placed their fate in his hands, and he was elected for an additional two consecutive terms (1786 and 1787).
In total, Benjamin spent about 18 years living abroad. For most of his trips in Europe, he was often accompanied by his son, William Franklin.
Benjamin Franklin’s Death
On April 17, 1790, Benjamin Franklin died at his Philadelphia home. He was 84 years old. His death brought the country into mourning. At his funeral, about 20,000 people paid their last respect to this American polymath and Founding Father. Benjamin Franklin’s body was buried at Philadelphia’s Christ Church cemetery.