27 INTERESTING FACTS ABOUT BEN FRANKLIN
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- To his life's end, Ben Franklin remained a printer and took pride in it. Wherever he lived in Europe or America, he managed to have a printing press at his disposal. It is no accident that his last will and testament, written at age eighty-three (the year before he died) begins "I, Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, printer…".
- Ben Franklin first saw himself in print at age 16, writing his controversial, feminist "Silence Dogood" letters, published anonymously in his brother's newspaper, The New England Courant.
- As a teenager Ben Franklin became an expert swimmer. On his visit to London at age nineteen, Ben went on a boating excursion with his printer friends. During the trip he leaped into the Thames River and swam from Chelsea to Blackfriars, performing every kind of feat, under water and above. He had learned these feats in the Schuylkill River at home in Philadelphia. He was so expert that he seriously considered opening a swimming school.
- At the age of twenty-two, Ben Franklin was the owner of the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper. His printing company printed the paper money for both Pennsylvania and Delaware.
- As a young man in his twenties, Ben Franklin was elected clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and he used his printing company to print their laws and other business. He was made postmaster of Philadelphia, which helped him circulate his newspaper.
- Ben Franklin taught himself to read French, Spanish, Latin, and Italian. His passion for self-improvement extended to public projects; he organized the first fire company in the colonies, made designs for paving and lighting Philadelphia streets and for expanding the city watch to a force of police.
- Ben Franklin, at the age of twenty-one, established the colonies' first circulation library for all interested citizens. The Library Company of Philadelphia, as it was called, housed not only books but also specimens of natural history and scientific apparatus. There were stuffed snakes, a dead pelican, and a collection of fossils.
- Ben Franklin was already over forty-five years old when he started his experiments in electricity. In 1747 he was given a gift of his first experimental apparatus - a glass tube, over three feet long, as big around as a man's wrist, with instructions for its use in obtaining electric sparks.
- In his first five years of conducting electricity experiments, Ben Franklin did not make much use of higher mathematics, since he was notably deficient in the subject. Rather, all his early experiments were done by hand, by trial and error, with simple objects as tools: glass tubes and tubes of resin, a gun barrel, corks, iron shot, and wax plates.
- Ben Franklin's "single fluid theory" showed that a given body possessing a normal amount of electric fluid was called neutral. During the process of charging, the fluid was transferred from one body to the other; the body with the deficiency being charged minus and the body with the excess charged plus . But no fluid is lost.
Ben's "single fluid theory" led to the electron theory in 1900: electrons move about conductors much as a fluid might move. Nobel Prize winner and physicist, Robert A. Millikan, called Ben's experiment that led to this theory "probably the most fundamental thing ever done in the field of electricity".
- Ben Franklin had to invent electricity terminology as he went along in his experiments. A scholar who traced Ben's vocabulary found at least twenty-five electrical terms which he was the first to use: examples -- armature, battery, brush, charged, condense, conductor, plus and minus, positively and negatively .
- Ben Franklin became so absorbed in his electricity experiments that he sold his printing business to concentrate on his experiments. There is little doubt that he could have amassed a fortune had he stayed in business, but Ben enjoyed his simple style of living and he had no ambition for outward display of wealth.
- Ben Franklin had a horror of debt, which he looked on as a kind of slavery: a man could thereby sell his freedom. Ben had seen his friends go down to ruin because of careless business practices. With money a man bought not only independence but he bought time, that most precious commodity, to use at his pleasure. For years Ben spoke quite seriously of founding an international organization to be called The Society of the Free and Easy -- meaning free of debt and, it followed, easy in spirit.
- Ben Franklin was nearly killed by his early experiments with lightning; he survived only because he luckily didn't receive a strong enough charge. Twice he was knocked senseless - once when he attempted to treat a paralyzed man with electric shock, and another time preparing to kill a turkey by electric shock. In both cases Ben managed to take the whole charge through his hands and arms. He described the feeling as an "unusual blow throughout my whole body from head to foot… after which the first thing I took notice of was a violent quick shaking of my body, which gradually remitting, my senses as gradually returned".
- Ben Franklin was the chief delegate to the Albany Congress of 1754, the first major conference to discuss a confederacy of the colonies. Upon his return from Albany, NY, Ben wrote a pamphlet called "Short Hints Towards a Scheme for Uniting the Northern Colonies". Several weeks before the Albany Congress, Ben's newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, had printed the now famous drawing of a snake broken into eight pieces (eight colonies), each piece labeled with initials: "NE., NY., NJ., P, M, V, NC, SC". "JOIN OR DIE ", the caption read.
- Ben Franklin organized the first volunteer fire company in 1736: The Union Fire Company. He wrote articles telling citizens how to prevent fires, stressing that an "ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" and he even told them to carry coals from one floor to another in a closed warming pan. Otherwise, he said, "scraps of fire may fall in to the chinks, and make no appearance until midnight, when your stairs being in flames, you may be forced (as I once was) to leap out of your windows and hazard your necks to avoid being over-roasted".
- In 1751 Ben Franklin organized the first insurance company in the colonies; fire was the number one adversary. The full name was Philadelphia Contributorship for the Insurance of Houses from Loss By Fire. It was called a mutual insurance plan , "whereby every man might help another, without any disservice to himself".
- The famous Ben Franklin invention, the Franklin Stove, was actually called the Pennsylvania Fireplace. It was first marketed in 1742 by Ben's friend, Robert Grace. Ben could have used the stove to make a fortune, but he consistently refused any personal profits from the enterprise. Ben's payment was the satisfaction that this stove warmed the houses of America more safely and effectively than before the stove's invention. He also was pleased that his invention would allow better ventilation and greater fuel efficiency.
- In 1751 Ben Franklin was instrumental in founding the first hospital in America. He raised ten thousand pounds from the Pennsylvania Assembly and a matching amount from the public. He was the first scientist to realize the importance of fresh air in curing disease and aiding general health. James Parton, an early Franklin biographer, called Ben "the first effective preacher of the blessed gospel of ventilation". Parton added, "He spoke and the windows of hospitals were lowered; consumption [a lung disease] ceased to gasp and fever to inhale poison".
- Ben Franklin, in 1761, invented the first original musical instrument created in America. It was known as the glass harmonica, or armonica as Ben called it. It became enormously popular in the eighteenth century, and music composed specifically for it was created by such luminaries as Mozart and Beethoven. Franklin also taught himself the violin, harp, and guitar; he even composed a string quartet, "Simplicity", that stressed easy playing.
- Ben Franklin had long wanted to develop an Academy where the curriculum would focus on English composition and grammar, as well as a broad range of practical knowledge in science and mechanics. The school opened in 1751 with one hundred students. It was first chartered as both Academy and College in 1755, and, in 1791, was officially named the University of Pennsylvania, as it exists today. Ben, who had less than two years of schooling himself, was the clear and unchallenged ancestor of a major university.
- During the Revolutionary War, Ben Franklin was in France, trying to get as much help for our new nation as possible. Even though France was officially neutral, France loaned America millions of dollars, let volunteers enlist, and permitted American warships to use its harbors. Hundreds of French military officers beseeched Ben to gain commissions in the American army.
- When Ben Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1785 from his service in France, guns fired and church bells rang to welcome him home. Upon his return he was made president of Pennsylvania's Supreme Council, a position like today's governor. Because he was in ill health, he had been determined to avoid further public service. But he couldn't resist the call for his counsel. "My country's folk", he joked, "have taken the prime of my life. They have eaten my flesh and seem resolved to pick my bones".
- In 1789, George Washington took the oath of office as president of the newly constituted United States. "Our grand machine has at length begun to work", said Ben Franklin. "I pray God to bless and guide its operations. If any form of government is capable of making a nation happy, ours I think bids fair now for producing that effect. But after all, much depends upon the people who are to be governed".
- After the first Congress adopted the Bill of Rights as the first ten amendments to the Constitution, Ben Franklin wrote that he was pleased that it had done its work "with a greater degree of temper, prudence, and unanimity than could well have been expected, and our future prospects seem very favorable".
At the same time, the violent convulsions of the French Revolution appalled him, even though he hoped in the end that it would establish a good constitution for France. Two of his best friends had died, one assassinated and the other guillotined.
- At his death in 1790, Ben Franklin was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground. A crowd of twenty thousand people came, the largest Philadelphia had ever seen. In one of his last letters -- to David Hartley, a British friend, Ben wrote: "God grant that not only the love of liberty, but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man, may pervade all the nations of the earth, so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface, and say, 'This is my country'.".
- In addition to the busybody, Franklin stove, and glass harmonica, Ben Franklin's inventions include:
- The library stepstool, a chair whose seat could be lifted and folded down to make a short ladder
- Mechanical arm for reaching books on high shelves (still used in many grocery stores)
- The rocking chair (when he fitted the legs of his armchair with curved pieces of wood)
- The "writing chair" -- a type of chair with an "arm" on one side to provide a writing surface (still used in many classrooms)
- The odometer, used to measure distance along colonial roads used by the postal service
- A new kind of ship's anchor
- A candle made from whale oil that made a clear white light and lasted much longer than tallow candles.
- A pulley system that enabled him to lock and unlock his bedroom door from his bed
- An improved streetlight by fitting it with four panes of glass and piercing the top and bottom to allow for ventilation
- Bifocal spectacles -- Ben thought of the idea when he was eating dinner and he noted that if he could see the food on his plate clearly he could not see the face of the person sitting across from him. With bifocals, he could use one pair of glasses for two purposes.