Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706 to Josiah and Abiah-Folger Franklin, who were very religious. His father was a soap and candle maker and didn’t make much money. He was the youngest son and the fifteenth child out of seventeen. Benjamin described his father’s qualities as “a sound understanding and solid Judgment.” He described his mother as “a discreet and virtuous Woman.”
Benjamin Franklin was not an formally educated man, but his love of learning gave him much understanding of people, of science and of philosophies. His scientific experiments are stepping stones to the technology we use today.
In 1730 he married Deborah Reed. She was described as a happy person who did not enjoy reading as much as her husband, but was very devoted to him. They had three children; Mary, William and Francis. Francis died as a young child during a small pox epidemic. William became Governor of New Jersey. Mary married a merchant.
In 1718, he became a printer’s apprentice for his brother, James, who was the printer of the New England Courant. The brothers didn’t have a good relationship. Benjamin thought his brother didn’t pay him enough money and James was difficult to get along with.
After four years when he was about 16, he wrote some letters to his brother’s paper and signed them Silence Dogood. The letters were funny and sometimes made fun of the Boston authorities and society. His letters became very popular and everyone tried to figure out who Silence Dogood was.
In 1722, James was sent to prison for making statements against the Boston authorities. Benjamin took care of the newspaper while James was in prison. When he was released from prison, he continued the newspaper but put it in Ben’s name. About this time, James discovered who Mrs. Silence Dogood was and Benjamin learned about the paper being printed in his name.
Finally, in 1723 Ben decided to leave Boston and traveled to Philadelphia. He soon found work at a newspaper in Philadelphia, but in 1724 he left for England, where he became a master printer. While in London he met with some of the famous English authors. He decided to return to Philadelphia in 1726 and in 1730, he started his own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette.
He began publishing his Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1732. The Almanac covered a lot of different things and was published new each year. It had a calender and yearly weather forecast, so the farmers would know best when to plant crops. It also had funny stories, jokes, and proverbs. Because Mrs. Silence Dogood did so well, he included some of his proverbs under the name Richard Sanders. Even today we hear some of his favorite sayings: Early to bed, early to rise makes a an healthy, wealthy, and wise
Poor Richard’s Almanac was very popular in the colonies. Soon it was being translated into different languages. In France it was called Bonhomme Richard. Jhon Paul Jones, who became a close friend of Benjamin Franklin, named one of his boats Bonhomme Richard in honor of his old friend.
In 1727, Franklin organized a club for the local businessmen. It was called Junto and they met once a week to talk about how they could increase their businesses. They also talked about how they could make Philadelphia better. The Junta Club did a lot of good things for the citizens of Philadelphia and soon other colonies started following their example. In 1731, a lending library was opened; in 1736 the city was protected by a Fire Company. In 1749, the University of Pennsylvania was opened and its teaching was based on Franklin’s philosophies of education. They even built a hospital and created an insurance company in 1751. All of these things still exist in towns all across America.
He had a strong interest in science. He was constantly developing new ideas. He created a new messenger system between cities. He took part in establishing a hospital and then the American philosophical society.
One of his greatest inventions is the Franklin Stove. In 1740 he invented a stove that sent heat out in all directions which would heat all parts of a room. The Franklin Stove today is still in use as a wood burning stove and very little modifications have been made to it.
Probably every elementary school student knows his experiment to prove the relationship between electricity and lightening. He was very interested in reading about electricity. In 1752 when he was in France his experiments proved that lightning was a form of electricity. In 1753, his conducted his famous experiment when he flew a kite with a key attached with a wire to the tail in the middle of a thunderstorm. The wet string holding the kite became a conductor. When lightening hit the kite, an electrical spark could be seen on the key.
With his knowledge from this experiment, he invented the lightning rod which protected building during lightning storms. The lightning rods were used all over the Colonies and in Europe. The theory is still being used today.
He was elected to the Royal Society in 1756 and to the French Academy of Sciences in 1772. His later achievements included formulating a theory of heat absorption, measuring the Gulf Stream, designing ships, tracking storm paths, and inventing bifocal lenses.
Benjamin had a great love for learning. He only went to school for two years and had to quit when he was ten. He did not let leaving school stop him from learning. He read everything he could. He sets an example that no matter who we are or where we are or how much money we have, we can learn anything we want, can go anywhere we want, as long as we can read! He read the books of John Bunyan, Plutarch, Daniel Defoe, and Cotton Mather. When he opened his book shop he would read every book he ordered. He never stopped learning. He studied everything he could, like algebra, geometry, navigation, grammar, logic, science and foreign languages. He tried to share everything he knew with other people. He started the world’s first subscription library so that knowledge would not cost people money. He changed the educational system in Pennsylvania so children were taught every subject. His opinions on education were used when the University of Pennsylvania was founded. When he was in England from 1757 to 1762, he really enjoyed the learned people there. He received honorary doctorate degrees from the St. Andrews University in 1759 and from Oxford in 1762.
Benjamin Franklin learned a lot and like most people who have gained knowledge, he believed in fairness. When he saw unfairness, Benjamin Franklin got involved. When he became printer for the public documents of his province, it was his first stepping stone into public service. He became the postmaster of Philadelphia. In 1748 at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin was able to retire from his businesses and let other people manage them for him. This gave him time to dedicate himself to his city, his colony and his people.
In 1751, he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. This was during the time that the Penn Family controlled most of what happened in Pennsylvania. He fought against that control and for self-government, just like he would sixteen years later when he supported the Declaration of Independence. In the beginning Benjamin Franklin believed Britain had the best government in the world and he didn’t support the first movements for independence. He presented the Plan of the Union in the Albany Congress in 1754 which established some self-government in the Colonies. Franklin then convinced the Pennsylvania Assembly to pass the Colony’s first militia law. He led a militia unit to Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, where they built forts for frontiersmen so they could be protected from the French and the Indians.
In 1757, he was sent to England by the Pennsylvania Assembly. There he heard Lord Granville say that King George III’s laws were were “the Law of the Land: for the King is the Legislator of the Colonies.” This made Benjamin Franklin stop to think again about the relationship between England and the Colonies and he soon realized that England did not have the best government in the world.
He returned to Pennsylvania in 1762 and began the postal system that would serve the Colonies and later become the U.S. Postal System. He moved to a new house on Market Street in Philadelphia with his wife. His daughter, Mary, was married to Richard Bache and his son, William, has just become the Governor of the New Jersey Colony.
In 1763 after pontiac s rebellion, Benjamin Franklin was against the bloodbath planned by frontiersmen. He knew that attacking innocent Indians in revenge for Pontiac’s conspiracy was just as wrong as what Pontiac did. (Two wrongs don’t make a right.) When they frontiersmen came to Philadelphia to get support from the townspeople, he spoke up against it.
In 1764 he lost the election for another term on the Pennsylvania Assembly. Later in the year the Assembly sent him back to England to petition King George III for Pennsylvania to become a royal colony. When King George III issued the Stamp Act in 1765
The crisis precipitated by the stamp Act, Pennsylvania becoming a royal colony was no longer important, but Benjamin Franklin stayed in England to defend the rights of the colonies. At first he thought the Colonists should just accept the Stamp Act, but when he heard how much the Colonists were against it, he argued their case to the British ambassadors.
The Townshed Act of 1767 were “acts of oppression” to Franklin and he told the British Parliament that this would “sour the American tempers and perhaps hasten their final revolt.” To oppose the tea act of 1773, Franklin wrote essays. An Edict by the King of Prussia” and “Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced to a Small One.” The essays were read by the British which was his intention. He explained in a letter to his sister: “I have held up a Looking-Glass in which some of the Ministers may see their ugly faces, and the Nation its Injustice.”
Thomas Hutchinson was the British Governor of Massachusetts. Somehow Benjamin Franklin got copies of some of his letters and sent them to friends in Massachusetts. In 1773, his friends published the letters which caused Franklin embarrassment and trouble with the British Parliament. He lost his title as Postmaster General of Massachusetts. He stayed in England and worked hard for a a peaceful solution for the Colonies.
In March 1775, Franklin sailed home to the Colonies and was immediately given a seat on the Pennsylvania Committee of Safety and in the Continental Congress. He was the main author of the Articles of Confederation which was a document to unite the colonies. He helped Thomas Jefferson write the Declaration of Independence. On July 4, 1776 at the age of 70, he officially became a Revolutionist when he signed the Declaration of Independence.
When the Continental Congress realized it needed help from France, Benjamin Franklin and two grandsons set sail for France in October 1776. He was accepted well by the French, who called him Bonhomme Richard, French for Poor Richard. The French wanted to fight the British but were afraid to join the American Continentals unless they could be certain they would win. He made strong arguments to the French government, but it wasn’t until the Continental victory in September and October of 1777 at Saratoga, that the French were ready to join the Patriots in their fight for independence.
Franklin stayed in France for seven years and acted as the first American ambassador to France. He organized the united French and Colony armies and navies and bought ammunition from the French. Here he met John Paul Jones and introduced him to the French government officials.
When the British surrendered at Yorktown on October, 1781, Benjamin Franklin met secretly with peace negotiators from London. He convinced the British that they could not win the war and that the Colonies should have their independence. He told them what the Colonies wanted to be included in any peace treaty. The demands were simple: (1) complete independence from Great Britain, (2) the right to fish the Newfoundland waters, (3) all British soldiers to leave the Colonies, and (4) a boundary west of the Mississippi. Benjamin Franklin and John Jay signed the Treaty of Paris for the Colonies on September 3, 1783.
He returned home to Philadelphia in 1785 at the age of 79. The next year he became President of Pennsylvania for three years. He also became active in the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, the American Philosophical Society, and the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1787 at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin, age 81, was too weak to stand, but he used his life’s knowledge to bring compromise to the Constitution of the United States of America.
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at the age of 84 years. He did a lot in those 84 years to bring “peace, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” to all Americans. He loved knowledge and he used his knowledge for good, not evil. He should be an example to all people who think that they can’t contribute to making our world a better place. He was born into a poor family. He had two years of school. Yet, he did not give up on his dream or his desire to learn. When he learned, he used that knowledge for the good of America.