If someone were to ask me who Benjamin Franklin was, the first thing I would say is he was a president. Then I would picture the short stubby man with stringy long hair and glasses holding a kite with a key attached to the end, standing in the rain, discovering electricity. But is this really who Benjamin Franklin was? What exactly was Benjamin Franklin famous for?
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was an author, scientist, statesman, diplomat, printer, publisher, and inventor. He was most recognized for being one of the United States’ Founding Fathers and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also the first postmaster general of the United States. What Benjamin Franklin was not was president. Nor did he discover electricity with a kite and a key. Let’s delve further into what exactly Benjamin Franklin is famous for.
Who is Benjamin Franklin?
Franklin was born into a family with modest means and, as a child, was rarely in school. He had only two years of formal education at Boston Latin School and a private academy and then went on to join the family business making candles and soap.
When he was just 12 years old, he began an apprenticeship at his brother’s printing shop. As he earned money, he bought books and spent his time self-learning. As a result, Franklin was mostly totally self-taught and eventually was a co-founder of what is now known as the University of Pennsylvania. He even received honorary degrees at Harvard, Yale, the College of William and Mary, and the University of St Andrew and Oxford.
When Franklin was just 16, he began secretly submitting essays and commentaries to his brother’s weekly newspaper called the New England Courant. He pretended to be a fictitious widow who wrote home-type ramblings on things such as fashion, marriage, women’s rights, and religion. Once his brother discovered he was the writer, he was angry and jealous, so Franklin fled to Boston and eventually settled in Philadelphia.
Once settled in Pennsylvania, Benjamin Franklin opened up his own printing shop and went on to establish a lending library, a hospital, and a college where he was known for his experiments with electricity.
What Are Franklin’s Most Notable Achievements?
He Created the First Political Cartoon in the United States
In 1729, Franklin purchased a newspaper with Hugh Meredith called the Pennsylvania Gazette. He produced the first political cartoon there titled “Join or Die.” During the American Revolution, this cartoon became a symbol of colonial solidarity.
He Invented the Lightning Rod
Though it has always been presumed that he discovered electricity, that is not the case. However, He did invent the lightning rod, which is posted on top of buildings to protect them from the destructive force of lightning. Below is a summary of what occurred.
Franklin put together a simple kite and attached a wire to the top to mimic a lightning rod. Then he attached a hemp string to the bottom and a silk string to that. This was because when the hemp got wet in the rain, it would rapidly conduct an electrical charge. At the same time, the silk string that Franklin held while standing in the doorway of his shed stayed dry.
Then, he attached a metal key to the hemp string, and he and his son began to fly the kite. Just as they were about to give up hope, they noticed some of the loose strings of the hemp standing erect. Franklin placed his finger near the key, and the negative charges in the metal key became attracted to the positive charges in his hand, resulting in a spark. He then placed his knuckle on the key and was rewarded with a very evident electric spark.
He used a Leyden jar (a device for storing static electricity) and collected electric fire or electricity. He saved it to be discharged at a later time. After this success, he continued to work with electricity, eventually perfecting the lightning rod.
He Was the Author of the Famous Poor Richard’s Almanack
Published in 1732, the Poor Richard’s Almanack was published every year for 25 years. He sold about 10,000 copies a year. Even Napoleon Bonaparte translated it into Italian.
Though this book is known to be Benjamin Franklins’ work, he used the pseudonym Richard Saunders and not his own name.
The famous phrase, “A penny saved is twopence dear,” was written in his almanack.
He Invented Bifocals
It seems that Benjamin Franklin had presbyopia and needed two sets of glasses. So he invented bifocals – glasses with one prescription lens for the upper half and another prescription lens for the lower half. This enabled him to see both up close and far away without having to continually change his glasses.
He also invented swim fins, a musical instrument called a glass armonica, a flexible urinary catheter, and his own version of an odometer.
He Invented the Freestanding Cast-Iron Stove
In 1740 Franklin invented the freestanding stove. It was initially a fireplace with a baffle (a metal panel that directed the flow of the fire’s fumes) near the back that would transfer more heat from the fire to the room’s airflow. Then, the fire’s hot fumes and smoke were drawn over an inverted siphon. This helped to produce less smoke than other fireplaces, and the smoke funneled up the chimney.
He Was the First United States Postmaster General
In 1737, Franklin was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia by the British Crown Post. In 1775 the Second Continental Congress established the United States Post Office, and due to the amount of experience Franklin possessed in performing the job, he was appointed the postmaster general.
He Instituted Several Community Organizations in Philadelphia
In the early 1700s, Franklin helped to start a lending library. At this time, books weren’t readily available in the colonies, and the library he helped start stayed in business as the largest United States public library until the 1850s. He also helped establish the city’s first fire company, a police patrol, and the American Philosophical Society.
Franklin Was the Main Founder of the University of Pennsylvania
In 1751 Franklin played a part in creating the Academy of Philadelphia, a college that later became known as the University of Pennsylvania. It started when in 1749, he published his famous essay called “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth” and circulated it around Philadelphia. He eventually gathered 24 trustees to construct a higher education institution based on his suggestions.
The group bought a building together, and in 1751, they opened the doors to children of the upper and working class. The Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania was its original name. Franklin served as president from 1755 until 1790 and then as a trustee until he died in 1790.
He Helped Draft the United States Declaration of Independence
After spending some time in Europe, Franklin returned to Pennsylvania in 1775 and was elected by the Pennsylvania Assembly as their delegate to the Second Continental Congress, a convention of representatives from the thirteen Colonies who were in charge of managing the war efforts against Britain. At this convention, it was decided that a declaration of independence would be issued, and Franklin was one of the five members who was assigned to draft it. It was adopted on July 4, 1776.
He was also the only Founding Father who signed all four of the key documents that established the United States. Those documents were the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris, whereby peace with Great Britain was established (1783), and the United States Constitution (1787).
Franklin Became an Abolitionist in His Old Age
Franklin owned two slaves who worked as his household servants during his life. But as he grew older, he realized how vile slavery was and how it was against the principles of the American Revolution. Thus, he took over the job as president of the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society and petitioned Congress to grant liberty to “those unhappy men who alone in this land of freedom are degraded into perpetual bondage.”
Even though his petition was overlooked, he continued to fight for the freedom of slaves until his death. He even went so far as to make a provision in his will to his daughter and son-in-law whereby they would not be allowed to receive their inheritance unless they first freed their slave.
In conclusion, Benjamin Franklin was never the president of the United States, nor did he invent or discover electricity. However, he accomplished so much for humankind in his lifetime that his name will live on for generations to come.
Alexandra Christensen is a freelance writer and editor. When she is not working on an assignment, she can be found hanging around with other writers on Medium.com/@alexandra_creates where she writes mostly about raising foster and adopted kids and those with invisible disabilities.