Benjamin Franklin dies

Benjamin Franklin dies



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On April 17, 1790, American statesman, printer, scientist and writer Benjamin Franklin dies in Philadelphia at age 84.

Born in Boston in 1706, Franklin became at 12 years old an apprentice to his half brother James, a printer and publisher. He learned the printing trade and in 1723 went to Philadelphia to work after a dispute with his brother. After a sojourn in London, he started a printing and publishing press with a friend in 1728. In 1729, the company won a contract to publish Pennsylvania’s paper currency and also began publishing the Pennsylvania Gazette, which was regarded as one of the better colonial newspapers. From 1732 to 1757, he wrote and published Poor Richard’s Almanack, an instructive and humorous periodical in which Franklin coined such practical American proverbs as “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”

As his own wealth and prestige grew, Franklin took on greater civic responsibilities in Philadelphia and helped establish the city’s first circulating library, police force, volunteer fire company, and an academy that became the University of Pennsylvania. From 1737 to 1753, he was postmaster of Philadelphia and during this time also served as a clerk of the Pennsylvania legislature. In 1753, he became deputy postmaster general, in charge of mail in all the northern colonies.

READ MORE: 11 Surprising Facts About Benjamin Franklin

Deeply interested in science and technology, he invented the Franklin stove, which is still manufactured today, and bifocal eyeglasses, among other practical inventions. In 1748, he turned his printing business over to his partner so he would have more time for his experiments. The phenomenon of electricity fascinated him, and in a dramatic experiment he flew a kite in a thunderstorm to prove that lightning is an electrical discharge. He later invented the lightning rod. Many terms used in discussing electricity, including positive, negative, battery, and conductor, were coined by Franklin in his scientific papers. He was the first American scientist to be highly regarded in European scientific circles.

Franklin was active in colonial affairs and in 1754 proposed the union of the colonies, which was rejected by Britain. In 1757, he went to London to argue for the right to tax the massive estates of the Penn family in Pennsylvania, and in 1764 went again to ask for a new charter for Pennsylvania. He was in England when Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. His initial failure to actively oppose the controversial act drew wide criticism in the colonies, but he soon redeemed himself by stoutly defending American rights before the House of Commons. With tensions between the American colonies and Britain rising, he stayed on in London and served as agent for several colonies.

In 1775, he returned to America as the American Revolution approached and was a delegate at the Continental Congress. In 1776, he helped draft the Declaration of Independence and in July signed the final document. Ironically, Franklin’s illegitimate son, William Franklin, whom Franklin and his wife had raised, had at the same time emerged as a leader of the Loyalists. In 1776, Congress sent Benjamin Franklin, one of the embattled United States’ most prominent statesmen, to France as a diplomat. Warmly embraced, he succeeded in 1778 in securing two treaties that provided the Americans with significant military and economic aid. In 1781, with French help, the British were defeated. With John Jay and John Adams, Franklin then negotiated the Treaty of Paris with Britain, which was signed in 1783.

In 1785, Franklin returned to the United States. In his last great public service, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and worked hard for the document’s ratification. After his death in 1790, Philadelphia gave him the largest funeral the city had ever seen.

READ MORE: Benjamin Franklin: Biography, Inventions & Facts


On This Day in History -April 17, 1790

On this day in history, April 17, 1790, Benjamin Franklin dies in Philadelphia. Franklin is one of the most well-known and beloved Founding Fathers of the United States. Ben Franklin was born in Boston to a tallow chandler, meaning his father made candles and soap from "tallow" or animal fat. Ben had 16 brothers and sisters.

Ben had less than two years of formal schooling as a boy and was apprenticed to his older brother James who owned a printing shop. This is where Ben learned the skills printing and writing that would later make him rich. Franklin ran away to Philadelphia at 17 and eventually began his own printing business. He purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729 and began printing his Poor Richard's Almanack in 1732, which made him a fortune and gave him the ability to retire at the age of 42.

After his retirement Franklin became involved in studying electricity. His experiments and findings helped shaped our modern understanding of electrical currents. He even coined such terms as positive and negative charge, battery, charging and discharging and conductor. His writings about electricity were put into a book by a friend in England and Franklin quickly became a household name.

Franklin's first political offices were as Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly and as Deputy Postmaster of Philadelphia. He later served on the Common Council of Philadelphia, as a Justice of the Peace and as an Alderman. In 1753, he became the Deputy Postmaster General for all of North America. Franklin served in the Pennsylvania House for several terms and served as the agent of several colonies in London.

Once the Revolutionary War broke out, Franklin was elected to the Continental Congress where he served on the committee to write the Declaration of Independence. In what was probably his most important role, Franklin served as America's Ambassador to France from 1778-1785. It was during this time that Franklin persuaded King Louis XVI to join the Revolution on the American side, involvement that proved crucial to the American victory.

After the Revolution, Franklin served three terms as governor of Pennsylvania. In one of his last acts of public service, Franklin served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He encouraged the other members to sign the US Constitution, even though it wasn't perfect. During the Convention, he famously spoke these words:

"In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. Have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth - that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid. I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business."


Ben Franklin was more than an inventor, his impact reached deeply into our modern society. A Founding Father, helping win our freedom by gaining the support of the French, a renaissance man, leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, diplomat. He facilitated the first fire department and helped develop America’s first library.

As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment, especially for his discoveries and theories regarding electricity.

Portrait by Benjamin Wilson oil on canvas 1759

From a tech perspective, the following are a few of his inventions:

Swim fins: Franklin loved the water and wanting to increase his speed in the water he devised fins that he wore on his hands.

Extension arm: Having helped found a library in Philadelphia he created an extension arm to help him reach books on upper shelves. Similar devices are still used today.

Franklin stove: Franklin invented a small stove that would use less wood and deliver more heat. He sold a number of the stoves, but, ironically, they didn’t work very well. A later inventor modified Franklin’s design to create a truly efficient model, which became known as the Franklin stove.

Lightning rod: Before Franklin’s invention, lightning destroyed or damaged many buildings and harmed many lives. Franklin believed that the lightning rod was his most important invention.

Street lighting: The street lamps in Franklin’s day were not very efficient and the glass globes tended to become dark with soot from the oil burned inside, requiring almost daily cleaning. In his Autobiography, Franklin describes an improvement he made to street lights: “I therefore suggested composing them of four flat panes, with a long funnel above to draw up the smoke, and crevices admitting air below, to facilitate the ascent of the smoke.”

Odometer: As postmaster, he wanted to measure the distance between certain points so that he might establish more efficient postal routes. He devised an odometer that attached to his carriage. By counting the rotations of the wheels, it calculated the distance the carriage traveled.

Three-wheel clock: Franklin invented a 24-hour, three-wheel clock that was much simpler than most clock designs of the time.

Bifocal glasses: Franklin had his optician take the lenses from his two sets of glasses, cut the lenses in two horizontally, and then mount them back into spectacle frames. Thus, bifocals were invented.

Map of the Gulf Stream: One of Franklin’s many roles was that of U.S. Deputy Post Master General. At one point he received a complaint that letters sent from Europe to America took several weeks longer to arrive than ones sent from the New World to the Old. After consulting with a Nantucket whaling captain, Franklin made the first map of the Gulf Stream, a quick current of warm water running north from the West Indies and east across the Atlantic. His suggestions for British sea captains were summarily ignored for years, but when they did eventually factor the Gulf Stream into their routes they managed to shave up to two weeks off their transit times.

Flexible Urinary Catheter: In Franklin’s day, catheters were rigid and quite painful. Ben’s older brother John suffered from kidney stones so Ben devised a catheter with a flexible tube to ease some of his brother’s discomfort.

Electrical battery of Leyden jars: The individual Leyden jar, the early form of what is now called a capacitor, gathers an electrical charge and stores it until it is discharged. Franklin grouped a number of jars into what he described as a “battery” (using the military term for weapons functioning together). By multiplying the number of holding vessels, a stronger charge could be stored, and more power would be available on discharge.

Fire Department: In 1736, Benjamin Franklin started the first fire department ever. Located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, it was called the Union Fire Company.

Fire Insurance Company: In 1752, Franklin was responsible for setting up America’s first fire insurance company.

Political Cartoon: Benjamin Franklin is credited with creating the first political cartoon. The following picture, titled “Join or Die”, is the first political cartoon ever. Appearing in Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, it concerns the Albany Plan of Union and the author’s stance on the matter.

Vitamin C: Before this nutrient had even been discovered, Franklin encouraged the eating of citrus fruits, including oranges, limes, and grapefruits. Recognizing the healthy advantages of fruit, wise Benjamin coined the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

In 1795, years after Franklin’s recommendations, the British navy mandated a lime in the daily diet of British seamen. The decision reduced instances of scurvy among naval crews. At that point, “limey” became a popular term for an Englishman.

Watertight bulkheads: Franklin as early as 1784, recommended using the Chinese method, which had existed for centuries. A bulkhead is an upright wall within the hull of a ship to increase the structural rigidity of a vessel and create watertight compartments.

Benjamin Franklin’s formulation of a general theory of electrical “action” won him an international reputation in pure science in his own day. In 1752 he conducts the famous kite experiment in which he proves that lightning is indeed electric.

In the course of his studies of electricity, Franklin found that the English language did not yet contain the words to describe the phenomena he observed. He coined words pertaining to studies of electricity and conductivity still used today among them are battery, charge, condenser, conductor, plus, minus, positively, negatively and armature.


Marriage and Children

Deborah Read and Benjamin Franklin entered a common law agreement on September 1, 1730.

A bachelor in his twenties was frowned upon and Franklin at age 24 was set to find a wife.

Deborah Read, who he had courted before going to England, had married Roger Potter during his absence. In 1727 Potter had ran away to the West Indies escaping creditors.

The wife of Thomas Godfrey, a mathematician who lived in part of Franklin’s house with his family and Junto member, tried to make a match between Franklin and a relative’s daughter. Franklin started courting the girl and expected a large dowry for their marriage. He had planned to use the dowry to pay the remaining debt for the printing house which added to 100 pounds. The parents declined to pay and the relationship was terminated as well as his friendship with Thomas Godfrey.

Method and Success of Inoculating the Small-Pox in New England, 1722. Houghton Library—Harvard College Library

On September 1, 1730 Benjamin Franklin married Deborah Read. They entered a common-law agreement which protected them from bigamy if her runaway husband returned.

Deborah assisted in the business by folding and stitching pamphlets, tending shop, purchasing old linen rags for paper makers. He found her a “good and faithful helpmate”.

Around the time they married Franklin took custody of an illegitimate child, William. The name of the mother remains a mystery.

The couple had two children. The first was Francis Folger Franklin born October 1732. The second, Sarah Franklin born in 1743. In 1736 Francis, who was 4 years old, died from small pox. He had not been inoculated. Inoculation had proven successful after the 1721 outbreak in Boston when 5,889 Bostonians had smallpox, and 844 died of it. About Francis’s death Franklin wrote in his autobiography:

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”


Later Years and Death

During his later years Franklin’s health gradually deteriorated. From 1785 to 1787 Franklin served as President of the Council of Pennsylvania. His last major appearance in public was during the Constitutional Convention which took place in Philadelphia from May 25 to September 17, 1787. As representative of the State of Pennsylvania he had prepared a speech before the signing of the Constitution but he felt too weak to deliver it. He let James Wilson, representative of Pennsylvania, read it for him.

Franklin had his first attack of pleurisy (lung infection or pneumonia) when he was 21. Eight years later he had a recurrence with an abscess on his left lung which left him susceptible to future attacks. At 44 he had his first gout attack. Later in life he suffered from repeated gout attacks and had a large bladder stone which confined him to bed. These disorders are associated with high uric acid related to diet, age, genetics and possible exposure to lead.

Death

Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 when he was 84 years old. The cause of his death was empyema brought by attacks of pleurisy, which he had suffered earlier in his life.

Four days after his death his physician Dr. John Jones provided the Pennsylvania Gazette, a publication he previously owned, with an account of Franklin’s health during the last two weeks of his life.

He reported that 16 days before his death he was seized with high fever without particular symptoms until the 4 th day when he complained of pain in his chest, cough and difficulty breathing. Five days before his death an abscess had formed in his lungs which suddenly burst. He continued to throw up. His lungs were continuously pressed by the abscess and was unable to breath. He quietly expired at about 11 o’clock at night.

Funeral

On the 21 st of April a funeral procession started at the State House. His procession was followed by politicians, scientists, printers, members of the American Philosophical Society and members of the College of Physicians (the first medical school in the country). Absent were President George Washington and members of Congress. It is estimated that 20,000 people gathered at the funeral, the largest Philadelphia had ever seen. The city had a population of 28,000 in 1790.

Benjamin Franklin was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground. His body rests next to his wife Deborah, who died 25 years earlier, and his son Francis Folger, who died when he was 4 from small pox.


Fact Check: Benjamin Franklin Had Dozens of Illegitimate Children

Myth: Benjamin Franklin had thirteen to eighty illegitimate children!

This myth has been around for a long while, and is even, apparently, perpetuated by tour guides in Philadelphia. In my experience as a professor lecturing students, the image of the balding, portly Franklin as the consummate ladies man incites giggles from women and shocked astonishment from men. Those reactions are justified because the image is based on a myth, or at least an enormous exaggeration.

Franklin never married in a religious ceremony, and this fact might have contributed to the myth that he fathered numerous illegitimate children. Franklin courted young Deborah Reed of Philadelphia when he was only seventeen. Because Franklin was being sent to London by the Pennsylvania governor’s request and would not be back for some time, Reed’s mother refused to allow her daughter to marry. Reed married John Rogers, a notorious debtor who soon fled to Barbados to avoid possible incarceration. Franklin, meanwhile, had returned to Philadelphia and fathered an illegitimate son named William, but was also eager to rekindle the relationship with his lost love, Deborah. Reed never obtained a legal divorce from her husband, and John Rogers was never heard from again. Therefore, without a divorce or a death certificate, Franklin and Reed were forced to marry through a common-law union in 1730.

Shortly thereafter, Deborah Reed took the infant William Franklin (who had been born earlier that year) into her home. It has been speculated that William Franklin’s mother was a servant in the Franklin household. This might help explain the apparently strained relationship between Deborah and William. Some historians have claimed that Franklin fathered another illegitimate child, a girl, who later married John Fox croft of Philadelphia. Details of this child are difficult to find, and it might be nothing more than speculation or hearsay, but it also could have fueled the wild imaginations of Franklin detractors. Benjamin and Deborah Franklin did have two children together, a son named Francis Folger who died of smallpox at the age of four, and a daughter, Sarah, who married Franklin’s successor to the office of postmaster general, Richard Bache.

Deborah Franklin died in 1774 when Benjamin Franklin was approaching seventy. This is when the story becomes more interesting and possibly salacious. Franklin was a man of fine taste who loved European court life, particularly in France. Franklin drew considerable attention from French women, and he, in turn, enjoyed their company. He was sent to France in 1776 to act as a special envoy on behalf of the American cause of independence. While in Paris, he became close with Anne-Catherine de Ligniville, the widow of the French philosopher Helvetius. Franklin apparently proposed marriage, but she declined in deference to her deceased husband. Franklin and Madame Helvetius were both in advanced age, and it would be highly unlikely that she could have produced children even if they sustained an intimate relationship. She did organize one of the more popular salons in France and enjoyed the company of many notable men and, of course, many ladies of society, women. Franklin frequently charmed.


Early Life

Benjamin Franklin was born on 17 Milk Street, Boston, Massachusetts Bay.

Birthplace and Parents

Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston in what was known as the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was born on a small house on 17 Milk Street, across the street from the Old Meeting House. His father was Josiah Franklin, soap and candle maker. His mother was Abiah Folger, a home maker. Franklin was raised as a Presbyterian.

His father, Josiah Franklin, emigrated from England in 1682. He had 7 children with his first wife, when she died he married Abiah Folger and had 10 more children, a total of 17 in which Benjamin was the 15 th and youngest son. His mother, Abiah Franklin (Folger) was the daughter of Peter Folger, one of the first settlers of New England.

A bust on the second floor of 17 Milk Street commemorates Franklin’s birth.

Education

Boston Latin School is the oldest school in America. It was founded April 23, 1635.

At 8 years old young Benjamin Franklin started attending South Grammar School (Boston Latin) showing early talent moving from the middle of the class to the top of it within a year. The following year he attended George Brownell’s English School, a school for writing and arithmetic. He showed great talent for writing and little for arithmetic.

Young Franklin loved reading he would borrow books from friends and save every penny to buy books. When he was 16 he became a vegetarian partly because he did not like to eat anything that was killed and partly to save money to buy books. He read voraciously trying to improve his writing style, grammar and eloquence.

His father intended for Benjamin, as his youngest son, to serve in church but he showed no inclination for it. Unfortunately he had to cut his education short as his father could not afford paying for it.

Apprenticeship

Josiah Franklin’s candle and soap shop was located at Hanover and Union streets.

At 10 his father took him in as an apprentice in his soap and candle making shop. This shop was located at Hanover & Union streets, the building was torn down in 1858.

Benjamin was in charge of cutting wicks for candles, filling molds, attending the shop and running errands. His father intended for his young son to inherit the business when he retired however Benjamin did not want to follow his father’s steps, he wanted to be a sailor. He was employed in this father’s business for 2 years.

In 1717 his brother James returned from England with a press and letters to set his printing business in Boston. To prevent Benjamin from becoming a sailor, as his brother Josiah had, his father sent him to work with his brother James as an apprentice. He made him sign an indenture for his apprenticeship which bounded him until he turned 21 and only then he could earn wages.

His brother was abusive partly because Benjamin showed talent. Confrontations were taken to his father who usually ruled against James.

The New England Courant

Even after Benjamin ran away to Philadelphia the New England Courant continued to be published under his name until it ceased publication in 1726.

In 1721 James Franklin founded the New England Courant the second newspaper in America, the first one was the Boston Newsletter.

Benjamin was in charge of setting the letters for the printer and sell newspapers door to door. This job did not satisfy him, he wanted to write but knew his brother would object. One day he left an anonymous article under the door of the print house signed under the pen name of Silence Dogood. From April to October 1722 he submitted 14 Dogood letters which were well received and published by the Courant. Dogood was a fictitious character, the widow of a country minister, “an Enemy to Vice, and a Friend to Virtue”. She abhorred arbitrary government and unlimited power.

The New England Courant was a liberal newspaper publishing humorous articles and cartoons against the colonial government. One of the pieces published in June 1722 offended the Assembly and James was jailed for two weeks for contempt as he did not disclose the author. While James was in jail Benjamin ran the business.

When James was discharged he was prohibited from printing the Courant so it was advertised as printed by Benjamin Franklin.

The Courant was published until June 1726 for a total of 255 issues. Conservative and puritanical Boston was no place for a publication like the Courant. James was the first fighter for journalistic freedom in America and the most important journalistic influence on Benjamin Franklin. James Franklin closed up his printing shop and moved to more liberal Rhode Island.

To Philadelphia

When James was banned from printing the Courant, Benjamin was secretly discharged of his apprenticeship so that the newspapaer was pretended to be printed by him. In 1723 at age 17, Benjamin took advantage of this clause and decided to leave his abusive brother and go to New York in search of work.

He left Boston to New York with very little money in his pocket. Unable to find work in New York he proceeded to Philadelphia where he found employment in the printing house of Samuel Keimer. He lodged in John Read’s house. Franklin eventually married his daughter, Deborah Read, in 1730.

Philadelphia was a city with a population of 2,500. It had been founded in 1682 and by 1720 it had become an important trading center and a major port. The first immigrants were Quakers followed by Mennonites, Jews, Catholics and Anglicans which called for more religion tolerance than Protestant Boston.

Through his brother-in-law, Robert Holmes, he met Sir William Keith, Governor of Pennsylvania. He liked Franklin’s company and usually took him to dine in his home. The governor offered him government business if he was to set up his own printing shop. With a recommendation letter from the governor and after a 7 month absence Franklin returned to Boston to ask his father for a loan.

Back in Boston his father declined to give him the loan, in his opinion he was still too young to be trusted with the management of a business and a great amount of money. Josiah Franklin was proud of his son for obtaining such important recommendation form a governor and creating a good reputation in such a short period of time. He promised him that when he turned 21 he would help him financially.

Franklin returned to Philadelphia where he continued working for Samuel Keimer.

During this time he was courting Deborah Read, the daughter of his landlady. Her mother refused to let her marry before Franklin’s trip to England.


H is Grave

Franklin himself had composed the black-bordered Pennsylvania Gazette which announced his death. Dr. Jones, Franklin's physician, informed the readers of Franklin's final illness. He had been suffering from empyema, pus filling in his lung brought on by attacks of pleurisy many years earlier. His temperature was high. This made breathing laborious, and he almost suffocated. After several days of breathing woes, the pain went away for a day, upon which he left his bed and asked that it be made properly so that he might have a dignified death. His daughter, Sally, told him that she hoped he would live many years more. "I hope not," he replied.

An abscess in Franklin's lung burst and he passed into a coma. He died on April 17, 1790, with his grandsons William Temple and Bennie at his side. Benjamin Franklin was 84 years old.

They were followed by the printers of the city and their apprentices. Franklin always considered himself a leather apron man, a mechanic, a printer. "Keep they Trade, and thy Trade will keep Thee."

Then came members of the American Philosophical Society, which was co-founded by Franklin in the 1740's. Next came members of the College of Physicians. Franklin was a founding member of the Academy, which became the College of Philadelphia, which had created the College of Physicians, the first medical school in the country. The Society of Cincinnati found its way into the procession, though Franklin had derided their philosophy of making honor hereditary.

Franklin was buried beside his wife Deborah, who had preceded him in death by 25 years. His beloved son Francis Folger, who had died at age 4 from smallpox, was also in the family plot.

As a young man in 1728, Franklin had composed his own mock epitaph which read:

The Body of
B. Franklin
Printer
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be whlly lost:
For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.
He was born on January 6, 1706.
Died 17

His gravestone would simply read:

James Madison moved that the House of Representatives, then sitting in New York, wear mourning for a month.

In June, Count Mirabeau suggested that the French National Assembly should wear mourning as well. His suggestion also provides a fitting eulogy.

Today thousands of tourists annually still come to pay their respect to Benjamin Franklin. His grave is visible through an iron gate at the southeast corner of 5th and Arch Streets. Pennies dot his tombstone, as a local tradition claims that such a practice will bring the penny-tosser luck.

One must wonder what the author of Poor Richard's Almanack might think of such a practice though. On the one hand, a man famous for the line, "A penny saved, is a penny earned," would not like throwing money away on the other hand surely Franklin would recognize, it is only "common cents" that we would look to him for inspiration.


Benjamin Franklin dies - HISTORY

Benjamin Franklin was one of the seven key “Founding Fathers of the United States of America.” The term “Founding Father” was coined by Warren G. Harding during his inauguration as President of the United States. The term came to describe all those who were involved in the struggle to create an independent United States, who actively participated in drafting the Constitution, and who eventually signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776. The six men who are known as a Founding Father of the United States include:

George Washington (who presided over the drafting of the Constitution and served as the first President of the United States),
Thomas Jefferson (who was George Washington’s Secretary of State and later served as the third President of the United States),
John Adams (who became the second President of the United States),
James Madison (who became the fourth President),
Alexander Hamilton (who was George Washington’s aide-de-camp during the American Revolutionary war and later served as Washington’s Secretary of the Treasury), and
John Jay (who was an American diplomat during the American Revolution and later served as Washington’s Chief Justice).

Benjamin Franklin is recognized as the only Founding Father who signed all the four major documents which led to the formation of the United States, namely: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance, the Treaty of Paris, and the United States Constitution.

Early Life

Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Josiah, was a soap and candle maker from England who immigrated to Boston. Franklin’s mother, Abiah Folger, was actually Josiah’s second wife. Franklin had ten siblings and seven step-siblings. Both his mother and father were Puritans (members of a Protestant movement) who believed and valued hard work and equality. These traits guided Benjamin Franklin all throughout his entire life.

Benjamin Franklin’s family was poor, young Benjamin was only able to attend two years of school. But despite stopping school at the age of ten, Franklin made up for it by being an avid reader.

Franklin’s brother, James, was a printer and at 12 years of age, Franklin worked as an apprentice. In 1721, when Franklin was only 15 years old, his brother founded “The New-England Courant” which is now considered as the oldest and the first independent American newspaper. Franklin, who was not allowed to write articles for the newspaper, wrote letters using “Mrs. Silence Dogood” as his pseudonym.

Mrs. Silence Dogood wrote a total of 14 letters, all of which were published. The letters were usually left at Franklin’s brother’s doorstep every two weeks. The letters of course were controversial and nobody knew, not even Franklin’s brother, who this Mrs. Silence Dogood really was. That early, Franklin manifested brilliance and ingenuity. He was able to create such a realistic character that some of the readers had sent offers of marriage to this Mrs. Silence Dogood. Eventually, of course, Franklin’s brother found out the truth and this forced Franklin to stop writing, stop working, and run away.

Leather Apron Club – Junto

Benjamin went to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he continued working for several printing outfits, but he seemed discontented and dissatisfied. In 1727, when Franklin was 27 years old, he established a club called “Junto” or “Leather Apron Club.” He and five of his friends banded together for the purpose of mutual improvement through debates and exchange of ideas. Because of Franklin’s friendly and sociable nature, a lot of businessmen, merchants, and other people from different fields started participating in the Junto’s informal Friday meetings. The discussions usually revolved around questions which Franklin himself espoused, and some of the popular concepts during these Friday meetings lay the foundation for the development of modern-day volunteer firefighters, night security or night watchmen, and even public hospitals.

The Junto also gave birth to the Library Company of Philadelphia. Like Franklin, all the Junto members were avid readers but because books were very expensive, Franklin thought of the idea of chipping in money to buy books that everyone could read. What was first conceived as a common subscription library for the Junto members then became a non-profit organization which held the most number of significant and valuable collections of historical manuscripts and other printed materials. In fact, the size of its current collection is close to 600,000 rare books. All these from a young man who was not able to finish formal schooling!

Pennsylvania Gazette & Masons

In 1728, Franklin printed and published his own newspaper called “The Pennsylvania Gazette.” He also contributed several articles using different pseudonyms. It became one of the leading and most successful newspapers before the American Revolution. Because of all his endeavors and achievements, Franklin started gaining prominence and fame. He was welcomed into the Masonic Lodge in 1731 and became its Grand Master in 1734. Also in that year, Franklin edited the Masonic manuscript titled “Constitutions of the Free-Mason” by James Anderson and published the very first American Masonic book. This book set to standardize the rites, practices and rituals of Freemasonry. Freemasonry is a form of fraternal organization whose early beginnings are traced back to Europe and the Masonic lodge is its basic unit. A Grand Master is the leader who presides over the Lodge of his jurisdiction. Franklin was a Freemason from this point on until his death.

Family Life

On September 1, 1730, Franklin took Deborah Read as his common-law wife. Deborah Read was then married to a man named John Rodgers who became a fugitive, leaving Deborah incapable to legally marry Franklin. Franklin and Deborah had two children. Francis Folger Franklin was born on October 1732 but died of smallpox four years later in 1736. Sarah Franklin was born in 1743 and she eventually gave Franklin 7 grandchildren it was she who also took care of Franklin in his old age.

Franklin also had an illegitimate son named William who was born around the year 1731. The identity of his mother was never revealed or traced. It was said that his mother was a prostitute but some say that his mother was really Deborah. William lived with Franklin and Deborah and he was often the companion and assistant of Franklin in many of his sojourns and experiments. The falling out between father and son came because of their different political beliefs. While William staunchly supported the colonies, even serving as the last colonial Governor of New Jersey, Franklin believed and fought for patriotism. William was eventually exiled to Britain where he also died. Deborah died of a heart attack in 1774 while Franklin was touring Europe.

Inventions Leading to Improvement & Efficiency

Aside from being a prolific writer, a publisher, a Mason, and a prominent member of society, Franklin was also known to be an impressive inventor. He said that his scientific experiments were for the purpose of improving humanity and increasing efficiency.

In 1741, Franklin invented the Franklin stove. It was an improvement of the ordinary fireplace in that it was lined with metal and it had a design meant to produce more heat and less smoke. Benjamin Franklin has also been credited with inventing the eyeglasses or bifocals, although the exact date of this invention has never been established.

In 1749, Franklin invented the lightning rod (also known as the Franklin rod) as part of his experiments with electricity. In 1750, he proposed to prove that lightning was in fact electricity by publishing an experiment wherein he would fly a kite into a storm. On June 15, 1752, Franklin, together with the help of his son William, conducted sparks from a cloud when they tested the kite experiment. Luck was on Franklin’s side with this experiment because others who tried the now famous kite experiment were killed from electrocution. Because of his many experiments with electricity, the physical unit of electric charge in the metric or CGS system (or the centimeter-gram-second system) was named after him: one franklin (Fr) is equal to one electrostatic unit of charge (esu).

Franklin invented the armonica or musical glasses in 1762, a musical instrument made of wine glasses filled with water to create a tune. Franklin invented a new design for the instrument and commissioned London glassblower Charles James to create his design. Famous classical musicians and composers like Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Handel created pieces using the armonica.

In 1770, through Franklin’s inquisitiveness and with the help of experienced ship captains, he was able to understand the circulation or current patterns of the North Atlantic Ocean and so he was able to publish a chart named the “Gulf Stream.” But because his chart strongly deviated against the standard ship route followed by sea vessels then, this chart was completely ignored. Only after many years later was it used to serve as guide in the navigation of seafarers. Franklin’s chart of the currents actually reduced sailing time by two weeks.

Franklin made several other observations on various phenomena, thus enabling him to make his own deductions and conclusions on subjects like meteorology, evaporation and cooling, the non-conductivity of ice, and others. These observations he duly took note of and had published.

But while Benjamin Franklin dabbled in numerous observations and experiments, he continued to take an active role in politics and public service.

Public Service

In 1749, Franklin founded “The Academy and College of Pennsylvania.” This was considered the first American academy when it opened in 1751 with Franklin as its president. He was also elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1751 and in that same year, Franklin founded the Pennsylvania Hospital which was the first hospital in the United States of America. In 1753 he became Deputy Postmaster General of North America. He revolutionized the postal system and made it more efficient by having mail sent out more often.

Benjamin Franklin was also awarded honorary degrees from great institutions of learning like Yale, Harvard, University of St. Andrews, and Oxford University.

In the years that followed, Franklin traveled back and forth to Europe, participating in different assemblies. In 1775, on one of Franklin’s return trips to Pennsylvania, the American Revolution had already started. The militia was successfully winning over the British Army and Franklin had been unanimously voted by the Pennsylvania Assembly to be their delegate to the Second Continental Congress.

This Congress represented the thirteen colonies which planned and managed the war effort against Britain. In June 1776, Franklin was appointed to the “Committee of Five.” It was this Committee of Five that wrote and drafted the Declaration of Independence. The other members of the Committee were Thomas Jefferson from Virginia, Robert Livingston from New York, Roger Sherman from Connecticut, and John Adams from Massachusetts. The Declaration of Independence was passed and adopted by Congress on July 4, 1776. In essence, the Declaration of Independence declared independence for the thirteen colonies that were previously under the British Empire.

On July 1776, the United States Post Office was formed and Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General of the United States, which was a natural choice since Franklin had previous experience serving in that position.

Franklin served as United States Commissioner or Ambassador to France from 1776 to 1785. Returning home in 1785, Franklin then took up the cause of abolition, even serving as President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. It was the Pennsylvania Abolition Society which paved the way and served as model to many anti-slavery movements and organizations.

On October 18, 1785, Benjamin Franklin was elected to the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania as its President, a position similar to today’s Governor. He was re-elected to the said position two more times after his initial term. He served under this capacity through December 1788.

In 1787, several prominent ministers founded the Franklin College, in honor of Benjamin Franklin. It is now called the Franklin and Marshall College.

On April 17, 1790, Benjamin Franklin died at the age of 84. He was an extraordinary man who displayed true patriotism and love for the country. He was as dedicated as he was humorous. His legacy is as enduring as the quotations he had coined. Some of them are:


Benjamin Franklin dies

On this day in history, April 17, 1790, Benjamin Franklin dies in Philadelphia. Franklin is one of the most well-known and beloved Founding Fathers of the United States. Ben Franklin was born in Boston to a tallow chandler, meaning his father made candles and soap from "tallow" or animal fat. Ben had 16 brothers and sisters.

Ben had less than two years of formal schooling as a boy and was apprenticed to his older brother James who owned a printing shop. This is where Ben learned the skills printing and writing that would later make him rich. Franklin ran away to Philadelphia at 17 and eventually began his own printing business. He purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729 and began printing his Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732, which made him a fortune and gave him the ability to retire at the age of 42.

After his retirement Franklin became involved in studying electricity. His experiments and findings helped shaped our modern understanding of electrical currents. He even coined such terms as positive and negative charge, battery, charging and discharging and conductor. His writings about electricity were put into a book by a friend in England and Franklin quickly became a household name.

Franklin’s first political offices were as Clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly and as Deputy Postmaster of Philadelphia. He later served on the Common Council of Philadelphia, as a Justice of the Peace and as an Alderman. In 1753, he became the Deputy Postmaster General for all of North America. Franklin served in the Pennsylvania House for several terms and served as the agent of several colonies in London.

Once the Revolutionary War broke out, Franklin was elected to the Continental Congress where he served on the committee to write the Declaration of Independence. In what was probably his most important role, Franklin served as America’s Ambassador to France from 1778-1785. It was during this time that Franklin persuaded King Louis XVI to join the Revolution on the American side, involvement that proved crucial to the American victory.

After the Revolution, Franklin served three terms as governor of Pennsylvania. In one of his last acts of public service, Franklin served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He encouraged the other members to sign the US Constitution, even though it wasn’t perfect. During the Convention, he famously spoke these words:

"In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor… Have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the Ground without his Notice, is it probable that an Empire can rise without his Aid?… I therefore beg leave to move that, henceforth, prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessing on our deliberation be held in this assembly every morning before we proceed to business."

National Society Sons of the American Revolution

"If by the liberty of the press were understood merely the liberty of discussing the propriety of public measures and political opinions, let us have as much of it as you please: But if it means the liberty of affronting, calumniating and defaming one another, I, for my part, own myself willing to part with my share of it, whenever our legislators shall please so to alter the law and shall chearfully consent to exchange my liberty of abusing others for the privilege of not being abused myself."
Benjamin Franklin (1789)


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