Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. Since this was on a Sunday, his father had him immediately baptized, to avoid any superstitious curse on him. Franklin was the 15th of 17 children.
When he was a boy, Franklin liked to write his name in a fancy manner. But one day an old man who was visiting them saw the elaborate signature and remarked, “What fool wrote this?” After that, Ben started writing his name in a plain style. At age 10 Ben helped his father in his shop cutting candlewicks and filling molds. He spent much of his time reading and also became a fantastic swimmer. This led to one of his first inventions; paddles that helped him swim faster.
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At age 12, he started as an apprentice at his half-brother’s printing shop. While working there, Ben wrote some poems that his brother printed and sold. Ben educated himself by reading the classic authors of his time. He also studied books on arithmetic, navigation, and grammar. He loved a set of papers by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele called the “Spectator” and would read the essays it contained and rewrite them in his own style. He found his writing style by comparing the original essay and his and finding the mistakes. Franklin loved to read. When he was 16, he tried to save money to buy more books by only eating vegetables to cut food costs.
Ben’s brother treated him harshly and tyrannically. Franklin later attributed his love of independence to the years he spent as an apprentice and his aversion to the power of his brother. When he was 17, Franklin left home and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He arrived there almost penniless. He also essentially cut his ties with his family in Boston. He gained the attention of the Pennsylvania Governor, and at age 18 Ben was sent to London to study the latest developments in printing. He worked in the ship’s print shop on the journey.
When he was 20, Franklin returned to Philadelphia. He started the American Philosophical Society, at age 21. The next year, he started his first print shop in Philadelphia with partner Hugh Meridith. At age 23, he established the Pennsylvania Gazette Newspaper. This was the first newspaper to use political cartoons. Franklin married at age 24 in 1730 to Deborah Read and his son William was born the next year. When he was 26, he published the first edition of his Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Franklin continued his printing business, but he also became involved in civic affairs and started his scientific observations.
At age 30, Franklin started the first fire department in Philadelphia. The next year, he was given the job as Postmaster General of Philadelphia. At age 36, he proposed the idea for the Academy of Pennsylvania, now the University of Pennsylvania. When he was 37, Franklin observed that northeast storms begin in the southwest. He thought it was odd that storms travel in an opposite direction to their winds. After further observations and performing studies of storms, he predicted that a storm’s course could be plotted. He then printed weather forecasts in his Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Franklin also encouraged the eating of citrus fruits, including oranges, limes, and grapefruits in Poor Richard’s Almanac. He coined the phrase “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” and touted the advantages of fruit in helping to maintain the gums and skin.
During his first 40 years, Benjamin Franklin was involved in printing and publishing. He also made contributions to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania civic affairs. His next 10 years were devoted to scientific studies
At age 42, Franklin retired from the printing profession. He then devoted his time to other studies, especially science. These were very productive years in his life, bringing him worldwide fame as a scientific thinker.
Franklin was curious and inquisitive. He became interested in electricity after seeing demonstrations about static charges and the Leyden Jar. Afterward, he used a method of rubbing glass tubes with silk to generate the static electric charges that could be used in many of his experiments. Franklin felt that lightning was electricity that came from the clouds. To prove this theory, he set up tall, pointed metal rods to provide a path for the electricity of lightning to follow. His experiments in attracting lightning to the rods resulted in the invention of the lightning rod, designed to protect people’s dwellings. Because of the invention, Franklin received accolades. But he remained modest and even refused to patent the lightning rod or attempt to profit from it. To continue his study of the relationship between lightning and electricity, 46-year-old Franklin devised his famous kite experiment with the aid of his 21-year-old son, William.
One day, during a thunderstorm, he flew a kite in the storm. Little did he know that this was a very dangerous thing to do. He had attached a metal key to the end of the kite string. As the rain fell and the wind blew, he noticed the hairs on the kite string stand on end, just as they would do if you combed your hair and put the comb near the string. He was able to make a spark jump from the key to his finger. Luckily, he ended his experiment then, because he easily could have been electrocuted from his experiment. Franklin seemed only dimly aware of the experiment’s potential danger.
Although his scientific curiosity moved him toward inventive experiments, he was lucky he was never killed with these dangerous experiments. Once he received such a severe electrical shock that his body actually went into seizures.
Franklin coined many of the electrical terms we use today, such as a battery, conductor, condenser, positive and negative charge, electric shock, and electrician. Franklin studied other scientific areas than electricity. He invented the catheter, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among other things. What made his achievements during these years even more remarkable was the fact that Franklin had no formal education in the sciences. He relied purely on his powers of observation, his personal intellect, and curiosity.
With a good sense of humor, he had many friends including those who specialized in science. From letters and conversations with these scientists, Franklin gained insight and ideas for his experiments.
At age 51, Benjamin Franklin was sent to London, England as a delegate representing the Pennsylvania Legislature. Five years later, he came back home to Pennsylvania. Two years later, at age 58, he returned to London as a colonial representative. During these travels by ship, Franklin kept himself busy by measuring the different temperatures in various parts of the Atlantic Ocean. From these measurements, he was able to chart the Gulf Stream in detail.
When he was 61, Franklin used his influence to make his illegitimate son, William, royal governor of New Jersey. Franklin was later greatly disappointed when William was unwilling to repay his father’s generosity by supporting the American Revolution.
At age 62, he was given the honor of being inducted into the French Academy of Science. Franklin’s success as a diplomat was greatly due to his fame among the European elite as a scientist. While in Paris, Franklin was the first to propose the idea of Daylight Savings Time, hoping to provide the world with a greater opportunity of doing productive work during the longer daylight of the summer months. Then at age 69, after spending years in France, Franklin was recalled to the colonies and named to the Second Continental Congress. There, he presented the Articles of Confederation of the United Colonies.
At age 70, in 1776, Franklin played an instrumental role in drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence. He then undertook a secret diplomatic mission to France. He was also assigned a member of the Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention. The next year, he signed the Treaty of Alliance with France, and the following year, he was chosen Minister to France.
At age 76, Franklin negotiated a preliminary peace treaty with Great Britain along with John Adams and John Jay. He went back to France, and the next year he signed the Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolutionary War. When he was in Paris, he was able to watch the world’s first known hot air balloon flight. Franklin was very interested in the idea of flight, predicting that balloons would be used for military spy flights and to drop bombs during battles of the future.
At age 79, Franklin arrived back in the United States on September 14, 1785, and was later elected President of Pennsylvania and a member of the Constitutional Convention. At age 81, Franklin signed the Constitution of the United States of America. At this late time in this life, Franklin suffering from many ailments of old age. He often had to be literally carried to the meetings. He was later elected as president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.
Ben Franklin died on April 17, 1790, at the age of 84.. After a fine public funeral from the city, he was buried next to his wife in Christ Church Cemetery of Philadelphia.
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