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6 Things We Wouldn't Have Without Benjamin Franklin
There are two facts that typically come to mind whenever Benjamin Franklin is mentioned:
- He signed the Declaration of Independence
- He did an experiment concerning electricity that involved a kite and a key
As his signature on the Declaration of Independence denotes, Benjamin Franklin was a statesman devoted to the unification of the thirteen colonies that became the bedrock of the United States of America and spent much of his professional life in service of both his community and country. The average person, however, might be surprised at the breadth of his experience and knowledge away from the political sphere. Essentially there was nothing that didn’t interest him, and his non-political accomplishments ran the gamut from science to literacy to writing to inventing.
Junto was a club established by Benjamin Franklin in 1727. Alternately called Leather Apron Society, it was intended to serve as an outlet to discuss and debate various topics including botany, mineralogy, mechanics, medicine, arts, agriculture and geography, incorporating concepts of politics, morality, and philosophy. It morphed into the American Philosophical Society in 1743.
First Subscription Library
An off-shoot of Junto, the Library Company of Philadelphia was founded by Benjamin Franklin in 1731. According to the LCP website, it is America’s “oldest cultural institution” and had been used as the Library of Congress when the government was based out of Philly. It is currently an “independent research library” housing the original books purchased upon its inception as well as more recent acquisitions.
Invented in 1741, the Franklin stove improved fuel conservation and enhanced air quality by utilizing better ventilation methods.
Interestingly, Franklin never applied for patents for any of his inventions and was perfectly content to allow others access to his designs for their own profit. He apparently saw his abilities as a way to help others rather than simply himself.
Poor Richard’s Almanack
As publisher, Benjamin Franklin gave the colonies the popular Poor Richard’s Almanack – a yearly publication filled with homespun and common sense advice. Apparently the American Colonists loved it. In addition to the practical information, it also typically included puzzles and serial stories that would continue from year-to-year. Can you imagine waiting a YEAR to find out what happened next?
The Post Office
The United States Post Office was established in 1775, and Benjamin Franklin was the very first Postmaster General. While the U.S. Post Office is currently experiencing difficulties due in part to the advent of the internet and email, we can thank Benjamin Franklin for a Post Office that has mostly served the country well.
Union Fire Company
In 1736, the first volunteer fire brigade was formed in Philadelphia. Franklin had long put fire-safety tips in the Gazette and was instrumental in building the Union Fire Company whose reputation inspired more than enough men to join – so much so that other fire departments were created to accommodate them all and ensure better coverage for the city as a whole.
The success of the Union Fire Company led to the creation of the first fire insurance company - The Philadelphia Contributionship for the Insuring of Houses from Loss by Fire – in 1752. Franklin sat on the first Board of Directors. The Contributionship still exists today and its current building (occupied in 1836) houses not only the company, but also a museum with historical artifacts related to the fighting of fires in Philadelphia as well as items pertaining to influential board members.
There is so much more that Benjamin Franklin accomplished – an amazing feat, really, when you consider he was self-taught and received virtually no formal education. As noted by Franklin biographer John Bach McMaster who wrote a biography of Franklin in 1887, “No other writer [referring to Franklin] has left so many just and original observations on success in life.” While he was referring to Poor Richard’s Almanack, McMaster’s own observation could certain apply to Franklin’s life as a whole; undeterred by what most would see as a hindrance, all of his discoveries and endeavors were spurred on by his enthusiasm for knowledge and his inquisitive nature, something everyone could learn from.