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Benjamin Franklin Renaissance Man
Franklin is credited with inventing the lightening rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, an odometer for carriages, the glass ‘armonica.’ He established the first public library in America and Pennsylvania’s first fire department.
Ben Franklin has been called “the First American” because of his campaigning for colonial unity when he was an author and the spokesman for several of the colonies while he was in London. He did the same when he was ambassador to France.
Renaissance man is defined as someone who has broad intellectual interests and is accomplished in both the arts and the sciences. Franklin was certainly that. He was noted in a variety of fields of learning including writing, printing, political theory.. He was successful as an author, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman and diplomat.
I was in a program in college in which I had to take a variety of courses related to America such as Literature, Art, Philosophy, Music history, and Political Science. It seemed that no matter what courses I took, Benjamin Franklin would show up. In literature we read his Autobiography and some other writings. In music we found that he had invented a musical instrument.
Working Class Roots
Ben Franklin was proud of his working class roots. He was the son of a tallow chandler who made soap and candles, Ben Franklin was the eighth child of seventeen. He was the tenth and last son of Josiah Franklin.
Josiah had converted to Puritanism. in the 1760’s.Puritanism was a Protestant reform movement in England to purify the Anglican religion from elements it had of Roman Catholicism. The Puritan wanted each congregation to govern itself, for the ministers to give sermons rather than perform rituals, and for members to study the Bible.
These values of self-government were passed on to Franklin and other founding fathers. and are somewhat the roots of American values. Importance of the individual and indignation against unjust authority are among the shard values. Hard work and equality were Puritan values that Franklin preached throughout his life, in his autobiography and Poor Richards Almanac.
- Benjamin Franklin had very little formal education. His parents could not afford more than a couple of years, which he spent at Boston Latin School after, that he taught himself through voracious reading. He worked for his father for a while and at the age of twelve he became a printing apprentice for his brother James. When James would not let him publish letters he did so under an alias name. James was upset when he found out and Ben left for Philadelphia at the age of seventeen. He worked for several printers. and he went to London and worked for a while as a typesetter. In1726 he returned to Philadelphia with the help of Thomas Denham, a merchant, who gave him a job clerking, bookkeeping and as shopkeeper.
- At the age of twenty-one he organized a discussion group for issues of current affairs made up of artisans and tradesmen. It was called the Junto. They were readers but books were expensive and rare. So with their books they started a library. Franklin suggested a subscription library, which would pool funds to buy books. This was the start of the Library Company of Philadelphia, which is now a scholarly and research library with 500,000 rare books, pamphlets and broadsides. They also have 160,000 manuscripts and 75,000 graphic items.
Some important dates in Franklin’s life:
- 1670’s Ben Franklin’s father converted to Puritanism
- 1706 Benjamin Franklin was born
- 1723 Ben Franklin left his brothers paper and went to Philadelphia
- 1726 After going to London Ben Franklin returns to Philadelphia to work as a merchant’s clerk.
- 1727 Benjamin Franklin created Junto, a discussion group.
- 1731 The charter for the Library Company of Philadelphia was composed by Franklin.
- 1732 he hired the first American librarian, Louis Timothee.
- 1728 Franklin became publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette.
- 1730 he established a common law marriage with Deborah Read. They had two children together. The first, Francis Folger Franklin was born in October of 1732 died of smallpox in 1736.
- 1730 Franklin publicly acknowledge an illegitimate son William. The became estranged during the American Revolution when they were on opposing sides.
- 1736 Franklin created the Union Fire Company, one of the first volunteer firefighting companies in America. The same year he printed new currency in New Jersey based on an anti-conterfeiting technique of his invention.
- 1731 he is initiated into the local Masonic Lodge and became Grand Master three years later. He also published the first Masonic book in the Americas.
- 1733 The publication of Poor Richards Almanack.
- 1743 Daughter Sarah Franklin was born.
- 1774 Deborah died of a stroke.
- 1743 he founded the American Philosophical Society.
- He helped establish the Academy and College of Philadelphia. He was appointed president of the academy in 1749.
- 1749 was also the year he became Justice of Peace in Philadelphia and two years later was elected to the Pennsylvania assembly.
- 1750 he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightening is electricity by flying a kite in a storm.1753 Franklin received the royal Society’s Copley Medal and became of few Americans to become a Fellow of the Society a few years later.
- 1751 with Dr. Thomas Bond he obtained a charter from Pennsylvania legislature to establish a hospital. It was the first hospital to be established for the future United States.
1753 Franklin received honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale.
- 1756 he organized the Pennsylvania Militia.
- 1762 Oxford University awarded Franklin an honorary doctorate for his scientific accomplishments.
- 1790 Franklin died April 17. About 20,000 people attended his funeral.
The American Revolution
As the revolution approached and began with the fighting at Lexington and Concord Franklin was chosen as the delegate to the second Continental Congress. He was appointed a member of the committee of Five that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Because of gout he was unable to attend all meeting but he did make some small changes in the draft sent to him by Thomas Jefferson.
The Continental congress established the United States Post Office and Franklin became the first Postmaster General.
From 1776-1785 he was sent to France as commissioner for the United States.
Franklin was also the American minister to Sweden although he never visited there.
By the time he returned home in 1785 he was nearly as popular as to George Washington as the champion of American independence.
As a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution Franklin is considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America.
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