Benjamin Franklin was a man of many talents. He was a printer, a newspaper owner, a politician, a civic leader, and a scientist. As a scientist, Benjamin invented the Pennsylvania fireplace (Franklin Stove), the lighting rod, a new kind of clock, an odometer, an artificial arm, security mirrors, bifocal glasses, and many other useful things. He also worked on weather predictions. He came up with his ideas for inventions by thinking of ways to make life easier.
In the 1740s, Benjamin invented the Franklin Stove which heated homes much better than wood in a fireplace. It heated twice as much space using less fuel and it reduced the amount of smoke in the room. Prior to that time, homes were heated by fireplaces that were built into the walls. Franklin designed a cast-iron furnace that could be placed in the middle of a room. Because heat spreads out in all directions from a fire, the Franklin Stove was more efficient at heating a room. The furnace’s iron walls also absorbed the heat, so that the stove provided warmth even after the fire went out.
There was a flaw in the design of the Franklin Stove. The smoke came out of the bottom, so there was no fresh air and the fire would soon go out. Another inventor, David Rittenhouse, improved the design of the Franklin Stove by adding an L-shaped exhaust pipe that drew air through the furnace, up a chimney, and out of the house. The Franklin Stove heated homes and businesses all over Europe and America.
Experimenting with Electricity
Benjamin was one of the first people in the world to experiment with electricity. In his time, no one had figured out how to use electricity as a source of power. There were no electric appliances or lights. In 1752, in his famous kite experiment, Benjamin showed that lightning was a form of electricity. He flew a kite during a thunderstorm, and a bolt of lightning struck a pointed wire fastened to the kite, and the lightning traveled down the kite string to a key fastened at the end. This was a dangerous experiment. Benjamin was knocked unconscious at least once while performing it.
He also invented the lightning rod that protected buildings struck by lightning from catching fire. A lightning rod was a pointed metal rod mounted on top of a building that attracted bolts of lightning. The rod was attached by a wire to the ground. The lightning would flow down the wire outside the building and sink harmlessly to the ground. The lightning rod was used on buildings all over America and Europe.
This type of lightning protection is still used today. Nearly every large building in the country has some type of lightning protection in the form of a lighting rod or a metal cable designed to route lightning harmlessly into the ground. Most homes and smaller buildings constructed today contain enough metal in the outer structure (steel frames, aluminum trim, gutters and antennas) to provide adequate protection from lightning.
Benjamin was the first American to make a clock with three separate hands for hours, minutes, and seconds. Up until this time, clocks showed only hours and minutes. This type of clock is the same kind that is used today.
He invented an odometer that measured distances traveled by horse-drawn carriages. This was used to measure distances along colonial roads used by the postal services.
When Benjamin was in his seventies, he found it annoying that he had to use two pairs of glasses – one for distance and one for reading. He had a lens maker design a pair of glasses that had half of each lens for reading on the bottom and half of each lens for distance on the top. This was the first pair of bifocal glasses and they were basically the same as those used today.
Sharing His Inventions
Most inventors obtain patents for their inventions. A patent is a legal document granted by the government giving an inventor the exclusive right to make, use and sell his invention for a certain period of time. In the United States, patents last for 20 years. Benjamin never had any of his inventions patented because he wanted to share them with the world.
Benjamin Franklin led a very interesting life. He was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. His parents were Josiah and Abiah Franklin and he was one of 17 children. His father owned a candle and soap-making shop, and at age ten, after only two years of school, Benjamin went to work with his father at the shop. Benjamin didn’t really like this type of work, and when he was 12 years old, he went to work with his brother James who was a printer.
Printing His Newspaper
Benjamin moved to Philadelphia in 1723 and got a job as a printer. He then moved to London in 1724 and worked there as printer until he returned to Philadelphia in 1726. He started his own printing business and started a newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette.
In 1730, Benjamin married Deborah Read and together they had three children – two boys and girl. In 1748, Benjamin retired from the printing and newspaper business and spent his time as a civic leader and working on scientific experiments. As a civic leader, Benjamin helped improve the living conditions in Philadelphia.
Becoming a Government Leader
In 1736, Benjamin was appointed clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly, the legislative (law making) body of the colony. He was elected a member of the Assembly in 1950, and years later he would serve as its president.
In 1737, he became Philadelphia’s postmaster. While serving in this position, he shortened the time it took for a letter to be delivered between Philadelphia and Boston from six weeks to three weeks by using more relay riders and better routes. He also started the first deliveries of mail in Philadelphia and the first Dead-Mail Office. He impressed the British government so much that, in 1753, he was appointed deputy postmaster general for all the American colonies.
He helped established a library in Philadelphia, the first in the 13 colonies. He also organized a fire department, helped raise money to build a hospital, and helped found an academy that eventually became the University of Pennsylvania.
The American Revolution
In 1764, Benjamin went to England as a diplomat for the Pennsylvania Assembly. The colonists were opposed to taxes imposed by the British. By the time he returned from London in 1775, the colonies were at war with the British. The colonies fought for independence from the British in the Revolutionary War. Benjamin served as a delegate of the Second Continental Congress and served on many committees that worked on matters such as printing paper money and reorganizing the Continental Army. In 1776, he helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of the document’s signers. The Declaration of Independence is the document in which the American colonists proclaimed their freedom from British rule.
In 1776, when Benjamin was 70 years old, he went to France to help gain support for the American Revolution from the French. At first, the French did not want to side with the colonists against the British, but in 1778, the French signed the Treaty of Alliance with the colonists and offered financial support. Many historians believe that, without the support of the French, Americans could not have won their independence.
Benjamin helped draft the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War in 1783. In the Treaty of Paris, the British recognized its former 13 colonies as a free country called the United States of America.
Benjamin was the only person who signed all four of the key documents that helped establish the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain, and the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution of the United States established the basic laws of the country.
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 in Philadelphia at the age of 84. He is still well known for his many contributions to the United States. Not only was he was an inventor, he was also an author, a politician, and a civic leader and is considered one of the founding fathers of the United States of America.
Benjamin Franklin Timeline
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