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Benjamin Franklin -- 1706 - 1790
Nature Bulletin No. 513-A   January 19, 1974
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN -- 1706 - 1790


Thursday of this week, January 17th, is Benjamin Franklin's birthday. During his long life, Doctor Franklin, more than any other American, used his unique talents to build a new country and win recognition for it as a center of culture in the New World.

Poor Richard's Almanac, from which he made his fortune, was first published in 1732, the year that George Washington was born. At that time the English colonies in America were jealous of each other, squabbling among themselves, and had widely different outlooks -- from the craftsmen, merchants and ship owners of New England to the aristocratic slave-holding plantation owners of Virginia and the Carolinas. Before he died, and in large part through his own efforts and influence, he lived to see them united into a new nation.

Merely to name his many and varied fields of activity makes a long list. As printer, journalist and author, his old Pennsylvania Gazette became the Saturday Evening Post. As civic leader, politician, wit, diplomat and statesman -- for twenty years he served the young country with broad vision as its representative in Europe. Under his guidance the postal service among the colonies was speeded up. He founded the American Philosophical Society in which membership is still one of the highest honors. Many remember some of his practical inventions best: the Franklin stove which replaced the fuel-wasting fireplace, the lightning rod, and bifocal glasses. At age 81 he published "Observations on the causes and cures of Smoky Chimneys. ".

By the middle 1700's he was recognized in Europe as one of the Outstanding scientists. There was scarcely a person with a scientific turn of mind who was not his personal friend or correspondent. Here are some of his personal notes about electrical experiments:

"November 7, 1749. Electric fluid agrees with lightning in these particulars. 1. Giving light. 2. Color of the light. 3. Crooked direction. 4. Swift motion. 5. Being conducted by metals. 6. Crack or noise in exploding. 7. Subsisting in water or ice. 8. Rending bodies it passes through. 9. Destroying animals. 10. Melting metals. 11. Firing inflammable substances. 12. Sulfurous smell. The electric fluid is attracted by points. We do not know whether this property is in lightning. But since they agree in all particulars wherein we can already compare them, is it not probable they agree likewise in this? Let the experiment be made . . . ".

Soon his famous kite experiment proved that lightning was electricity. Its attraction for points gave him the idea of the lightning rod.

His curious and fertile mind, at once bold and tempered with common sense, led him into research on the aurora borealis, the origin of northeast storms, the Gulf Stream, the common cold, earthquakes, mathematics and natural history. He even foresaw the use of paratroopers:

"Five thousand ballons, capable of raising two men each, could not cost more than five ships of the line; and where is the prince who can afford so to cover his country with troops for its defense, so that ten thousand men descending from the clouds might not in many places do an infinite deal of mischief, before a force could be brought together to repel them? ...".

With it all, the Doctor was a favorite of the ladies.


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