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. ".
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
"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
With it all, the Doctor was a favorite of the ladies.
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Update: June 2012