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Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, one of the greatest minds of all time, had his first big break while pretending to be a woman. At 12 years old, he began an apprenticeship at his brother James’ printing shop, which published the first independent newspaper in the colonies. But despite Benjamin’s determination and hard work, James refused to print any of his articles. Instead, the young Franklin began writing under the pseudonym ‘Mrs Silence Dogood’, regularly sending letters to the paper for publication. ‘Her’ witty and insightful commentary became the talk of the town, but James was outraged when he discovered that the true author was in fact his younger brother. Benjamin Franklin abandoned his apprenticeship and moved to Philadelphia, where he set up his own printing business and purchased The Pennsylvania Gazette.

The 1730s saw his prominence and success grow, especially with his publication of the Poor Richard’s Almanack. Franklin bought properties and businesses, organised a volunteer fire department, established a lending library and was elected grand master of the Pennsylvania Masons, clerk of the state assembly and postmaster of Philadelphia. He also began to expand into entrepreneurship, and in 1741 he invented the Franklin stove – a heat-efficient fire place that aimed to produce less smoke and more heat than the ordinary open fi replaces on the market. While the stove failed to take off, in 1749 he retired from business to concentrate more on his inventions, dreaming up things like bifocal glasses and swimming fins that were to become commonplace. Never one to rest on his laurels, Franklin then turned his attention to the study of electricity, and in 1752 conducted the famous kite-and-key experiment, which proved that lightning was made up of static electricity. He also developed the single fluid theory, which proposed that electricity was a ‘common element’ rather than two opposing forces.
The 1750s saw Franklin become more involved in politics. In 1757, he travelled to England to represent Pennsylvania in its fight with the descendants of the Penn family over who should represent the colony. On his return almost 20 years later, he fought fiercely for American sovereignty, and was one of the five people who drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Later that year he went to France as a diplomat for the United States where he became a much-loved figure, and it was largely because of him that the government of France signed a Treaty of Alliance with the USA in 1778.
When Franklin died in 1790, he was dubbed ‘the harmonious human multitude.’ The legacy of his inventions and political work lives on to this day.

Benjamin Franklin, The Pennsylvania Gazette. Five Franklin Inventions


The Big Idea
Before Franklin began his experiments in science, the popular belief was that electricity consisted of two opposing forces. Franklin proved that in fact it was a single element, imagining it to be like an invisible fluid. If a body had an excess of this fluid, it was positively charged. If it had a deficiency, it was negatively charged. He the orised that the body with more fluid flowed to the body with less fluid, or rather that electric charges flowed from positive to negative. However, it has since been discovered that electricity is actually the flow of electrons, which means it flows from negative to positive.

Five Franklin Inventions
1 Bifocals
Franklin suffered from poor eyesight, but came up with the brilliant idea of creating glasses with a separate upper and lower half; the upper for distance and the lower for reading.
2 Lightning rod
After studying the behaviour of electricity, Franklin designed a metal rod that could be attached to the tops of buildings and connected to the ground through a wire to discharge lightning.
3 Glass armonica
A popular form of entertainment in the 18th century was playing music using wine glasses filled with water. Franklin invented a mechanised version consisting of 37 glass bowls.
4 Franklin stove
This metal-lined fi replace stood in the centre of the room, radiating heat in all directions. It provided more heat, used less wood and produced less smoke than open fi replaces.
5 ‘Long arm’
Franklin loved reading and established a number of libraries. His idea for a wooden pole with a grasping claw at the end helped visitors to reach books on the top shelves.