"If you would not be forgotten as soon as you're dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth the writing," said Benjamin Franklin. The United States has never forgotten Benjamin Franklin because he did both. He lived these words of wisdom by writing prolifically and pursuing work as a scientist, inventor, statesman, printer, philosopher and economist.
Franklin was born on Jan. 17, 1706. He attended school for only a few years before becoming an apprentice printer to his older brother at the age of 12. Soon he learned that his brother's newspaper was looking for original stories, but Franklin was too young to submit articles. Clever Franklin got around this challenge by devising a fictional widow who slipped "her" stories under the door at night so no one knew who “she” was. After several stories had been published, and were very popular, Franklin admitted he wrote them—a revelation that displeased his brother.
After troubles continued to grow between the two brothers, at age 17, Franklin ran away, an act that was illegal at the time. Despite his youthful rebelliousness, he continued working as a printer’s apprentice, a career he sustained for many years in his new home of Philadelphia. Later, he married and with his wife ran a print shop, book store and general store. During these years, Franklin thrived on work and eventually printed an almanac and a newspaper, contributing a great deal of the material himself. His paper carried the first political cartoon.
In the 1730s and 1740s, Franklin worked to improve life in Philadelphia. He was constantly bursting with ideas and put the effort into accomplishing these ideas, becoming the force behind the first public hospital, lending library, fire-fighting company and fire insurance. His numerous inventions included bifocal eyeglasses and a heat-efficient stove. He refused to take out patents so that the items would be available to all.
In the 1750s, retired from the printing business, Franklin became very interested in electricity. In June 1752, he conducted his famous kite experiment. He suspected that lightning was an electrical current and wanted to see if it could be transferred via a metal object. He put a metal key on a kite to prove his theory. Fortunately, he was holding onto a dry silk ribbon, not the key, and so he was unharmed by the electrical energy. He did get a small shock, which in true inventive fashion, gave him an awareness of lightning’s danger and led him to design the lightning rod, which is still in use today (and saved Franklin’s own house from a later lightning strike).
Also in the 1750s, Franklin became active in politics. He served as the Colonial representative for several states in England from 1757 to 1775. After his return to the colonies, he worked actively for independence. Franklin participated on a committee of five that helped to draft the Declaration of Independence. In 1776, Franklin signed the Declaration and then went to France to represent the United States. In his late 70s, Franklin returned to America and served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He stands alone as the only person to have signed all four of the documents which helped to create the United States: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance, Amity and Commerce with France (1778), the Treaty of Peace among England, France and the United States (1782), and the Constitution (1787).
Franklin died on April 17, 1790, at age 84. Twenty thousand people attended the funeral of the man who was called "the harmonious human multitude." No other individual was more involved in the birth of our nation—but perhaps most memorably, his legacy is filled with act after act of bold curiosity, brash risk-taking and more than anything, raw ingenuity.
Ingenuity. Pass It On!
This billboard about Ingenuity features Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790); author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, diplomat..