Benjamin Franklin was a man of multiple talents: a leading printer, scientist, inventor, civic activist and diplomat, and one of the most prominent Founding Fathers of the United States. As a scientist, he was a major figure in the history of physics, especially regarding his discoveries relating to electricity. As a writer, he published the famous Poor Richard's Almanack and the Pennsylvania Gazette, as well as his Autobiography. As a political activist, he developed the idea of an American nation, and as a diplomat during the American Revolution he secured the French alliance that made independence possible.
Born in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706, to a devout Anglican tallow-maker, Franklin was the fifteenth child in a family of seventeen, and the youngest son. He attended Boston Latin School, but did not graduate. His father Josiah wanted Ben to attend school with the clergy, but only had enough money to send him for two years; his formal schooling ended when he was just ten. After that, Ben continued his education through voracious reading. At age twelve he was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer. It was James who created the New England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. While still a teenaged printing apprentice, Ben wrote letters to the paper under the pseudonym of "Mrs. Silence Dogood", ostensibly a middle-aged widow. His brother and the Courant's readers did not initially know the real author, and James was not impressed when he discovered that his popular correspondent was his younger brother. Angered, Franklin left his apprenticeship without permission, and in doing so became a fugitive.
When he was just seventeen, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, eager for a fresh start in a new city. After he arrived, he worked in several printer shops, but was dissatisfied by his immediate prospects. After a few months, Franklin was induced by Pennsylvania's Governor Sir William Keith to go to London,supposedly to acquire the equipment necessary for establishing another newspaper in Philadelphia. Franklin found Keith's promises of backing a newspaper to be empty, and began working as a compositor in a printer's shop in what is now the Church of St. Bartholomew the Great in the Smithfield area of London. After this, he returned to Philadelphia in 1726 with the help of a merchant named Thomas Denham, who hired Franklin as a clerk, shopkeeper, and bookkeeper in Denham's merchant business.
Upon Denham's death, Franklin returned to his former trade, setting up a printing house of his own in 1730, and publishing The Pennsylvania Gazette. This gave Franklin a forum for agitation about a variety of local reforms and initiatives through his printed essays and observations. Over time, his astute commentary earned him a great deal of social respect. Even after Franklin had achieved fame as a scientist and statesman, he would habitually sign his letters with the unpretentious "B. Franklin, Printer".
He became a national hero in America when he spearheaded the effort to have Parliament repeal the unpopular Stamp Act. A diplomatic genius, Franklin was almost universally admired among the French as American minister to Paris, and was a major figure in the development of positive Franco-American relations. From 1775 to 1776, Franklin served as Postmaster General under the Continental Congress and from 1785 to his death in 1790 was President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania.
One of the oldest Founders, Franklin was noted for his curiosity, his writings, and his wide diversity of interests. His wise and scintillating writings remain proverbial to this day. He shaped the American Revolution. As an intellectual leader of the Enlightenment, he gained the recognition and admiration of scientists and intellectuals across the European continent. As minister to France during the Revolution, he, more than anyone, defined the new nation in the minds of Europe. His success in securing French military and financial assistance was the turning point for American victory over Britain. He invented the lightning rod; he was an early proponent of colonial unity; historians hail him as the "First American". Clearly, Franklin's influence was as broad as his accomplishments.
Franklin was interested in science and technology, carrying out his famous electricity experiments and inventing the Franklin stove, medical catheter, lightning rod, swimfins, glass armonica, and bifocals. He also played a major role in establishing the higher education institutions that would become the University of Pennsylvania and the Franklin and Marshall College. In addition, Franklin was a noted linguist, fluent in five languages. He also practiced and published on astrology.
Franklin was also noted for his philanthropy and several liaisons, including that which produced his illegitimate Loyalist son William Franklin, afterwards the colonial governor of New Jersey. Towards the end of his life, Franklin became one of the most prominent early American abolitionists.
Franklin was initiated into the local Freemason lodge in 1731, and became grand master in 1734, indicating his rapid rise to prominence in Philadelphia. He edited and published the first Masonic book in America, a reprint of James Anderson's The Constitutions of the Free-Masons that same year. He remained a Freemason for the rest of his life.
Benjamin Franklin, writer, printer, genius, and statesman, passed away on April 17, 1790.
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