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Benjamin Franklin


Franklin's father, Josiah Franklin was born at , , on , , the son of Thomas Franklin, a and , and Jane White. His mother, Abiah Folger, was born in , on , , to Peter Folger, a miller and schoolteacher, and his wife a former .

In around , Josiah married Anne Child at Ecton; and over the next few years, this couple had three children, all of whom being half-siblings of Benjamin Franklin. They included: Elizabeth (, ), Samuel (, ), and Hannah (, ).

Sometime during the second half of 1683, the Franklins left for , ; and while in Boston, they had several more children, including: Josiah Jr. (, ), Ann (, ), Joseph (, ), and Joseph (, ) (the first Joseph having died soon after birth).

Josiah's first wife Anne died in Boston on , . He then remarried, to Abiah, on , in the of Boston by the Rev. Samuel Willard.

They had the following children: John (, ), Peter (, ), Mary (, ), James (, ), Sarah (, ), Ebenezer (, ), Thomas (, ), Benjamin (, ), Lydia (, ), and Jane (, ).


Early life

Autograph of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street in on January 17, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a chandler, a maker of candles, who married twice. Josiah's marriages produced 17 children; Benjamin was the tenth and youngest son. His schooling ended at ten and at 12 he became an to his brother James, a printer who published the New England Courant. While a printing apprentice he wrote under the pseudonym of 'Silence Dogood' who was ostensibly a middle-aged widow. His brother and the Courant's readers did not initially know the real author. His brother was not impressed when he discovered his popular correspondent was his younger, brother. He left his without permission and in so doing became a .

At the age of 17, Franklin ran away to , seeking a new start in a new city. When he first arrived he worked in several printer shops around town. However, he was not satisfied by the immediate prospects. After a few months, while working in a printing house, Franklin was induced by Pennsylvania Governor Sir William Keith to go to , ostensibly to acquire the equipment necessary for establishing another newspaper in Philadelphia. Finding Keith's promises of backing a newspaper empty, Franklin worked as a compositor in a printer's shop in what is now the Church of St Batholomew the Great, Smithfield. Following this he returned to Philadelphia in 1726 with the help of a merchant named Thomas Denham, who gave Franklin a position as clerk, shopkeeper and bookkeeper in Denham's merchant business.

Upon Denham's death, Franklin returned to his former trade. By 1730, Franklin had set up a printing house of his own and had contrived to become the publisher of a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette. The Gazette gave Franklin a forum for agitation about a variety of local reforms and initiatives through printed essays and observations. Over time, his commentary, together with a great deal of savvy about cultivating a positive image of an industrious and intellectual young man, earned him a great deal of social respect.

Franklin established a common law marriage with a woman named Deborah Read in September, 1730. In 1724, while a boarder in her mother's home, Franklin had courted Deborah before going to London at Governor Kieth's behest. At that time, Miss Read's mother was somewhat wary of allowing her daughter to wed a seventeen year old on his way to London. Her own husband having recently died, Mrs. Read declined Franklin's offer of marriage.

While Franklin was finding himself in London, Deborah married a man named John Rodgers. This proved to be an regrettable decision. Rodgers shortly fled debt and prosecution by going to , leaving Deborah behind. With Rodgers' fate unknown, and bigamy an offense punishable by public whipping and imprisonment, Deborah was not free to remarry.

Franklin himself had his own actions to ponder. During 1730, Franklin acknowledged an illegitimate son named , who eventually became the last Loyalist governor of . While the identity of William's mother remains unknown, perhaps the responsibility of an infant child gave Franklin a reason to take up residence with Deborah Read. In any event, William eventually broke with his father over the treatment of the colonies at the hands of the crown, but was not above using his father's notoriety to enhance his own standing.

At a time when many colonial families consisted of six or more children, Benjamin and Deborah Franklin eventually had two. The first was Francis Folger Franklin, born October 1732. In one of the most painful moments of Franklin's life, the boy died of smallpox in the fall of 1736. A daughter, Sarah Franklin, was born in 1743. She eventually married a man named Richard Bache, had seven children, and cared for her father in his old age.

In 1732 Franklin began to issue the famous Poor Richard's Almanack (with content both original and borrowed) on which much of his popular reputation is based. Adages from this almanac such as "A penny saved is twopence clear" (often misquoted as "A penny saved is a penny earned") and "Fish and visitors stink in three days" remain common quotations in the modern world.

Franklin and several other members of a association joined their resources in and began the first in Philadelphia. The newly founded ordered its first books in , mostly theological and educational tomes, but by the library also included works on history, geography, poetry, exploration and . The success of this library encouraged the opening of libraries in other American cities, and Franklin felt that this partly contributed to the American colonies' struggle to maintain their privileges.

In he created the , the first volunteer company in America.


Middle years

Franklin began to concern himself more with public affairs. In 1743, he set forth a scheme for , which he was appointed President of on , . The Academy opened on , , and seven men graduated on , , at the first ; six with a and one as . It was later merged with the , to become the , today a member of the . He founded an American Philosophical Society to help scientific men discuss their discoveries. He began the electrical research that, along with other scientific inquiries, would occupy him for the rest of his life (in between bouts of politics and money-making).

An illustration from Franklin's paper on " and Whirlwinds."

In , he retired from printing and went into other businesses. He created a partnership with his foreman, David Hill, which provided Franklin with half of the shop's profits for 18 years. This business arrangement provided leisure time for study, and in a few years he had made discoveries that gave him a reputation with the learned throughout Europe and especially in .

These include his of . Franklin proposed that "vitreous" and "resinous" electricity were not different types of (as electricity was called then) but the same electrical fluid under different pressures (See ). He is also often credited with labeling them as positive and negative respectively. In 1750 he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a in a that appeared capable of becoming a storm. On , , Thomas Francois d'Alibard of conducted Franklin's experiment (using a 40-foot-tall iron rod instead of a kite) and extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On , Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment and also successfully extracted sparks from a cloud (unaware that d'Alibard had already done so, 36 days earlier). Franklin's was not written up until 's History and Present Status of Electricity; the evidence shows that Franklin was insulated (not in a conducting path, as he would have been in danger of in the event of a lightning strike). (Others, such as Prof. of , were spectacularly electrocuted during the months following Franklin's experiment.) Franklin, in his writings, displays that he was aware of the dangers and offered alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was electrical, as shown by his invention of the , an application of the use of . If Franklin did perform this experiment, he did not do it in the way that is often described (as it would have been ). Instead he used the kite to collect some electric charge from a storm cloud, which implied that was electrical. See, for example, the painting by of .

In recognition of his work with electricity, Franklin was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and received its in . The unit of has been named after him: one franklin (Fr) is equal to one .

Franklin established two major fields of physical science, and . In his classic work (A History of The Theories of Electricity & Aether), Sir (p. 46) refers to Franklin's inference that electric charge is not created by rubbing substances, but only transferred, so that "the total quantity in any insulated system is invariable." This assertion is known as the "principle of conservation of charge."

As a printer and a publisher of a newspaper, Franklin frequented the farmers' markets in Philadelphia to gather news. One day Franklin inferred that reports of a storm elsewhere in Pennsylvania must be the storm that visited the Philadelphia area in recent days. This initiated the notion that some storms travel, eventually leading to the synoptic charts of dynamic meteorology, replacing sole dependence upon the charts of climatology.

In Franklin and Dr. obtained a charter from the legislature to establish a hospital. was the first hospital in what was to become the .

This political cartoon by Franklin urged the colonies to join together during the ().

In politics he proved very able both as an and as a controversialist; as an office-holder, he made use of his position to advance his relatives, though doing so was all but expected in a dominated by political patronage. His most notable service in domestic politics was his reform of the postal system, but his fame as a statesman rests chiefly on his diplomatic services in connection with the relations of the colonies with Great Britain, and later with . It was during this period that Franklin was involved in the creation of not only the aforementioned first volunteer fire department and free public library, but also many other civic enterprises.

In he headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the . This meeting of several colonies had been requested by the Board of Trade in England to improve relations with the Indians and defense against the . Franklin proposed a broad Plan of Union for the colonies. While the plan was not adopted, elements of it found their way into the and the .

In he was sent to to against the influence of the in the government of Pennsylvania, and for five years he remained there, striving to enlighten the people and the ministry of the United Kingdom as to colonial conditions. At Franklin was awarded an honorary doctorate for his scientific accomplishments and from then on went by "Doctor Franklin." He also managed to secure a post for his illegitimate son, , as .

In 1756, Franklin became a member of the Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (now or RSA, which had been founded in 1754) whose early meetings took place in coffee shops in London's Covent Garden district, close to Franklin's main London residence in Craven Street (the only one of his residences to survive and which is currently undergoing renovation and conversion to a Franklin museum). After his return to America, Franklin became the Society's Corresponding Member and remained closely connected with the Society. The RSA instituted a Benjamin Franklin Medal in 1956 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Franklin's birth and the 200th anniversary of his membership of the RSA.

In , the year in which he ceased writing for the Almanac, he printed "Father Abraham's Sermon," one of the most famous pieces of literature produced in .

Franklin noted a principle of by observing that on a very hot day, he stayed cooler in a wet shirt in a breeze than he did in a dry one. To understand this more clearly Franklin conducted experiments. On one warm day in Cambridge England in 1758, Franklin and fellow scientist John Hadley experimented by continually wetting the ball of a mercury with and using to evaporate the ether. With each subsequent , the thermometer read a lower temperature, eventually reaching 7 °F (-14 °C). Another thermometer showed the room to be constant at 65 °F (18 °C). In his letter “” Franklin noted that “one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death on a warm summer’s day.”


Later years

On his return to America, he played an honorable part in the , through which he lost his seat in the Assembly, but in he was again dispatched to England as agent for the colony, this time to petition to resume the government from the hands of the proprietors. In he actively opposed the proposed , but lost the credit for this and much of his popularity because he secured for a friend the office of stamp agent in America. This perceived conflict of interest, and the resulting outcry, is widely regarded as a deciding factor in Franklin's never achieving higher elected office. Even his effective work in helping to obtain the repeal of the act did not regain his popularity, but he continued his efforts to present the case for the Colonies as the troubles thickened toward the crisis of the . This also led to an irreconcilable conflict with his son, who remained ardently loyal to the British Government.

Franklin, an engraving from a painting by Duplessis

In he crossed to , where he was received with honor; but before his return home in he lost his position as postmaster through his share in divulging to the famous letter of and Oliver. On his arrival in Philadelphia he was chosen as a member of the and assisted in editing the .

In December of he was dispatched to France as for the United States. He lived in a home in the Parisian suburb of donated by who would become a friend and the most important foreigner to help the United States win the . Ben Franklin remained in France until , a favorite of French society. Franklin was so popular that it became fashionable for wealthy French families to decorate their parlors with a painting of him. He conducted the affairs of his country towards that nation with such success, which included securing a critical military alliance and negotiating the , that when he finally returned, he received a place only second to that of as the champion of American independence.

When Franklin was recalled to America in 1785, Le Ray honored him with a commissioned portrait painted by that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery of the in .

In addition, after his return from France in , he became an who eventually became of . Nevertheless, Franklin had owned several slaves, and never freed any of them. His fortune had been earned selling newspapers that advertised slave sales. Ultimately, he chose not to bring the matter of slavery to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when asked to do so by the abolition society to which he belonged.

While in by 1787, he agreed to attend, as a delegate, the meetings that would produce the to replace the . He is the only who is a signatory of all three of the major documents of the founding of the United States: , The and the . Franklin also has the distinction of being the oldest signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. He was 70 years old when he signed the Declaration, and 81 when he signed the .

Also in , a group of prominent ministers in proposed the foundation of a new college to be named in Franklin's honor. Franklin donated Ј200 towards the development of Franklin College, which would later merge with Marshall College in . It is now called .

Later, he finished his between 1771 and 1788, at first addressed to his son, then later completed for the benefit of mankind at the request of a friend.

In his later years, as congress was forced to deal with the issue of slavery, Franklin wrote several essays that attempted to convince his readers of the importance of the abolition of slavery and of the integration of Africans into American society. These writings included:

, (1789)

(1789), and

Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on the Slave Trade (1790).

On February 11, 1790, Quakers from New York and Pennsylvania presented their petition for abolition. Their argument against slavery was backed by the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society and its president, Benjamin Franklin. Because of his involvement in abolition, its cause was greatly debated around the states, especially in the House of Representatives.


Death and afterwards

Memorial marble statue of Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin died on , at the extremely advanced age (for that time) of 84, and was interred in in .

At his death Franklin Ј1000 (about $4400 at the time) each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, in trust for 200 years. The origin of the trust began in 1785 when a French named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a of Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack called Fortunate Richard. In it he mocked the unbearable spirit of American optimism represented by Franklin. The Frenchman wrote a piece about Fortunate Richard leaving a small sum of money in his will to be used only after it had collected for 500 years. Franklin, who was 79 years old at the time, wrote back to the Frenchman, thanking him for a great idea and telling him that he had decided to leave a bequest to his native Boston and his adopted Philadelphia of 1,000 pounds to each on the condition that it be placed in a fund that would gather interest over a period of 200 years. As of 1990 over $2,000,000 had accumulated in Franklin's Philadelphia trust since his death. During the lifetime of the trust, Philadelphia used it for a variety of loan programs to local residents. From 1940 to 1990, the money was used mostly for mortgage loans. When the trust came due, Philadelphia decided to spend it on for local high school students. Franklin's Boston trust fund accumulated almost $5,000,000 during that same time and eventually was used to establish a trade school that, over time, became the .

In recent years a number of have been promoting a which has been debunked by historians: .

Franklin's likeness adorns the American . As a result, $100 bills are sometimes referred to in slang as "Benjamins" or "Franklins." From to , Franklin's portrait was also on the . He has also appeared on a $50 bill in the past, as well as several varieties of the $100 bill from 1914 and 1918, and every $100 bill from 1928 to present. Franklin also appears on the $1,000 Series EE .

In 1976, as part of a celebration, Congress dedicated the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial in Franklin's hometown of , including a 20-foot high marble statue. Many of Franklin's personal possessions are also on display there. The is located in Philadelphia's . It is one of the few National Memorials located on .

In 1998, workmen restoring Franklin's London home () dug up the remains of six children and four adults hidden below the home. The Times of London reported on February 11, 1998:

"Initial estimates are that the bones are about 200 years old and were buried at the time Franklin was living in the house, which was his home from 1757 to 1762, and from 1764 to 1775. Most of the bones show signs of having been dissected, sawn or cut. One skull has been drilled with several holes. Paul Knapman, the Westminster Coroner, said yesterday: "I cannot totally discount the possibility of a crime. There is still a possibility that I may have to hold an inquest."

The Friends of (the organization responsible for the restoration of Franklin's house at 36 Craven Street in London) note that the bones were likely placed there by William Hewson, a young surgeon who lived in the house for 2 years and who had built a small anatomy school at the back of the house. They note that while Franklin likely knew what Hewson was doing, he probably did not participate in any dissections because he was much more of a physicist than a medical man. Hewson ironically died of on May 1, 1744 which he contracted from cutting himself while dissecting a putrid corpse.