Biography: Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin
BenFranklinDuplessis.jpg6th President of Pennsylvania

In office
October 18, 1785 – November 5, 1788

Vice PresidentCharles Biddle
Thomas Mifflin

Preceded byJohn Dickinson

Succeeded byThomas Mifflin

United States Minister to Sweden
In office
September 28, 1782 – April 3, 1783
Appointed byCongress of the Confederation
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byJonathan Russell
United States Minister to France
In office
September 14, 1778 – May 17, 1785
Serving with Arthur Lee, Silas Deane, John Adams
Appointed by Continental Congress
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Thomas Jefferson
1st United States Postmaster General
In office
July 26, 1775 – November 7, 1776
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Richard Bache
Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly
In office
May 1764 – October 1764
In office
May 1764 – October 1764
Preceded by Isaac Norris
Succeeded by Isaac Norris
Personal details
Born – January 17, 1706
Boston, Massachusetts Bay, British America
Died April 17, 1790 (aged 84)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Cause of death Pleurisy
Political party – Independent
Spouse(s) Deborah Read
Children William
 Source: Wikipedia

Benjamin Franklin’s Inventions:

Franklin was a prodigious inventor. Among his many creations were the lightning rod, glass harmonica (a glass instrument, not to be confused with the metal harmonica), Franklin stove, bifocal glasses and the flexible urinary catheter. Franklin never patented his inventions; in his autobiography he wrote, “… as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”


Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky c. 1816 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, by Benjamin West

Franklin started exploring the phenomenon of electricity in 1746 when he heard of the Leyden jar.
Franklin proposed that “vitreous” and “resinous” electricity were not different types of “electrical fluid” (as electricity was called then), but the same “fluid” under different pressures. He was the first to label them as positive and negative respectively, and he was the first to discover the principle of conservation of charge. In 1748 he constructed a multiple plate capacitor, that he called an “electrical battery” (not to be confused with Volta’s pile) by placing eleven panes of glass sandwiched between lead plates, suspended with silk cords and connected by wires.

In 1750, he published a proposal for an experiment to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm. On May 10, 1752, Thomas-François Dalibard of France conducted Franklin’s experiment using a 40-foot-tall (12 m) iron rod instead of a kite, and he extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15 Franklin may possibly have conducted his well known kite experiment in Philadelphia, successfully extracting sparks from a cloud. Franklin’s experiment was not written up with credit until Joseph Priestley’s 1767 History and Present Status of Electricity. Franklin was careful to stand on an insulator, keeping dry under a roof to avoid the danger of electric shock. Others, such as Prof. Georg Wilhelm Richmann in Russia, were indeed electrocuted during the months following Franklin’s experiment.

In his writings, Franklin indicates that he was aware of the dangers and offered alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was electrical, as shown by his use of the concept of electrical ground. If Franklin did perform this experiment, he may not have done it in the way that is often described—flying the kite and waiting to be struck by lightning—as it would have been dangerous. Instead he used the kite to collect some electric charge from a storm cloud, which implied that lightning was electrical. On October 19 in a letter to England with directions for repeating the experiment, Franklin wrote:

When rain has wet the kite twine so that it can conduct the electric fire freely, you will find it streams out plentifully from the key at the approach of your knuckle, and with this key a phial, or Leyden jar, may be charged: and from electric fire thus obtained spirits may be kindled, and all other electric experiments [may be] performed which are usually done by the help of a rubber glass globe or tube; and therefore the sameness of the electrical matter with that of lightening completely demonstrated.

Population studies

Franklin had a major influence on the emerging science of demography, or population studies. Thomas Malthus is noted for his rule of population growth and credited Franklin for discovering it. Kammen (1990) and Drake (2011) say Franklin’s “Observations on the Increase of Mankind” (1755) stands alongside Ezra Stiles’ “Discourse on Christian Union” (1760) as the leading works of eighteenth-century Anglo-American demography; Drake credits Franklin’s “wide readership and prophetic insight.”


Benjamin Franklin's Birth Place
Benjamin Franklin’s Birth Place

In the 1730s and 1740s, Franklin began taking notes on population growth, finding that the American population had the fastest growth rates on earth.

Emphasizing that population growth depended on food supplies—a line of thought later developed by Thomas Malthus—Franklin emphasized the abundance of food and available farmland in America.

He calculated that America’s population was doubling every twenty years and would surpass that of England in a century. In 1751, he drafted “Observations concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries, &c.” Four years later, it was anonymously printed in Boston, and it was quickly reproduced in Britain, where it influenced the economists Adam Smith and later Thomas Malthus. Franklin’s predictions alarmed British leaders who did not want to be surpassed by the colonies, so they became more willing to impose restrictions on the colonial economy.

Franklin was also a pioneer in the study of slave demography, as shown in his 1755 essay. View Source

Benjamin Franklin 1776 – 1790 (70 Years Old)

In 1776 Benjamin Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and soon after set sail for Paris, sent by the Continental Congress to negotiate a treaty with the French.

He was welcomed with great enthusiasm, for his fame had preceded him—fame not as a statesman but as a scientist. He was already one of the eight foreign associates of the French Academy of Sciences (a century would pass before another American got this rare honor). As the “Newton of electricity” whose theories, experiments and lightning rods were known the length of Europe, Franklin was given a respectful hearing. Deliberately simple in dress and manner, sparkling with wit and homely wisdom, Franklin quickly convinced his audience that he—and by extension the newborn United States of America—embodied unspoiled virtue. He became perhaps the chief factor in winning the support of the French government and its fleet, support which proved decisive in the War for Independence. If Franklin the diplomat could achieve so much, it was largely because first he was Franklin the scientist.

He was forty years old before he took up scientific research; until then he had been chiefly concerned with earning a living. His brief formal education ended at the age of ten when he was removed from school to help his father, a Boston chandler and soapmaker. But he had acquired an interest in books and was soon apprenticed to his elder brother, a printer. Before the end of his apprenticeship he ran away to seek his fortune, and after a short time in Philadelphia, sailed for England. In London he perfected his knowledge of the art of printing and made friends with some gentlemen scientists. He just missed being introduced to the aging Isaac Newton. Returning to Philadelphia in 1726, Franklin set up a printing business. His Poor Richard’s Almanack and other publications were popular, and he also succeeded in colonial society, throwing himself enthusiastically into every variety of civic affairs.

In 1743 an itinerant lecturer from England demonstrated the latest electrical experiments to the wondering colonials. Franklin saw these demonstrations and later bought the lecturer’s entire apparatus. In 1745 he began to experiment on his own, and soon after turned the management of his printing business over to a partner. “When I disengaged myself . . . from private business,” he wrote, “I flatter’d myself that, by the sufficient tho’ modest fortune I had acquired, I had secured leisure during the rest of my life for philosophical studies and amusements.” View Source

Atlantic Ocean currents

Though it was Dr. Franklin and Captain Tim Folger, who first turned the Gulf Stream to nautical account, the discovery that there was a Gulf Stream cannot be said to belong to either of them, for its existence was known to Peter Martyr d’Anghiera, and to Sir Humphrey Gilbert, in the 16th century.

Wave theory of light

Franklin was, along with his contemporary Leonhard Euler, the only major scientist who supported Christiaan Huygens’ wave theory of light, which was basically ignored by the rest of the scientific community. In the 18th century Newton’s corpuscular theory was held to be true; only after Young’s well known slit experiment in 1803 were most scientists persuaded to believe Huygens’ theory.


On October 21, 1743, according to popular myth, a storm moving from the southwest denied Franklin the opportunity of witnessing a lunar eclipse. Franklin was said to have noted that the prevailing winds were actually from the northeast, contrary to what he had expected. In correspondence with his brother, Franklin learned that the same storm had not reached Boston until after the eclipse, despite the fact that Boston is to the northeast of Philadelphia. He deduced that storms do not always travel in the direction of the prevailing wind, a concept that greatly influenced meteorology.

After the Icelandic volcanic eruption of Laki in 1783, and the subsequent harsh European winter of 1784, Franklin made observations connecting the causal nature of these two separate events. He wrote about them in a lecture series. View Source

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