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Benjamin Franklin

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Benjamin Franklin

He was never a president of the United States, nor did he lead any army in a battle. He had no talent in public speaking, preferring to write out his thoughts on paper and for them to be read aloud by others. Yet in his day he was certainly one of the most well known celebrities, beloved in both the United States and through most of Europe. He is Benjamin Franklin, and he has become a symbol of American civilization.

Benjamin Franklin was the youngest of ten sons of a Boston soap and candle maker, had little formal schooling, and was trained in adolescence as a printer's apprentice. Ben's father, "intending to devote Ben as the tenth of his sons to the service of the church" put Ben into grammar school at the age of eight (Franklin (book) -335). With his parents intending for him to have a career in the church it was a sure shock that Franklin became a Deist, a religion based on reason and logic, rather than revelation or tradition. As a teenager, Franklin was given some books against Deism, and it just so happened that they wrought an effect on him that was quite contrary to what was intended by them. He realized that the arguments of the Deists appeared to be much stronger than the refutations, and soon after became a thorough Deist. He attacked Christian principles of free will and morality in a 1725 pamphlet, A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.

Franklin was then apprenticed to his half brother James, a printer and publisher of the New England Courant. Unbeknownst to his brother young Ben was secretly contributing letters to the publication under the name of "Silence Dogood." In total, he published thirteen essays under that pseudonym which were widely read and praised for their satire. In 1723, after much disagreement with his brother he left and went to work in Philadelphia as a printer. After a sojourn in London from 1724-1726, he returned and in 1729 acquired an interest in the Pennsylvania Gazette. Soon after in the year 1730, Franklin became the owner and editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette and made the periodical popular. His common sense philosophy and his neatly worded phrases won public attention in things such as: the Gazette, later in the General Magazine, and especially in his Poor Richard's Almanack, which he published from 1732 to 1757 under the pen name Richard Saunders. Poor Richard's Almanack appeared continuously from 1732-1757, and contained the typical calendar, weather, poems, astronomical and astrological information that an almanac of the period contained. It is mainly remembered for being a repository of Franklin's aphorisms and proverbs, many of which live on in American English. The almanac was a best seller for a pamphlet published in the American colonies; print runs typically ran over 10,000 per year. Further proof of his love for the written word, in 1731 Franklin founded what is believed to be the first public library in America, which was then chartered in 1742 as the Philadelphia Library.

Not only was Benjamin Franklin a talented writer and printer, he was also a knowledgeable scientist and inventor. Franklin worked diligently and repeatedly on experiments of other scientists and eventually invented such diverse things like the Franklin stove (which provided greater heat with a reduced consumption of fuel and is still in use today), bifocal eyeglasses, and swim fins. His great interests in music lead him to build his own glass harmonica. The harmonica's beautiful tones appealed to many composers, including Mozart and Beethoven. Science started to have a great impact on Benjamin Franklin's life and after a while he handed his printing business over to his foreman with the intention of devoting his life to nothing but science. Electricity was a phenomenon that interested Franklin deeply. His experiment of, "flying a kite in a thunderstorm, which showed that lightning is an electrical discharge, and his invention of the lightning rod were among a series of investigations," that brought Franklin international fame. (Franklin (website)). In recognition of his remarkable scientific accomplishments, Franklin received honorary degrees from the University of St. Andrews and the University of Oxford. He also became a fellow of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge and, in 1753, was awarded its Copley Medal for distinguished contributions to experimental science.

Benjamin Franklin influenced education in Pennsylvania in many ways. In 1749 he wrote Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania; the publication of which led to the establishment of the Philadelphia Academy in 1751, later to be renamed the University of Pennsylvania. The curriculum he proposed was considerably different from the studies employed at that time. As opposed to emphasizing classical studies he advocated the study of English, modern foreign languages as well as mathematics and science.

In addition to his many achievements, Benjamin Franklin was also a statesman. Politics became more of an active interest for Franklin in the 1750's. From 1753-1774, Franklin served as deputy postmaster general of the colonies. He reorganized the postal system, making it both efficient and profitable. In order to keep Philadelphia safe, he started the Union Fire Company in 1736. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," Franklin's famous saying was actually fire-fighting advice (The). Years later, in 1752, he set up America's first fire insurance company. In addition, in order to make Philadelphia a safer place to live, Franklin introduced methods for the improvement of street paving as well as lighting. He later became a Pennsylvania delegate to the Albany Congress, where he proposed a plan of union for the colonies, which was accepted by the delegates but later rejected by both the provincial assemblies and the British government.

Franklin was a leader of the popular party in Pennsylvania against the Penn family, who were the proprietors, and in 1757 he was sent to England to present the case against the Penn's. Three years later in 1760 Franklin won the case and the colonies then had the right to tax the Penn estates but advised moderation in applying the right. As a couple years passed on, Franklin returned to America for two years, but happened to be in England when the Stamp Act caused a furor. Once again, being the great leader that he was, he protested the Act but urged the colonists to obey the law, thus losing some popularity from the colonies. His testimony before Parliament helped persuade the members to repeal the law. Soon after this incident, Franklin was made agent for Georgia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts,

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