Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American printer, writer, politician, diplomat, and scientist who is famous for his invention of bifocals and the Franklin stove, as well as for his experiments with electricity. In 1733, he started publishing Poor Richard's Almanack, which contained many of the famous phrases associated with Franklin, such as, "A penny saved is a penny earned.” In 1752, he flew a kite attached to a silk string in a thunderstorm and proved that a metal key tied to the thread would charge a Leyden jar (a glass jar coated with metal). These experiments led to the use of lightning rods. Franklin was elected to the Second Continental Congress and worked on a committee of five that helped to draft the Declaration of Independence. Though much of the writing is Thomas Jefferson's, Franklin was also a significant contributor to the document's content. In 1776, Franklin signed the Declaration and was named ambassador to the Court of Louis XVI in France.
Franklin’s inquiring mind was evident in every aspect of his life. While living in Philadelphia, he helped develop the nation’s first subscription library, the American Philosophical Society (the first learned society in America), and the city’s first fire department. He also donated funds to assist the city in developing a municipal water supply that would help prevent outbreaks of disease such as those of the 1790s.
Finally, Franklin performed extensive scientific experiments. Many of these bordered on the mundane—for instance, spilling crude oil on shipping channels in order to calm choppy waters. However, at a time of little organized science in the U.S., Franklin created numerous examples of the scientific method that would guide future experimentation and inquiry.
Benjamin Franklin was one of the nation’s Founding Fathers but also one of its most intelligent and generous citizens.
Benjamin Franklin: A Documentary History (Leo Lemay, Department of English, University of Delaware)
Benjamin Franklin - Biography (University of St. Andrews, Scotland, School of Mathematics and Statistics)
Benjamin Franklin: Explore (PBS Online)
The Amazing Adventures of Benjamin Franklin (TIME Magazine Online)
Quick Biography of Ben Franklin (Independence Hall Association)
Fleming, Candace. Ben Franklin's Almanac: Being a True Account of the Good Gentleman's Life. NY: Atheneum, 2003. Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin. NY: SImon and Schuster, 2003. Tanford, Charles. Ben Franklin Stilled the Waves. Durham: Duke University Press, 1989.