The name Benjamin Franklin is synonymous with the very beginnings of the United States of America. Indeed, he is known as one of the Founding Fathers of the US. He was a true polymath, in that he had so many strings to his bow that it would take a considerable amount of time to discuss all of his attributes. In short though he excelled in science, was a consummate inventor of a number of things that we take for granted today and was also a skilled writer. The fact that he taught himself to do the latter is all the more to his credit. Reading and writing skills were not part of his school curriculum in the early 18th century so he just set about learning it for himself.
Franklin was born in January 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts into a family of ten children. Economic difficulties prevented his father from allowing Benjamin to attend school for as long as he should have. As a result his school days virtually ended at the age of ten and, within two years, he was apprenticed to his older brother James as a printer. Ben threw himself enthusiastically into this trade and was soon responsible for the first independent newspaper in the colonies – the “New England Courant”.
Eager to have his voice heard he wrote letters anonymously to the paper, pretending to be a middle aged widow. At the age of 16 he found himself running the paper single handed and exercised his burning ambition to establish free speech. Through his alter-ego he wrote:
It was clear even at this early age that Benjamin would go far and he became quite prosperous in the newspaper business. But, of course, he turned his hand to other matters. He was a skilled physicist and had interesting ideas about the creation of electricity. His inventions included bifocal lenses and the lightning rod – both were adopted worldwide and are still part of our daily lives.
He spent time in Europe where his diplomatic status allowed him to influence European thinking, particularly in France, about the idea of establishing a new American nation. He was a prolific writer on political and social matters and there is no doubt that he impressed enough people to make the transition from “the colonies” to the United States an easier path. Of course there had to be a Revolution to make sure that this happened but his work in securing a vital French Alliance was a key element in the process of defeating the British when the time came.
While much of Franklin’s life was devoted to serious matters he had a humorous side as well, as demonstrated in some of his popular sayings and poetry. A quotation attributed to him and still used today was:
…and his poem, Equivocation, is a light-hearted dig at the ambiguity of language. In other words, what we say can mean something else entirely. Here is the poem:
Considering the time in which he lived, and his impressive list of achievements, Franklin lived a long life. As he approached his final years his weight gave him numerous health problems and, ultimately and attack of pleurisy led to his death.
Benjamin Franklin, often called “The First American”, died in April 1790 at home in Philadelphia. He was 84 years old.