Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He contributed to establishing the Declaration of Independence from the authority of the British Crown. As president of the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, he was one of the delegates at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, signing the United States Constitution to establish a federal government.
A renowned politician, scientist and inventor, he was also a skilled printer. This wasn’t his own career choice – like many youths in the 18th century, his ambition was to go to sea.
Born in January 1706, Benjamin was the tenth son of Josiah Franklin, who ran a soap and candle-making business in Boston. Benjamin’s mother, Abiah Folger, was Josiah’s second wife. In the 18th century, it was up to the father to decide his son’s profession, so Benjamin’s early hopes of a career at sea were soon dashed, mainly because his older brother had died at sea and his father was against it.
Josiah sent Benjamin to school to train as a preacher at the age of eight but because of the expense, he took him out of school two years later and set him to work for the family business. Another brother, James, later set up his own printing business and Benjamin went to work for him, signing papers tying him to an apprenticeship from the age of to 12 to 21 – to prevent him from running away to sea.
Benjamin liked the industry and by the age of 17 he was the publisher of his own newspaper, reporting on local news in the New England Courant. In 1727, moving to Philadelphia, he set up the Junto – a discussion group for tradesmen who wished to improve themselves and their community. Books were expensive and rare, so Benjamin set up a library so members could benefit from reading.
He went on to open his own printing shop in Philadelphia in 1728, printing the Pennsylvania Gazette and his Poor Richard’s Almanac. He even printed Pennsylvania’s money. Later, he set up the subscription-based Library Company of Philadelphia, composing its charter. It remains a scholarly and research library to this day.
In 1758, he printed Father Abraham’s Sermon, known as The Way to Wealth. He began his own autobiography in 1771, which was published posthumously.
From 1767, he became associated with the Pennsylvania Chronicle, notorious for its revolutionary criticisms of British policies and its satirical comments. He also lived in London for a while, working in a printers as a typesetter in the Smithfield area. For the remainder of his life, he considered himself a printer, despite his many other accomplishments.
Benjamin’s many inventions included the Franklin stove, the lightning rod, bifocal spectacles and the flexible urinary catheter. His studies of storms greatly influenced meteorology when he recognised that they didn’t always travel in the direction of the prevailing wind.
In 1746, he began exploring the phenomenon of electricity, constructing what he labelled an “electrical battery” using 11 panes of glass, lead plates and silk cords connected by wires. In 1743, he founded the American Philosophical Society, where scientists could discuss their theories.
In the 1730s, he began studying demography and population growth, publishing his findings in Observations on the Increase of Mankind in 1755. He calculated the population in the US was doubling every 20 years.
In 1775 and at this time a great public figure, Benjamin was selected by Pennsylvania Assembly as their delegate to the Second Continental Congress. In 1776, he was appointed to the committee that penned the Declaration of Independence.
He signed all the major documents which founded the US: The Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Treaty of Alliance with France and the Treaty of Paris. He was also president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania for three years.
When he died in November 1788, 20,000 mourners attended Benjamin’s funeral. He appeared on the first US postage stamp in 1847 in recognition of his astounding achievements.
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