Most of us know Benjamin Franklin as a prominent figure as a founding father of America, or maybe just as the guy on the one-hundred dollar bill. He actually had a pretty interesting life, and since he wrote about, well, pretty much everything, we have a great historical record of this man. Of course, it is well known that he worked with electricity, invented a couple of things, ran a print shop, as well as published dozens of books and helped run a newspaper. He even taught himself how to read several languages, including French, Spanish, Latin, and Italian. Ol’ Ben did lots of accomplishing feats in his lifetime and was quite and interesting man, but some of what he did was pretty new and revolutionary at the time.
For starters, Benjamin Franklin was one of 17 children in his family and became an apprentice of his older brother, James, at his print shop in Boston. This training later on proved useful when he ran his own print shop and made it easy for him to publish many of his own works when he was older. During his apprenticeship, his brother refused to publish any of Ben’s works in the newspaper they printed. Benjamin wrote under the pen name (one of his many pen names), Mrs. Silence Dogood, in which “she” wrote 14 feminist letter that were published in The New England Courant. After his brother found out the writer was actually him, he left his apprenticeship there and eventually ended up in Philadelphia where he held other jobs. He began to publish more works and in the 1730s, he began to write one of his more well-known writings, Poor Richard’s Almanac. Around this time is when Ben’s life started to take off and the rest is history.
Benjamin was one who established many virtues for the common man to live by, and surprisingly, he mostly lived by them. Notoriously thrifty, Benjamin wanted to spend his money on books rather than other things, which is why we always discuss him as being such a penny-pincher. He was also a very cautious man, and he made many rules about fire safety and even started the first volunteer fire department in Philadelphia, as well as establish a fire insurance company. Ben also modernized the fire place into a much more practical and useful structure, allowing more heat and effective use of stove. Although the original Franklin stove received several renovations before it reached a point in which it was anything similar to today’s fireplaces, it was a pretty darn innovative idea that helped prevent so much loss of heat and energy through the ineffective, straight chimney stoves that were previously in use.
Benjamin was also a pretty good swimmer, which was to say the least, pretty uncommon in those days, especially coming from a society in which not much priority was placed on even taking baths, let alone swimming in some body of water. He also invented “swim fins” to help aid in swimming. He considered starting a “swimming school”, but that was one of the few careers he didn’t end up having at some point or another. He also invented bifocals because he was both near and far-sighted, so without him, we wouldn’t have those handy, double-lenses to help us in our daily lives. Among other things he invented, he created the “armonica”, or glass harmonica (not to be confused with the mouth harmonica). This was he first American-made instrument, and it even became so popular that Mozart and Beethoven have written pieces specifically designed for the glass harmonica. However, it sounded ethereal and a little creepy, which made people believe it caused insanity and depression, so, you know, maybe it wasn’t the most positive of instruments. Another one of his more well know excursions was his experiments with electricity and lightning, and he also had to come up with many terms that we still use today to describe the occurrences and relationships, because there were no words for this revolutionary stuff at the time.
What would you do if you decided that you really didn’t like our alphabet or the way we spell things? Obviously you would create your own alphabet to your standards or modify the existing one, or at least try to, right? Well, Ben Franklin felt just the same way. He thought that the letters c, j, q, w, x, and y were too mainstream and overused in the English, while he created other letters to stand for underrepresented sounds in the English language. He also strongly disliked the inconsistencies in spelling at the time, since nothing was an “official” way to spell a word. He tried to publish this in a book called, Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces. A long time favorite of his works is his book, Fart Proudly, one in which the title is pretty straight-forward, an article written about the importance of flatulence (the buildup of gas in one’s stomach). The article is written semi-seriously but with humor, and it shows the humorous side to the man on the bill.
Ben Franklin died in 1790, at the ripe, old age of 84, which was, in case you didn’t know, PRETTY DARN OLD for the time, considering most people didn’t live past the age of 40. He actually wrote his own epitaph when he was 22: “The body of B. Franklin, Printer (Like the Cover of an Old Book Its Contents torn Out And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding) Lies Here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be Lost; For it will (as he Believ’d) Appear once More In a New and More Elegant Edition Revised and Corrected By the Author.” Despite his obviously well thought out death agenda, he ended up being buried in a grave with his wife that simply read on the shared gravestone, “Benjamin and Deborah Franklin.” And now you know a little more about this man we call our founding father.