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Benjamin Franklin Biography

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Benjamin Franklin Biography Born in January of 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin is an iconic figure in American history and throughout the world (Gaustad 2003). Among other things, he was one of the most well known politicians and civil activists of the Enlightenment Era in North America. He was known for his role as Ambassador to France, and his work to gain French military assistance during the American Revolution. Franklin was also one of the Founding Fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence and helped draft the United States Constitution. Benjamin Franklin was extremely brilliant, but at the same time considered by many as self-effacing and approachable (Essig, 2006). Despite his great involvement in civics and politics later in his life, Franklin was first a businessman and a scientist. Franklin’s scientific work and business ventures lead him to become one of the most recognizable innovators of all time. According to Isaacson (2003), one of the main factors that caused Franklin to be thought of as a genius was the varied nature of his interests. He became involved in projects that ranged from civics to science, and he never took himself too seriously. The earliest known invention of Benjamin Franklin was the development of a copperplate press in 1728 that used ornate designs, and different colors of ink to make it more difficult for counterfeiters to forge paper money from the state of New Jersey. It was also during this period that Franklin invented a method of casting printing type by using molten metal and lead mold casts from existing printing type. These innovations in the field of printing and graphic arts would earn Franklin professional recognition nearly 200 years later in 1902 when the Franklin Gothic typeface was named after him. Even though the technology has dramatically changed, the printing presses that newspapers still use today can be rooted to Franklin’s early inventions. One of Franklin’s most important inventions was the Franklin stove. Invented in 1745, it was one of the world’s first clean burning wood stoves. This stove utilized hot air circulation, and the process of convection to circulate warm air around the room while simultaneously filtering out the cold air that entered the room through doors, windows, and the basement (Essig 2006). Franklin decided to turn down an offer made by the Governor of Pennsylvania to patent the Franklin stove. Alternatively, he published the design in papers and broadsheets in all 13 Colonies so that all of the citizens of the colonies could build and utilize the Franklin stove. This wood burning stove was innovative because it was both clean burning and enclosed so that homemakers no longer had to worry about burning embers flying out of the fireplace and potentially setting the home on fire. Another one of Franklin’s inventions continues to benefit the medical field even today, which is the urinary catheter that he invented in 1753. The first urinary catheter was created by Franklin for his brother John who developed an illness that gave him difficulty urinating (Isaacson 2003). Franklin invented a flexible silver tube that was inserted by using a screw component to place it securely in the urethra. The catheter was also collapsible to make for easier removal. This would prove to be very beneficial to the medical field since patients who had diseases that prevented them from disposing of waste fluids properly often died in the days before Franklin invented the Catheter. The invention of the catheter and the Franklin stove in such a short time period indicates that Franklin had a wider variety of interests, and the ability to invent items that were both useful and innovative. Franklin’s main strength lay in his problem solving abilities. His first instinct upon seeing a problem was to find a way to fix it. This led to many of his greatest projects including the creation of libraries and fire departments, as well as inventions such as the catheter and bifocal eyeglasses. During this period, Franklin also reinvented the common streetlight so that so that it was ventilated to draw smoke from the oil upwards rather than blackening the panes of glass through which the light flowed (Fleming, 1974, p 9). In 1743, Franklin became interested in the study of weather patterns and the prediction of weather, upon attending a solar eclipse in Boston he found that a storm prevented him from seeing the eclipse. He then theorized that weather could be predicted by checking the direction of the wind, the position of the sun, and what type of clouds were present in the sky. This was the beginning of what would eventually become the science of meteorology (Isaacson, 2003). According to Dudley Herschbach in the July 4, 2003 edition of the National Public Radio talk show, Face the Nation, Franklin was responsible for discovering much of the knowledge about electricity that is still considered true today. Between 1746 and 1752, Franklin was responsible for several key inventions involving electricity. First, he was responsible for the invention of a lightening rod. The lightening rod invented by Franklin, extended three to four feet above the top of a building and extended down three to four feet into the ground. The purpose of the lightening rod was to channel electrical charges that would normally hit the building down into the ground to be dispersed harmlessly. Another invention during this time was the use of a Leyden jar as a method of storing electrical energy on a temporary basis. This discovery would prove to be one of the world’s first electric batteries. According to Isaacson (2003), the final discovery that Franklin made about electricity at the same time as his invention of the battery was the use of positive and negative electrical charges that would help to power the battery. In the early, 1760’s Franklin was sent to England to plead the case of the Thirteen Colonies before Parliament. While he was there, he discovered that English homes were still heated by central fireplaces, and that many public buildings were not heated at all. Franklin’s main invention during his time in England was a steam-powered hot water heating system that heated an area via the use of hot water pipes running under the floor (Isaacson 2003). This design was based on Ancient Roman heating methods, and Franklin updated and modified it so that it would work for modern buildings such as Parliament at the time. According to Isaacson (2003) in 1765 Franklin upon his return to Philadelphia from pleading the political case of the colonies in London, found that his granddaughter Polly was having a great deal of difficulty learning to spell and read properly. This event encouraged Franklin to develop the Phonetic Alphabet. In the Phonetic Alphabet the reader sounds out words in order to figure out how to both read and pronounce them this method is commonly used to teach both reading, and spelling in schools even today. The use of phonics helped Polly learn how to read and spell properly and gave educators a new teaching method that would allow them to help students who were having difficulty with their reading skills. In 1778, Franklin would travel to France as the Ambassador of the Continental Congress. His goal was to obtain military assistance for the new nation in its fight against the British. While he was in France, he came up with two of his greatest inventions that are still in use today, bifocals and the concept of Daylight Savings Time. These are some of Franklin’s most popular inventions. According to Fleming (1974), the idea for daylight savings time came to Franklin in 1779 while he was in France. He discovered that the sun rose later in the winter, and earlier in the summer, and that days during the summer were longer than in winter. He theorized that by adjusting the time ahead one hour during the spring and summer months and backwards by an hour during the fall and winter this would tend to equalize the time discrepancy somewhat. This idea was not popularly accepted at the international level until the Twentieth Century, however, a large number of countries worldwide now use Daylight Savings Time. Furthermore, there is some debate as to who was the first to consider the idea of Day Light Savings Time, however many still attribute this theory to Franklin. Bifocal eyeglasses were yet another useful invention by Franklin. This idea was sparked when he decided in 1784, that he was sick of taking off the spectacles that he used for reading with the spectacles that he used for distance vision. According to Essig (2006), he then came up with the idea that if he took half of the lens from each pair of glasses, and put them together that he could simply look out the top half of the glasses for reading, and the bottom half for distance vision. The only difficulty Franklin found with these glasses was that seeing out of them took quite a bit of readjustment. However, with some much needed modifications and upgraded technology, bifocals are still used today by many people across the world. Franklin also had several unique inventions that did not become particularly popular at all. According to Isaacson (2003), one of these was a mechanical arm that was designed to retrieve books off bookshelves. He also invented a musical instrument called the Glass Armonica by taking several glasses and using a fork to play tunes on the glasses. He also designed a way of copying documents without re-printing them however; this early variation on a photocopier was never implemented. These inventions may have not become as popular as bifocal eyeglasses, or the phonetic alphabet. However, they demonstrated that Franklin had the ability to think in a creative manner and was willing to accept that some inventions were not destined to succeed. The Enlightenment Era was a period in time that is widely recognized by great scientific discoveries. Inventions such as the steam engine and many others helped spark the Industrial Age in American history. Franklins’ inventions were part of this great revolution, which signaled the beginning of the push towards some of the greatest scientific and mechanical achievements of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. These innovations would lay the foundation for the Industrial Revolution and power factories that manufactured goods for the entire world. Benjamin Franklin’s inventions were the result of a brilliant mind that was not caged in by the limitations of formal education. His inventions were practical in many respects and amusing in others. Up until the day of his death. His problem solving skills and ability to be innovative were rather unique even during the Enlightenment Era when innovation was expected in the scientific and artistic communities. Despite his lack of formal education, he demonstrated that innovative thinking and strong problem solving skills might be more important than degrees from any of the great universities. Many of the things that Franklin invented such as catheters, bifocal glasses, and clean burning wood stoves are still used by people throughout the world today. These inventions changed the world and paved the way for many inventors after his time. Benjamin Franklin seemed to have done it all. He was a great diplomat, urban planner, writer, businessman, and scientist. Above all, he was an innovator at heart and without his inventions; the world might be a very different place.

Work Cited Gaustad, Edwin S. Inventing America: Benjamin Franklin. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2003. Page 9. "Analysis: Ben Franklin's science and life achievements. (3:00-4:00 PM)(Broadcast transcript). ." Talk of the Nation. July 4, 2003. Essig, Mark, Inventing America “The Life of Benjamin Franklin” Routledge Hill Books, Nashville, TN, 2006. Page 48. Fleming, Thomas, “The Man Who Dared the Lightening: A new Look at Benjamin Franklin” Morrow, 1974. Page 532. Isaacson, Walter, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Simons and Schuster, New York, NY, 2003. Page 590.…...

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