Today would be the 306th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, whose contributions stretched far beyond his role as Founding Father. The polymath inventor was a significant figure in the American Enlightenment, paving the way for the evolution of politics, science, and even the countrys infrastructure.
Franklins father, Josiah Franklin, was a soap and candle maker who emigrated to Boston with his first wife, Anne Child, in 1683. The two had seven children together before Anne passed away. Josiah remarried Abiah Folger in 1689; Benjamin was their eighth childand Josiahs fifteenth.Franklins parents had little money, so Franklin received only a few years of formal education. He continued on his own, reading everything he could get his hands on. When Franklin was 12, he began an apprenticeship with his older brother James, learning the printing industry.
Launching a New CareerFive years later he ran away to Philadelphia, effectively making him a fugitive! Franklin soon established himself as a leader in Philadelphias intellectual community. He was made Grand Master of the local Masonic lodge by 1734, a title that illustrates his esteem in the community. Heres a look at other, lesser known milestones in Franklins life and career:
- In 1730 Franklin entered a common-law marriage with Deborah Read after her husband ran off with her dowry. Franklin had proposed to Deborah years before, when she was fifteen, but her mother objected to their match.
- Deborah allowed Franklins illegitimate son, William, to become a part of their family. William grew up to be the last Loyalist governor in the colonies, for which his father could never forgive him. The two were estranged, and William eventually settled in England.
- Franklin was a prolific inventor. He is credited with creating the lightning rod, bifocal glasses, and the Franklin stove, among many others. He never sought patents for his inventions, noting that they should be used for bettering society.
- Always interested in expediting news delivery, Franklin began to explore ocean currents and their effect on the duration of ocean voyages. With the help of his cousin, he identified and named the Gulf Stream, which had a significant impact on nautical exploration and seafaring.
- Franklin and his contemporary Leonhard Euler were the only major scientists of the time to support the wave theory of light. A major underpinning of modern physics, this theory is the basic basis for the work of countless modern scientists, including Stephen Hawking.
- Though the field of economics would not be recognized until Adam Smith published Wealth of Nations in 1775, Franklin lent an economists eye to issues affecting farmers, such as price controls and subsidies for the poor. He also strongly advocated the use of paper money over metal-based currency.
- Franklin was the first chess player recognized by name in the American colonies. An avid player, he was also one of the earliest authors to address the game. Franklin was even inducted into the US Chess Players Hall of Fame in 1999.