Let's Talk, Ben!

"Fish and guests stink after three days."

bust of Benjamin Franklin at Independence Hall
Benjamin Franklin, probably the oldest person who signed the Declaration of Independence was a force to be reckoned with during the 1700s.  What do we know about this charismatic man?  He was a Renaissance man way after the Renaissance because of all he accomplished and the various fields he dabbled in during his lifetime.

“Today is worth two tomorrows”
portrait of Benjamin Franklin at the portrait gallery
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston to Josiah and Abiah Franklin in 1706. He was the 15th of 17 children.  His father was a candlemaker and even at a young age, was considered very bright.  He learned to read at an early age. He loved to swim and one day, held to the strings of a kite as it dragged him through the water.  He invented the first parasail.  He even invented a pair of wooden flippers to help him swim.  He was full of ideas and continually tried out his inventions with his friends.  Because he learned to read so early, his father wanted him to learn to be a candlemaker, but Benjamin hated it.  At the age of 12 he was sent to his brother’s to learn how to be a printer.  He became an apprentice to his brother for 9 years. He loved reading books and soon was saving most of his money to buy more.

“Would you live with ease, do what you ought and not what you please.”
Christ's Church

Unfortunately, Ben was not satisfied with just being a printer’s apprentice.  He wanted to write some of those wonderful stories he read. He even wrote a poem to celebrate the death of Blackbeard the famous pirate. When his brother refused to let him write, Ben did the next best thing – he created a woman named  Widow Silence Dogood and sent letters to his brother under this pseudonym (this is a fake name when a person doesn’t want someone who is reading their story to know their real name).  His brother loved the letters and soon published every single one of them.  Until – he discovered Ben had written all the letters instead.  His brother was furious with Ben!

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”
pew where Benjamin Franklin sat with his family

After five years working with his brother, he wanted to run his own print shop.  When his brother said no, Ben ran away.  He was only 17 at the time.  He went to New York first, but it was too small and had one printer.  Ben decided to go to Philadelphia which was a much bigger town. It was a long trip for him – by boat and walking, but finally he arrived in Philadelphia.  He managed to find a job as a printer’s helper and soon he made many friends.  Everyone liked his sense his humor.  Soon the governor of Pennsylvania came to visit him and advised his to go back to see his father.  He promised Ben he would help him set up a print shop when he returned.  Ben agreed. His father did forgive him, but his brother did not.

“Better slip with foot than with tongue.”
his signature at the Post Office

He did go to London to purchase a printing press, but the governor never sent money and Ben was forced to work to have food to eat.  He worked in print shops in London and soon had enough money to return home.  He worked for the same printer and after a while, he saved enough money to open his own shop (with a little help from some of his friends). 

“He that can travel well by foot, keeps a good horse.”
Franklin Court - the virtual outline of his home

Ben lent people his books, knowing it was better to have the books read than to let them collect dust on the shelves.  He worked from early morning until late every night.  He saved all his money.  Soon not only did he have his print shop, but he found a girl to marry him – Deborah Read.  They had a happy life together.  They had a son and a daughter.  Soon people up and down the coast of the colonies knew about Ben Franklin and his wit and humor.  He began to print “Poor Richard’s Almanac”, pretending it was written by a poor stargazer.  He wrote bits of proverbs and published them in his Almanac as well.  In one year, he sold over 10,000 copies!!!  He printed the first one in 1733 and continued printing it until 1758 – that’s 25 years!  Some of his most popular sayings were actually old proverbs that he changed.  You may have heard of “A penny saved is a penny earned”.

“Experience keeps a dear school, yet fools will learn in no other.”
wall of his home - artifacts found there

He always saved his money, hating to spend it on what he considered wasteful items.  Imagine his surprise when his wife put a silver spoon in front of him.  She felt if other husbands deserved a silver spoon, so did hers.  She thought he was far more worthy than any of the others.  He was always willing to help others.  Remember when I said he lent his books out to others?  He opened the first public library so everyone could borrow books whenever they wanted.  He also started a school which later became the University of Pennsylvania.

“Don’t throw stones at your neighbors if your own windows are glass.”
chair he would be carried around in

Ben opened a hospital for the poor.  He started the first volunteer fire department as well as organized a night watch to keep people safe at night.  We all know how he loved to print, but did you also know he opened the first post office and became postmaster of Philadelphia?  If not for Ben Franklin, many letters would never have been delivered to other colonies.

“Look ahead or you will find yourself behind.”
artifacts discovered at the excavation site

As the years moved on, Ben was able to go back to what he did as a child – invent things.  He invented the Franklin stove to keep a room warm.  Women loved the stove because it contained the fire without setting them on fire – a huge improvement for women who cooked all day before a fireplace.  Of course most people remember his work with electricity and that infamous kite and key.  True he was not the first to discover the presence of electricity, but he loved to learn how things worked.  Electricity was one of those things and he did many experiments with it.  He soon discovered that if he put a rod on the top of a house, it would conduct the electricity there and keep a house from catching fire when struck by lightning.  His son William was with him and helped him capture lightning in a jar.

“God helps them that help themselves.”
more artifacts discovered at the site

When England was taxing the colonies, Pennsylvania sent Ben to talk with the king.  They hoped Ben could convince the king that the taxes were unfair.  On the trip over, he studied the ocean and all the sea creatures he saw during the trip.  Once he arrived in England, he was a celebrity and they treated him large parties.  Everyone listened when he spoke.  He stayed for 5 years, talking to everyone who would listen to him.  He soon realized he represented not just Pennsylvania but all the colonies in his pleas.  When he returned to America, the colonists wanted to know what he saw and how he spoke with, but most of all they wanted to know if the King was willing to listen to their request.

“When you are good to others, you are best to yourself.”
side view of his home

The King had other ideas. He wanted his taxes but refused to let them have any say in how the taxes would be spent.  He wanted all the money for himself to pay for the wars he kept getting into.  The colonists did not like this. The colonists did not like the way the king treated them.  They felt they came to America to get away from tyranny and here they had no choice but to listen to the king and pay his taxes.  This was unfair.  They sent Ben back to England to speak for them.  This time Ben stayed in England for 10 years. While he was there, his wife died and his son sided with the king and became a Loyalist.  Ben tried to be a peacemaker but it looked like that was not going to work.  If he did not want to be thrown in jail, he had to go home.  So he set sail for America.

“No gains, without pains.”
printing press like what he would use

By the time he returned, fighting had already started in the colonies.  He went to Independence Hall for the Second Continental Congress.  He sat with Thomas Jefferson and advised him on the Declaration of Independence.  When the document was finalized, Ben signed his name.  He said, “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.” In other words, if they were going to fight for independence they had to all agree to it or it would never work.   Americans knew they could not win the war alone so they asked Ben to travel to France to speak to their king and ask for help.  He was almost 70 years old when he left for France.

“A lie stands on one leg, truth on two.”
Ben - from our Breakfast with Ben

The French men and women adored Ben.  They invited him to parties and took him to fancy balls.  He told everyone about Washington’s bravery and the determination of the soldiers.  Most of all he spoke about how much the Americans needed the French to help them. Unfortunately the French did not want to be involved in war if they did not think the colonists would win.  Then they would make England angry and this would not work.  Even though the king would not openly help, the French secretly sent goods, weapons, and money.  After the colonists beat the English at Saratoga, the French finally announced their support openly.  They finally believed the little colonists might have a chance of winning.  Ben stayed in France for 9 years.

“Well done is better than well said.”

When the war was won and the Treaty of Paris signed, Ben finally went home. Thomas Jefferson arrived to take his place as ambassador to France.  He was much celebrated when he returned to Philadelphia.  His daughter came to see him.  His job was not done.  He was asked to help write the Constitution.  After many years helping America become a country, Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at the age of 84.
Mrs. Gibson, me, Ben, and Mrs. Cochrane

What are some things Ben invented:
·        Lightning rod
·        Flippers
·        Parasail
·        Bifocals (glasses that let you read and see far away at the same time)
·        Franklin stove
·        Leyden jar – where he captured electricity
·        Electric battery (he coined the phrase)
·        He discovered dark colors absorb light and get hot faster; light colors do not – so wear light colors on hot days.
·        Franklin lamps on the streets burned longer
·        Glass harmonica
·        Artificial arm
Ben's headstone at Christ's Church cemetery

His headstone reads:
The body of
B. Franklin Printer,
(like the cover of an old book
Its contents torn out
And stript of its lettering & gilding)
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost;
For it will (as he believ’d) appear once more
Revised and corrected,
By the author.

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