By K.P. Sander
January 17 will mark the birth date of a man who some say was “the very first American.” Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1706. He was one of ten children born to Josiah Franklin – an English-born businessman – and his second wife, Abiah Folger.
According to Wikipedia, Franklin was a “leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and diplomat.” He was quite the Renaissance man, and certainly one of the most influential and gifted men of his time.
While this Champion of American Independence’s accomplishments are too numerous to list, Franklin is most widely known as being one of five men to draft the Constitution of the United States. He is famously quoted as saying to John Hancock at the signing of the document, “Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Most of us can remember our elementary schooling lessons about Franklin with a key on a kite string in a lightning storm, but in fact, he conducted many electrical experiments. He was the first to label electricity under different pressures as positive and negative. He also used a kite to collect some electric charge from a storm cloud, which led to the understanding that lightning was electrical. His experiments led to the invention of the lightning rod, helping to prevent buildings from lightning strikes. In 1753, Franklin received the Royal Society’s (a scientific advisor to the British government) Copley Medal in recognition of his work with electricity. He was later elected as a Fellow of the Society – one of very few invited.
In his lifetime, Franklin held many positions, including: 6th President of Pennsylvania; United States Minister to France; United States Minister to Sweden; 1st United States Postmaster General; Speaker of the Pennsylvania Assembly; and Member of the Pennsylvania Assembly.
Franklin died at the age of 84 on April 17, 1790 at his home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is said that approximately 20,000 people attended his funeral. Franklin left behind two children, William Franklin, and Sarah Franklin Bache (his first son with common-law wife Deborah Reed – Francis Folger Franklin – died in 1734 of smallpox at the age of 4). Deborah Reed Franklin died of a stroke in 1774 while Franklin was away in England.
Interestingly enough, Franklin – always clever – bequeathed £1,000 (around $4,400 at the time) to his beloved cities, Boston and Philadelphia. The money was to be held in trust gathering interest for 200 years. By 1990, Philadelphia had accumulated more than $2 million – some was used between 1940 and 1990 for mortgage loans – which was ultimately spent on scholarships for local high school students. The Boston trust fund had amassed almost $5 million, which funded the Franklin Institute of Boston (a trade school).
Happy Birthday, Benjamin Franklin. Thank you for a lifetime of contributions for our betterment.