Benjamin Franklin: An American Life

Benjamin Franklin, an American Life by Walter Isaacson, is an eye-opening biography about one of the founding fathers of American history. Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 17006, Ben Franklin was the fifteenth child of his father Josiah Franklin who emigrated from England in 1683 and the last son of Josiah and ben’s mother Abiah Folger. Abiah was born in Nantucket Massachusetts Bay Colony, on August 15th, 1667.

Growing up poor, Ben’s father did not have money to put his son to school for more than two years and hence he continued his education through voracious reading. Although Benjamin’s parents spoke of the church as a school, to him his formal education stopped when he was ten years old. He worked for his father for some time and when he turned twelve, he became an apprentice to his brother James, a printer, who taught him the printing trade. Eventually, Benjamin Franklin became an exponent in the printing business and worked for Philadelphia Gazette, and later became the owner of the business.

The printing business was in high demand in America and generated enough revenue for Franklin to quit his job in the printing industry and focus on his scientific quest and public projects. Therefore, in 1748, he left his printing business to his partner David Hall who also edited and published Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack.

With simple experiments and logical thinking, Franklin established scientific theories from his observations. With help of his son William, Franklin performed his famous kite experiment, which proved his theory that electricity consists of positive and negative charges. When the storm passed over his kite the negative charges passed into his kite and then to the Leyden Jar. When he moved his hand near the key he received a shock because the negative charge attracted the positive charge of the body. He documented his findings in the letters written to his friend in Britain that were later assembled into a book.

Franklin also believed that the common cold was caused by microorganisms, rather than just cold weather. He, therefore, kept his windows open and allowed fresh air to pass through his room at all times and believed that helps prevent contagious diseases.

While coming back from England, Franklin with his grandson Temple mapped out the gulf stream and tracked ocean currents by recording temperatures at specific time intervals. Additionally, Franklin discovered a famous instrument, the glass Armonica plays. Working with a glassblower in London, Franklin made a few dozen glass bowls, tuned to notes by their varying size, and fitted one inside the next with cork. Each bowl was made with the correct size and thickness to give the desired pitch without being filled with any water. Franklin also painted them so that each bowl was color-coded to a different note. A hole was put through the center of the glass bowls, and an iron rod ran through the holes. The rod was attached to a wheel, which was turned by a foot pedal. Moistened fingers touched the edge of the spinning glasses and produced musical sounds. The glass armonica was one of the most celebrated instruments of the 18th century. Franklin began to take his beloved armonica with him when he traveled and played popular Scottish tunes or original compositions for his audiences. Later, composers such as Beethoven, Mozart, and Donizetti would write music for the armonica.

Franklin spoke about how curiosity drove his understanding of the world and nature. Although his wife Deborah remained loyal, Franklin had a lot of relationships throughout his life, especially during his travels to England and Paris.

At age 21, Franklin created a group called Junto, consisting of like-minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves and their community. Franklin has always been a supporter of democracy and the middle class. He established the first library for the Junto in Philadelphia consisting of 15 books, 5 books each on history politics, and law. Therefore, Franklin conceived the idea of a subscription library that would pool the funds from the members to buy books for all to read since books were very expensive to buy in those days. His daughter Sarah Franklin, who never received a formal education became a key figure through Ben’s inspiration being a librarian which would promote her to getting skills and knowledge through the books that were available.

Over the years, Franklin’s relationship with his son William disintegrated and his bond with his grandson Temple grew stronger. He started taking temple on all his voyages for political reasons and they became good friends. With the thirteen sovereign states, he along with the other members helped set up the constitution and declared the United States as an independent nation.

Franklin’s overall public policies not only helped America stand out in the economy but also helped in establishing trade with the rest of the world. Ever since the day of his electricity experiments, Franklin believed that science should be pursued initially for pure fascination and curiosity, and then practical uses would eventually flow from what was discovered. He said,’ Pave the way to some discoveries in the natural philosophy of which at present we have no conception.’ Franklin resembled himself as a long-term thinker with vision and critical thinking. When asked about religion Franklin said, “I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children.” To date, these beliefs are fundamental to all religions and the core of their foundation. Franklin wanted good for others and for the nation as a whole. All his actions were not just constricted to a single state or city, he fought to give rites in the legislation with the total votes from all the states instead of representatives from each state. That was contradictory to the population size and the representatives in the election.

On April 17th, 1790, Franklin dies in his home in Market Street Philadelphia at the age of 84.

Back in 1728, with a belief that an honest man should have a fledging printer in his trade Franklin composed for himself an epitaph that reflected his perspective and wisdom.

The body of B. Franklin, Printer

Like the cover of an old book,

Its contents worn out,

And stripped of its lettering and gliding

Lies here, food for worms.

But the work shall not be lost:

For it will, (as he believed) appear once more,

In a new and more elegant edition,

Revised and Corrected,

By the Author

P.S Most of these facts are taken from Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Issacson. Walter Isaacson is a notable bestselling author of several other books. Among them are Einstein, Leonardo the Vinci, and Steve Jobs. His recent book The Code Breaker is about the revolution in biotechnology in the 21st century. He is currently the director of the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C, a non-profit policy-making institution, and an editor of The Time. Some facts have been read through online sources like:

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