Franklin, Benjamin 1706 -- 1790


Printer, writer, scientist, statesman. Born January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts. The 15th child in his family, Franklin went to work at age 10 in his father\'s chandlery, then in a brother\'s printing house. Ambitious and intent on self-improvement, he became a skilled printer while reading widely and developing a writing style. In 1723, at age 17, Franklin left for Philadelphia. Starting with no capital, he advanced rapidly and, after a brief stint as a printer in London, had by 1730 become sole owner of a business that included the Pennsylvania Gazette. In 1732, Franklin began publishing the annual Poor Richard\'s Almanac. It attracted a large readership and made Franklin\'s name a household word. Active in the community, Franklin founded a discussion group called the Junta that evolved into the American Philosophical Association and helped establish the first U.S. lending library , as well as an academy that evolved into the University of Pennsylvania. Appointed as a clerk in the Pennsylvania Assembly, Franklin held a seat there from 1751 to 1764. He served as a city deputy postmaster, he improved postal efficiency and made the postal service solvent.


In 1748, his business having expanded, Franklin retired, turning it over to his foreman, thus gaining more time for scientific pursuits. In the early 1740s, he had developed the fuel-efficient Franklin open stove. Later he conducted a series of experiments, described in his Experiments and Observations on Electricity (1751--53), which brought him international recognition as a scientist. In 1752, Franklin conducted his famous kite experiment, demonstrating that lightning is an electrical discharge; he also announced his invention of the lightning rod. A later invention for which Franklin is well-known was the bifocal lens (1760).


Franklin represented Pennsylvania at the Albany Congress in 1754, called in response to the French and Indian Wars. He pursued diplomatic activities in England, obtaining permission for Pennsylvania to tax the estates of its proprietors, securing repeal of the Stamp Act, and representing the interests of several colonies. Franklin went to France to help negotiate treaties of commerce and alliance


Returning to the U.S. in 1785, Franklin served as a conciliating presence at the Constitutional Convention. In his last years he corresponded widely, received many visitors, and invented a device for lifting books from high shelves.