The Middle Colonies

4d. The Ideas of Benjamin Franklin

Ben Franklin
Although his life is most closely associated with Philadelphia, Ben Franklin was born in Boston. At the age of seventeen he made his way to the City of Brotherly Love and became a printer.

Throughout the early years of the English colonies, most Europeans did not take Americans seriously. Most were seen as the chaff of English society, bound for America because they could not make it in England.

Many viewed Americans as irrational religious fanatics or crude pioneers. American art literature, and science were snubbed by most cultured Europeans. Benjamin Franklin would help them take notice.

Ben Franklin was born in 1706 in colonial Boston. Apprenticed to his brother, a printer, young Ben ran away to Philadelphia when he was seventeen. The next twenty-five years of his life he made a fortune out of the three pennies he had carried with him to the city.

The kite experiment
Ben Franklin performed his famous kite experiment in 1752 with help from his son William. Franklin experimented with electricity throughout his life and is credited with the invention of the lightning rod.

Although he gave up active control of his printing business, Franklin kept working. He decided to devote the rest of his life to philanthropic and intellectual pursuits. He established a fire house, library, and hospital for Philadelphia. He founded the College of Philadelphia — now the University of Pennsylvania — one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the world.

University of Pennsylvania
Among Franklin's numerous contributions to the world is the University of Pennsylvania. Originally called the College of Philadelphia, this school continues to be a premier educational institution serving over 20,000 students. The seal of the University appears above.

He became an inventor, developing products as diverse as an efficient wood-burning stove and bifocal reading glasses. Of course, his most famous work was with electricity. In his famed experiment with a kite and key, Franklin proved that lightning was a form of electrical energy. His discovery brought him honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale, as well as fame overseas.

Franklin continued his life as a public servant. Although he was seventy years old when the Revolution began, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress and as a diplomat abroad. He was received as a celebrity when he traveled through Europe. An ardent patriot, he proved to the world what great ideas could come from the western side of the Atlantic Ocean.

His Pennsylvania Gazette soon surpassed all Boston publications in circulation. Poor Richard's Almanac became a staple for many of the literate colonials. People liked his insights and his dry wit. By the age of forty-two, he made enough money to retire.

On the Web
Benjamin Franklin Centre
Franklin spent most of the years between 1757 and 1775 in England. While there he lived in a house on Craven Street. The process of restoring this house to its late 18th Century condition has been undertaken jointly by The Friends of Benjamin Franklin House and the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce. Learn more about the house and particularly read the piece on the significance of Franklin's years in England.
Benjamin Franklin: A Documentary History
The best Franklin source on the Internet from Leo Lemay, a renowned Franklin Scholar. Here you will learn about the different stages of Franklin's life from Printer to Elder Statesman. Each chapter in his life is broken down by year. Each year is fascinating and Lemay never bores with too many details. The only complaint: not enough images, but the ones that are there are superb.
Franklin Court
Visit Ben's house, print shop, and an underground museum devoted to the famed kite-flyer.
Ralph Archbold as Benjamin Franklin
Think Ben Franklin is dead? Au contraire! Not only do Ben's ideas live on, but so does his spirit in the form of Ralph Archbold who portrays Ben all around the world. If your class needs to hire Ben Franklin, this is the place to come.
The World of Benjamin Franklin
From Philadelphia's way-cool science museum, the Franklin Institute, a page almost as boss as Ben himself. There's a Quick-Time movie called "Glimpses of the Man," a very useful Franklin timeline, family tree, glossary, and pages devoted to the many people that Ben was: philosopher, inventor, printer, etc. There's also a link to the Franklin Institute which you shouldn't click if you have work to do.
Among Ben Franklin's many inventions are swim fins, the glass armonica (a musical instrument) and bifocals.
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