Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin, before 1776

Franklin's often thought of as a comfortably plump old gentleman, urbane, witty,  diplomatic. He was on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776, served as America's minister plenipotentiary in France during the Revolution, and helped negotiate the final peace treaty with Great Britain afterward.

But that was Franklin in his 70s. He began working in a printer’s shop at age 12, earning enough money to retire in his early 40s. He then began his second, and perhaps most remarkable, career - in science. Franklin was the first American to win an international reputation as a scientist, and the first scientist ever to become famous wholly for work done in electricity.  The very terms we use for electricity are Franklin's: plus, minus, positive, negative, charge, battery.

He invented the lightning rod, of course, as well as bifocal glasses, the rocking chair, and the Franklin stove - all still in widespread use 250 years later. He published the first chart of the Gulf Stream, contributed to our knowledge of atmospheric convection currents and the movement of storms, and conceived of "Daylight Savings Time." As one biographer summed it up, "He had great curiosity, amazing versatility, astonishing genius, and, above all, an enormous capacity for self-discipline and sustained work." (Lemay, American National Biography VIII, 394. See also Dictionary of Scientific Biography V, 129-39.)

This statue, erected to Franklin in his capacity as printer (he holds a rolled copy of the Pennsylvania Gazette), stands near the west end of the Brooklyn Bridge, in an area formerly known as "Printers Row" because it included the offices of the Times and the Tribune.

Favorite Franklin Quotes

Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain - and most fools do.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.

It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Well done is better than well said.

The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.