Ben Franklin’s life one of achievement, vast interests
The Bridgeville Area Historical Society program meeting for March was an entertaining presentation on Benjamin Franklin by Jack Puglisi.
Puglisi began with a disclaimer: He considers himself a history enthusiast rather than a historian. I would classify him as a history scholar; he certainly has a comprehensive knowledge of whatever topic he presents.
Franklin was born in Boston in 1706, the 15th of 17 children of a candle maker. His formal schooling was limited to two years at the Boston Latin School; he supplemented his modest education by reading voraciously. At age 12, he was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer, where he learned a trade that would profit him the rest of his life..
When he was 17, he left Boston for Philadelphia, then the biggest metropolis in the colonies, and found work for a printer. Eventually, he found a partner to fund him and opened his own print shop. In 1729, he began publishing his own newspaper, The Pennsylvania Gazette. His printing and publishing business prospered, primarily because of his clever writing. In 1733, he began to publish the immediately popular “Poor Richard’s Alamanck,” with its classic homespun sayings. It eventually sold 10,000 copies per year.
In addition to his business ventures, Franklin pursued an insatiable interest in science. He is acknowledged as America’s greatest scientist of the 18th century. In addition to his highly publicized kite-flying experiment, he is credited with inventing the first electrical storage battery, the lightning rod, bifocal spectacles, the Franklin stove and the glass harmonica.
His contributions in public life are equally impressive, being involved in the first volunteer fire department; the first public library; the first homeowners’ insurance company; the first hospital; and the Philadelphia Academy, which eventually became the University of Pennsylvania. He founded the American Philosophical Society to permit scientists to discuss their discoveries and theories.
In 1747, Franklin, by then one of the wealthiest men in the colonies, retired from printing to focus on his other interests. His political career progressed from Philadelphia councilman to justice of the peace to the Pennsylvania Assembly. In 1757, the Assembly sent him to London to protest the political influence of the Penn family, proprietors of the colony.
Franklin found London much to his liking and spent most of the next 18 years there. He soon became the leading spokesman for American interests in England. He returned to Philadelphia in 1775 in time to have a significant influence on the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.
Late in 1776, the Continental Congress sent Franklin to Paris as commissioner to France. He liked Paris even more than London, staying there until 1785. He is credited with gradually persuading the French to support our Revolution, eventually becoming our ally against the British, ensuring our ultimate success. In 1785, he came home in time to participate in the Constitutional Convention and help ratify the new Constitution.
Franklin died in Philadelphia at the age of 84. In addition to being remembered as one of the greatest of our Founding Fathers, his legacy as author, scientist, inventor, humorist and diplomat is equally impressive.
The historical society’s next program meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. April 30. Emily Ruby of the Heinz History Center will discuss “Destination Moon – the Apollo 11 Mission.” The venue is the Chartiers Room at the Bridgeville Volunteer Fire Department on Commercial Street.