Almost everyone who has completed high school is aware of Benjamin Franklin’s fame as an American.
Most of us are familiar with Franklin’s use of a lighting rod to demonstrate an electrical theory. Others recall him as the inventor of the bifocals that many of us now wear. (I have just placed an order for a new pair of trifocals; thanks to Ben, my vision has improved.)
However, few of us are familiar with the following facts and observations about Benjamin Franklin:
Franklin was his era’s most brilliant scientist, inventor, writer, business strategist, and diplomat. He was also one of the most pragmatic political thinkers of his generation!
Franklin’s interest in electricity prompted him to make the distinction between insulation and conductors, to propose the concept of electrical grounding, and to define capacitors and batteries.
Franklin discovered that the large East Coast storms known as northeasters, whose winds originate in the northeast, actually travel in the opposite direction of their winds, up the coast from the south, thereby establishing the science of weather forecasting.
By inventing the first urinary catheter used in America, Franklin combined science and mechanical practicality.
Franklin eschewed patenting his inventions in favor of freely sharing his discoveries, as his interest in science was born of curiosity.
Franklin established the first type foundry in America when he opened his print shop, as there was no foundry for casting type in America at the time.
Franklin published the first novel in America when he reprinted an English novel, Pamela.
Franklin created America’s first great humor classic, Poor Richard’s Almanack (Almanac, in modern usage), which he began publishing in 1732, combining two objectives of his doing-well-doing-good philosophy: profit and virtue promotion. His aphorisms and observations quickly gained notoriety.
Franklin’s genius as a sixteen-year-old writer became apparent when he wrote 14 anonymous essays for his brother’s newspaper, introducing the character Silence Dogood, a widowed woman. Franklin’s ability to speak convincingly as a woman was remarkable, and his writing style established a new genre of American humor: the wry, homespun blend of folktales and pointed observations that would be perfected later by such great American writers and humorists as Mark Twain and Will Rogers.
Franklin established the first gossip column in America.
Franklin established himself as the patron saint of self-improvement guides through the publication of numerous personal credos outlining his pragmatic rules for success. Dale Carnegie, as well as hundreds of other positive thinking, self-improvement authors, would follow in his footsteps.
Franklin staged America’s first recorded abortion debate, not out of any personal convictions, but because he knew it would help sell newspapers.
Franklin was the consummate networker, founding a club of young workingmen dubbed the Junto, which met in a rented room and became America’s first subscription library by pooling its members’ books.
Franklin established a volunteer fire department (forerunner to today’s volunteer fire department) and the academy that would later be renamed the University of Pennsylvania.
Franklin was appointed by the British government to the top post office position in America. Within a year, he had reduced the time required to deliver a letter from New York to Philadelphia to one day. (Today, the United States Postal Service delivers the same letter in an average of three days!)
Franklin retired at the age of 42, with an assured annual income of approximately 650 pounds for the next 18 years; a common worker earned 25 pounds in his day, so Franklin retired with an annual income 26 times that of a normal working person! (In today’s money, if you earn $50,000 a year, Franklin could retire on a $1.3 million—$1,300,000—annual income.)
Franklin established himself as America’s greatest diplomat by securing France’s support (money, recognition, and military assistance), which resulted in the success of the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States of America as an independent nation.
Franklin played a critical role in the development of the American Revolution’s three great documents: the Declaration of Independence, the alliance with France, and the treaty with England.
Franklin was the only signer of all four of America’s founding documents: the Declaration of Independence, the treaty with France, the peace treaty with Great Britain, and the United States Constitution.
Franklin’s central vision was a national identity for America based on the virtues and values of its middle class.
Franklin pioneered the concept of matching grant funds, demonstrating how government and private initiative can coexist for the greater good.
Franklin was the first great publicist in America. He painstakingly constructed his own persona, publicized it, and polished it for posterity.
Franklin mastered the art of self-parody, realizing that a little bit of wry self-deprecation could help him appear even more endearing.
Franklin was the first to observe that “except death and taxes, nothing is certain.”
Franklin was also the first to emphasize the importance of “saving a penny for a penny earned.” Franklin may also have stated that “a penny, wisely invested, can be the beginning of a small fortune.”
Benjamin Franklin would have been one of the first people in his generation to use computers and one of the first to launch an Internet marketing business. Franklin desired financial success and admired the virtues of independence, self-reliance, hard work, and innovation, all of which are associated with financial success.
Franklin would have been at the forefront of today’s Internet marketers, in constant communication with his peers via online forums, e-mail messaging, and hobnobbing at seminars across the country and internationally (Paris was his second home).
Was Benjamin Franklin an incredible man? Absolutely.