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Benjamin Franklin

1706 - 1790

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was an American scientist, politician, statesman, publisher, author, inventor, philanthropist, and economic theorist. He was a founding father of the United States, and a symbol of the Enlightment and scientific revolution.

  • Nationality
  • American

  • Subject
  • Physics

  • Fields
  • Polymath, electricity, lightning rod, optics

  • Distinctions
  • His portrait appears on the $100 banknote.

    His name is honoured in the naming of many towns, instututions, counties, and corporations.

    Royal Society's Copley Medal (1753): he was one of few 18th century Americans to be elected to the Society as a Fellow.

    The cgs unit of electric charge (one franklin (Fr) is equal to one statcoulomb) is named after him.

    The Franklin Mercantile Chess Club in Philadelphia, the second oldest chess club in the U.S., is named in his honour. Franklin was an early populariser of the game in America.

  • Posts
  • Founding father of the United States of America, and US Ambassador to France.

    First president of the American Philosophical Society.

    British postmaster for the colonies, setting up the first national communciations network.

  • Publications
  • Franklin co-founded and wrote for the Pennsylvania Chronicle

    Poor Richard's Almanack annual editions (1732 - 1758)

    The Pennsylvania Gazette (from 1729)

    Father Abraham's Sermon (aka The Way to Wealth) (1758)Autobiography (1771)

    Observations on the Increase of Mankind (1755): a highly regarded treatise on demography.

    Maritime Observations (1786): lists ideas such as sea anchors, caramaran hulls, watertight compartments, shipboard lightning rods, and a storm-proof soupbowl.

  • Laws
  • Conservation of electrical charge

    The law of the effect of heat on the conduction of bodies.

  • Theories
  • Franklin is emblematic of the principles of the Enlightenment and scientific reasoning.

    Demography: credited with inventing the rule of population growth, made famous by Thomas Malthus. Franklin's calculations and predictions regarding population growth were read by Malthus and Adam Smith, and caused consternation in Britain.

    Franklin studied the North Atlantic currents: named the Gulf Stream, and produced the first chart of it (1770).

    First to label positive and negative electrical flows, and the conservation of charge.

    Franklin supported Christiaan Huygens' wave theory of light (proved correct in 1803 by Young's slit experiment).

    Meteorology: observation that storms do not necessarily travel in the direction of prevailing wind; causal link between volcanic eruptions on Iceland and severity of winters in Europe.

    Proposed kite traction of water vehicles for waterway transversing, and ship propulsion.

    Invented the decisional balance sheet.

    Franklin proposed the introduction of paper money, 1736, and was influential in monetary policies to control inflation.

  • Experiments/Discoveries
  • Franklin invented the Franklin stove, bifocal glasses, flexible urinary catheter.

    Kite experiment: flying a kite into an electrical storm proved that lightning was the same kind of electricity as the other known types (such as Leyden Jar static charge).

    Conducted electrical experiments utilising 'electrical ground', which led to the invention of the lightning rod.

    Experiments with cooling by evaporation.

    He invented a new type of glass harmonica, which gained popularity in Europe.

Franklin was very interested in science. He made discoveries in fields as diverse as electricity, heat, meteorology, and optics. He applied the empirical method, testing his ideas with rigorous experiment, and publishing his results.

Franklin was a leading figure in the movement which culminated in the 1776 War of of Independence and the founding of the United States of America. He subsequently represented America in France as ambassador.

Franklin was very involved in public affairs, and he founded the American Philosophical Society in 1743, to provide scientific men a venue for discussing scientific ideas and theories.

Benjamin Franklin: kite experiment
Painting, c. 1816, depicting the mythilised version of Franklin's proof that lightning was the same type of electricity as 'electrical fluid' captured in the Leyden Jar by static charging.

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