Franklin as an Inventor and Scientist

14 Aug 2014, Posted by Founding Franklin in The Franklin You Thought You Knew


The wealth of information about Benjamin Franklin is both a blessing and a curse.  So much is misunderstood and misrepresented about him, and I hope that I can shed some light.   This month I would like to address the image of Franklin as inventor and scientist.  First, Benjamin Franklin did not like the term “invention”.  He referred to these objects as “improvements”.  After all, he did not invent eyeglasses or fireplaces, for example, he improved upon them.  Franklin was a man who was impatient with anything that did not work as he thought it should.  But he was not one to only complain.  Franklin’s two great qualities were curiosity and practicality.  These attitudes naturally extended beyond the world of objects, to the society around him.  Arriving in Philadelphia in 1723, barely 40 years after William Penn founded the city, he found a city with great potential, but not yet the “city on the hill” that Penn had envisioned.  With his great networking ability, he began very early to improve his surroundings as well as those physical objects.

Working with his young tradesmen colleagues, and eventually using the power of a printing and publishing empire, Benjamin Franklin set about to transform the young city into a real society, with a police force, a fire company, a fire insurance company, a hospital and a college.  All this, because Franklin would not settle for anything that did not work as he thought it should.  So, that image of Benjamin Franklin as the wacky inventor with the little square glasses ( he never wore such things) misses the mark.  Benjamin Franklin was an important physical and social scientist, a “natural philosopher” as such people were called then.  Lacking the theoretical foundation of Sir Isaac Newton and others, limited to a second-grade education, Franklin was nevertheless an intuitive scientist, receiving the Copley Medal from the Royal Society for his work in the field of electricity.

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