Ben Franklin is one of our country’s most eccentric and important Founding Father. Today, Brittany and Emma discuss his legacy not only as a Founder, but as a revolutionary scientist and inventor.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Brittany: Hi, Emma.
Emma: Hi, Brittany.
Brittany: So, we have talked about a lot of our country’s founding fathers before and for good reason. Our founders were some of, I think, the wisest men who lived in that time and they had, you know, tremendous insight into the nature of just mankind. And, they took that knowledge and they used it to form what they refer to as a more perfect union. And I would say, as you know, a more perfect government. Now let’s note that I said a more perfect government, you know, than has ever existed before. Not a perfect government, cuz I think our listeners probably know by now that neither you nor me nor Connor thinks that the government is perfect. but I’m getting off-topic. So today I wanna talk about one of my favorite founders, which is Benjamin Franklin. And Ben Franklin was quite a character. He was very eccentric, which basically means he was a little bit strange. And I think that’s, an understatement. He was a little crazy. But the best are right. The geniuses usually are. And he wasn’t just a founding father. In fact, I’m not gonna focus today on his founding father stuff. We’ll talk about it a little bit. But what I really find fascinating about him is he was a writer, he was a scientist, he was an inventor, he was a speaker. You know, these founding fathers had all these different talents and maybe some of them were just, you know, political science geeks. But, Benjamin Franklin had a lot of different, skills. So before we jump into this fun fact, Emma, as a kid, I actually was super obsessed with Ben Franklin. I thought he was really cool. And in fifth grade, we had to pick like someone in American history and dress up like them and do a report. But I was actually picked to write like I got to either write a speech or a poem and I wrote a poem about Ben Franklin. I got to dress up like him. Nice. Yeah, it was fun. So somewhere out there, my mother has pictures of me. Oh, in a hilarious, in fact, we put, we wet my hair and then we put baby powder in it to make it look white.
Emma: Oh my gosh. And I
Brittany: And I remember looking cool. I don’t know why we didn’t just buy a wig. Amazon didn’t exist back then. It wasn’t as easy. Yeah. Anywho, Emma, if you wanna get us started on, on just kind of mentioning maybe a few things on what makes Ben so important.
Emma: For sure. We’ll start at the beginning. Franklin was from Philadelphia where he ran a newspaper. It was called the Pennsylvania Gazette. And he was doing that at the age of 23. So, so young, very young. I’m 23 and I do not have my own newspaper. So I’m very impressed with that.
Brittany: Are you only 23? I would not have guessed that.
Emma: I am. He was also the founder and the president of a college that would later become the University of Pennsylvania. And he went down in history as a polymath, which meant that he was good at a lot of different things, but he was never properly educated. And our listeners know that going to school does not mean that you have a proper education. And Ben was a very good example of this.
Brittany: That’s right. His family was pretty poor actually. They only had enough money to send him to school for two years. So Ben was mostly self-taught, in fact, and I have talked a lot about John Taylor Gado, who’s written, or when he was alive, wrote a lot of really great books on unschooling and, his time in the education system. And he uses Ben Franklin as an example of somebody who was unschooled who was self-taught. And I don’t remember, I’m gonna have to fact check this, but, so he, loved to Reba from my memory, he actually taught himself how to read. And a lot of that was cuz kids grew up reading the Bible back then. Yeah. So their families would read it. And so you didn’t even have to have a formal, you know, reading lesson. A lot of ’em just learned how to read because they were constantly reading the Bible. So I thought that was really. That’s cool. Yeah. Really interesting. So he was mostly self-taught. He learned a variety of skills that would later set him up for success. I think at one point he learned how to like, make candles again. I need to check that again. It’s been a while. But he also learned to love to read, like I said, and he read everything he could get his hands on. So Ben’s experience in the newspaper world would actually help him become a very rich man later. Because even though he grew up poor Ben Franklin ended up dying very, very rich. So he rose above his circumstances, that is for sure. But he began, or his newspaper career began when his brother James started a newspaper called the New England Current, which was, honestly the first truly independent newspaper in the American colonies. So here you have, you know, a bunch of, you know, ragtag colonists, and for the most part they didn’t have their own publications, so this was a huge deal. So his brother James was running that.
Emma: Yep. And he was only 15, but he had tons of opinions and his brother wouldn’t allow him to write letters to be published in the newspaper. But because Ben didn’t wanna give up on that, he adopted a pseudonym, which is a fake name or a pen name if you’ve ever heard of that. And the name was Silence Dugood, which is just hilarious that crap.
Brittany: And I love It.
Emma: But he pretended to be a middle-aged widow and basically a middle-aged woman with no husband and wrote letters into the newspaper giving opinions on local events. And these became super popular. But his brother James was not super happy when he found out about that. So later his brother was arrested for printing articles that were unfavorable to the governor, who at the time, this was before America was America. So his brother, or sorry, the governor was part of the British crown. So Ben once again wrote in as Silence Do good quoting something that called the Cato Letters saying, without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech. So free speech was a very big issue for Ben. And this began his political career that would later lead to him being a member of the second Continental Congress and an integral part of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. So he wasn’t just an American patriot, though he was also a scientist and an inventor and did all sorts of awesome things outside of politics and outside of helping start America.
Brittany: That’s right. And before I jump into that second Continental Congress, which I’m sure Connor and I have touched on before in, way earlier episodes but that was the Congress who was, you know, assigned the task of deciding whether or not they were actually going to separate from England. So very big deal to be was it, I think you were kind of called to be on that, I dunno if you were elected, but very big honor. And, Ben Franklin did pay to play a very big part in that. So Ben was also obsessed with electricity. And remember in these times, this is not like you had a lamp in your house or people did not have electricity in their homes. electricity itself was a novel idea. This was something like nerdy scientists thought of or, you know, even, even comprehended or even thought about. So people in these days, they have candles, they have fireplaces to lighten, heat their homes. They’re not using electricity for anything cause they didn’t have it. And he made amazing contributions to the city of electricity. And it’s obviously something we all use today. So I will let our listeners go learn more about that on their own. But I wanna talk about, cause he did a lot of different experiments, but I wanna talk about one of those experiments and probably his most famous people didn’t know back then that lightning was electricity. just think about it. If you don’t know, you don’t know, right? Like electricity is something you and I have learned about since, you know, we took our first science class, but, it was just light coming from the sky. They didn’t know. But Ben had a hypothesis he believed that that, you know, lightning was tied to or at least a form of electricity and he wanted to prove that he was right. So this part gets a little, murky because there’s different reports. So I’m gonna tell the story I was taught because I like it, but again, I always encourage our listeners to go read it. Now some people say it was not him who actually did the kite, the infamous, kite experiment. But for the sake of this, we’re gonna say it was because again, nobody really knows for sure. So Ben wants to prove that lightning is electricity. So he goes out in the middle of a store, which again, I said eccentric and strange. I think you’d have to be a little bit to do this. He ties a key to a kite. So if you know anything about electricity, you know that metal is a conductor. So his goal here was if the key sparked, and if he got a little bit shocked, then he, if it got unattractive lightning, then he would know that lightning wasn’t fact a source of electricity. So he did this, when I was also reading up on this earlier, it said that he stand on something, what’s the word you can like, stop electricity from grounded himself. Grounded himself. Thank you. That’s the term. He grounded himself so that he didn’t get shocked. So, however, there’s a different story cuz I told you that he was very into to science experiments in general. And there’s another account where he actually was trying to, do another study with electricity ended up shocking a Turkey or he tried to shock a Turkey and ended up shocking himself. Oh no. And he made a joke about it, like calling himself a Turkey. I don’t remember, but I, this is me remembering my fifth-grade book report project that I was telling.
Emma: That was hilarious. The Turkey thing reminds me, I think it was Benjamin Franklin, I’m like 99% sure there was one founding father who kept insisting that Bird of America rather than a bald gold. That’s Turkey. That’s a Turkey. Was that Benjamin Franklin? and I remember that turkey.
Brittany: You know what, we’ll find out. I know who you’re talking about, but I don’t remember who did it.
Emma: Yeah, yeah. Okay. So you’re saying that reminded me of the Turkey. But back to his inventions, he also invented something called the Franklin Stove, which was a cheaper and more efficient way to heat a home, which back then is a huge deal because you don’t just turn up your thermostat, you have to go out and chop down wood or find something to burn to keep your house warm. So that efficiency went a really long way. and he also created bifocals, which are these glasses that help you see far distances if you have trouble with vision. And the top part can help you read up close. So if you’ve ever seen someone kind of lean down with their glasses on their nose and then look up and adjust their glasses, they’re probably using bifocals. So those are still something that people use today. And the root word is bi which we know comes from words like bicycle or biweekly. And it means something that has to do with two. So these glasses helped with two different problems. So a very creative guy with a lot of creative inventions and solutions.
Brittany: Absolutely. And another one of his, inventions was the lightning rod. And this was, this may not have been his most popular like I think the kite is what he is most known for, but this may have been his most life-saving invention. So in Ben’s days when lightning hit your house, it would catch fire and you’d lose everything like that. That was it. You were done for, well you weren’t, but you know, your house was, so Franklin invented the lightning rod, which is literally just like a metal rod that goes on the, on the roof of a house on the very top of your house. So that way if the lightning hit your house, it would hit the rod inside of the house so it would like divert the energy. And it was preventing fires. Like people were able to, they lived without fear. Now it was, that to me is pretty groundbreaking. And I think the only reason people don’t have lightning rods in their house today is cause they have like, what are they antennas or like satellites, which essentially Yeah. Work. Exactly. So basically do the same thing. The same thing. Yeah. But so people used to have lightning rods. So one of the last inventions we’ll mention today, well actually one more. He did invent something called like a plastic harmonica, but it didn’t really catch on. So go Google that on your ground. So another thing that’s kind of an invention, kind of not, but he really pioneered was something called the political cartoon, which is one of my favorite things. So back in the day, a lot of times, and people still do it today, I think the New Yorker has a political cartoon. I don’t, I don’t read it, I dunno, but it was where you make a political statement, but you do it with like a funny cartoon. So it’s not like fun. The content itself is very serious. You’re making a point about something bad the government is doing or some, you know, controversy that’s going on or some corruption that’s going on. But you do it in the form of a cartoon. And you know what, maybe I’ll link to a cartoon, like an example of this from the bottom. Totally. Yeah. But during the Revolutionary War, people did this. So this is something that again, people have been doing ever since then. it’s a form of satire, which I think Connor and I have talked about before. Really important. But he kind of pioneered that. So really cool. And again, I do wanna go back to his role in the founding because, you know, as I said in the beginning, I didn’t wanna focus on that because I think that’s how most of us know Ben Franklin. We know we had something to do. But he, I do wanna just touch real quick before we wrap up that he was, the, so basically he was the editor of the Declaration of Independence. So Jefferson and Adams wrote it. Jefferson wrote the bulk of it and Ben didn’t make a lot of changes, but he made some that were pretty important. the movie John Adams is probably not for kids, but there is a great scene. And again, I don’t take that for 100% accurate history, but from what I know about the author the books are pretty, pretty good as far as accuracy. But there’s a great scene where they’re all drafting the declaration in Benjamin Franklin. you know, I think he was the one, and again, you’ll have to google it to make sure I’m right, but I think he was the one that said like, rights are for all men, not just for, you know, a certain group of people. and all men, meaning mankind, not, you know, men and not women. so a really interesting staff. I think, what else, Emma? There was another thing.
Emma: He also helped negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which was the agreement that officially ended the Revolutionary War. It was when Britain first recognized America as independent and that was a huge deal, not just for America, but for world history. So he had a huge part to play in that, very, very important guy. And just an interesting person overall. I think I share your fascination with him. He’s, done a lot of cool things and I like that he was in the sciences and I like that he was this quirky inventor. I think that’s really cool.
Brittany: Well, no, I think, we covered all of it. So again, I encourage you guys to go Google again. Cause a lot of this stuff. I think it’s really important to kind of give you guys tidbits and have you go on your own treasure hunts on Google and see what you can find.
Emma: Yes. Awesome. Well, we’re gonna wrap it up here, guys. check out the show notes for a political cartoon. And thank you for listening. We’ll talk to you again soon.
Brittany: Talk to you soon.