Benjamin Franklin FAQ
When was Ben born?
Benjamin Franklin was born on Sunday, January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts, which was then a British colony.
When did Ben die?
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America. Born an Englishman, died an American!
Where is Ben buried?
Benjamin Franklin is buried in the cemetery of Christ Church, Philadelphia.
Funeral description at www.ushistory.org/franklin/philadelphia/grave.htm and www.fi.edu/franklin/timeline/death.html
Where did Ben go to school?
Benjamin Franklin's father wanted Ben to be the son who became a preacher and so he sent him to grammar school when he was 8 years old. After less than a year, for financial reasons, Ben transferred to Mr. George Brownell's school for writing and arithmetic. He stayed at the new school until he was ten, doing well in writing and badly in arithmetic. He then left school to work with his father in their candle shop. Ben's further education came from his own reading and lifelong conversation and debate with his friends.
What did Ben want to be when he grew up?
From his school days on, Benjamin Franklin wanted to be a sailor. His father did not want this because an older son, Josiah, had gone to sea and never returned. Reading was Ben's favorite pastime so his father made the connection to the trade of printing and sent Ben to learn in his brother's printing shop. Ben continued this learning in Philadelphia and England eventually set up his own printing business in Philadelphia.
Was Ben a Quaker?
Benjamin Franklin was not a Quaker. He was baptized in 1706, at the Old South Church congregation's Cedar Meeting House on downtown Washington Street, Boston. Built in 1729 as a Congregational church, Old South was the largest building in colonial Boston.
In Philadelphia he occasionally worshiped at Christ Church, the Church of England parish established in colonial Philadelphia in 1695 and later reorganized into the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.
Did Ben have sisters or brothers?
Benjamin Franklin had five older sisters: Elizabeth, Hannah, Anne, Mary, and Sarah. He had two younger sisters: Lydia and Jane. Ben also had five older brothers: Samuel, Josiah, John, Peter, and James.
Who did Ben marry?
Benjamin Franklin married Deborah Read Rogers in 1730. She died in 1774. While Ben operated his printing shop, Deborah ran a general store in the same building.
Did Ben have children?
Benjamin Franklin had two sons: William who remained loyal to the British crown and became Royal Governor of New Jersey, and Francis Folger who died from smallpox at the age of four. His daughter, Sarah, was known as Sally.
William Franklin (www.fi.edu/franklin/family/willie.html)
Francis Folger Franklin (www.fi.edu/franklin/family/francis.html)
Sarah Franklin Bache: (www.fi.edu/franklin/family/sarah.html)
Did Ben have grandchildren?
Benjamin Franklin had eight grandchildren: William Temple, who was the son of William Franklin, and the seven children of Sally (Franklin) Bache, named: Benjamin, William, Betsy, Louis, Deborah, Richard, and Sarah.
Where did Ben live?
In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin lived and worked on the 300 block of Market Street.
Did Ben have a dog?
Ben's son William apparently owned a Newfoundland dog, name unknown. There are two references in the Papers of Benjamin Franklin to William's dog. The first appears in a footnote on page 435 of Volume 26. Someone writing to Franklin adds the comment that "nothing shall tempt me to forget your newfoundland Dog." The second reference, three years later and to the same dog, is on page 179 of Volume 36. The letter is in French, and indicates that a Madame De Boulainvillers returned the dog to Franklin; it seems as if the dog had strayed. These letters, dated 1778 and 1781, are both from Franklin's time in Paris.
What did Ben look like?
Pages 90 - 91 of Carl Van Doren's book, Benjamin Franklin offers the following comments on Franklin's physical appearance:
No certain early likeness of him survives, but what he outwardly was when he returned to Philadelphia may be imagined backwards from later portraits and various chance notes on his personal appearance. Strongly built, rounded like a swimmer or a wrestler, not angular like a runner, he was five feet nine or ten inches tall, with a large head and square, deft hands. His hair was blond or light brown, his eyes grey, full, and steady, his mouth wide and humorous with a pointed upper lip. His clothing was as clean as it was plain. Though he and others say he was hesitant in speech, he was prompt in action.
Ben's Nini medallion: www.fi.edu/qa99/attic2/index.html
What did Ben eat?
Ben decided to become a vegetarian when he was 16 years old. He prepared his own meals, and mentions eating boiled potatoes, rice, hasty pudding, bread, raisins, and water. Quickly finishing his simple meals gave Ben more time for reading.
Ben later gave up vegetarianism; during the voyage from Boston to Philadelphia he ate fish.
Autobiography, Chapter 4: www.earlyamerica.com/lives/franklin/chapt4/index.html
Was Ben left-handed?
The answer "Yes" appears several times on the web, but this is unproven.
What games did Ben enjoy?
Ben liked to play Chess and Magic Squares. He also created Magic Circles.
What kind of music did Ben like?
Ben composed a quartet.
Ben Franklin found simple beauty in simple tunes. He played several musical instruments, including the violin, harp, and guitar. His great interest in music lead him to build his own glass armonica. This simple musical instrument was played by touching the edge of the spinning glass with dampened fingers. The armonica's beautiful tones appealed to many composers, including Mozart and Beethoven. (More at: www.gigmasters.com/armonica/benfranklin.html)
A Magical Touch...of Harmony
Did Ben pray?
There are a couple of versions of a religious creed that appears both in Ben's autobiography and, later in his life, in a letter to Ezra Stiles. Below are the words from his autobiography:
[I believe] That there is one God, who made all things.
On June 28, 1787, Franklin made a formal motion for prayers at the Constitutional Convention. The text of the motion itself reads:
That he governs the world by his providence.
That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving.
But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man.
That the soul is immortal.
And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice, either here or hereafter.
I therefore beg leave to move, That henceforth Prayers, imploring the Assistance of Heaven and its Blessing on our Deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to Business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that Service.
This text is from Albert Henry Smyth's 1906 edition of The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, Collected and Edited with a Life and Introduction, vol. IX, page 601.
Franklin preceded the actual motion with a page and a half of explanation supporting the idea. After the motion, there is a footnote by the editor that reads: "Note by Franklin.--'The convention, except for three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary.'"
What countries did Ben travel to, and why?
1724-26 - England, to continue training as a printer
1757-1762 - England, acting as London representative of the Pennsylvania Assembly
1764-66 - England, to Craven Street, London
1767 - To France
1774 - To England
1776-84 - France, acting as a American Commissioner to France, negotiates Treaty of Alliance with France.
Ben was a negotiator of treaties with Prussia and other countries. For England, negotiator of the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain.
Was Ben rich?
Ben did not patent inventions, and he retired from business at 41 or 42. He said in his autobiography: "Having emerged from the poverty and obscurity in which I was born and bred, to a state of affluence .." (www.ushistory.org/franklin/autobiography/page01.htm)
Also see: Last Will & Testament: www.fi.edu/franklin/family/lastwill.html
Did Ben really want the turkey to be the symbol of the United States of America?
In a letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin wrote:
For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country...
"I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as a Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on.
What things were named for Ben?
Among other things, a tree, several communities, and banks.
Franklinia tree: www.bartramsgarden.org/franklinia
There is a list of places in the United States named for Franklin HERE.
A few examples:
Benjamin Franklin Bridge
USS Benjamin Franklin (a ballistic missile submarine)
North Franklin, Connecticut
North Franklin, Maine
Franklin Township, Pennsylvania
North Franklin Township, Nebraska
North Franklin Township, Pennsylvania
What businesses did Ben have?
Ben was a printer and a postmaster.
What did Ben print in his shop?
From www.fi.edu/franklin/printer/printer.html: Ben opened his own printing office in Philadelphia. His most famous publications were a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette and his annual Poor Richard's Almanack. He had many new ideas for publishing and he is known for printing cartoons, illustrated news stories, and letters to the editor. He believed in the power of the press, using his printing press as a way to bring the news to all people. He used cartoons and pictures so that everyone could understand the news, even people who had not learned to read.
Ben also used Poor Richard's Almanack to express his sense of humor. The Titan Leeds Hoax lasted for several years, appearing in the 1733, 1734, 1735, and 1740 editions of the Almanack.
Thoughts from Poor Richard's Almanack at: www.fi.edu/franklin/printer/abc.html
Ben also printed money: Making...Money
What did Ben discover?
Ben's discoveries include: the gulf stream, whirlwinds, and the electrostatic machine.
Properties of Lightning: Electrified Ben
Franklin was one of the first to discover that storms tend to move from west to east, and he made some of the first-recorded weather forecasts in his Poor Richard's Almanack. He also charted the Gulf Stream in detail and developed Daylight Savings Time.
What did Ben invent?
Ben's inventions include: bifocals, lightning rod, Glass Armonica, library chair, swim fins, the long reach device, Franklin Stove, catheter, and Daylight Savings Time.
Lightning Rod: Point...of Invention
Glass Armonica: A Magical Touch...of Harmony
Swim Fins: An avid swimmer, Franklin developed early swim fins. As a boy, he had fashioned two wooden palettes, oval in shape and with a hole through which to put one's thumb. With one on each hand, he paddled through water, observing that they helped him to swim faster. He later developed swim fins to reduce what he called a "laborious and fatiguing operation."
Franklin Stove: Ben invented the Franklin Stove, an iron furnace that allowed people to heat their homes safely while using less wood. He discovered the conductivity of heat by color and established the first volunteer fire-fighting union and fire insurance company in Philadelphia.
Bioscience and Medicine: As happens to most of us, Franklin's vision deteriorated as he grew older. He loved to read and grew tired of switching between two pairs of glassesone that helped him to see things close, another to see things farther away. So, he cut the lenses from both pairs in half, then put half of each lens in a single frame, inventing bifocals. He also invented the first flexible urinary catheter (for his brother) and co-founded the Pennsylvania Hospital.
What did Ben observe?
Ben's observations include: vaccination, common cold, fresh air baths, colored cloth, volcanoes, weather, Franklin Bells, and air mail via balloon.
See Franklin's Forecast.
Flight: After observing the world's first-known hot air balloon flight in France, Ben correctly predicted that balloons would be used for military, recreational, and scientific purposes.
What services did Ben establish?
Ben established: street lighting, paving, post office, fire company, insurance, and the Library Company.
From www.fi.edu/franklin/statsman/statsman.html: Ben served as Postmaster, helping to set up the postal system in Philadelphia. In order to make Philadelphia a safer city, he started the Union Fire Company in 1736. A few years later, in 1752, he set up America's first fire insurance company. He even organized a Night Watch and Militia to help keep peace and safety in Philadelphia. While in Paris, Ben proposed the idea of Daylight Savings Time.
From www.fi.edu/franklin/printer/printer.html: In 1731, Ben founded America's first circulating library so that people could borrow books to read even though they might not have been able to afford to buy books to read.
Which institutions did Ben start?
The University of Pennsylvania, American Philosophical Society, Pennsylvania Hospital, Franklin and Marshall College.
What awards did Ben receive?
Franklin was a member of the learned societies of many nations. Among these were the Royal Society, which awarded him its prestigious Copley medal for his work in electricity (1753); and the American Philosophical Society, of which he was a founder. He received several honorary degrees, including a doctorate from St. Andrews.
What were Ben's pseudonyms?
Silence Dogood, Polly Baker, and Richard Saunders.
Which political documents did Ben sign?
From www.fi.edu/franklin/statsman/statsman.html: Ben stands alone as the only person to have signed all four of the documents which helped to create the United States: the Declaration of Independence (1776); the Treaty of Alliance, Amity, and Commerce with France (1778); the Treaty of Peace between England, France, and the United States (1782); and the Constitution (1787). He actually helped to write parts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. No other individual was more involved in the birth of our nation.
What was the Franklin Flag?
The "Franklin Flag"given for foreign recognition before the first national flag was adoptedwas similar to the one we know today.
Who were Ben's friends?
Franklin enjoyed close personal and professional relationships with quite a few of the important European thinkers of his day, such as Hume, Priestley, Lavoisier and Condorset.
Dr. Bancroft, a physician and naturalist (also Franklin's secretary in Paris), Jonathan Williams, William Alexander, and English banker Thomas Walpole were among others. (See Franklin..."I-doll-ized".)
Do I have Ben's signature?
Franklin never identified himself as "Ben." His signature was "B. Franklin."
To authenticate Franklin's signature, you should contact The American Philosophical Society, Independence National Historical Park, or The Library Company. All of these institutions are located in Philadelphia.
Was Ben an anti-Semite?
Regarding: "excerpts from the journal of Charles Pickney of South Carolina of the proceedings of Constitutional Convention of 1789 regarding the statement of Benjamin Franklin at the convention concerning Jewish immigration." Supposedly housed at The Franklin Institute...
There is a small publication titled "Benjamin Franklin Vindicated," published by The International Franklin Society, that contains statements from a variety of sources condemning the speech as a hoax. One of the statements is by Henry Butler Allen, Director of The Franklin Institute in the 1930s. There is also a statement from Julian Bond, the librarian of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania during that same period. The article by Allen also appears in The Franklin Institute News, a publication of The Franklin Institute.
The following further explains the above paragraph (Franklin Institute librarian, October 2006).
According to OCLC (Online Computer Library Center), which holds records for over 72 million titles, editions of "Benjamin Franklin Vindicated" were published both by the American Jewish Committee and by the International Benjamin Franklin Society. The Franklin Institute owns a photocopy of an edition published by the International Benjamin Franklin Society. The records for both publishers indicate that the material comes from the November 1938 issue of the Contemporary Jewish Record. The content appears to be the same in both publications. So (the above information) is accurate, though it doesn't state that there were two publishers for the pamphlet.
The Franklin Institute Library has ordered the pamphlet and so now has an original from the American Jewish Committee, and a photocopy from the International Benjamin Franklin Society.
In addition, there is an article by Claude-Anne Lopez in The New Republic's January 27, 1997 issue that refutes the "Prophecy."
This passage from the Anti-Defamation League also discredits the supposed speech: www.adl.org/special_reports/franklin_prophecy/print.asp.
Was does Ben mean by moral algebra?
Franklin explains his "moral algebra" approach to problem solving in this September 1772 letter to Joseph Priestly: http://homepage3.nifty.com/hiway/dm/franklin.htm.
Did Ben really say that beer is proof of God's love?
There is no evidence to suggest that Ben ever said that beer is proof that God loves us. However, he did have this to say about wine:
We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle.
But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it. This passage has been translated from the original French that Ben wrote in a letter to the Abbé Morellet in 1779. The subject of the letter was wine and Divine Providence.
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