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Benjamin Franklin: A man of science

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You might be more familiar with him as the face on the United States’ $100 bill, or even as one of the country’s founding fathers, but did you know that Benjamin Franklin was a scientist in his own right? As a scientist, he was the first major figure of the American Enlightenment, a 100 year long era that applied scientific reasoning to several aspects of everyday life, politics, religion, literature… Additionally, Franklin was a pioneer in the field of physics, and is well known for his discovery and observations of electricity.

Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky
Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky; circa 1816; artist Benjamin West

Within his notes on electrical properties and reactions, he was able to determine that there was positive and negative forces at play, and managed to create a primitive electrical battery. His most impressive and indeed most famous feat was his experiment to prove that lightning was indeed electrical in nature, using a kite and key.

Benjamin Franklin’s electrical kite was one of the first scientific experiments to be replicated by scientists around the world. His French and Russian counterparts were able to successfully reproduce his results, the latter actually becoming electrocuted in the process, and helped distinguish Franklin as a man of science and the very young United States as a country of scientific progress.

Benjamin Franklin continued his work as a scientist and inventor, earning degrees from Harvard and Yale in the process, as well as being inducted into several renowned Societies and Fellowships. On top of his work in the field of physics, he became interested in ocean currents, publishing the first Gulf Steam chart, he was one of two scientists to recognize wave theory of light and was also one of the first to study meteorology.

All the while, Franklin worked several positions in his country’s new government, serving as the ambassador to both Sweden and France as well as the first Postmaster during his distinguished career as a civil servant. He continued his work as both a scientist and politician over the years, and led the US through the age of American Enlightenment, solidifying the country’s reputation in its early years.

benjamin franklin (center) working with print press
Benjamin Franklin (center) working with print press; circa 1914; author Charles E. Mills (reproduction) source: Library of Congress. Franklin published multiple news papers and books.

Many have pointed to Franklin as a critical part of America’s success as a country and the values it has continued to express since its creation. His level of involvement in all level of the US’ government, social and educational systems as well as his work overseas as a diplomat and scientist were definitely a major reason for the country’s meteoric rise, and has served as his lasting legacy.

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