This month, two hundred and sixty years ago, Benjamin Franklin took scientific understanding of electricity to a new level when flew a kite during a thunderstorm and collected a charge in a Leyden jar, a device used in early electricity experiments.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, had a career as a statesman that spanned four decades. He is the only politician to have signed all four documents fundamental to the creation of the United States: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris (1783), which established peace with Great Britain, and the U.S. Constitution (1787).
In addition to his accomplishments in business and science, we remember Franklin for his numerous civic contributions. Among other things, he developed a library, insurance company, city hospital, and academy in Philadelphia that would later become the University of Pennsylvania.
A person of encyclopedic learning, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat. For obvious reasons, I count him among the most admired virtuosos in history.
But he didn’t begin with advantages we normally associate with virtuosos. Franklin, one of seventeen children, was born on January 17, 1706, in Boston, to a candle and soap maker. His formal education ended at age 10 when he went to work as an apprentice to his brother James, a printer.
How did he do it? He didn’t merely survive his humble beginnings; he thrived either because of them or in spite of them. His formal education ceased, but his learning continued. Passionate about improving himself and the plight of those around him, he pursued each avenue that he perceived would lead to success and happiness. No victim to his circumstances, he saw the future as open and malleable and painted credible pictures of what that should look like. Today, we reap the rewards of this philosophical, scientific, and political artist.
Franklin once said, “All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” I guess we know into which category he fit.
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