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Benjamin Franklin - Scientist And Inventor

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Benjamin Franklin has influenced American technology, and indirectly, lifestyles by using his proficiencies and intelligence to conduct numerous experiments, arrive at theories, and produce several inventions. Franklin's scientific and analytical mind enabled him to generate many long lasting achievements which contributed to the development and refinement of modern technology.

Few national heroes, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, played a more significant role in shaping the American way of life than Franklin. According to Fowler, "He personified the ideal of the self-made man, and his rise from obscurity to eminence exemplified the American dream" (32). Looby adds, "The study of Franklin's image for the past two centuries shows that his legacy had a distinctive place in American culture" (85). It has been felt by many people over the years that there was no United States inventor as great as Franklin until the time of Thomas A. Edison (Blow 24).

Franklin's words to a friend in Pennsylvania, Joseph Huey, best explain his attitude not only toward what he considered his civic duties, but also his investigations as a scientist or philosopher. He made some of the most famous and certainly the most practical discoveries of his time. "For my own part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring favours, but as paying debts. In my travels, and since my settlement, I have received much kindness from men, to whom I shall never have any opportunity of making the least direct return . . . I can therefore only return on their fellow men; and I can only show my gratitude for these mercies from God, by a readiness to help his other children and my Brethren" (Dineen 6). Wright quotes Franklin as saying, "As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others," and, "we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours" (19).

Franklin summarizes his attitude toward his inventions by asking the question, "What signifies Philosophy that does not apply to some use?" (Fleming 21). Another time Franklin is quoted as saying, "Utility is in my opinion the test of value in matters of invention, and that a discovery which can be applied to no use, or is not good for something is good for nothing" (Burlingame 39). Franklin never claimed a penny for any of his inventions, devices or experiments. He even distributed detailed plans of some of his inventions so that anyone could own them. =

The Pennsylvania fireplace, sometimes called the Franklin stove, acquired its name from Franklin, its inventor. This device, he said, "made my living room twice as warm as it used to be with a quarter of the wood I formerly consumed . . . " (Donovan 55). The heating of houses was growing more expensive, the wood was being used extremely inefficiently, and much of the heat was lost up the chimney. Franklin's fireplace solved these problems by using a number of passages and vents so that the cold air was drawn in from outside the building, warmed in the air passages, and then blown into the room. He said "your whole room is equally warmed, so that the people need not crowd so close round the fire, but may sit near the window, and have the benefit of the light for reading, writing, and needlework. They may sit with comfort in any part of the room, which is a very considerable advantage in a large family, where there must often be two fires kept, because all cannot convenientl!

y come at one" (Seeger 166). Several people considered the fireplace a luxury for the wealthy.

One of the most important features of Franklin's fireplace was the flue. Meltzer points out that the flue spread heat by circulating it into the room rather than simply sending it up the chimney and out (110). The fireplace also featured a damper that can close the chimney off and keep out the cold. The fireplace soon became widely used, as it was efficient and available to anyone who could build one.

One of Franklin's most famous and notable experiments was his kite experiment. He first set out to establish if lightning was a form of electricity. With his kite, Franklin drew lightning down to the ground, thus determining that it was a form of electricity. The most important concepts of his experiments were the existence of positive and negative electricity, the fluidity of electricized particles and the identity of lightning and electricity (Cohen 48). The experiment with the kite is taught in school to nearly every American child. It sparked the birth of lightning rods. The rods kept people's homes from getting hit by lightning and catching fire. House fires caused by lightning were one of the most dangerous problems colonists had to face. "Soon after the rods were invented, all of Philadelphia, Boston, London, and Paris began using them" (Fleming 17).

Some of the new electricity related words conceived by Franklin included the condenser, conductor, electric shock, positive and negative electricity, and plus and minus charges. He wrote Poor Richard's Almanack in 1732 to explain the practical application of electricity. Both Harvard and Yale gave Franklin honorary degrees of Master of Arts even though his formal education ended in the second grade. After Franklin's experiments were successfully performed by French and English scientists, the King of France sent Franklin his personal congratulations. The Royal Society elected Franklin as a member by unanimous vote. They later awarded him the Society's highest honor, the Copley Medal, after learning of some of his other talents and distinguished accomplishments.

Some of Franklin's other inventions were the copying press, a musical instrument called the armonica, a rocking chair that fanned itself as it rocked, a long arm device for moving books on high library shelves, a combination footstool-ladder, a clock with internal workings, the odometer to calculate mileage, a combination chair-table which is now used as a school chair, bifocals, a rubber catheter, and a candle made of whale oil that gave a clean white light. All of these inventions became solutions to ordinary, everyday problems and needs.

Franklin was not only an inventor, he was a great improver. He analyzed the spoken part of the English language and produced a phonetic alphabet based on the different sounds in the language (Potter 121).

In letters to other scientists, Franklin wrote about his observations of everyday phenomena. Clark states about Franklin, "One sign of the scientific mind was Franklin's determination to question, to seek explanations of natural phenomena that could be checked by experiment of documentation" (54). Clark



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