Episode 39: Benjamin Franklin

Welcome to Slow American English, the podcast for learners of American English. I’m your host, Karren Tolliver.

This is episode number 39: Benjamin Franklin

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It is difficult to cover all the amazing things Benjamin Franklin accomplished during his lifetime in one podcast. He was a very important statesman for the United States in the nation’s early years. Many people are surprised to learn that, despite having his picture on the one-hundred-dollar bill, he was never actually president.

Ben Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1706, long before the Declaration of Independence was written or signed. His formal education ended when he was only ten years old, but he lived a life of constant learning and self-improvement. Franklin realized from an early age that being able to write well was a big advantage. So, he studied and practiced writing until he was one of the best writers in the world. In fact, he received several honorary degrees from respected universities in his lifetime, including Harvard and Yale.

Ben Franklin was a Printer and Publisher
At age 12, Ben was apprenticed to his brother’s print shop. The print shop produced a newspaper. When he was 16, he secretly wrote a series of essays under the pseudonym Silence Dogood that were published in that newspaper. Although the brother was angry to discover that Ben had written the essays, readers loved his insight and wit.

Later in life, Franklin owned and published his own newspaper. His print shop also printed the paper currency and other documents for the colonies of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. (Remember that the USA didn’t exist yet; all the future states were still British colonies.)

Ben Franklin was an Author
When he was 17 years old, Ben Franklin went to New York City then to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to find work as a printer. The next year he traveled to London and worked as a printer there, too. While in London, he hung out in coffee shops, wrote a great deal, studied intensely and published his first pamphlet. He continued writing, especially opinion articles, essays and pamphlets regarding social and political issues, throughout his whole life. He became very influential because of his writing.

At age 26, Ben Franklin wrote under the pseudonym Richard Saunders, and produced the annual book Poor Richard’s Almanack. It was filled with weather predictions, advice about when to plant crops and harvest them, plus wise sayings. These sayings are remembered today. Probably the most famous one is, “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

Another significant publication of Franklin’s was “The Plain Truth” pamphlet, containing the first political cartoon published in America, which he also drew.

Ben Franklin was an Inventor
Among his many inventions are bifocal glasses and the Franklin stove, a wood-burning stove that made heating houses safer and more efficient. He also invented the lightning rod to protect buildings from lightning strikes. Other inventions include hand paddles for swimming and a musical instrument called an armonica. Franklin never patented any of his inventions because he believed his inventions should be shared freely to benefit everyone.

Ben Franklin was a Politician, Diplomat, Ambassador and Founding Father
Franklin devoted his life to public service. He served in the Pennsylvania Assembly, the colony’s governing group. He also served as Postmaster of Philadelphia, Deputy Postmaster of North America, and, later, Postmaster General of the Colonies. He wrote proposals for union of the colonies. Then he represented several colonies in England before returning to North America to serve in the Second Continental Congress. In the Second Continental Congress, he served on the committee that wrote the Declaration of Independence.

After signing the Declaration of Independence along with the other Founding Fathers, he went to Paris and negotiated an alliance with France, which helped America win the Revolutionary War against the British. At the end of this war, he negotiated the peace treaty with Great Britain. Finally, in 1787, he signed the United States Constitution.

Ben Franklin was a Scientist
On his ocean voyages across the Atlantic, Franklin tested the water temperature at regular intervals. He charted the results and discovered the gulf stream, a warm ocean current that allows ships to cross the ocean faster.

One of the most famous stories about Ben Franklin is his kite and key experiment. He tied a metal key to wet string connected to a kite then flew it during a thunderstorm. When lightning struck the kite, electricity was conducted down the wet string to the metal key, confirming that lightning consists of electricity.

Ben Franklin was a Social Activist
At the age of 21, Ben Franklin helped establish Junto, a young men’s society whose members studied, debated and networked together. He and this club founded The Library Company, the first lending library in the country. Franklin also organized the Union Fire Company, the first fire-fighting department in Philadelphia.

Additionally, he helped found the American Philosophical Society, which still exists today. Also, he founded the Publick Academy of Philadelphia which would become the University of Pennsylvania. Near the end of his life, Benjamin Franklin wrote an anti-slavery treatise and became the president of the Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery.

Ben Franklin died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1790 at the age of 84. More than 20,000 people attended his funeral. He is remembered as one of the most influential Founding Fathers of the USA, as well as an important international figure. In the US today, there are still many towns, schools, parks, businesses and other institutions named for him.

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That’s the podcast for this time. Slow American English is written and produced by Karren Tolliver. Copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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This has been Slow American English. I’m Karren Tolliver. Thank you for listening.