Yesterday I went to the Bowers Museum in Orange County, CA to see the Benjamin Franklin Exhibit. On display are 75 artifacts from Franklin’s life, in honor of what would be his 300th birthday. I went with my parents as part of a Christmas present to my dad, and while there, I discovered some interesting facts about one of the all-time most accomplished men.
First, he invented an instrument called the glass armonica. It was similar to a piano, in that it had pedals to push and you used both hands. But, it was basically a chain of glass bowls, and it mimicked the sound of a wet finger rubbing the rim of a glass. Over 5,000 were made during Franklin’s lifetime, and Beethoven and Mozart even composed music especially for it.
Next, and much more importantly (in my opinion at least), of all his accomplishments, Franklin was most proud of his being a publisher. He owned a printing press, through which he was able to widely disseminate his views and he made enough money to retire at age 42. Because he was so proud of being a tradesman, he wanted people to remember him as B. Franklin, printer–which is pretty much the same thing as a publisher.
Franklin wrote short stories and he published the second magazine ever in the colonies. He was also known for his humor. My favorite example of this was when he wrote a declaration in London’s The Public Advertiser, pretending to be King Frederick II of Prussia. In this declaration, King Frederick II told Britain that because they were originally conquered by the Germans, and protected by them in a recent war, they owed a lot of money; and, if the Brits were looking for a precedent to this declaration, they should look to the way they treated the American colonies. Ha ha, oh that tickles me.
Additionally, Ben Franklin’s autobiography is the most widely read memoir of all time, and it has never gone out of print. The book started as a letter to his son, and Franklin actually never finished writing it.
Lastly, I admire the way Ben Franklin viewed his inventions. He never patented them because he believed that scientific knowledge should directly benefit society. That is amazing, and a great way to promote progress.
So to quote my dad, a big fan of the guy, “Franklin’s my man.”