A Conspicuous trait of the American people is their constant search for new ways of doing things and therefore their fondness
for inventions and "gadgets". Perhaps this trait had its beginnings in the life of the early colonists. Colonial Americans had very
few luxuries. Very often, they lacked the tools with which to perform even the simplest tasks. The curiosity drove them to invent
such homely fthings as wooden eggbeaters, buckets, handles for knives, bowls, and other household articles that men could
use with a lot of advantages during the long winter season. In this way it developed, and an entirely new ideas were born and new
products were discovered and developed for the daily life.
Let us consider a few of these new ideas and inventions: It was during the colonial period that "Sleepy" Sam Winslow discovered
that sea water, exposed to the sun in large vats, produced salt crystals, Salt, which had been scarce and costly, could now be
obtained in plentiful enough supply to allow its use in preserving meat and fish. An important trade was born as a result. Salted
codfish from New England was exchanged in the West Indies for sugar and molasses, and in turn, molasses made possible the
New England trade in Rum. Rum was manufactured in NewBuryport, Massachusetts, from the molasses that came from
The West Indies. Called New England Rum, it was consumed in New England and also used as an article of trade.
Joseph Jenks of Rhode Island helped his neighbors cut trees into lumber more quickly by building a sawmill. He also invented
a long-handled acythe to replace the small sickle, for harvesting. When a man worked from sunup to sundown his back got
tired. The Swiss and the Germans who had settled in Pennsylvania had an aptitude for precision craftsmanship. They
developed the famed Pennsylvania long rifle. So accurate was this weapon that a skillful hunter could aim for the head of a turkey
so as not to spoil any of the meat!.
In the South, money and leisure were a little more plentiful and there was enough manpower. Tobacco, Indigo, and later, cotton
were sold abroad. From the different sections of the country a new nation was being born. This period produced many great
men and one of the greatest of them was Benjamin Franklin. His lifetime covered almost
a century. His many accomplishments and the great services he performed for his country led the French writer Balzac
to say of Franklin that "he invented the United States".
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, in 1706. He was the son of a poor candle and soap maker. It has been said that
he could read almost as soon as he could talk. Certainly his active mind began to work at an early age. After a short period of
schooling, he taught himself mathematics, pemanship, and how to express himself in good English. Eager for knowledge, he read
constantly, he studied french, spanish, and latin and mastered them well. To use his own modest words, he "had an acquaintance
with them". When Franklin was a young boy he wanted to go to sea. To prevent this, his father put him to work with another son,
James, who was a printer and who ran a newspaper. Benjamin, as his brother's apprentice, could not resist trying his hand at
For time, he wrote only humorous articles. It was when he branched out into political articles and one of them offended the General
Assembly of Massachusetts, that he knew there would be unpleasantness with his brother. To escape his brother's wrath, Benjamin,
then seventeen, ran away and took ship for New York and Philadelphia. In time, Philadelphia became his home city. Coming
from the crooked streets of Boston-streets which were really cow paths, Franklin found the streets of Philadelphia wider
and laid out in more orderly fashion. William Penn, the Quaker who founded Philadelphia, had seen some handsome brick
buildings and residences built during his lifetime. Wharves lined the busy waterfront, for Philadelphia was an important seaport
even during colonial times, and for several years it was also the national capital.
Franklin's busy mind saw that Philadelphia needed better sanitation, police, and fire departments, and many other civic improvements.
He gained these and many other important contributions to the development of his beloved city. Sometimes people refer to
Philadelphia as "The city that Franklin built." Although Franklin found work as printer, he wanted a printing press of his own.
But he was very young and he has no money. Printing presses were costly and they had to be imported from England. the
Governor of Pennsylvania had encouraged Franklin to go to London to buy a press and it was Franklin's
impression that the Governor would help him financially. When he arrived in London however, he realized that this
was not so and he would have to do the best he could by himself. It did not take him long to learn that he could get along if he used his
mind and exercised patience. In the meantime, he decided to absorb all he could of what he saw and heard in London.
Franklin stayed two years in England, working as a master printer and perfecting his knowledge of printing. At the same
time, he studied the theories and works of Isaac Newton, particularly the laws of gravity and motion. He also examined
Robert Hooke's invention of nautical and weather instruments. Shortly after he returned to America, Franklin established
himself as a printer and then acquired a newspaper. Between the years 1732 and 1758, while he was still in his 20's.
Franklin began publishing his famous Poor Richard's Almanac. Almanacs were popular during Franklin's time. They
were pamphlets issued periodically, on all sorts of subjects, particularly those that had a personal appeal. Poor Richard's
almanac, like many others, gave its readers something to read on a variety of subjects: the weather, the home, health,
family, etc.Franklin's almanac was completly American.
Poor Richard's Almanac was easy to read. It consisted of many wise and "homy" sayings which, though not new, appealed
to everybody. In addition, Franklin added many of his own ideas on science, nature, and personal hygiene; on phenomena
such as earthquakes and tidal waves; on crop planting and weather prediction. The jokes, games, recipes, and formulas were
avidly read by young and old. Some of the ideas expressed in the almanac, such, for example, as those relating to hygiene
and diet, were far in advance of his time.
Franklin had a fine physique. He was an excellent swimmer. He invented hand paddles and discovered that a swimmer could
be pulled along by a kite. The water skiing and scuba diving practiced today would not have surprised him. While most
of the people of his time lived on a diet of meat and potatoes, he became a vegetarian. He also believed in frecuent baths,
a shocking idea in those days. He advocated ventilation and open windows in a period when people nailed windows down
in the fall and never opened them until spring.
While his almanac was making him a comfortable fortune, Franklin continued to work on improving the city of Philadelphia.
he started the first circulating library in America. He organized a literary group which shaped the political thinking of the
revolutionary war. This group, called the "Junto", later became the American Philosophical Society. Through this
literary group he was able to work civic wonders. Franklin's street lamps, with ventilation to allow the smoke to
escape, became so famous that they were copied in London. Some of these lamps may still be seen in Philadelphia
Through Franklin's efforts, Phioladelphia was the first city to have a city-organized and city-paid police department.
He founded a "bucket brigade" that led to a fire department. Fire losses were often desastrous to business before
Franklin established the first fire insurance company. Philadelphians began to show entusiasm for cleaner street
under his urging. Later, Franklin laid out plans for paving the streets of the city. A self-educated man himself,
Franklin next turned his attention to education. He founded an academy which later developed into the University
of Pensylvania. Once more years ahead of his time, he suggested vocational and agricultural trainig for academy
By the time this great man was helping to found the first hospital in the colonies, people were beginning to look to Franklin
for everything. "What does Franklin say about it?" was a familiar question. Had he done no more than his remarkable
work to make Philadelphia the leading city of the colonies, he would have well deserved a place in history. But
even greater triunph was to come with his discoreries in electricity. Franklin reasoned that a metal rod above a rooftop
would attract lightning. If wire were used as a conductor, the electricity would be drawn from the rod along the wire and
down into the ground, leaving the building unharmed.
This form of protection against lightning inmediately spread throughout the colonies and Europe. It added greatly to
Franklin's prestige. He made other correct deduction about electricity, deduction on which later inventors like
Thomas Edison and Lee De Forest, based some of their inventions. Then he moved to other fields: Cooling by evaporation
(the theory of air conditioning), and the discovery of vitamins from the sun's rays. Needing glasses for ordinary vision
and stronger ones for reading, he invented the bifocal lens. Franklin foresaw many of the marvels that were to come
in steam, balloons, unsinkable ships and other inventions. He often deplored that one lifetime was too short to do all
the things he wanted to do.
Even the days were too short for him, and he proposed what we now call daylight-saving time to allow more working
hours. Intermoves with Franklin's civic and scientific activities was his diplomatic service to the colonies. Who but
Franklin, the man who had taken time to learn languages, could represent the country in foreigh affairs?. His voice
was heard in the English parliament protesting the unjust tax laws. His wisdom and calmness engineered an alliance
with france needed to carry on the revolutionary war successfully. He helped to draft the declaration of independence
and to steer a just peace when the war was over.
At eighty-one, Franklin sat in the constitutional convention and saw the Republic created. It was a fitting end to the life
of this giant among men who had contributed so much to the political, social, and scientific development of early America.
Three years later, he died in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin was a modest man. He called his inventions "Gadgets".
His scientific discoveries he called philosophy. His great civic works were small matters, in his opinion. It was in 1742
that he invented the Franklin stove which became so popular and is still used today.