Last weekend was the Fourth of July and I thought I should again return to the topic of Benjamin Franklin—one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Previously, I touched on how a loyal English subject became one of the Founding Fathers of America, a rebel to all he’d previously held in high regard. Along with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin is one of the leaders of the American Revolution that everyone can name and recognize. His visage graces the hundred dollar bill, company logos, t-shirt slogans and other merchandise. Everyone knows who Franklin was.
In the musical play 1776, the John Adams character has this line:
John Adams: It doesn’t matter. I won’t be in the history books anyway, only you. Franklin did this and Franklin did that and Franklin did some other damn thing. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them – Franklin, Washington, and the horse – conducted the entire revolution by themselves.
Benjamin Franklin: I like it.
It’s a funny exchange because like in all humor, there’s an element of truth to it. Until the biography and televised mini-series in 2008, John Adams was only known to the school children who memorized him as the second man who became president. Benjamin Franklin is a larger than life person who was already an international celebrity before the Revolution.
His scientific bent had led him to invent the Franklin stove (much more efficient than the fireplace), bifocals and even a flexible urinary catheter. The traditional image of Franklin flying a kite during a lightning storm often causes people to think he discovered electricity. This is untrue. Electricity had been always been around. What Franklin did was show how to tame the power of a lightning strike with lightning rods. This protected houses from the danger of fire, because the lightning would hit the rod and travel down it to be grounded in the earth. His questioning mind was responsible for laying the discovery other scientific knowledge as the link below shows:
For more quotes from the film 1776: