Benjamin Franklin's Shocking Discoveries

By Cameron Daugard

    Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17,1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was a part of a large family and as a boy he taught himself how to read and write. He only attended two years of formal schooling and then became an apprentice to learn a trade instead. At first he worked with his father making and selling candles and soap, but he didn't like doing this.  His father knew he was a good reader and speller, so he let Benjamin work at a printers' shop with his older brother James. Benjamin was an apprentice at the print shop until he was 17 years old.  He left and traveled to Philadelphia in hopes of one day owning his own print shop.  Ben wrote small articles and poems. When he was more experienced, he wrote humor and opinion articles for a newspaper. He was able to travel to London and lived there, but later returned to Philadelphia to raise his family and start his own printing shop.  He was a successful writer, business owner, and very respected.  When Benjamin was forty two he retired and decided to help the world be a better place.  He was a good citizen and developed a hospital, a school for children that couldn't afford to pay for an education, and a volunteer fire station.  He helped create our government and believed in America's independence.  He always wanted to learn how things worked, why they worked, and make things that could be used.  He loved science and was a scientist.  He kept journals and recorded data. He invented the lightning rod, bifocal lenses, and swimming fins.  On April 17, 1790 Benjamin Franklin died.  He was 84 years old.  He made many contributions and we still use his discoveries and inventions today.

    Benjamin thought that electricity and lightning were similar and might even be the same. When he saw lightening in the sky it looked like sparks of static electricity. It had the same color, it moved quickly, and made a sharp cracking sound.  In the 1700's, static electricity was used for entertaining an audience or in magic tricks because scientists were just beginning to study it. One day Ben had an idea to make a kite. The kite was made of silk and there was a metal rod at the top.  The tail was made of silk and at the end of the tail he tied a metal key.  He put metal on the kite because he knew metal was a good conductor.  On a stormy night in 1752, he flew the kite high into the sky. He also believed that the water vapor in the clouds and in the air during the storm was a good conductor.  He waited and lightning hit the metal rod and the current traveled down to the key.  He touched the key and felt a jolt of electricity through his whole body.  Ben had the idea for the lightening rod invention from what he learned from the kite experiment. The lightning rod was used to make lightning hit the metal rod instead of a building or other tall structure.  A wire was then attached to the rod. The end of the wire went deep into the ground so no harm would be caused. This helped prevent people from being struck by the electrical current and building fires from lightening strikes.  Lightning rods are still used today.

Benjamin Franklin invented other things too.  He invented the the bifocals.  Benjamin's sight got worse through his life and he had to wear two pairs of glasses.  One pair to see things far away and one to see things close up. This sometimes confused him.  He would misplace a pair of glasses or need his reading glasses, but put on his glasses that helped him see distant things by mistake.  He invented a pair of glasses that had bottom lenses for reading and top lenses for seeing things far away.  He grinded the two types of glass lenses together.  All he had to do was look up to see in the distance and look down to see things close up.  He called them bifocals.  

As a kid Benjamin loved to swim and wanted to swim faster.  He knew that fish had fins and ducks had webbed feet and both helped them to swim and paddle fast.  He made his own flippers for his feet and paddles for his hands out of wood.  He put on the fins and paddles and swam across the lake recording the time.  Then he swam across the lake without the fins and paddles and recorded the time.  He figured out that using the fins and paddles did make him swim faster.  The fins push more water back behind the swimmer and pushes the swimmer forward faster.  I love to swim too and use swim fins everyday at swim practice.


The Amazing Life of Benjamin Franklin by James Cross Giblin, 2000

In Their Own Words Benjamin Franklin by Peter and Connie Roop, 2000

Benjamin Franklin A Man of Many Talents by Kathryn Hoffman Satterfield, 2005

Benjamin Franklin Scientist, Inventor, Printer, and Statesman by Hall Marcovitz, 2006

Benjamin Franklin Scientist and Statesman by Brenda Haugen and Andrew Santella, 2005

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