Culture 5, page 116
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on 17th January, 1706. His father was hard-working - he made soap and candles - but he wasn't rich. Benjamin was the eighth of ten children, money was always a problem for such a large family. He started school in 1714, when he was eight years old, but left two years later when his parents couldn't afford to pay for his education. Despite leaving school at such a young age, Benjamin loved learning, and continued to read a lot. Because of his interest in books, his father decided that Benjamin should work for his elder brother, James, who had started a printing business. But the two brothers did not get on well and when he was sixteen, Benjamin ran away from Boston to Philadelphia. He spent a few years there working for other printers, before starting his own business in 1728.
The printing business was successful, but Benjamin was ambitious. So the following year, he and a friend bought a newspaper: the Pennsylvania Gazette. He printed the newspaper and also wrote articles for it. Soon it was the most popular newspaper in the region. His interest in books continued as well. In 1731, he and some friends who also loved books started the first library in America. Two years after that, he began publishing an Almanac; A book that contained recipes, stories, weather reports, puzzles and anything which Benjamin thought was interesting. The Almanacs, which he published once a year, were very popular and made him rich.
But Benjamin Franklin was much more than a businessman. He cared about the people in his society and wanted to help them so he founded a hospital and a fire service in Pennsylvania. He was also fascinated by science and in 1748, retired from business so that he could spend more time carrying out scientific experiments and writing about them. In 1750 he published his theories about electricity, which became well-known across Europe. And two years after that, he carried out a famous experiment with a kite, to prove that the lightning in storms is just electricity.
Franklin continued to carry out scientific investigations and experiments, but he had another interest: politics. He had been a member of the Pennsylvania government for many years but in 1776, just after the American was for independence he became the American ambassador to France. He worked in Paris until 1785 and built strong relations between the two countries. He didn't retire from this job until he was nearly 80. He had become such a well-known and important figure that when he died five years later, 20,000 people attended his funeral!
5 carry out
It is one of the most famous experiments in scientific history: children all over the world have learned how Benjamin Franklin risked his life while carrying out an experiment during a storm. He flew a kite directly under a storm cloud to prove that lightning was a kind of electricity. Franklin's success made him famous throughout the world. But a new study of Franklin's experiment suggests that he actually invented the whole story. According to the story that we all know, in the summer of 1752 Franklin thought of a simple way of testing his theory that lightning was a kind of electricity. He built a kite using two wooden sticks and a handkerchief and tied a piece of metal to the kite, he also tied a key near the bottom of the cord. Then he flew the kite during a thunderstorm.
According to the story, electricity ran down the cord to the key and a spark jumped from the key to Franklin's hand when he moved it close to the key. However, according to new research, Franklin carried out the experiment only in his imagination. Doctor Tom Tucker, an American university professor, first began to feel suspicious about the story while he was working for the US space agency NASA. He examined the original documents and noticed that Franklin never said that he actually carried out the experiment. Dr Tucker realised he was right when he tried to carry out Franklin's experiment himself - using an identical kite. He tried it several times - but the kite couldn't fly. According to Dr Tucker, even if the kite had flown, it couldn't have gone high enough to get electricity from the storm clouds. Dr Tucker then tried the experiment using a modern kite, but that did not work, either. Although Franklin probably did not carry out the experiment, Dr Tucker believes that Franklin's theory was completely correct.