Ben Franklin was born in Boston in 1706. He was a polymath and had his fingers in many pies, but his main claim to fame was in science. He observed the nature of electricity, a phenomenon that he researched to the point of it being useful. Before his work, electricity was used as a party piece to entertain people with sparks caused by static charges.
Franklin noted that were two types of charge effects, attraction and repulsion. He realised that particles could be positively or negatively charged. He also realised that charge could be conserved. He invented an early battery that held charge in lead plates suspended between sheets of glass. He also realised that electric charge is attracted to needle points.
This led him on to his famous experimentation with lightning. By flying a kite in a storm, he was able to transmit electricity and produce sparks. Also, he showed that when the charge met an insulating material, there was powerful damage. These discoveries led to him to inventing the lightning rod. This drew charge from storm clouds to a spike located at the high point of a building and channelled through a metallic conducting material to the ground and safety. This invention would become a standard item in building construction.
A man of the enlightenment, he practiced what he preached by carrying out objective study and then making practical use of his discovery. He also studied the nature of weather and was a founder of meteorology, when he realised that weather systems do not always travel in the wind direction at the time. He studied oceanic currents, invented bifocal glasses, effect of heat on electricity, kite-power, the wave theory of light and cooling. He also studied population and a decision-making processes of listing pros and cons on a list.
His other careers included printing, newspaperman and author. His fame got him into politics and he was one of the framers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. His ability to articulate the American cause led him into diplomacy in England and France.
A man typical of the 18th Century. A polymath with so many interests, he put into action the ideas of the Enlightenment. Even though his discoveries seem minor today, others built on his achievements and created the technology we rely on today.