Benjamin Franklin's Printing Network: Disseminating Virtue in Early America

By Ralph Frasca | Go to book overview

8
Franklin Plants a Printer in His Native New England

After retiring from a successful printing career in 1748 and turning over the daily operation of his Philadelphia printing shop to partner David Hall, Franklin relished the opportunity to conduct scientific experiments. “I flatter'd myself that, by the sufficient tho' moderate Fortune I had acquir'd, I had secur'd Leisure during the rest of my Life, for Philosophical Studies and Amusements,” Franklin recalled in his Autobiography. “I proceeded in my Electrical Experiments with great Alacrity.”1 Franklin's perceptive theories and successful tests resulted not only in international scientific fame and his first academic honors, but also in publication of Connecticut's first newspaper.

Franklin had long been interested in meteorology, partly to improve weather forecasts in his annual Poor Richard 's Almanack, and partly to satisfy his scientific curiosity about lightning. He was not the first to identify that lightning consisted of electrical charges, but he was first to speculate that it could be demonstrated by experimentation. He theorized that lightning is attracted to certain substances (like iron) and not others (like wax). As a result, he postulated that people could control lightning's destructive power by use of lightning rods. He hoped this theory would “be of Use to Mankind.” Franklin described his lightning-rod theories in a scientific pamphlet, and then explained the lightning rod for a general audience in his 1753 Poor Richard 's Almanack.2

In recognition of his discoveries, Harvard College presented him with an honorary Master of Arts degree on July 25, 1753. Not to be outdone, Yale College conferred the same degree on him September 12.3 “Thus without studying in any College I came to partake of their Honours,” Franklin wrote.

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