Ben Franklin
1706 - 1790

Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston in the early 1700's and was the son of a candlemaker. Ben loved the water. He was a good hand in a boat and a strong swimmer. One of his earliest inventions was to fix up something so that he could swim long and far. He flew a kite. Fastening the string to his wrist, he let the kite pull him through the water. He would raise it and lower it to make him go faster or slower.

Ben was very bright. He started school early. At age eight he was the best student in his class and was promoted to higher classes twice within a year. He was then sent to a "writing school", where he learned writing and arithmetic. He said that on occasion he had been made to feel ashamed because of his ignorance in arithmetic, which he had failed in school twice (although, he went through an arithmetic book all by himself with great ease). At age ten, his family had to take him out of school. He was from a large family. His father was struggling, and needed Ben to help in the candle shop.

Ben did not like candlemaking. He hated the smell and the touch. He decided he'd rather go to sea like his brother. His father, not wanting to lose another son to the sea, decided to have him work as an apprentice in his older brothers printing shop.

There in Boston, he got to know a number of boys who worked for the Boston booksellers. They would loan him books and he would read them that night and have them back on the shelves the next morning. He spent what little money he made on books.

Ben was seventeen when he silently decided to move away. He sold some of his precious books and sailed to New York. He was unable to find a print shop that would hire him so he went on to Philadelphia. He arrived with only a silver dollar to his name, but he soon found a job as a printer. Later he became one of Philadelphia's most honored citizens.

On occasion, when bored listening to lectures, he would make magic squares. He said that he could think of them as fast as he could write them. He created fascinating 8x8 and 16x16 magic squares (an example of an 8x8 is below). Prof. Richardson wonderfully displayed a magic square on his web page. Be sure to look at it. Although we think of Benjamin Franklin as a great mathematician, because of his great work with magic squares he didn't like working with them. Benjamin Franklin said of Thomas Godfrey, the inventor of Hadley's Quadrant, "As like most great mathematicians I have met with, he expected precision in everything said, or was forever denying or distinguishing upon trifles, to the disturbance of conversation."1

A Ben Franklin 8x8 magic square.

Benjamin Franklin gave much time to winning freedom and glory for his native land. He had many accomplishments. He invented stoves. He made double spectacles for near and farsighted people. He taught men that lightening was electricity, and invented the lightening rod. He founded the first public library, the first fire company, the first police service, and the first magazine.

1Lemay and Zall, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The University of Tennessee Press, quotes pages 15, 61

Contributed by Pam Nye


  1. Elbridge S. Brooks, The True Story of Benjamin Franklin
  2. Lemay and Zall, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, The University of Tennessee Press, quotes pages 15, 61

Home  |  Men  |  Women  |  Topics  |  Activities