Gateway to the Classics: A First Book in American History by Edward Eggleston
A First Book in American History by  Edward Eggleston

The Great Doctor Franklin

After a time Franklin started a printing office of his own. He was very much in debt for his printing press and types. To pay for them he worked very hard. Men saw him at work when they got up in the morning, and when they went to bed at night the candle in his office was still shining. When he wanted paper he would sometimes take the wheelbarrow himself and bring it from the store at which he bought it to his printing office.


Printing Press of Franklin's Time

People began to say: "What an honest, hard-working young man that Franklin is! He is sure to get on!" And then, to help him get on, they brought their work to his office.

He started a newspaper. Now his reading of good books and his practice in writing since he was a little boy helped him. He could write intelligently on almost any subject, and his paper was the best one printed in all America at that time.

Franklin married Miss Deborah Read, the same who had laughed when she saw him walking the street with a roll under each arm and his spare clothes in his pockets. His wife helped him to attend the shop, for he sold stationery in connection with his printing. They kept no servant, and Franklin ate his breakfast of plain bread and milk out of an earthen porringer with a pewter spoon. In time he paid off all his debts and began to grow rich.

In those days books were scarce and people had but few of them. But everybody bought an almanac. Franklin published one of these useful little pamphlets every year. It was known as "Poor Richard's Almanac," because it pretended to be written by a poor man named Richard Saunders, though everybody knew that Richard was Franklin himself. This almanac was very popular on account of the wise and witty sayings of Poor Richard about saving time and money.

Franklin did not spend all his time making money. He studied hard as usual, and succeeded in learning several languages without the help of a teacher. This knowledge was afterwards of the greatest use to him.

Like other people in America at that time, he found it hard to get the books he wanted. To help himself and to do good to others, he started a public library in Philadelphia, which was the first ever started in America. Many like it were established in other towns, and the people in America soon had books within their reach. It was observed, after a while, that plain people in America knew more than people in the same circumstances in other countries.

Franklin did many other things for the public. Seeing how wasteful the old fireplaces were, since they burned a great deal of wood and made the rooms cold and full of draughts, and often filled the house with smoke, he invented a system of saving heat by means of a small iron fireplace or open stove. He founded a high school, which afterwards became a great university. When the frontier people were slai8n by Indians during the French War, he was the chief man in raising and arming troops for their relief.


Franklin's Fireplace

These and other acts of the sort made Franklin well known in Pennsylvania. But he presently did one thing which made him famous all the world over. This one thing was accomplished in a very short time; but it came from the habits of study he formed when he was a little boy. He was always reading, to get more knowledge, and making experiments, to find out things. People did not know a great deal about electricity at that time. In Europe many learned men were trying to find out what they could about various sorts of electricity, and lectures on the subject had been given in Philadelphia. Something made Franklin think that the electricity which was produced by a machine was of the same nature as the lightning in the sky. So he devised a plan to find out. He set a trap to catch the lightning. He made a kite by stretching a silk handkerchief on a frame. Then he fastened a metal point to the kite and tied a hemp string to it to fly it with. He thought that if lightning were electricity, it would go from the metal point down the hemp string. At the lower end of the string he tied a key, and a silk string to catch hold of, so that he should not let the electricity escape though his hand.

Franklin knew that if a grown man were seen flying a kite he would soon be surrounded by a crowd. So one stormy night he went out and sent up his kite. He waited under a shed to see if the electricity would come. When he saw the little fibers of the hemp stand up charged with electricity, he held his hand near the key and felt a shock. Then he went home, the only man in the world that knew certainly that lightning was electricity. When he had found out this secret he invented the lightning rod, which takes electricity from the air to the earth and keeps it from doing harm.


When the learned men of Europe heard that a man who had hardly ever been at school had made a great discovery, they were struck with wonder, and Franklin was soon considered one of the great men of the world, and was called Dr. Franklin.

When the troubles between England and her colonies began, there was no one so suitable to make peace as the famous Dr. Franklin. Franklin went to England and tried hard to settle matters. But he would not consent to any plan by which Americans should give up their rights.

When the war broke out Dr. Franklin came home again. He was made a member of Congress, and he helped to make the Declaration of Independence. After the Americans had declared themselves independent they found it a hard task to fight against so powerful a country as England. They wanted to get some other country to help them. So Franklin, who was well known in Europe, and who had studied French when he was a poor printer, was sent to France.

When Franklin went to France he had to appear at the finest court in the world. But in the midst of all the display and luxury of the French court he wore plain clothes, and did not pretend to be anything more than he was in Philadelphia. This pleased the French, who admired his independent spirit and called him "the philosopher." He persuaded the French Government to give money and arms to the Americans. He fitted out vessels to attack English ships, and during the whole War of the Revolution he did much for his country.

When the war was ended there came the hard task of making peace. In this Franklin took a leading part.

When peace had been made, Dr. Franklin set out to leave Paris. As he was old and feeble, the queen's litter, which was carried by mules, was furnished to him. On this litter he traveled till he reached the sea. After he got home he was the most honored man in America next to Washington. He became a member of the Convention of 1787, which formed the Constitution of the United States. He died in 1790, at the age of eighty-four.


Franklin on the Queen's Litter

When Franklin was a boy his father used to repeat to him Solomon's proverb, "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings." This was always an encouragement to him, though he did not expect really to stand before kings. But he was presented to five different kings in his lifetime.

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