Thursday, January 17, 2008

It's Ben Franklin's birthday (and other things I learned from NPR)

Happy birthday today to Benjamin Franklin! I heard a wonderful edition of The Writer's Almanac this morning on my drive in and couldn't wait to share it with you. I highly recommend listening to it here, to get the full effect of Garrison Keillor's delivery. (After you click on this link, click just below the date where it says "Listen.")

It's the birthday of founding father Benjamin Franklin. (books by this author) Though Philadelphia is regarded as his home, he was born in Boston on this day in 1706. Franklin had a natural curiosity about how things work. He spent much of his life searching for ways for people to live better. After he retired from the printing business in 1749, he turned his attention to science and inventions. He had already invented a safer, heat-efficient stove—called the Franklin stove—which he never patented because he created it for the good of society. He also established the first fire company and came up with the idea of fire insurance.

When he grew tired of taking off and putting on his glasses, Franklin had two pairs of spectacles cut in half and put half of each lens in a single frame, now called bifocals. His brother was plagued with kidney stones, so Franklin created a flexible urinary catheter to help him feel better. Among Franklin's other inventions are swim fins, the glass armonica (a musical instrument), the odometer, and the lightning rod.

Franklin eventually retired from public service to spend his time reading and studying. He found, however, that his age left him unable to reach the high shelves in his library. He invented a tool called a "long arm"—a long wooden pole with a grasping claw at the end—to reach the books he wanted to read.

Benjamin Franklin said, "A life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. There will be sleeping enough in the grave."

It's also the birthday of Anne Bronte, always in the shadow of her sisters Charlotte and Emily. But here's a wonderful quote of hers in response to literary critics:
"Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? O Reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts—this whispering "Peace, peace," when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience."


Anonymous said...

Franklin not only INVENTED the glass armonica, he BUILT one and PLAYED it! (Didn't watch much TV.) There's a cool site with lots of info, mp3s, videos about the armonica:

Sue J said...

I learn more each day ....