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Benjamin Franklin leaves his mark on the Treaty of Paris.
BY SHEILA WICKOUSKI
FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
One document not on display at the National Archives' "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World" exhibit is the great man's resume if indeed his career could be so capsulated. Rather a walk through the exhibit is a chance to get a sense of his many careers.
Franklin was, first of all, a printer. Serving from 1737 to 1776, as postmaster in Philadelphia and then for the 13 American colonies, Franklin was able to expand the range of his newspaper, The Philadelphia Gazette, along with Poor Richard's Almanack, by which his views on politics spread.
A well-known lover of books as well as a writer, Franklin's best-selling autobiography is still in print. He also formed the first public library in Philadelphia at a time when lending books was quite expensive.
The exhibit is not only rich with his books, letters and papers but has also integrated the various items of his daily life, his work place and his myriad interests.
As both a scientist, and a practical man, his curiosity and social compassion usually led Franklin from his lab experiments to creating products benefiting both himself and others. A prime example of how his ideas developed are his demonstration with a kite and key in a storm, that proved that thunderclouds are electrified and lightning is a large electric spark. He suggested grounded iron rods to protect houses from damage, went on to form the first fire department in Pennsylvania, and then founded the first home property insurance company.
By age 42, he had reached success with his business endeavors. The first half of his life had been that of a tradesman. The second half, as a gentleman of leisure, would be the more challenging, the uncharted career for which he is most noted: his many roles in the American Revolution.
The Archives exhibit includes the key documents connected with his career as political theorist, politician and diplomat, from the 1777 letters to the Continental Congress's Secret Correspondence Committee to the Treaty of Paris of 1783 ending the American Revolution.
Franklin was also about fun. The exhibit includes the glass armonica he invented along with his chess set.
Unlike many presidents and leaders, however, Franklin does not have a day named in his honor, yet now, over 300 years after his birth, his influence is still felt.
So how is Franklin relevant today, especially when some of his ideas are going out of style? The Internet seems to be replacing many of the functions of the post office and of libraries, although Franklin's bifocals are one item still in use.
One answer can be found in something Franklin said in a letter which is the closing note of the exhibit. As he speculated on how he would like to have been born hundreds of years later, he commented that "Inventions of Improvement are prolific, and beget more of their Kind." He only wished that he "might not only enjoy their Advantages, but have my Curiosity satisfy'd in knowing what they are to be."
If you ever felt the technological revolution was too much to keep up with, that products change too fast, well, there it is--Dr. Franklin's answer and his ultimate gift of the spark to the American spirit of innovation.
Sheila Wickouski, a former Fredericksburg resident, is a freelance reviewer for The Free Lance-Star.