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It’s Ben Franklin’s birthday! January 17, 2012

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders would like to say happy birthday to our hero and blog mentor, Benjamin Franklin, on his 306th birthday. He was born today, January 17th, waaaay back in 1706, but in many ways is as alive to Americans today as ever. We invite you to join old Ben’s birthday celebration by taking this quiz by our resident blog historian, Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac fame. See how much you really know about America’s most (ahem) well-rounded Founding Father! (Answers, of course, will follow. But no cheating, now!)

1. Benjamin Franklin was born in:

a. Philadelphia

b. England

c. Boston

d. Washington, D.C.

2. Benjamin Franklin was called “Dr. Franklin” by his contemporaries. Why?

a. He had a doctorate from Harvard.

b. He’d gotten an M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

c. He’d gone on to get a Ph.D. in electrical science at Oxford following his MBA from Princeton, then known as The College of New Jersey.

d. The title “Doctor” was an honorific bestowed on him as an honor because he was viewed as the leading scientist of his day.

3. Back in the day, Benjamin Franklin loved sports and games. Which of these did he not participate in?

a. swimming

b. chess

c. rugby

d. cards

e. guitar-playing

4. With which of the following women was Ben Franklin not romantically linked?

a. Deborah Read

b. Polly Stevenson

c. Madame Helvetius

d. Sally Fairfax

e. Princess Ekaterina Dashkova

5. Which of these positions wasn’t held by Ben Franklin?

a. American Minister to France

b. printer and newspaper publisher

c. Postmaster General to the Colonies

d. President of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society

e. Grand Master of a Lodge of Freemasons 

6. Which of these wasn’t invented by Ben Franklin?

a. bifocals

b. electricity

c. the rocking chair

d. the woodburning stove

e. Daylight Saving Time

f. the catheter

g. the $100 bill

h. the phonetic alphabet

i. the first chart of the Gulf Stream

j. the concept of refrigeration

k. the lightning rod

7. Which of these plays, movies, and books doesn’t actually feature Ben Franklin?

a. “1776”

b. Ben and Me

c. Isaac Asimov’s The Kite That Won the Revolution

d. “Ben Franklin in Paris”

e. “National Treasure”

f. “M.A.S.H.”

8. What institution did Ben Franklin not create?

a. The public library

b. The fire department

c. The University of Pennsylvania

d. The post office

e. The first hospital in the Americas

f. The first American militia

9. At which seminal event of America’s founding history was Benjamin Franklin not present?

a. The creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence

b. The Constitutional Congress and the signing of the Constitution

c. The repeal of the Stamp Act

d. The Treaty of Paris

e. The inauguration of George Washington

10. What is Ben Franklin’s most famous quote?

 a. “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

b. “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”

c. “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

d. “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

e. “There never was a good war or a bad peace.”

f. “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days.”

g. “God helps them that help themselves.”

h. “Little strokes fell great oaks.”

i. “Time is money.”

j. “Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.”

k. “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Ready for some answers? Here you go:

1. Ben Franklin was born in Boston, the tenth child and last son of the fruitful Josiah Franklin with his second wife, Abiah Folger Franklin. Josiah produced seventeen children in all. If the name Folger rings a bell, yes, Abiah was related to the coffee-producing Folgers. Ben ran off to Philadelphia at 17 to escape his cruel older brother Joseph, to whom he was apprenticed, and lived there the rest of his life (when not on extended stays in England and France). But his ancestors were indeed “franklands,” prosperous but not noble landholders in the mother country, England.

2. The correct answer is “d.” “Doctor” was an honorific, much like the honorary doctorates bestowed on famous people today. Harvard and Yale both bestowed honorary doctorates on Ben Franklin in 1753.

3.  To our knowledge, Ben Franklin never played rugby. But he was an enthusiastic and accomplished athlete who enjoyed swimming the massive Delaware River for pleasure, and he loved chess so much that he carried one of the first tiny travelling chess sets with him everywhere. He not only invented a musical intrument, the “glass armonica,” but played violin, harp, and, yes, guitar.

4. Ben Franklin enjoyed a reputation as a rake even in his own time, though to our (and the best current historians’) knowledge he never was actually physically involved with any women beyond the unknown mother of his illegitimate son, William, whom he fathered as a very young man and raised conscientiously as part of his “legitimate” family, and his subsequent common-law wife, Deborah Read. Though he clearly enjoyed a good flirtation with a pretty young woman, and proposed after Deborah’s death to Madame Helvetius, the scientific prodigy and widow of the Swiss Ambassador to the French Court, there is no proof that Ben was actually intimately involved with any of the numerous women with whom his name was linked. One woman on this list was never linked with Ben Franklin, however, but with another American icon, George Washington: Sally Fairfax, wife of George’s best friend, George William Fairfax. Though George and Sally never “hooked up” in the modern sense, he loved her passionately and idealistically all his life.

5. This is a trick question. Benjamin Franklin held all these positions in effect, though his actual title for the postmaster position was “Deputy Postmaster General.” His colleague was a political appointee and Ben did all the actual work.

6. Ben Franklin’s mind ranged far and wide, and his diverse inventions are proof. But, though he designed the first dollar coin for the new United States, paper money (aka currency) was unheard of in Ben’s day. Though he appears on the hundred-dollar bill, he didn’t invent it. And, though Ben may have been the first to propose a version of Daylight Saving Time in a pamphlet, he was being sarcastic. The person who actually established it was William Willett, in 1907. Shocking (so to speak) but true, Ben didn’t invent electricity, either, since electricity is a natural phenomenon. What he did was discover that people could channel electricity, which led to the invention of the lightning rod and opened the door for all subsequent electrical inventions (such as the light bulb).

7. Ben “stars” in all these books and productions, with two exceptions: “M.A.S.H.” protagonist “Hawkeye” Pierce’s full name is Benjamin Franklin Pierce. And Nicholas Cage’s character in the “National Treasure” movies is named Benjamin Franklin Gates, who in the first movie follows clues left by Benjamin Franklin to solve the crime. Ben himself never appears in either series.

8. The correct answer is again “d,” the post office. Ben did an enormous amount to make the Colonial postal service viable, but he didn’t create the office.

9. Benjamin Franklin was the only American present for all four major events—the repeal of the Stamp Act, signing of the Declaration of Independence, signing of the Constitution, and signing of the Treaty of Paris (which ended the Revolutionary War). But Ben was old, and though he lived to see George Washington elected as America’s first President (and congratulated him wholeheartedly), he died on April 17, 1790 (aged 84), and was not well enough to attend the actual inauguration of Washington on April 30, 1789.

10. Your guess is as good as ours. Old Ben came up with so many famous sayings that it’s hard to pick just one. We think what matters is that, over two hundred years after his birth, so many of his sayings are still known by everyone. Talk about a great tribute!

We agree with those who call Benjamin Franklin “the first American.” We also agree that Ben would be one of the few Founders who’d be delighted to be alive today, doubtless blogging like us along with his numerous other activities. Happy birthday, Ben!!!

Comments»

1. William S. Scudder - January 17, 2012

Happy Birthday indeed!
Our friend received a number of honorary degrees but his “doctorates” came from St. Andrew’s and subsequently Oxford. Too bad Hogwarts didn’t award Ben a degree, he was more wizard than doctor.

Ha! I’m sure he would have loved Harry Potter, William!


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