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Benjamin Franklin - Scientist

Benjamin Franklin Franklin is a pivotal figure in American science. His experiments with lightning and electricity made him the premier international celebrity of his day. The collected edition in 1754 of Franklin's New Experiments and Observations on Electricity Made at Philadelphia in America is generally considered to be the most important scientific book of eighteenth-century America. Throughout his life Franklin continued to publish his scientific findings in a wide variety of areas. In addition, his interactions with the leading scientists of his day led to a flowering of intellectual development in colonial America.
Waterspouts Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790.
Oeuvres de M. Franklin Traduites de l'Anglois sur le quatrieme édition, par M. Barbeu Dubourg. Paris: Chez Quillau l'aîné, Esprit, et l'Auteur, 1773.

This is the most complete early edition of Franklin's scientific writings in French. This edition was translated by Jacques Barbeu Dubourg, a leading philosopher and one of Franklin's closest friends in France. It is based on the fourth English edition of 1769, but has many additional letters by Dubourg, and Franklin's replies, on such subjects as ventilation, the cause of common colds, magnetism and its relation to electricity, which had not previously been published.


Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790.
Oeuvres de M. Franklin Traduites de l'Anglois sur le quatrieme édition, par M. Barbeu Dubourg. Paris: Chez Quillau l'aîné, Esprit, et l'Auteur, 1773.

This is the most complete early edition of Franklin's scientific writings in French. This edition was translated by Jacques Barbeu Dubourg, a leading philosopher and one of Franklin's closest friends in France. It is based on the fourth English edition of 1769, but has many additional letters by Dubourg, and Franklin's replies, on such subjects as ventilation, the cause of common colds, magnetism and its relation to electricity, which had not previously been published.


Observations on the Causes and Cure of Smoky Chimneys. London: Re-printed for John Debrett and J. Sewell, 1787.

This is the first British publication of an article Franklin contributed to the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society in 1786. The article presents his ideas for improving the efficiency of chimneys and coal-burning stoves.


France.
Commissaires chargés de l'examen du magnétisme animal.
Rapport des Commissaires chargés par le roi, de l'examen du magnétisme animal: imprimé par ordre du roi, sur la copie imprimée au Louvre. A Paris: Chez Moutard, 1784.

In 1779, Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer created a sensation with his claims for curing mental and physical ailments through hypnosis. In a theory called "animal magnetism," he asserted that it was possible to control the human body through the use of magnets and the power of suggestion. The theory was wildly popular in France until the King ordered a scientific inquiry in 1784. Franklin served on the commission which found that Mesmer's results were dependent on the imagination of the subject.
James Ferguson, 1710-1776.
Select Mechanical Exercises: Shewing How to Construct Different Clocks, Orreries, and Sun-dials, on Plain and Easy Principles. London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1790.

James Ferguson was a respected self-taught scientist, astronomer and lecturer. Born in Scotland, he moved to London in 1743 and established himself as a successful lecturer and author. He designed several astronomical clocks and orreries (mechanical models that show the motion of planets around the sun) and published many pamphlets and books on scientific subjects. The image shown is based on Franklin's design for a three-wheel single handed clock.


Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790.
Experiments and Observations on Electricity, made at Philadelphia in America. London: David Henry, 1769.

Benjamin Franklin's Experiments and Observations is the most important scientific book of eighteenth century America and established Franklin as the first American scientist with an international reputation. In this famous treatise on electricity, Franklin outlined experiments which proved that lightning is an electrical phenomenon and deduced the positive and negative nature of electrical charges.

The text is in the form of a series of letters and papers addressed to Peter Collinson, a London merchant and naturalist. These communications were originally published in three separate pamphlets in 1751, 1753 and 1754. By 1774, five editions had appeared, and by 1783 the work had been translated into French, Italian and German. This copy is the fourth edition, which was the first to contain all three pamphlets in a single volume.


Benjamin Franklin, 1706-1790.
Expériences et observations sur l'électricité: faites a Philadelphie en Amérique. Paris: Chez Durand, 1752.

This is the first French edition of Franklin's work on electricity.


Abbé Nollet, 1700-1770.
Lettere intorno all' elettricita: nelle quali si esaminano le ultime scoperte fatto in tal material. Venezia: Presso Giambatista Pasquali, 1755.

Jean-Antoine Nollet was a French clergyman, experimental physicist, and leading member of the Paris Academy of Science. He developed a theory of electrical attraction and repulsion that supposed the existence of a continuous flow of electrical matter between charged bodies. Franklin and Nollet found themselves on opposite sides of the debate about the nature of electricity, with Franklin supporting two qualitatively opposing types of electricity and Nollet advocating a single type of electric fluid. Franklin's argument eventually won acceptance and Nollet's theory was abandoned.

Exhibited is an Italian edition of Nollet's Letters on Electricity.


Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, 1743-1794.
Elements of Chemistry, in a New Systematic Order, Containing All the Modern Discoveries. Edinburgh: W. Creech, 1790.

During his stay in Paris, Franklin continued his friendship with Antoine Lavoisier, the "father of modern chemistry." Lavoisier's experiments led to a wholesale revision of chemical theory and established the principle of conservation of matter. In 1784, Lavoisier and Franklin served together on a commission that debunked Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer's sensational claims of healing through "animal magnetism."


Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804.
Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air. London: J. Johnson, 1775.

Scientist and philosopher Joseph Priestley was one of Franklin's closest friends in London in the 1770s. Priestley is best known for his discovery of oxygen, but also made contributions in electricity and optics. Priestley's liberal religious philosophy, which he referred to as "Rational Christianity," strongly influenced Unitarianism in England and the United States.


Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804.
The History and Present State of Electricity. London: J. Dodsley, 1769.

The History and Present State of Electricity resulted from Priestley's discussions with Franklin and includes Franklin's account of his famous kite experiment.


Benjamin Rush, 1746-1813.
An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body and Mind: with an Account of the Means of Preventing, and of the Remedies for Curing Them. Boston: Published by Manning & Loring, 1812.

Rush represented Pennsylvania at the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence, taught chemistry and medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and was an active member of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. Rush originated the theory that alcoholism was a disease and promoted humane treatment for the insane.


New Art of Swimming, with Dr. Franklin's Directions to Swimmers, and Dr. Buchan's Advice on River & Sea-bathing. London: Printed for A. Lemoine, 1798.

Franklin was an avid swimmer and well-known for his aquatic abilities. He invented swim fins in his youth which were shaped like an artist's palette and worn on the hands.


Franklin and Horticulture

Benjamin Franklin, although not a serious gardener himself, was influential in the development of horticulture in Philadelphia. Through his involvement with the American Philosophical Society, Franklin knew many of the important horticulturalists and seedsmen of the era. His interest in horticulture was primarily economic. He was instrumental in arranging the exchange of seeds and roots between French and American gardeners and developing export business for American gardeners. He introduced a number of European plants to the colonies, including rhubarb for its medicinal qualities, the European yellow willow for making baskets, and the cabbage turnip or kohlrabi for its ability to remain edible for long periods.


Humphry Marshall, 1722-1801.
Arbustrum americanum: the American Grove, or, An Alphabetical Catalogue of Forest Trees and Shrubs, Natives of the American United States, Arranged According to the Linnaean System. Philadelphia: Printed by J. Crukshank, 1785.

This is the first work on trees by a native-born American. Marshall's description of native trees contained much never before published information. The book was so popular in Europe that a French edition was published in 1788. Marshall also shipped American seeds to Europe. The first edition of the book is dedicated to Franklin as president of the American Philosophical Society.

Gift of the University of Delaware Library Associates


Travels William Bartram, 1739-1823.
Travels through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida. Philadelphia: Printed by James & Johnson, 1791.

William Bartram was the leading American botanist and horticulturalist of the eighteenth century. This account of a solitary four-year journey through the southern colonies was his most important work. The book also was printed in London and Dublin, while translations appeared in France, Germany and Holland.


John Bartram, 1699-1777.
Observations on the Inhabitants, Climate, Soil, Rivers, Productions, Animals, and Other Matters Worthy of Notice. London: Printed for J. Whiston and B. White, 1751.

John Bartram, father of William Bartram, was a Philadelphia farmer, self-taught botanist and close friend of Franklin. His botanical garden on the banks of the Schuylkill River was a frequent meeting place for Philadelphia's scientific community. With Franklin's help, Bartram developed a thriving trade supplying plants and seeds to British gardeners and later was appointed King's Botanist to the Colonies.


Benjamin Smith Barton, 1766-1815.
Elements of Botany. Philadelphia: Printed for the author, 1803.

Benjamin Smith Barton, nephew of the scientist David Rittenhouse, was America's leading academic botanist of the late eighteenth century and author of this standard text on botanical medicine. His primary career was as a physician and he succeeded Benjamin Rush as Professor of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a close associate of William Bartram, many of whose drawings were used in his books.

Philip Miller, 1691-1771.
The Gardeners Dictionary: Containing Methods of Cultivating and Improving the Kitchen, Fruit and Flower-Garden. London: Printed for the author and sold by C. Rivington, 1731.

Franklin owned and used The Gardeners Dictionary, the most important horticultural work in England at the time.


Travels Peter Kalm, 1716-1779.
Travels into North America, translated into English by John Reinhold Forster. London: The editor, 1770-71.

The Swedish botanist Peter Kalm visited America from 1748 to 1751. He traveled throughout the colonies, visiting Philadelphia and Wilmington. About Franklin he wrote: "Mr. Benjamin Franklin, to whom Pennsylvania is indebted for its welfare and the learned world for many new discoveries in electricity, was the first who took notice of me and introduced me to many of his friends."

Gift of the University of Delaware Library Associates


William Malcolm.
A Catalogue of Hot-House and Green-House Plants, Fruit and Forest Trees, Flowering Shrubs, Herbaceous Plants, Tree and Kitchen Garden Seeds, Perenniel and Annual Flower Seeds, Garden Mats and Tools. London: Printed by J. Dixwell, 1771.

This English catalog of plants is a much larger and more sophisticated production than those available in the Colonies.


Goldthwait & Moore.
A Catalogue of Garden, Grass & Flower Seeds, Roots, Plants, &c. Constantly for Sale, Wholesale and Retail. Philadelphia: Printed by Thomas Bradford, 1796.

This catalogue shows the seeds and plants available in Philadelphia at the end of the eighteenth century.


Introduction | Printer | Author |Abolitionist | Statesman


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