Good day! Michael Stusser, here, with another This Day in Blogstery!
Plenty of history went down on this day, most of which you learned in 9th grade, then purged to make room for that flippin' chemistry chart and the 206 bones in the human body. In 1689, Peter the (Not So) Great became tsar of Russia. In 1868, Thomas Edison patented his very first invention (he'd go on to file 1,000 more) "“ the electric voice machine. (Not surprisingly, he had no messages.) In 1936, the first radio quiz show, "Professor Quiz," premiered, though contestants were vying for quarters, rather than a million bucks. In 1975, Saturday Night Live premiered (with George Carlin as host), and Bill Clinton wed Hillary (Rodham). Even though I'd like to devote the entire blog to Luke Perry (born today in '66), we'll concentrate, instead on the year 1726, when the great Benjamin Franklin returned to Philadelphia after three years in England, brimming with ideas for a new nation. Young Bennie was only twenty years old, but an old soul "“ and soon had developed the concept of a lending library so common folks could read books, which were too expensive in those days most people to own. He went on to write a few books of his own (including one of the first autobiographies"¦egotistical fellow"¦) and signed a few key documents later in life. Here's a condensed conversation with Ben Franklin from The Dead Guy Interviews. For the full, in-depth interview with Mr. Franklin, you'll have to buy my book - but it'll be worth it "“ or a penny saved isn't a penny"¦.Well, maybe the penny is a bad example of saving, but you get the drift"¦
The completely En-lightning interview after the jump...Â
Benjamin Franklin (Jan 17, 1706--Apr 17, 1790)
Born in Boston, Big Ben was the 15th of his father's seventeen children. Not letting school get in the way of his education, Ben quit school at age ten and then apprenticed at his brother's print shop, before setting out on his own. In 1729 he bought the Pennsylvania Gazette and turned it into the most popular rag in the colonies. Franklin proved to be the greatest writer of the 18th Century, espousing common sense and hard work with a healthy dose of humor. In addition to one of the first autobiographies ever written, he wrote political essays (many on treating the Native Americans fairly), and Poor Richard's Almanac (1732-57). Full of weather forecasts, jokes and proverbs, the almanacs were almost as popular as the #1 seller at the time, The Bible.
Ben lived on and off in England for eighteen years, mediating conflicts on behalf of the Colonies before hitting France to gain support for the Revolutionary War. He spent nine years in Paris, chowing croissants, flirting with the ladies and getting crucial aid from Frenchie to back our bid for independence. Of course, Doc Franklin helped craft both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and his elder statesman seasoning came in handy when tempers flared and calmer heads had to prevail. For a man with so many titles he was, above all, a public servant. As French philosopher Turgot put it, "He seized lightning from the skies and the scepter from tyrants."
Michael Stusser: Poet, scientist, philosopher, inventor "“ you must have gone to Harvard or something.
Ben Franklin: Two years of grammar school, the rest was learning on the job.
MS: Get out!
BF: I just got here.
MS: No, it's a phrase that -
BF: Know what it is, young man. In fact, I coined a few phrases in my time: "The worst wheel of a cart makes the most noise." Heard that one?
MS: Not exactly.
BF: How "˜bout: "Fish and visitors stink after three days." That's mine. So's, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
MS: Somehow you prevented yourself from getting electrocuted: June 15, 1752, the story goes, you ran around with a key on a kite in an electrical storm "“ that's nuts!
BF: How else are you going to demonstrate that lightning is electrical? And to be honest, I got the charge from a storm cloud "“ not full-on lighting. I'm no idiot.
MS: What other inventions did you tinker with?
BF: Well the kite-trick led to the lightning rod, which was a good one, but I also came up with an odometer.
MS: But there weren't any cars.
BF: Yeah, we strapped "˜em to wagon wheels to clock horse's road time. That was a big seller. (He rolls his eyes.) Course there's the Franklin Stove. That kept the little ones from falling on their faces into the fire, so I got a lot of good pub there. And as I kid I invented some flippers.
MS: For swimming?
BF: No, for horseback riding. Of course for swimming! I was a helluva athlete in my day and would do laps in Boston Harbor. I swam the Thames River when I was across the pond "“ freaked the Londoners out.
MS: And finally, bi-focals, were your invention.
BF: I was 83 years old and could see the peas on my plate, but not the gal seated across from me! So I had a glass-cutter slice my two pairs of glasses in half and clamp "˜em together. Problem solved.
MS: You started the first public library (1731).
BF: At the time, books were quite expensive. Got to read to succeed.
MS: Didn't you also develop the first Colonial Post Office?
BF: And the hospital, insurance agency, and police force"¦
BF: As well as the first volunteer fire department.
MS: Did you know you're on the hundred dollar bill?
BF: I am?
MS: Oh yeah. Franklins are a sign of bling, man.
BF: OK. Bling. Sure.
MS: But Ben Franklin was also Richard Saunders.
BF: Richard Saunders was the pseudonym I used for the Poor Richard's Almanac. I'm happy to admit I was also Mrs. Silence Dogwood "“ advice columnist in my brother's paper. Never wore a dress though.
MS: You were married for 44 years. What's the key?
BF: Living on separate sides of the Atlantic. HA! No, Deborah and I made each other happy. Even when we were apart for years at a time we kept in close touch "“ she'd send home-cured bacon to London and I'd mail her silk and pottery.
MS: No offense sir, but you didn't see her for the last nine years of her life.
BF: Well she was afraid to sail, and I didn't get around to coming home. I do feel badly about that.
MS: Now, is it true your initial instinct in regard to independence was to make sure you didn't piss off King George?
BF: I wanted to placate the British, but also establish colonial representation in their parliament.
MS: Plus you offered to pay for all the tea we dumped in Boston Harbor.
BF: No reason to go to war over tea. "Safety first," I always said.
MS: You lived in London for almost twenty years. Ever think of staying?
BF: Oh yeah. For the crumpets and dentistry alone. I was at King George III's coronation and really thought we could do well as part of the British Empire.
MS: What changed?
BF: A couple things: First, the Brits were thinking of ringing my neck after I printed letters by the royal Governor of Massachusetts that showed how he was screwing over the colonies. And second, a war broke out.
MS: Your own son was on the wrong side.
BF: Illegitimate son, but yes, William had his own strong mind. I also think he wanted to keep his job, which was pretty cush (royal Governor to New Jersey) in case the Yankees lost.
MS: You guys ever kiss and make up?
BF: I disinherited the punk. Does that count?
MS: Let's move on, eh? What was it like to sign the Declaration of Independence?
BF: It was incredible and nerve-wracking. I remember saying, "We must all hang together or we shall all hang separately."
MS: By the time you went to the Constitutional Convention you were 81 years old.
BF: Say what, sonny?
MS: I say, "BY THE TIME "“"
BF: I heard you the first time. Too bad the youngsters didn't listen to any of my ideas "“ and I had plenty!
MS: Such as?
BF: I didn't think you should have to own land to vote, that's for sure. I also didn't like the idea of paying government officials salaries "“ they should be elderly gents, maybe retirees, with no other agenda than helping the citizens, ya know?
MS: That's a bit unrealistic.
BF: And the president should be a one-termer! Serve your four years and get out!
MS: This I can get behind. Even with your differences, you wrote a statement at the end of the convention that everyone rallied around.
BF: What I did was let them know democracy's not pretty. I said my piece about not having my ideas listened to "“ NOT A SINGLE ONE OF "˜EM "“ and let folks know I understand free men are bound to disagree. Compromise is necessary, and so is acceptance. The will of the majority may not be perfect, but in this case it would have to do.
MS: Only Founding Father to have signed the Declaration, the Treaty of Paris, and the Constitution.
BF: And the oldest.
MS: Speaking of which, you wrote your own epitaph.
BF: Ha! Yeah, I was deadly sick when I was 20, and thought I was going to need it.
MS: May I read it?
The body of B. Franklin, Printer
(Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn Out
And Stript of its Lettering and Gilding)
Lies Here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be Lost;
For it will (as he Believ'd) Appear once More
In a New and More Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author.
BF: Sounds about right.
MS: Thought you'd like to know that it's now a tradition to toss a penny on your grave at the Christ Church Burial Ground.
BF: Didn't anyone hear me when I said "A penny saved is a penny earned?"
MS: Yeah, but we've got credit cards now. Pennies are kind of a joke.
BF: They add up, son. That's the whole point.
END of INTERVIEW