Benjamin Franklin


Benjamin Franklin was an American founding father, and besides that, best known as the discoverer of electricity. He was also a prolific inventor. His inventions included the lightning rod, bifocals, the Franklin stove, a carriage odometer, and the glass harmonica. He formed both the first public lending library in America and the first fire department in Pennsylvania. And, in his capacity of newspaper editor and printer, he published Poor Richard’s Almanac and the Pennsylvania Gazette.

Less well known was Benjamin Franklin’s influence on American education, especially in Pennsylvania. In 1749 he wrote the pamphlet Proposals relating to the education of youth in Pennsylvania. This led to the establishment in 1751 of the Academy of Philadelphia which evolved later into the University of Pennsylvania.

The curriculum that Franklin proposed placed a heavy emphasis on rhetoric. He included training to develop oral skills for speaking and reading so that students would develop “clarity and conciseness, to pronounce distinctly, and to form their own style of public speech. He emphasized comprehension when developing speech skills:

It is impossible a Reader should give due Modulation to his Voice, and pronounce properly, unless his understanding goes before his Tongue…Declarations, repeating Speeches, delivering Orations,…[and] Public Disputes warm the Imagination, whet the Industry, and strengthen the Natural Abilities (Guthrie, in Wallace, p. 67).

In 1768, Franklin developed a phonetic alphabet with the aim of reforming spelling. His alphabet, described in his publication: A Scheme for a new Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling, did away with six letters (c, j, q, w, x, and y), and added six new letters for sounds he felt lacked letters of their own. His new alphabet did not become popular.

Political contributions:

Signed Declaration of Independence

Ambassador to France 1776-1785.

Writings of Benjamin Franklin

Proposals relating to the education of youth in Pennsylvania

Franklin’s phonetic alphabet:

Writings about Benjamin Franklin

Guthrie, Warren (1954) Rhetorical theory in colonial America. In K. Wallace (Ed.) History of speech education in America: Background studies (pp. 48-59). NY: Appleton, Century, Crofts, Inc.