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Benjamin Franklin portrayal brings history to life in Franklin Co.

November 21, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - International Swimming Hall of Fame honoree Benjamin Franklin was in his namesake county Monday to talk about one of his earliest innovations and the many other achievements of his multifaceted life.

"You're never too young to invent something. You're never too old to invent something," the 300-year-old Founding Father told a group of Chambersburg Area Senior High School English students at the Heritage Center.

One idea that got him into the Swimming Hall of Fame, albeit 178 years after his death, was a set of paddles for the hands and feet that Franklin fashioned at about the age of 12 to beat another boy in a race. He also taught swimming and was an advocate for its universal instruction, he said.

It was at the age of 78 that Franklin came up with one of his last and most practical inventions, bifocals, an idea which came to him "mainly because I had to carry two kinds of spectacles with me," he said.

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"I'm given quite a lot of credit, but in reality, everything I did required a lot of people," said the journalist, publisher, scientist, inventor, politician, diplomat and civic leader. For example, he said he is credited with inventing bifocals and the Franklin stove, though he was neither a glassmaker or a blacksmith.

Ralph Archbold said he has been the official Ben Franklin of Philadelphia for 25 years. Before the visitors and students, however, he did not step out of character.

"How long have you been portraying Benjamin Franklin?" one woman asked.

"Three hundred years," was his reply.

This year is, in fact, the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth, who died in 1790 at the age of 84, having achieved much of his international fame after the age of 70.

Franklin noted it was him and friends who got together to open the first circulating library in the colonies with 52 volumes ordered from Great Britain. Prior to that, "if you wanted to read a book, you had to own a book" and Philadelphia, the largest city in the colonies, did not even have a bookstore.

He stressed that many of the accomplishments in his life were collaborative, rather than individual, such as drafting the Declaration of Independence.

Much of his fame and influence came from publishing a newspaper and Poor Richard's Almanac, which sold 10,000 copies a year in a city of 20,000 people, Franklin said.

"Now that's market penetration," Franklin told one group.

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