On this bike ride I stopped by The Old Post Office Pavilion, to see a statue of Benjamin Franklin. The statue, which was designed by Ernst Plassman and sculpted by American artist Jacques Jouvenal, stands on a pedestal in front of the building located at the southeast corner of the intersection of 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP) in the downtown section of northwest D.C.
The Carrara marble statue was a gift of Stilson Hutchins, one of the founders of The Washington Post newspaper, and was dedicated on January 17, 1889, at 10th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. It was eventually moved to its current site in 1982. The statue is part of group of fourteen statues called “American Revolution Statuary.” The statues are scattered across the city, mainly in squares and traffic circles, and are listed as a group on the National Register of Historic Places.
Franklin was born in 1706 in Boston, the 10th of 17 children of soap maker Josiah Franklin, and his second wife, Abiah Folger. His father wanted him to attend school with the clergy, but he was unable to afford more than two years. Instead, Franklin attended the Boston Latin School, but dropped out at the age of ten. Although he never returned to formal schooling, Franklin continued his education through voracious reading, teaching himself to read French, Spanish, Latin, German and Italian. Later in life, however, he received honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, the University of St. Andrews, the University of Oxford, and the University of Edinburgh.
After leaving school, Franklin became an apprentice to one of his brothers, James, who was a printer. Thus began a career which would include varying levels of success in multiple vocations and avocations. Eventually becoming one of the foremost of this country’s Founding Fathers, Franklin was one of five men who helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of its signers. As a diplomat, he represented the newly emerging United States in France during the American Revolution. He was also a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Franklin was also a patriot, statesman, political theorist, and politician, as well as an author, printer, librarian, bookstore owner, scientist, inventor, composer and musician, soldier in the Philadelphia militia, volunteer firefighter, philosopher, abolitionist, and civic activist. An authentic and world-renowned polymath in the vein of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Galileo Galilei, and Nicolaus Copernicus, Franklin’s expertise spanned so many different subject areas that it is almost impossible to capture an accurate appreciation of his complexity and genius.
In addition to his many more well-known accomplishments, Franklin was also instrumental in founding the first hospital in America; establishing the colonies’ first circulation library, founding the University of Pennsylvania, and organizing the first insurance company in the colonies. And as a prolific inventor, Franklin invented the rocking chair, the concept of Daylight Savings Time, the odometer, the Pennsylvania fireplace which is now more commonly known as the “Franklin Stove,” the flexible urinary catheter, the lightning rod, swimming fins, writing chair school desks, a new kind of ship’s anchor, a musical instrument known as a glass armonica, bifocal eyeglasses, and a pulley system that enabled him to lock and unlock his bedroom door without getting out of his bed.
Although Franklin could have made enormous sums of money for many of his inventions, he purposefully chose not to patent any of his inventions. He explained why in his autobiography, in which he wrote, “… as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”
Other interesting albeit unrelated facts about Franklin include that at the age of 16, after reading a book about vegetable diets, he decided to become a vegetarian. He wrote the first known “pro vs. con” list as a method for contemplating and making a decision. Franklin thought the turkey should be the national bird, rather than the bald eagle, because he thought the turkey was more respectable than eagles and a true native of the United States. Also, while working in London, he was given the nickname “Water-American” because he would rather drink water than beer, unlike the vast majority of people at that time. Lastly, Franklin liked to take “air baths,” in which he would sit naked in his bathtub and let the cold air from an open window clean away germs.
Oddly, Franklin also had two birthdays during his lifetime. His birth certificate reads that he was born on January 6, 1706. However, in 1752, the British colonies changed to a different calendar. Over time, calendars no longer line up with seasons and adjustments must be made to help synchronize the calendar year with the solar year so that seasons happen in the right month. That is why we now have leap year. Anyway, at midnight on September 2, 1752, it legally became September 14th, and previous dates were adjusted for the new calendar. Franklin’s new birthday from that point forward became January 17th.
Franklin was also a postmaster, having been appointed the British postmaster for the colonies by King George III before the Revolutionary War. Then on July 26, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established The United States Post Office and named Benjamin Franklin as the first U.S. Postmaster General. This may explain why the statue was placed in its current location in front of the Old Post Office building.