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A Talk With Ben Franklin
A founding father takes a Scholastic Kid Reporter on a tour of the National Constitution Center.
By Holly Sirotta, Scholastic Kids Press Corps

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Ben Franklin re-enactor Ralph Archbold takes Scholastic Kid Reporters J.R. Sirotta, 13, and Holly Sirotta, 13, on a tour of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
(Photo: Sabina Louise Pierce)
Ben Franklin is famous for many things. The most popular may be his investigation of electricity. Many people say he "discovered" or even "invented" electricity. That's not what Mr. Franklin says!

"I didn't invent electricity, I investigated it," he told me recently.

Yes, recently! I met with Mr. Franklin at the National Constitution Center in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (It was actually Ralph Archbold, a Ben Franklin re-enactor who is an expert on Franklin's life). Franklin gave me a tour of the Constitution Center and some insight into his life.

I asked him what he had hoped to learn from his famous kite experience. Mr. Franklin flew a kite and a metal key on a string during a storm. Lightning struck the key.

"What I was trying to do was prove that lightning and electricity are the same thing," he told me. Mr. Franklin had a static electric generator that made sparks when he turned the handle. The smell of the sparks reminded him of the smell of a thunderstorm.

"I thought perhaps that lightning was electricity, and in order to find out, I had to capture some lightning," he said.

Franklin is known an inventor for more than his work with electricity. He invented bifocals, the Franklin stove, a musical instrument called the harmonica, and the odometer. He also opened the first public library and founded the first volunteer fire department. Throughout his life, he had many different jobs. I asked him to name his favorite.

"I'm a printer by trade," he said. "I've always been a printer. I shall always consider myself a printer."

As a member of the second Continental Congress, Franklin, at the age of 70, was instrumental in the founding of this nation. He was on the committee with Thomas Jefferson and John Adams that drafted the Declaration of Independence. At the age of 80, he was elected governor of Pennsylvania. In 1787, he was sent as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. He worked closely with George Washington to get the Constitution ratified.

This year, the National Constitution Center is celebrating both Franklin's contribution to the birth of America, and also his 300th birthday.

A special exhibit on Ben Franklin will open at the center in December, prior to his 300th birthday on January 17, 2006. I asked him how he wanted to be remembered.

"If I'm going to be remembered at all, I would like to be remembered as someone who tried to make a contribution," he said.

After spending a few hours with Mr. Franklin, I can tell you he did just that!

For more information about Constitution Day, visit the National Constitution Center's Web site at www.constitutioncenter.org.