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Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was one of the 18th century’s most remarkable polymaths. As printer, satirist, polemicist, scientist, inventor, and statesman (among other things), he was an international celebrity, a noted man of letters, and a key political figure before, during, and after the American war of independence. His list of accomplishments is dizzyingly varied—he cofounded the first organized volunteer fire company and founded the first subscription library; invented bifocals, the lightning rod, an improved home stove, the glass armonica (a musical instrument), and a bladder catheter for kidney stones; made significant theoretical contributions to the scientific understanding of electricity; proposed daylight saving time; won French aid for America in the Revolutionary War; and helped orchestrate the Treaty of Paris, which ended that war. Alongside ...

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