Besides being an author,
he was also a scientist, a statesman, a printer, an economist, a
musician and a philosopher.
Did I mention that he was also the first postmaster general of
the United States? His work as postmaster general inspired him to
invent the odometer, which measured the distance that mail carriers
traveled. Why was it important to measure the distance they
traveled? Because it would be another 80 years before someone would
invent postage stamps, and the postage rate was calculated by the
distance the mail carrier had to travel to deliver it. Then the
recipient of the letter, not the sender, would pay the postage due.
Richard was also the first person to have his image appear on a
U.S. stamp. Oddly enough, the second person to have his image appear
on a stamp was George Washington.
You say you haven't heard of him?
Maybe it would help if you knew his full name: Richard Saunders.
Richard introduced some pretty original sayings in his book, such as
"Haste makes waste" and "Early to bed, and early to rise makes a man
healthy, wealthy and wise."
His father had earlier landed in Boston when he immigrated to
America looking for religious freedom. Born in 1706, Richard was the
youngest of 16 kids -- including six half siblings born to his
father's first wife. Like his father, he was the youngest son of a
youngest son; in fact, he was one of five consecutive generations of
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A man with many successful inventions and ideas, he was the first
to suggest the idea of daylight-saving time. This idea was years
ahead of its time, though, as daylight-saving time wasn't
implemented until long after Richard died. He had invented many
things, but he chose to give them away rather than profit from them.
The lightning rod resulted from his greatest accomplishment.
You still say you haven't heard of him?
You probably have, but you just don't realize it. Not yet,
anyway. Maybe it would help if you knew that he was one of the
signers of the Declaration of Independence, even though you won't
find Richard Saunders' name anywhere on the document. You've
probably heard of his popular book, Poor Richard's Almanack, which
he published each year for 25 years.
In a previous article in this column, we listed the five greatest
inventions of all time, and one of those was the discovery and use
of electricity. That was Richard's main claim to fame. You see, a
simple experiment that he conducted with a kite and a key enabled
him to tap into the power of electricity.
That's impossible, you say -- Richard Saunders didn't discover
Actually, Richard wasn't his real name; it was his pen name. His
real name was... Ben Franklin.
[Text from file received
from Paul Niemann]
Paul Niemann may be reached at
Copyright Paul Niemann 2007