Benjamin Franklin, who was born 244 years ago on January 17, is probably best known from our school studies where we all remember drawings of him flying a kite with a key tied to the string in a thunderstorm. Many of us remember that he wrote "Poor Richard's Almanac" and had a hand in the founding of the United States of America, although time and history have virtually put him in the shadows of the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, and James Madison.
It is doubtful that Dr. Franklin was eclipsed in such a manner during his lifetime, even by such luminaries as those who helped to found the country. For Benjamin Franklin was a polymath, which is a person who is an expert in numerous subjects. One rarely hears the term these days. but in the 18th century, most scientists were polymaths. Another word for polymath is Renaissance man.
He was the inventor of the lightning rod, the Franklin stove, an odometer for carriages, bifocals, and a musical instrument known as the glass harmonica.
Benjamin's brother. James, was a printer and the publisher of the New-England Courant, which is now known as the Hartford Courant. It was the first independent American newspaper. It was suppressed by the King of England in 1727 and James actually went to jail at one point due to his published opinions.
Benjamin, 11 years younger, was an indentured servant to his brother from the age of 12. It was in that newspaper that young Benjamin was first published, though his brother would not have approved. He used the pseudonym "Silence Dogood." He wrote so well that even though James and his colleagues spent much time speculating about who Mrs. Dogood was in real life, they did not suspect young Ben.
After a falling out between Ben and James, Ben took off, ending up in Philadelphia, where he could work for another printer, one who James had not contacted to badmouth Ben. While he was in Philadelphia, he became the editor of the Pennsylvania Gazette and formed the first fire department and the first lending library. He was the first president of the American Philosophical Society and helped to found the University of Pennsylvania as well as Franklin & Marshall College.
And if that isn't enough, he was a diplomat who went back and forth between America and France, and was a hero in both locales. He was self-taught and fluent in French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin and attended the Continental Congress. He was, from 1775 until 1776, the Postmaster General and the President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania from 1785 until 1788, after which he became a famous and outspoken abolitionist.
In 1790, he was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. He was 84 years old.
January is also the month in which Theodore Roosevelt died. Teddy, as he was known affectionately, is perhaps best known for being the 26th President of the United States, but he too was a polymath of sorts. A sickly child with both asthma and poor eyesight, he grew up in a wealthy home, by all accounts, reading about natural history, for the most part.
While a student at Harvard, he was on the boxing team. He excelled in his studies, and after his graduation, he entered the law school at Columbia University. But he found the study of law boring and spent much of his time finishing the book, "The Naval War of 1812," which he had begun writing as an undergraduate.
Teddy moved to the Badlands where he bought some cattle ranches and nursed his emotional wounds. A few years later, he returned to New York City, where he made a name for himself when he cleaned up the corruption of the police department. He served for a short time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, which is the position he held when the Spanish American War began, and he resigned that post to lead a small regiment in Cuba known as the Rough Riders. After the war, he returned to New York a hero and the recipient of the Medal of Honor and was elected Governor. He was wildly popular and two years later, he was elected Vice President of the United States, running on the Republican ticket with William McKinley.
In 1901, President McKinley was assassinated, and Teddy was sworn in at the age of 42. He was renowned for trust-busting, the construction of the Panama Canal, and he negotiated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, which garnered him a Nobel Peace Prize. He is also remembered for his independent, manly, cowboy image and the establishment of the first national parks. After his first term, he founded the Bull Moose Party and became the only third party candidate ever to come in second place when he beat William Howard Taft but lost to Woodrow Wilson.
After that election, he embarked on a major expedition to South America where he contracted malaria, which killed him a few years later at the age of 60. Scholars consistently rank Theodore Roosevelt as one of the greatest U.S. Presidents.
And finally, we get to Nicolas Cage, who was born January 7, 1964. His name at birth was Nicolas Kim Coppola, and his father, a professor of literature at Cal State Long Beach and later the dean of Creative Arts at San Francisco State University, was the brother of Francis Ford Coppola and Talia Shire.
Not wanting to seem to be trading on his uncle's reputation, Nicolas took the last name Cage, after comic book superhero Power Man, whose alter ego was Luke Cage. He has been in more than 60 movies, and among his first movies were "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," and "Wild at Heart." His "National Treasure" movies are among his fans' favorites.
He has been married to actress Patricia Arquette and to Elvis's daughter Lisa Marie Presley. He is currently married to a former waitress, Alice Kim, and they have a son, Kal-El, which was comic book hero Superman's birth name.
Additional Resources for January 2010:
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin - Classic piece written by Ben Franklin during the late 1700's. Portrays life in Philadelphia and his observations on philosophy, literature, and religion of America's Colonial and Revolutionary periods.
About Theodore Roosevelt - Comprehensive information and resources on the life of Teddy Roosevelt. Includes a biography, photos, speeches, and a children's room.
IMDB: Nicolas Cage - Biography, photos, and complete filmography of the actor Nicolas Cage.
The King Center - The official, living memorial dedicated to uphold the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.