2006 Philadelphia Annual Meeting (22–25 October 2006)

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


DEAN, Dennis R., 834 Washington St, Apt. 3W, Evanston, IL 60202, N/A

Though Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) is well remembered in the United States as the most famous American scientist of his time, we often forget that his reputation extended beyond electricity to include other aspects of the science of the Earth. Throughout a career of sixty-some years he was seriously concerned with facts and speculations now recognized as preliminary to the emergence of geology. Earthquakes, fossils, economic minerals, and theories of the Earth all interested him. As a theorist himself, he exchanged epistolary conjectures on major problems with other like-minded savants and was regarded in Europe and America as one of them, indeed one of the most prestigious. Two of his letters on geology were published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, which he helped to found. As the most honored intellectual of his time, Franklin strove to promote American natural history and those who practiced it. In his last years, he realized that a science of the Earth must not consist of closet speculations but of evidence from nature. Only in the year of his death did the word “geology” establish itself as the name of this new and much-needed science.