Benjamin Franklin, an Open Source Contributor?

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I was recently reading “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin” and came across an interesting little story that made me think of Benjamin Franklin as a believer in open source.

Back in the 1700’s, Franklin invented an open stove that vastly improved the warming of rooms while simultaneously saving more fuel. He presented the model to friends and wrote a pamphlet about it which garnered him a lot of attention and positive publicity. His invention and writing had such a good effect that even the governor of Philadelphia used his stove and loved it. Here’s what happened next:

Gov’r Thomas was so pleas’d with the construction of this stove … that he offered to give me a patent for the sole vending of them for a term of years; but I declin’d it from a principle which has ever weighed with me on such occasions, viz., That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.

I think we could all do to forget the monetary incentives behind innovative inventions and put human beings and their benefit back at the center of our daily purposes. As Paul Rand says, “It is only when man is not accepted as the centre of human concern that it becomes feasible to create a system of production which values profit out of proportion to responsible public service”.