Founding Father Benjamin Franklin: Man of Many Faces

By Anderson, Amy | Success, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Founding Father Benjamin Franklin: Man of Many Faces


Anderson, Amy, Success


No single word can describe Benjamin Franklin. He was a publisher and author, a scientist and inventor, a civic leader, a diplomat and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Today, he is remembered for his wit, wisdom and perseverance in the face of adversity.

"From a child I was fond of reading, and all the little money that came into my hands was ever laid out in books."

Franklin was born in Boston on Jan. 17, 1706, one of 17 children to a candle maker. Franklin's education ended at age 10, and he was a printer's apprentice to his brother James by age 12. For the next several years, he learned the printing trade, read voraciously and taught himself to master the art of writing as a means of rising above his station. "Prose writing," he wrote in his Autobiography, "has been of great use to me in the course of my life and was a principal means of my advancement."

At 16, Franklin began contributing to his brother's weekly newspaper under the pen name "Silence Dogood." The humor and insight of Dogood's essays made readers, including Franklin's own brother, believe they were written by an accomplished and older man.

"Diligence is the mother of good luck."

After spending two years in London, Franklin returned to the colonies and established a partnership with a friend in Philadelphia. By 1730, he was sole proprietor of his own print shop.

Later that year, he married Deborah Read. In addition to Franklin's son, William, from a previous relationship, the family grew to include son Franky, who died of smallpox at age 4, and daughter Sarah, who worked alongside her father as a young woman, hosting political gatherings and doing relief work during the Revolutionary War.

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In his 20s and 30s, Franklin was increasingly in the public eye for his writings. He was a member of the Freemasons, and he formed a club called the Junto, which met to discuss intellectual, business and community issues. Through this group, Franklin executed innovative community measures, such as volunteer firefighting groups, a paid police force, library and public hospital.

Thanks to Franklin's initiative and networking, his printing business secured the contract for Pennsylvania's paper currency and later did work for New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. He published the Pennsylvania Gazette beginning in 1729 and Poor Richard's Almanack annually from 1732 to 1757. His final preface for Poor Richard's was later printed separately to wide acclaim and became known as The Way to Wealth, composed of advice based on biblical proverbs.

His fortunes increased as he invested in rental properties and created franchises and partnerships with other printers. Franklin became a silent partner in his company at age 42 and devoted himself to intellectual pursuits.

"At 20 years of age, the will reigns; at 30, the wit; at 40, the judgment."

Franklin began to investigate the phenomenon of electricity through the invention of a lightning rod. His famous experiment with the kite during a thunderstorm was an alternate version of an experiment that had been performed by a French scientist, but most of Franklin's findings on electricity were original and groundbreaking, including his invention of a battery and his understanding of the nature of positive and negative charges.

He also invented bifocal glasses, the odometer and a wood-burning stove that Americans would use for the next 200 years. In his almanac and other writings, he proposed theories on the nature of the Gulf Stream and the cause of the common cold. And we credit him for the idea of daylight saving time.

"Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power."

Despite his personal success and notoriety, his ambition had always been to establish himself in British politics. He held several local offices in the 1730s and '40s, including Philadelphia city councilman, justice of the peace and member of the Pennsylvania Assembly. …

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