Unlike many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin was not college-educated; he was not a lawyer, a physician or one born into wealth.
Rather, Benjamin Franklin was the common man’s representative. It was persistence and a dream that kept Franklin going, not a title and wealth.
Brought up poor, but destined for greatness
Born the 10th son of a Boston soap and candle maker, financial difficulties made it impossible for young Ben to gain a formal education, so the boy dreamed of going to sea. In a move meant to quash those ambitions, his father apprenticed Benjamin to an older sibling, where he could learn the printing trade—a move that would have a profound effect upon the history of the country about to be birthed.
At his brother’s print shop, Benjamin learned not just how to print, but the business of printing. He would first help in the production of the various leaflets and pamphlets produced in his brother’s shop, then he would head to the streets with a satchel full of the finished goods and hawk them on the corner.
Taking the news to the people
And when the shop produced America’s first home-centered newspaper, the New England Courant, Benjamin was there—not only to print the stories of Boston’s best free-thinking writers, but to read them. Ben soon entered the fray himself, with a series of (unauthorized by his brother) tongue-in-cheek essays, written under the pseudonym, “Silence Dogwood.” Benjamin Franklin was 16 years old at the time.
When brother James discovered who was doing the writing (the letters had been clandestinely placed under the door of the print shop), he was outraged. Benjamin’s popularity with the readers served to further widen a growing rift between the two.
By the time he was 17, Benjamin Franklin had abandoned his apprenticeship (but for strategic finagling, it was a move that could have landed him in trouble with the law) and boarded a ship for New York in a determined search for a life he could call his own.
He went from New York to New Jersey, then on to Philadelphia where he finally found employment, met his wife-to-be and later established his own print shop. It was in Philadelphia that Benjamin Franklin began to publish his famous and quite profitable publication: Poor Richard’s Almanack.
From the School of Hard Knocks
Benjamin Franklin’s life story is replete with tales of intrigue, jealousy, scandal and an unimaginable success. He became the most-read author in the colonies, the force behind a bevy of civic improvement projects, the organizer of the first fire department in Philadelphia, the inventor of a heat-efficient stove (as well as inventor of swimming fins, bifocals and the lighting rod) and even the scientific experimenter who verified the nature of electricity with his infamous kite experiment.
Despite the lack of a college degree or a fortuitous beginning, Benjamin Franklin was one of the most well-read, perceptive and generous men who ever graced the history books of any country in the world. His proverbs and fame live on to this day, making him one of the best known and most loved founding fathers of the United States.
So pervasive was Benjamin Franklin’s effect on society that a group of journalists formed in 2009 to ensure the eyes and voice of the people continue to be recognized in a time when local newspapers are vanishing and the publishing industry is more and focused on national and international affairs, rather than on topics of local and regional concern—and they named their organization The Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.
Gone, but not forgotten
The great man passed on in 1790, over two centuries ago. He is known as a person who lived his own advice, had the courage to admit his faults and committed himself to mend them.
Benjamin Franklin, despite poor beginnings and difficult circumstances, is considered—along with others like Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton—as one of the people the world could not have done without.
And for Americans, Franklin is a Founding Father. He is one who gave of himself to help make Independence Day possible.