Ben Franklin: Early Life
In his many careers as a printer, moralist, essayist, civic leader, scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, and philosopher, for later generations of Americans he became both a spokesman and a model for the national character. He was born in Boston, Massachusetts on Jan. 17, 1706, into a religious Puritan household. His father, Josiah, was a candlemaker and a skillful mechanic. His mother, Abiah Ben’s parents raised thirteen children--the survivors of Josiah’s seventeen children by two wives (#1).
Printer & Writer
Franklin left school at ten years old when he was pressed into his father's trade. At twelve Ben was apprenticed to his half brother James, a printer of The New England Courant. He generally absorbed the values and philosophy of the English Enlightenment. At the age of 16, Franklin wrote some pieces for the Courant signed "Silence Dogood," in which he parodied the Boston authorities and society (#3). At one point James Franklin was imprisoned for his liberal statements, and Benjamin carried on the paper himself. Having thus learned to resist oppression, Benjamin refused to suffer his brother's own domineering qualities and in 1723 ran away to Philadelphia (#1).
Soon Franklin found a job as a printer. After a year he went to England, where he became a master printer, sowed some wild oats, amazed the locals with his swimming feats, and lived among inspiring writers of London. By 1726 Franklin was tiring of London (#1). He considered becoming an itinerant teacher of swimming, but when a Quaker merchant by the name of Thomas Denham offered him a clerkship in his store in Philadelphia, he decided to return home (#5).
Returning to Philadelphia in 1726, he soon owned a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and began to print Poor Richard's Almanac. In the Pennsylvania Gazette, a citizen asked editor Franklin the following question: "If A found out that his neighbor B was sleeping with his wife, was he justified in telling B's wife, and persuading her to seek a little revenge with A?" The editor's response: "If an ass kicks me, should I kick him again? (#4)" His business expanded further when he contracted to do the public printing of the province, and established partnerships with printers in other colonies. He also operated a bookshop and became clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly and postmaster of Philadelphia (#3).
Civic Leader & Scientist
In 1727, Franklin began his career as a civic leader by organizing a club of aspiring tradesmen called the Junto. They aspired to build their own businesses, insure the growth of Philadelphia, and improve the quality of its life. Franklin led the Junto in founding a library (1731), fire company (1736), learned society (1743), college (later the University of Pennsylvania, 1749), and an insurance company and a hospital (1751). The group also carried out plans for paving, cleaning, and lighting the streets and for making them safe by organizing an...