Franklin was one of the most prominent of the Founders and early
political figures and statesmen of the United States.
of the earliest Founders, Franklin was noted for his curiosity,
writings, ingenuity and diversity of interests. His wise and scintillating
writings are proverbial to this day. He shaped the American Revolution,
despite never holding national elective office; a leader of the
Enlightenment, he gained the recognition of scientists and intellectuals
across Europe and the United States. As an agent in London before
the Revolution, and Minister to France during, he more than anyone
defined the new nation in the minds of Europe.
success in securing French military and financial aid was the
turning point for American victory over Britain. He invented the
lightning rod; he was an early proponent of colonial unity; historians
hail him as the "First American". The city of Philadelphia,
Pennsylvania marked Franklin's 300th birthday in January 2006
with a wide array of exhibitions, and events citing Franklin's
extraordinary accomplishments throughout his illustrious career.
in Boston, Massachusetts to a tallow-maker, Franklin learned printing
from his older brother and became a newspaper editor, printer,
and merchant in Philadelphia, becoming very wealthy. He spent
many years in England and published the famous Poor Richard's
Almanack and the Pennsylvania Gazette. He formed both the first
public lending library and fire department in America as well
as the Junto, a political discussion club.
became a national hero in America when he convinced Parliament
to repeal the unpopular Stamp Act. A diplomatic genius, Franklin
was almost universally admired among the French as American minister
to Paris, and was a major figure in the development of positive
Franco-American relations. From 1775 to 1776, Franklin was Postmaster
General under the Continental Congress and from 1785 to his death
in 1790 was President of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania.
was interested in science and technology, carrying out his famous
electricity experiments and invented the Franklin stove, medical
catheter, lightning rod, swimfins, glass harmonica, and bifocals.
He also played a major role in establishing the higher education
institutions that would become the Ivy League's University of
Pennsylvania and the Franklin and Marshall College. In addition,
Franklin was a noted linguist, fluent in five languages. He also
practiced and published on astrology.
was also noted for his philanthropy and several liaisons, including
that which produced his illegitimate Loyalist son William Franklin,
later the colonial governor of New Jersey. Towards the end of
his life, he became one of the most prominent early American abolitionists.
Today Franklin is pictured on the U.S. $100 bill.
Franklin's father, Josiah Franklin, was born at Ecton, Northamptonshire,
England on December 23, 1657, the son of Thomas Franklin, a blacksmith
and farmer, and Jane White. His mother, Abiah Folger, was born
in Nantucket, Massachusetts on August 15, 1667, to Peter Folger,
a miller and schoolteacher, and his wife Mary Morrill, a former
1677, Josiah married Anne Child at Ecton, and over the next few
years had three children. These half-siblings of Benjamin Franklin
included Elizabeth (March 2, 1678), Samuel (May 16, 1681), and
Hannah (May 25, 1683).
during the second half of 1683, the Franklins left England for
Boston, Massachusetts. While in Boston, they had several more
children, including Josiah Jr. (August 23, 1685), Ann (January
5, 1687), Joseph (February 5, 1688), and Joseph (June 30, 1689)
(the first Joseph having died soon after birth).
first wife Anne died in Boston on July 9, 1689. He married to
Abiah Folger on November 25, 1689 in the Old South Church of Boston
by the Rev. Samuel Willard.
and Abiah had the following children: John (December 7, 1690),
Peter (November 22, 1692), Mary (September 26, 1694), James (February
4, 1697), Sarah (July 9, 1699), Ebenezer (September 20, 1701),
Thomas (December 7, 1703), Benjamin (January 17, 1706), Lydia
(August 8, 1708), and Jane (March 27, 1712).
Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street in Boston, Massachusetts
on January 17, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a tallow
chandler, a maker of candles and soap, whose second wife was Benjamin's
mother. Josiah's marriages produced 17 children; Benjamin was
the fifteenth and youngest son. He attended Boston Latin School
but did not graduate. His schooling ended at ten, then worked
for his father, and at 12 he became an apprentice to his brother
James, a printer who published the New England Courant, the first
truly independent newspaper in the colonies.
a printing apprentice, he wrote under the pseudonym of 'Silence
Dogood' who was ostensibly a middle-aged widow. His brother and
the Courant's readers did not initially know the real author.
James was not impressed when he discovered his popular correspondent
was his younger brother. Franklin left his apprenticeship without
permission and in so doing became a fugitive.
the age of 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, seeking a new
start in a new city. When he first arrived he worked in several
printer shops around town. However, he was not satisfied by the
immediate prospects. After a few months, while working in a printing
house, Franklin was induced by Pennsylvania Governor Sir William
Keith to go to London, ostensibly to acquire the equipment necessary
for establishing another newspaper in Philadelphia.
Keith's promises of backing a newspaper to be empty, Franklin
worked as a compositor in a printer's shop in what is now the
Church of St Batholomew the Great, Smithfield. Following this,
he returned to Philadelphia in 1726 with the help of a merchant
named Thomas Denham, who gave Franklin a position as clerk, shopkeeper,
and bookkeeper in Denham's merchant business.
Denham's death, Franklin returned to his former trade. By 1730,
Franklin had set up a printing house of his own and had contrived
to become the publisher of a newspaper called "The Pennsylvania
Gazette". The Gazette gave Franklin a forum for agitation
about a variety of local reforms and initiatives through printed
essays and observations. Over time, his commentary, together with
a great deal of savvy about cultivating a positive image of an
industrious and intellectual young man, earned him a great deal
of social respect. Even after Franklin had achieved fame as a
scientist and statesman, he would habitually sign his letters
with the unpretentious 'B. Franklin, Printer'.
was initiated into the local Freemason lodge in 1731 (new style),
and became grand master in 1734, indicating his rapid rise to
prominence in Philadelphia. He edited and published the first
Masonic book in America, a reprint of James Anderson's The Constitutions
of the Free-Masons that same year. He remained a Freemason for
the rest of his life.
In 1724, while a boarder in the Read home, Franklin had courted
Deborah Read before going to London at Governor Keith's request.
At that time, Miss Read's mother was wary of allowing her daughter
to wed a seventeen-year old who was on his way to London. Her
own husband having recently died, Mrs. Read declined Franklin's
offer of marriage.
Franklin was finding himself in London, Deborah married a man
named John Rodgers. This proved to be a regrettable decision.
Rodgers shortly avoided his debts and prosecution by fleeing to
Barbados, leaving Deborah behind. With Rodgers' fate unknown,
and bigamy an offense punishable by public whipping and imprisonment,
Deborah was not free to remarry.
himself had his own actions to ponder. In 1730, Franklin acknowledged
an illegitimate son named William, who eventually became the last
Loyalist governor of New Jersey. While the identity of William's
mother remains unknown, perhaps the responsibility of an infant
child gave Franklin a reason to take up residence with Deborah
Read. William would be raised in the Franklin household but eventually
broke with his father over the treatment of the colonies at the
hands of the crown, but was not above using his father's notoriety
to enhance his own standing.
established a common law marriage with Deborah Read on September
1, 1730. At a time when many colonial families consisted of six
or more children, Benjamin and Deborah Franklin eventually had
two (in addition to raising William). The first was Francis Folger
Franklin, born October 1732. In one of the most painful moments
of Franklin's life, the boy died of smallpox in the fall of 1736.
A daughter, Sarah Franklin, was born in 1743. She eventually married
a man named Richard Bache, had seven children, and cared for her
father in his old age.
fear of the sea meant that she never accompanied Franklin on any
of his extended trips to Europe, despite his repeated requests.
In 1733, Franklin began to issue the famous Poor Richard's Almanac
(with content both original and borrowed) on which much of his
popular reputation is based. Adages from this almanac such as
"A penny saved is twopence clear" (often misquoted as
"A penny saved is a penny earned") and "Fish and
visitors stink in three days" remain common quotations in
the modern world. He sold about ten thousand copies a year.
1758, the year in which he ceased writing for the Almanac, he
printed "Father Abraham's Sermon," one of the most famous
pieces of literature produced in Colonial America.
was well-known as a humorist and a collection of his humorous
writings can be found in the book: "Fart Proudly: Writings
of Benjamin Franklin You Never Read in School."
Autobiography, published after his death, has become one of the
classics of the genre.
and scientific inquiries
Franklin was a prodigious inventor. Among his many creations were
the lightning rod, the armonica, the Franklin stove, bifocal glasses,
and the flexible urinary catheter. Although Franklin never patented
any of his own inventions, he was a supporter of the rights of
inventors and authors and was responsible for inserting into the
United States Constitution the provision for limited-term patents
1743, Franklin founded the American Philosophical Society to help
scientific men discuss their discoveries. He began the electrical
research that, along with other scientific inquiries, would occupy
him for the rest of his life (in between bouts of politics and
1748, he retired from printing and went into other businesses.
He created a partnership with his foreman, David Hill, which provided
Franklin with half of the shop's profits for 18 years. This lucrative
business arrangement provided leisure time for study, and in a
few years he had made discoveries that gave him a reputation with
the learned throughout Europe and especially in France.
include his investigations of electricity. Franklin proposed that
"vitreous" and "resinous" electricity were
not different types of "electrical fluid" (as electricity
was called then), but the same electrical fluid under different
pressures. He was the first to label them as positive and negative
respectively, and the first to discover the principle of conservation
of charge. In 1750, he published a proposal for an experiment
to prove that lightning is electricity by flying a kite in a storm
that appeared capable of becoming a lightning storm.
May 10, 1752, Thomas Francois d'Alibard of France conducted Franklin's
experiment (using a 40-foot-tall iron rod instead of a kite) and
extracted electrical sparks from a cloud. On June 15, Franklin
conducted his famous kite experiment and also successfully extracted
sparks from a cloud (unaware that d'Alibard had already done so,
36 days earlier). Franklin's experiment was not written up until
Joseph Priestley's 1767 History and Present Status of Electricity;
the evidence shows that Franklin was insulated (not in a conducting
path, as he would have been in danger of electrocution in the
event of a lightning strike). (Others, such as Prof. Georg Wilhelm
Richmann of St. Petersburg, Russia, were spectacularly electrocuted
during the months following Franklin's experiment.)
his writings, Franklin indicates that he was aware of the dangers
and offered alternative ways to demonstrate that lightning was
electrical, as shown by his use of the concept of electrical ground.
If Franklin did perform this experiment, he did not do it in the
way that is often described, flying the kite and waiting to be
struck by lightning, (as it would have been dramatic but fatal).
Instead he used the kite to collect some electric charge from
a storm cloud, which implied that lightning was electrical. See,
for example, the 1805 painting by Benjamin West of Benjamin Franklin
drawing electricity from the sky.
electrical experiments led to his invention of the lightning rod.
He noted that conductors with a sharp rather than a smooth point
were capable of discharging silently, and at a far greater distance.
He surmised that this knowledge could be of use in protecting
buildings from lightning, by attaching "upright Rods of Iron,
made sharp as a Needle and gilt to prevent Rusting, and from the
Foot of those Rods a Wire down the outside of the Building into
the Ground;...Would not these pointed Rods probably draw the Electrical
Fire silently out of a Cloud before it came nigh enough to strike,
and thereby secure us from that most sudden and terrible Mischief!"
Following a series of experiments on Franklin's own house, lightning
rods were installed on the Academy of Philadelphia (later the
University of Pennsylvania) and the Pennsylvania State House (later
Independence Hall) in 1752.
recognition of his work with electricity, Franklin received the
Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1753, and in 1756 he became one
of the few eighteenth century Americans to be elected as a Fellow
of the Society. The cgs unit of electric charge has been named
after him: one franklin (Fr) is equal to one statcoulomb.
October 21, 1743, a storm blowing from the north-east denied Franklin
the opportunity of a witnessing a lunar eclipse. In correspondance
with his brother, Franklin learned that the same storm had not
reached Boston until after the eclipse, despite the fact that
Boston is to the north-east of Philadelphia. He deduced that storms
do not always travel in the direction of the prevailing wind,
a concept which would have great influence in meteorology.
noted a principle of refrigeration by observing that on a very
hot day, he stayed cooler in a wet shirt in a breeze than he did
in a dry one. To understand this phenomenon more clearly Franklin
conducted experiments. On one warm day in Cambridge, England in
1758, Franklin and fellow scientist John Hadley experimented by
continually wetting the ball of a mercury thermometer with ether
and using bellows to evaporate the ether. With each subsequent
evaporation, the thermometer read a lower temperature, eventually
reaching 7 °F (-14 °C). Another thermometer showed the
room temperature to be constant at 65 °F (18 °C). In his
letter “Cooling by Evaporation,” Franklin noted that
“one may see the possibility of freezing a man to death
on a warm summer’s day."
Franklin is known to have played the violin, the harp, and the
guitar. He also composed music, notably a string quartet in early
classical style, and invented (a much improved version of) the
glass harmonica, which soon found its way to Europe.
Franklin and several other members of a philosophical association
joined their resources in 1731 and began the first public library
in Philadelphia. The newly founded Library Company ordered its
first books in 1732, mostly theological and educational tomes,
but by 1741 the library also included works on history, geography,
poetry, exploration, and science. The success of this library
encouraged the opening of libraries in other American cities,
and Franklin felt that this enlightenment partly contributed to
the American colonies' struggle to maintain their privileges.
1736 Franklin created the Union Fire Company, the first volunteer
firefighting company in America. In the same year he printed a
new currency for New Jersey based on innovative anti-counterfeiting
techniques which he had devised.
he matured, Franklin began to concern himself more with public
affairs. In 1743, he set forth a scheme for The Academy and College
of Philadelphia. He was appointed President of the Academy in
November 13, 1749, and it opened on August 13, 1751. At its first
commencement, on May 17, 1757, seven men graduated; six with a
Bachelor of Arts and one as Master of Arts. It was later merged
with the University of the State of Pennsylvania, to become the
University of Pennsylvania, today a member of the Ivy League.
1753, both Harvard and Yale awarded him honorary degrees.
1751, Franklin and Dr. Thomas Bond obtained a charter from the
Pennsylvania legislature to establish a hospital. Pennsylvania
Hospital was the first hospital in what was to become the United
States of America.
Franklin became involved in Philadelphia politics, and progressed
rapidly. In October 1748 he was selected as a councilman, in June
1749 he became a Justice of the Peace for Philadelphia, and in
1751 he was elected to the Pennsylvania Assembly. On August 10,
1753 Franklin was appointed joint deputy postmaster-general of
North America. His most notable service in domestic politics was
his reform of the postal system, but his fame as a statesman rests
chiefly on his subsequent diplomatic services in connection with
the relations of the colonies with Great Britain, and later with
1754 he headed the Pennsylvania delegation to the Albany Congress.
This meeting of several colonies had been requested by the Board
of Trade in England to improve relations with the Indians and
defense against the French. Franklin proposed a broad Plan of
Union for the colonies. While the plan was not adopted, elements
of it found their way into the Articles of Confederation and the
1757, he was sent to England by the Pennsylvania Assembly as a
colonial agent to protest against the political influence of the
Penn family, the proprietors of the colony. For five years he
remained there, striving to end the proprietors' prerogative to
overturn legislation from the elected Assembly, and their exemption
from paying taxes on their land.
lack of influential allies in Whitehall led to the failure of
this mission. In 1759, the University of St Andrews awarded him
an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. In 1762, Oxford University
awarded Franklin an honorary doctorate for his scientific accomplishments
and from then on went by "Doctor Franklin." He also
managed to secure a post for his illegitimate son, William Franklin,
as Colonial Governor of New Jersey.
his stay in London, Franklin became involved in liberal politics.
He was a member of the Club of Honest Whigs, alongside radical
thinkers such as Richard Price.
1756, Franklin became a member of the Society for the Encouragement
of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce (now Royal Society of Arts
or RSA, which had been founded in 1754), whose early meetings
took place in coffee shops in London's Covent Garden district,
close to Franklin's main residence in Craven Street (the only
one of his residences to survive and which is currently undergoing
renovation and conversion to a Franklin museum). After his return
to America, Franklin became the Society's Corresponding Member
and remained closely connected with the Society. The RSA instituted
a Benjamin Franklin Medal in 1956 to commemorate the 250th anniversary
of Franklin's birth and the 200th anniversary of his membership
of the RSA.
On his return to America (1762), Franklin became involved in the
Paxton Boys' affair, writing a scathing attack on their massacre
of Christian American Indians, and eventually persuading them
to disperse. Many of the Paxton Boys' supporters were Scotch-Irish
Presbyterians and German Reformed or Lutherans from the rural
west of Pennsylvania, leading to claims that Franklin was biased
in favour of the urban Quaker elite of the East. Because of these
accusations, and other attacks on his character, Franklin lost
his seat in the 1764 Assembly elections. This defeat, however,
allowed him the opportunity to return to London, where he would
seal his reputation as a pro-American radical.
1764, Franklin was dispatched to England as an agent for the colony,
this time to petition the King to resume the government from the
hands of the proprietors. During this visit he would also become
colonial agent for Georgia, New Jersey and Massachusetts. In London,
he actively opposed the proposed Stamp Act, despite accusations
by opponents in America that he had been complicit in its creation.
His principled opposition to the Stamp Act, and later to the Townshend
Acts of 1767, would lead to the end of his dream of a career in
the British Government, and his alliance with proponents of colonial
independence. It also led to an irreconcilable break with his
son, William who remained loyal to the British.
September 1767, Franklin visited Paris with his usual travelling
partner, Sir John Pringle. News of his electrical discoveries
was widespread in France. His reputation meant that he was introduced
to many influential scientists and politicians, and also to King
Louis XV. The good will that was built up between Franklin and
the French would later prove useful in the American War of Independence,
during which he was a United States commissioner there.
living in London in 1768, he developed a Phonetic alphabet in
A Scheme for a new Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling. This
reformed alphabet discarded six letters Franklin regarded as redundant,
and substituted six new letters for sounds he felt lacked letters
of their own; however, his new alphabet never caught on and he
eventually lost interest.
1771 Franklin travelled extensively around the British Isles staying
with, among others, Joseph Priestley in Leeds and David Hume in
Edinburgh. In Dublin, Franklin was invited to sit with the members
of the Irish Parliament rather than in the gallery. He was the
first American to be given this honor.
saw the publication of two of Franklin's most celebrated pro-American
satirical essays: Rules by Which a Great Empire May Be Reduced
to a Small One, and An Edict by the King of Prussia. He also published
an Abridgement of the Book of Common Prayer, anonymously with
Francis Dashwood. Among the unusual features of this work is a
funeral service reduced to six minutes in length, "to preserve
the health and lives of the living".
obtained some private letters from Massachusetts governor Thomas
Hutchinson and lieutenant governor Andrew Oliver which proposed
restrictions on colonists' freedoms, and sent them to America.
The discovery that it was he who had illegally distributed the
letters meant the end of his political career in London, and the
end of hopes for a peaceful solution to the escalating trans-Atlantic
dispute. He was dismissed as deputy postmaster-general for North
America, and left London in March 1775.
the time Franklin arrived in Philadelphia on May 5, the War of
Independence had begun. The Pennsylvania Assembly unanimously
chose him as their delegate to the Second Continental Congress.
In 1776 he assisted in writing the Declaration of Independence,
radically editing Jefferson's draft.
December of 1776, he was dispatched to France as commissioner
for the United States. He lived in a home in the Parisian suburb
of Passy, donated by Jacques-Donatien Le Ray de Chaumont who would
become a friend and the most important foreigner to help the United
States win the War of Independence. Franklin remained in France
until 1785, and was such a favorite of French society that it
became fashionable for wealthy French families to decorate their
parlors with a painting of him.
conducted the affairs of his country towards the French nation
with great success, which included securing a critical military
alliance and negotiating the Treaty of Paris (1783). When he finally
returned home in 1785, he received a place only second to that
of George Washington as the champion of American independence.
Le Ray honored him with a commissioned portrait painted by Joseph
Siffred Duplessis, that now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery
of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
his return from France, Franklin became an abolitionist, freeing
both of his slaves. He eventually became president of The Society
for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage.
1787, while in retirement, he agreed to attend as a delegate the
meetings that would produce the United States Constitution to
replace the Articles of Confederation. He is the only Founding
Father who is a signatory of all three of the major documents
of the founding of the United States: The Declaration of Independence,
The Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution. Franklin
also has the distinction of being the oldest signer of both the
Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
He was 70 years old when he signed the Declaration, and 81 when
he signed the Constitution.
in 1787, a group of prominent ministers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
proposed the foundation of a new college to be named in Franklin's
honor. Franklin donated £200 towards the development of
Franklin College, which would later merge with Marshall College
in 1853. It is now called Franklin and Marshall College.
1771 and 1788, he finished his autobiography. While it was at
first addressed to his son, it was later completed for the benefit
of mankind at the request of a friend.
his later years, as Congress was forced to deal with the issue
of slavery, Franklin wrote several essays that attempted to convince
his readers of the importance of the abolition of slavery and
of the integration of Africans into American society. These writings
An Address to the Public from the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting
the Abolition of Slavery, (1789)
2. Plan for Improving the Condition of the Free Blacks (1789),
3. Sidi Mehemet Ibrahim on the Slave Trade (1790).
February 11, 1790, Quakers from New York and Pennsylvania presented
their petition for abolition. Their argument against slavery was
backed by the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society and its president,
Benjamin Franklin. Because of his involvement in abolition, its
cause was greatly debated around the states, especially in the
House of Representatives.
Franklin's parents had intended for him to have a career in the
church. As a teenager, however, he became disillusioned with organized
religion, after ". . . Some books against Deism fell into
my hands. . . It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite
contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the
Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger
than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist."
He attacked Christian principles of free will and morality in
a 1725 pamphlet, A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure
in life Franklin would become more accommodating of the utilitarian
function of Christianity. He paid his annual subscription to Philadelphia's
Presbytarian minister in recognition of the church's service to
the community. In a letter to Thomas
Paine, he wrote of his belief
in the moral utility of faith: "If men are so wicked with
religion, what would they be if without it."
like most deists, Franklin did not believe in an interventionist
God, thinking it "great vanity in me to suppose that the
Supremely Perfect does in the least regard such an inconsiderable
nothing as man". He consistently attacked religious dogma
and promoted tolerance, arguing that morality was dependant upon
a person's actions rather than their religious beliefs: "I
think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects;
and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or
more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are
dangerous, which I hope is the case with me."
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790 at the extremely advanced
age (for that time) of 84 (while weighing over 300 pounds), and
was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
In 1728, as a young man, Franklin wrote what he hoped would be
his own epitaph: "The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the
Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its
Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work
shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear
once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and
Amended By the Author. He was born on January 6, 1706. Died 17."
Franklin's actual grave, however, simply reads "Benjamin
and Deborah Franklin."
his death, Franklin bequeathed £1000 (about $4400 at the
time) each to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, in trust
for 200 years. The origin of the trust began in 1785 when a French
mathematician named Charles-Joseph Mathon de la Cour wrote a parody
of Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack called Fortunate Richard.
In it he mocked the unbearable spirit of American optimism represented
by Franklin. The Frenchman wrote a piece about Fortunate Richard
leaving a small sum of money in his will to be used only after
it had collected interest for 500 years.
who was 79 years old at the time, wrote back to the Frenchman,
thanking him for a great idea and telling him that he had decided
to leave a bequest of 1,000 pounds each to his native Boston and
his adopted Philadelphia, on the condition that it be placed in
a fund that would gather interest over a period of 200 years.
As of 1990, over $2,000,000 had accumulated in Franklin's Philadelphia
trust since his death. During the lifetime of the trust, Philadelphia
used it for a variety of loan programs to local residents.
1940 to 1990, the money was used mostly for mortgage loans. When
the trust came due, Philadelphia decided to spend it on scholarships
for local high school students. Franklin's Boston trust fund accumulated
almost $5,000,000 during that same time, and eventually was used
to establish a trade school that, over time, became the Franklin
Institute of Boston. (excerpt from Philadelphia Inquirer article
by Clark De Leon)
lasting legacy of Benjamin Franklin has resulted in the appearance
of his image in various places. Franklin's likeness adorns the
American $100 bill. As a result, $100 bills are sometimes referred
to in slang as "Benjamins" or "Franklins."
From 1948 to 1964, Franklin's portrait was also on the half dollar.
He has also appeared on a $50 bill in the past, as well as several
varieties of the $100 bill from 1914 and 1918, and every $100
bill from 1928 to the present. Franklin also appears on the $1,000
Series EE Savings bond. As a tribute to Franklin's legacy, the
city of Philadelphia contains around 5,000 likenesses of Benjamin
Franklin, about half of which are located on the University of
1976, as part of a bicentennial celebration, Congress dedicated
a 20-foot high marble statue in Philadelphia's Franklin Institute
as the Benjamin Franklin National Memorial. Many of Franklin's
personal possessions are also on display at the Institute. It
is one of the few National Memorials located on private property.
1998, workmen restoring Franklin's London home (Benjamin Franklin
House) dug up the remains of six children and four adults hidden
below the home. The Times reported on February 11, 1998:
estimates are that the bones are about 200 years old and were
buried at the time Franklin was living in the house, which was
his home from 1757 to 1762, and from 1764 to 1775. Most of the
bones show signs of having been dissected, sawn or cut. One skull
has been drilled with several holes. Paul Knapman, the Westminster
Coroner, said yesterday: "I cannot totally discount the possibility
of a crime. There is still a possibility that I may have to hold
Friends of Benjamin Franklin House (the organization responsible
for the restoration of Franklin's house at 36 Craven Street in
London) note that the bones were likely placed there by William
Hewson, a young surgeon who lived in the house for 2 years and
who had built a small anatomy school at the back of the house.
They note that while Franklin likely knew what Hewson was doing,
he probably did not participate in any dissections because he
was much more of a physicist than a medical man. Hewson ironically
died of septicaemia on May 1, 1774 which he contracted from cutting
himself while dissecting a putrid corpse.
in popular culture
1. Benjamin Franklin is one of the main inventors of Gregory Keyes'
Age of Unreason trilogy.
2. A fictionalized but somewhat accurate version of Franklin appears
as a main character in the stage musical 1776. The film version
of 1776 features Howard da Silva, who originated the role of Franklin
3. A young Benjamin Franklin appears in Neal Stephenson's novel
of 17th century science and alchemy, Quicksilver.
4. Walt Disney's cartoon Ben and Me (1953), based on the book
by Robert Lawson, counterfactually explains to children that Ben
Franklin's achievements were actually the ideas of a mouse named
5. Franklin surprisingly appears as a character in Tony Hawk's
Underground 2, a skateboarding video game. Players encounter Franklin
in his hometown of Boston and are able to play as him thereafter.
6. Proud Destiny by Lion Feuchtwanger, a novel mainly about Pierre
Beaumarchais and Benjamin Franklin beginning in 1776's Paris.
7. Ben Franklin appears in the LucasArts Entertainment Company
Game Day of the Tentacle.
8. Benjamin Franklin is portrayed in a central role in the PBS
cartoon Liberty's Kids voiced by Walter Cronkite.
9. The 2004 movie, National Treasure, has the main characters
trying to collect clues left by Benjamin Franklin to discover
a treasure that he supposedly hid. The character played by Nicolas
Cage was named "Benjamin Franklin Gates", in following
with the Gates family tradition to name sons after Franklin and
10. The Franklin Templeton Investments firm (originally Franklin
Distributors, Inc.) was named in honor of Benjamin Franklin and
uses his portrait in their logo.
11. Franklin was summoned via witchcraft into the twentieth century
for a 2-part episode on the TV show Bewitched.
12. The children's novel, Qwerty Stevens: Stuck in Time with Benjamin
Franklin, has the main characters using their time machine to
bring Ben Franklin into modern times and then to travel back with
him to 1776.
13. A 1992 Saturday Night Live spoof of Quantum Leap, "Founding
Fathers", had Ben Franklin traveling through time with George
Washington and Thomas
Jefferson to help modern day Americans with
deficit reduction, only to find twentieth century reporters are
only interested in scandal and sensationalism.
14. The science-fiction TV show Voyagers! had the main characters
helping Ben Franklin fly his kite in one episode and save his
mother from a fictionalized Salem Witch Trial in the next episode.
15. Comedian Stephen Colbert interviewed Franklin on his March
1, 2006 show, questioning him about his national bird proposal,
his inventions, how he died, and whether he took money from Jack
16. In the novel Fahrenheit 451, the government claims that Benjamin
Franklin was the first fireman. In the novel, firemen do not put
out fires, but instead start them in order to burn books.
17. The city of Philadelphia contains around 5,000 likenesses
of Benjamin Franklin—half of which are located on the University
of Pennsylvania campus.