For some inexplicable reason, Inside Adams has yet to publish a post on someone who is of interest to both Business and Science – Ben Franklin. We did publish a post on a school named in his honor, but not on his contribution to the sciences or how he relates to business. I decided it was time to rectify this and thought I would start with a business-oriented post.
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston in 1706 and while he had had little formal schooling, that didn’t seem to stop him. He was apprenticed to his brother James, a printer, but at 17 he ran away to Philadelphia where he worked in several printers’ shops. He even travelled to London for a bit and worked as a typesetter. Upon returning to Philadelphia, he set up a printing house and began printing The Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack. He even printed money! (eventually landing on the $100 bill) He was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia from 1737 to 1753, an experience that likely played a part in his being named the first United States Postmaster General.
Franklin spent many years of his life abroad. Beyond that stint when he was younger, he went back to London in 1757 to represent Pennsylvania and American interests – living on Craven Street not far from what is now Trafalgar Square (for such a well-known man this is the only one of his residences to survive). Events in the Colonies forced him back to Pennsylvania in time to put his signature on the Declaration of Independence. But his international travels took him abroad again, this time to France as Ambassador from 1776 to 1785. Eventually he came back to the United States and served as a delegate to the Philadelphia Convention in 1787. He died just a few years later on April 17, 1790.
Many associate Franklin with being one of the Founding Fathers and as a man of science, but as a printer running his own business, he was also a man who knew business. Being Ben Franklin, he had many ideas on business and thrift. You can see some of those in his “Hints For Those That Would Be Rich,” where he dispensed all sorts of financial advice, including:
A Penny sav’d is Twopence clear, A Pin a day is a Groat a Year. Save & have. Every little makes a mickle.
Beyond this thrifty advice, he also seems to have had an interest in what we would now consider the self-help genre. He printed George Fisher’s The American Instructor, or, Young Man’s best Companion and also wrote his own pieces. Along with “Hints for Those That Would Be Rich,” there is also Advice to a Young Tradesman and Way to Wealth, a collection of essays published in Poor Richard’s Almanack.
Franklin racked up many kudos – honorary degrees, statues, and other remembrances, and interest in him continues. Below are a few resources, including a few individual “business” titles, for anyone studying one of our more interesting and colorful Founding Fathers.
- Benjamin Franklin Papers at the Library of Congress
- Benjamin Franklin “In His Own Words”
- Benjamin Franklin: A Resource Guide
- Art of Making Money Plenty in Every Man’s Pocket
- Advice to a Young Tradesman
- Way to Wealth
- Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
- Project Gutenberg titles by Benjamin Franklin
- Papers of Benjamin Franklin (American Philosophical Society and Yale University)