Benjamin Franklin: The Founding Father Gets His Start

He was the fifteenth of seventeen children and his father didn’t have enough money to send him to school, but that didn’t stop Benjamin Franklin from becoming one of the most prominent figures in early American history. As one of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., Franklin was also an entrepreneur, inventor and writer whose legacy would leave a lasting impact the world over.

Born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts, Franklin was the son of Josiah Franklin, a candle and soap maker who hailed from England, and Abiah Folger, Josiah’s second wife. The family was not a wealthy one; Franklin was allowed to attend grammar school for just two years until he was 10 because it was too expensive. Although he was given some private writing and math lessons and continued to read voraciously on his own, Franklin never graduated from school.

At the age of 13, Franklin’s father sent him to apprentice for his older brother James, who was a printer and who had, at the age of 15, created the first independent newspaper in the colonies, called the New England Courant. Here, Franklin helped to compose pamphlets, set up type, sell the paper on the streets and perform other printer-related duties. Franklin also began writing columns under the pseudonym ‘Mrs. Silence Dogood’, who he fabricated to be a middle-aged widow. Dogood was an immediate hit with her writings about the problems and social conditions of women, but when James found out it was actually his younger brother writing her column, he was furious. As a result of James’ ensuing harassment and beatings, Franklin became a fugitive and ran away from his family in 1723.

Franklin tried his luck as a printer both in New York and New Jersey, but to no avail. He then moved to Philadelphia, where he did manage to find a job with a printer. But, Franklin was unsatisfied with his prospects there. After a brief stint at a printer’s shop in London, England, Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1726. Four years and much borrowed money later, he had finally set up his own printing house. He began to publish a newspaper called The Pennsylvania Gazette, in which he would regularly give himself space to comment on the most pressing social issues of the time. He cultivated an image of himself as an intellectual and a productive young man and his writings were the beginning of what would earn Franklin significant social respect.

The Pennsylvania Gazette would become an extremely successful newspaper and would shoot Franklin into the public eye. Despite going on to become a prominent politician, scientist and philosopher, Franklin always felt his roots were in the printing industry. Even in his final days, Franklin continued to sign his correspondence with ‘B. Franklin, Printer’. But, in fact, Franklin’s printing days would prove to be just the catalyst to a long and fruitful career that would make Franklin one of the most respected and listened to men during the nation’s early and crucially significant years.

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