Benjamin Franklin: Publishing Years
(Birth to Age 39)
by Ron Kurtus (revised 19 January 2022)
Benjamin Franklin had an amazing life during the formative years of the United States. He started as a publisher, became a renown scientist and later became a statesman. This first part of his life involves his early years. After growing up and leaving home, he became involved in the publishing business until he was 39 years old.
Questions you may have include:
- How did he get into publishing?
- Did he have some special way of thinking or personality traits that allowed him to become a great persona champion in his time?
- Are there things you could emulate, so you could do great things, too?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Birth to 19 years (1706 - 1725)
Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. Since this was on a Sunday, his father—a candle maker—had him immediately baptized, to avoid any superstitious curse on him. Ben was one of 17 children in his family.
Ben showed signs of genius at an early age. When he was 8-years old, he devised swimming fins to help him go faster when swimming in the waters of Boston Harbor.
As a boy, Franklin liked to write his name in a fancy manner. However, one day an old man who was visiting the Franklin's saw the elaborate signature and remarked, "What fool wrote this?" After that, Ben started writing his name in a plain style.
Ben stopped going to school when he was 10-years old.
Started in printing
At age 12, he started as an apprentice at his brother' printing shop. While working there, Ben wrote some poems that his brother printed and sold.
But Ben's brother also treated him harsh and tyrannical. Franklin later attributed his love of independence to the years he spent as an apprentice and his aversion to the arbitrary power of his brother.
Franklin loved to read. When he was 16, he tried to save money to buy more books by only eating vegetables to cut food costs. That same year, he wrote the "Silence Dogood" essays.
Moves to Philadelphia
Unhappy working for his brother, Franklin left home and moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at age 17. He arrived there almost penniless. He also essentially cut his ties with his family in Boston.
He gained attention of the Pennsylvania Governor, and at age 18 Ben was sent to London to study the latest developments in printing. He worked in the ship's print shop on the journey.
Ages 20 to 29 (1726 - 1735)
When he was 20, Franklin returned to Philadelphia. He started the American Philosophical Society, at age 21. The next year, he started his first print shop in Philadelphia.
Starts newspaper and almanac
At age 23, he established the Pennsylvania Gazette Newspaper. This was the first newspaper to use political cartoons. Franklin married at age 24 and his son William was born the next year. When he was 26, he published the first edition of his Poor Richard's Almanac.
Sketch of Franklin working on his newspaper
Ages 30 to 39 (1736 - 1745)
Franklin continued his printing business, but he also became involved in civic affairs and started his scientific observations during these years.
At age 30, Franklin started the first fire department in Philadelphia. The next year, he was given the job as Postmaster General of Philadelphia. At age 36, he proposed the idea for the Academy of Pennsylvania, now the University of Pennsylvania.
When he was 37, Franklin observed that northeast storms begin in the southwest. He thought it was odd that storms travel in an opposite direction to their winds. After further observations and performing studies of storms, he predicted that a storm's course could be plotted. He then printed weather forecasts in his Poor Richard's Almanac.
Encouraged healthy eating
In Poor Richard's Almanac, Franklin encouraged the eating of citrus fruits, including oranges, limes, and grapefruits. He coined the phrase "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" and touted the advantages of fruit in helping to maintain the gums and skin.
During his first 40 years, Benjamin Franklin was involved in printing and publishing. He also made contributions to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania civic affairs and even made weather observations and had opinions on good eating. His next 10 years were devoted to scientific studies.
Resources and references
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Benjamin Franklin: Publishing Years (Birth to Age 39)