Benjamin Franklin: Statesman, Founding Father, Writer, Inventor, Scientist


Benjamin Franklin

January 17, 1706 – April 17, 1790

  • January 17. Born in Boston, the youngest son of Josiah and Abiah (Folger) Franklin. (January 6, 1705 by “Old Style” reckoning).
  • Final formal year of schooling
  • Heard Increase Mather preach
  • Begins reading Plutarch, Defoe, and Cotton Mather
  • Invents a pair of swim fins for his hands
  • Briefly indentured as a cutler
  • Apprenticed to his brother James, a printer.
  • Blackbeard the Pirate is captured; Franklin writes a ballad on the occasion
  • Moved away from home into a boarding house
  • Stopped attending church so he could use Sunday to study
  • At a Boston town meeting, Ben’s father Josiah is chosen as a town scavenger for 1721
  • Brother James Franklin starts publishing The New England Courant
  • Smallpox epidemic in Boston and controversy over vaccination
  • Becomes “a thorough Deist”
  • Becomes a vegetarian (in part he is motivated by a distaste for flesh, but also because he can save money and buy more books)
  • Takes over the publishing of the Courant after brother James is jailed due to “contempt” charges.
  • (Sept.) Runs away from apprenticeship, goes to New York and then to Philadelphia, where he gains employment as a printer.
  • Takes lodging with John Read whose daughter Deborah will become Franklin’s wife in 1730
  • Returns home to Boston to try and borrow money from his father to start print shop. Is denied.
  • Returns to Philadelphia and courts Deborah Read.
  • Under encouragement from PA Governor William Keith travels to London in order buy printing equipment. Keith’s letters of credit for him never materialized and Franklin is stranded in London. Remains in London working as a printer working for Samuel Palmer.
  • Publishes his first pamphlet: “A Dissertation upon Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain”
  • Leaves Palmer the printer for the larger shop of John Watts.
  • Attends theater, reads voraciously, and hangs out at coffee houses
  • Back in Pennsylvania, Deborah Read marries John Rogers in August
  • In July, returns to Philadelphia and works for Thomas Denham, a merchant who had loaned him the money to return home. Franklin works as a bookkeeper and shopkeeper in a store which sells imported clothes and hardware.
  • Suffers first pleurisy attack
  • Leaves job with Denham
  • Is rehired by printer Keimer
  • It is in 1727 or 1728 that Franklin has an affair with a woman that results in the birth of his illegitimate son William in 1728 or 1729
  • In England, George I dies and is succeeded by George II
  • In early October quits Keimer after quarreling only to be rehired later in the month — Keimer can find no one to cut currency like Franklin.
  • Helps to establish the Junto, a a society of young men who met together on Friday evenings for “self-improvement, study, mutual aid, and conviviality.”
  • In June, establishes a Philadelphia printing partnership with Hugh Meredith; rents a building that serves as home and printshop
  • Composes “Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion”
  • Deborah Read’s husband John Rogers steals a slave and absconds from Philadelphia
  • Writes a pamphlet entitled “The Nature and Necessity of a Paper Currency”
  • Purchases The Pennsylvania Gazette from Samuel Keimer
  • Elected the official printer for Pennsylvania
  • Takes a common law wife Deborah Read Rogers on 9/1
  • Franklin buys out his printing partner Hugh Meredith
  • Fire destroys the southern part of Philadelphia and Franklin starts agitating for fire protection programs
  • Joins the St. Johns Freemasons Lodge
  • Drew up the Library Company’s articles of association on July 1st. The Library Company is the first lending library in the country, though it is still private.
  • Sponsored his journeyman Thomas Whitmarsh as his printing partner in South Carolina, Franklin buys the printing press and types in return for 1/3 of the profits over a six-year term — in effect becoming a printing franchiser.
  • Franklin rents commercial space to his mother-in-law who sells “her well-known Ointment for the ITCH,” a “Family Salve or Ointment, for Burns or Scalds.”
  • Prints an article in the Gazette on the imminent passage of the “mortifying” Molasses Act
  • Birth of his son Francis Folger.
  • In May, Franklin started printing America’s first German-language newspaper, Philadelphische Zeitung, which soon failed.
  • Publishes the first edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanack” on December 28
  • Francis Folger Franklin is baptized at the Anglican Christ Church. Deborah attends this church, while Benjamin had stopped attending a Presbyterian church the year before.
  • Is elected Grand Master of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Masons of PA
  • Buy property on Philadelphia’s Market Street. Eventually he will put together several lots of land on Market Street. These will house his print shop and retail space. Today, this property forms Franklin Court.
  • Bribes post riders to carry his PA Gazette. Postmaster Andrew Bradford had forbidden riders to carry the Gazette.
  • Brother James Franklin dies; Benjamin sends his widow 500 copies of Poor Richard for free so she can make money by selling them
  • Andrew (the Philadelphia Lawyer) Hamilton defends John Peter Zenger in a seminal Freedom of the Press case. Hamilton will be a patron of Franklin’s
  • Named Clerk of the PA Assembly
  • Prints currency for NJ
  • Son Francis (Franky) Folger dies at age 4 of smallpox
  • Organized the Union Fire Company (Franklin regularly attends meetings of the Library Company, the Masonic Lodge, the Junto, and now the Fire Company)
  • Prints “A Treaty of Friendship held with the Chiefs of the Six Nations at Philadelphia”
  • First public use of the PA State House (Independence Hall, which was designed by Andrew Hamilton)
  • Appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia
  • Franklin’s house robbed
  • George Whitefield, the Great Awakening preacher, arrives in Philadelphia for the first time
  • Leads an environmental protest against polluting “Slaughter-Houses, Tan-Yards, Skinner Lime-Pits, &c. erected on the publick Dock, and Streets, adjacent”
  • Official printer for New Jersey
  • George Whitefield preaches to enthusiastic crowds numbering in the thousands; buys 5,000 acres on which he intends to build a school for African-Americans. School not built. Franklin prints much material for Whitefield.
  • Advertises the “Franklin Stove”
  • Published the first edition of “The General Magazine and Historical Chronicle,” one of America’s earliest magazines. It failed after six issues.
  • Franklin organized and publicized a project to sponsor plant collecting trips by renowned Philadelphia botanist John Bartram.
  • Attends Archibald Spencer’s Boston lectures on natural philosophy (including electricity)
  • Comes out with “A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge” (the founding document of the prototype of the American Philosophical Society)
  • Daughter Sally born and baptized at Christ Church
  • The American Philosophical Society begins meeting
  • Death of Josiah Franklin, Benjamin’s father
  • Begins extensive electrical experiments
  • Franklin writes “The Plain Truth,” a pamphlet arguing for better military preparedness in PA. In the pamphlet is the first political cartoon published in America.
  • Peter Collinson of London sends Franklin an electric tube. “For my own part, I never was before engaged in any study that so totally engrossed my attention and my time as this has lately done.
  • Becomes a soldier in the PA militia after turning down a commission as a Colonel citing military inexperience.
  • Franklin presents his vision for educataion in a pamphlet titled “Publick Academy of Philadelphia.” His initiatives and vision would lead to the founding of the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Letters on electricity published in London by Peter Collinson
  • Conducts kite experiment
  • Received Copley Medal of the royal Society of London for research in electricity. Deputy Postmaster General of N.A.
  • Wrote a plan for a union of the colonies for security and defense.
  • Helps found the Philadelphia Contributionship for Insuring of Houses from Loss Against Fire
  • Received honorary degrees from Harvard and Yale.
  • Appointed joint Deputy Postmaster General of North America.
  • Proposes plan of colonial union at Albany Congress
  • In England as agent for Pennsylvania Assembly, Massachusetts, Georgia, New Jersey
  • Receives honorary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland
  • Mapped Postal routes in the colonies. Invents glass armonica
  • Charts Gulf Stream.
  • Examined in House of Commons in support of repeal of the Stamp Act
  • Named Colonial Agent for Georgia.
  • Named Colonial Agent for New Jersey.
  • Elected Colonial Agent for Massachusetts.
  • Tours Ireland.
  • Begins writing his Autobiography.
  • Dressed down before London’s Privy Council by Solicitor General Wedderburn for leaking letters in the “Hutchinson Affair.”
  • Deborah Read, his wife of 44 years, dies in Philadelphia
  • Elected as a Pennsylvania delegate of Pennsylvania to 2nd Continental Congress; serves as chairman of Pennsylvania Committee of Safety
  • Elected Postmaster General of the Colonies
  • Presides over Constitutional Convention of PA.
  • Serves on a committee of five who draft the Declaration of Independence.
  • Arrives in Paris on 12/21 as one of the Commissioners of Congress to the French Court
  • Meets Madame Brillon, an amour.
  • Signs French Alliance
  • Appointed to negotiate peace treaty with England.
  • Madame Helvetius rejects Franklin’s offer of marriage.
  • Signed Peace Treaty
  • Invented bifocals
  • Elected President of Pennsylvania Executive Council
  • Invents the instrument for taking down books from a shelf
  • Signs the United States Constitution
  • Writes anti-slavery treatise
  • He becomes president of the Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery
  • April 17, dies in Philadelphia at the age of 84. 20,000 mourners attend his funeral at Philadelphia’s Christ Church Burial Ground.

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