Benjamin Franklin was born on January 17, 1706, in colonial Boston. His father, Josiah Franklin (1657-1745), a native of England, was a candle and soap maker who married twice and had 17 children. Franklin’s mother was Abiah Folger (1667-1752) of Nantucket, Massachusetts, Josiah’s second wife. Franklin was the eighth of Abiah and Josiah’s 10 offspring.
Did You Know?
Benjamin Franklin is the only founding father to have signed all four of the key documents establishing the U.S.: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris establishing peace with Great Britain (1783) and the U.S. Constitution (1787).
Franklin’s formal education was limited and ended when he was 10; however, he was an avid reader and taught himself to become a skilled writer. In 1718, at age 12, he was apprenticed to his older brother James, a Boston printer. By age 16, Franklin was contributing essays (under the pseudonym Silence Dogood) to a newspaper published by his brother. At age 17, Franklin ran away from his apprenticeship to Philadelphia, where he found work as a printer. In late 1724, he traveled to London, England, and again found employment in theprinting business.
Benjamin Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1726, and two years later opened aprinting shop. The business became highly successful producing a range of materials, including government pamphlets, books and currency. In 1729, Franklin became the owner and publisher of a colonial newspaper, thePennsylvania Gazette, which proved popular–and to which he contributed much of the content, often using pseudonyms. Franklin achieved fame and further financial success with “Poor Richard’s Almanack,” which he published every year from 1733 to 1758. The almanac became known for its witty sayings, which often had to do with the importance of diligence and frugality,” such as “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
In 1730, Franklin began living with Deborah Read (c. 1705-74), the daughter of his former Philadelphia landlady, as his common-law wife. Read’s first husband had abandoned her; however, due to bigamy laws, she and Franklin could not have an official wedding ceremony. Franklin and Read had a son, Francis (1732-36), who died of smallpox at age 4, and a daughter, Sarah (1743-1808). Franklin had another son, William (c. 1730-1813), who was born out of wedlock. William Franklin served as the last colonial governor of New Jersey, from 1763 to 1776, and remained loyal to the British during the American Revolution. He died in exile in England.
As Franklin’s printing business prospered, he became increasingly involved in civic affairs. Starting in the 1730s, he helped establish a number of community organizations in Philadelphia, including a lending library (it was founded in 1731, a time when books weren’t widely available in the colonies, and remained the largest U.S. public library until the 1850s), the city’s first fire company, a police patrol and the American Philosophical Society, a group devoted to the sciences and other scholarly…