Benjamin Franklin was born on Milk Street in Boston, Massachusetts on January 17, 1706. He was one of seventeen children on his father’s side (Josiah Franklin) and one of ten children born by his father’s second wife, Abiah Folger. Among his siblings, his older brother James was the most significant in his life.
Benjamin’s father wanted him to attend school with the clergy, but they only had enough money to send him to school for two years. He attended Boston Latin School but did not graduate. His schooling ended when he was ten years old. Instead, he continued his education on his own by reading books.
The Birth of Mrs. Silence Dogood
Benjamin worked for his father who was a candle and soap maker until he was 12. He then became an apprentice to his brother James who was a printer. James taught Benjamin the printing trade. When he was 15, James founded The New-England Courant, which was the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies.
Benjamin desperately wanted to write a letter for the paper for publication but was denied. He was always an advocate of free speech since an early age, so he adopted the pseudonym of “Silence Dogood,” who was a middle-aged widow. “Mrs. Dogood’s” letters were published and became widely talked about around town. Neither James nor the Courant’s readers had any idea about Ben’s ruse, but when James did find out that the popular correspondent was his younger brother, he was very unhappy with Ben.
A Scandalous Libel
While at the Courant, James gathered a group, referred to by some as “The Hell-Fire Club,” for assistance, and introduced “yellow journalism” to Boston. Yellow journalism, also known as yellow press, is a type of journalism that presents little to no legitimate well-researched news. It falsely uses eye-catching headlines to sell more newspapers and exaggerates news events. Because of this, The Courant was considered to be controversial, and James was imprisoned for four weeks in 1722 for writing “scandalous libel;” material that was unflattering to the governor.
Mrs. Dogood’s Takeover
At the age of 16, Benjamin took over the newspaper and had Mrs. Dogood who was quoting Cato’s Letters, proclaim: “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”
A Philadelphian Fugitive
Benjamin left his apprenticeship without his brother’s permission, and in doing so became a fugitive. At the age of 17, he ran away to Philadelphia, seeking a fresh start in a new city. He worked for several print shops around town but was not satisfied with them. His stay in Philadelphia was short-lived for, after a few months, Franklin was convinced by the Pennsylvania Governor Sir William Keith to go to London, to acquire the equipment necessary to establish another newspaper in Philadelphia. Benjamin saw through Keith’s empty promise of backing up a newspaper for him; so rather than returning to Philadelphia, he remained in London and worked as a typesetter in a printer’s shop until 1726, when he returned to Philly to help Thomas Denham, a merchant who employed him as clerk, shopkeeper, and bookkeeper in his business.
Stepping Stone To The Library
At the age of 21, Benjamin created the Junto, a group of like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who wanted to improve themselves and their community. It was a discussion group for issues of the day.
This group led Benjamin to come up with the idea of a subscription library, which would pool the funds of the members to buy books for everyone to read, leading to the birth of the Library Company of Philadelphia.
Poor Richard’s Almanack
In 1733, Benjamin began to publish Poor Richard’s Almanack which had content that was both original and borrowed. The Almanack contained the calendar, weather, poems, sayings, astronomical and astrological information. He also included the occasional mathematical exercises, aphorisms, and proverbs. He wrote this under the pseudonym or pen name, Richard Saunders, which was another popular name of his. Even though it was no secret that Franklin was the author, Richard Saunders repeatedly denied it.
Poor Richard’s Proverbs came out of this almanac. “A penny saved is twopence dear,” which is misquoted as “A penny saved is a penny earned” and “Fish and visitors stink in three days” are just a few popular examples. He was able to write proverbs for any occasion, which his readers became well prepared. He sold about ten thousand copies per year.