Do you believe that everyone should have access to books and education, regardless of financial circumstances?
Benjamin Franklin did. And he helped make it possible.
Though perhaps best known for his work as a Founding Father of the United States, statesmen, and inventor, Benjamin Franklin also made significant contributions to the fields of publishing, journalism, education, and literary access.
And he never received a formal education!
Ben grew up in Boston, Massachusetts, the youngest son of 17 siblings. He was forced to drop out of school at the age of 10 because his father couldn't pay the fees. He went to work at 12, apprenticing for his older brother James who taught him the printing trade.
In 1721, when Ben was 15, James founded The New-England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. Ben asked to publish a column in the paper but was denied. So he crafted an alter ego for himself: a female, middle-aged widower name "Silence Dogood." Silence quickly became a name about town for her sharp tongue and witty cultural critiques. When James was jailed in 1722 for publishing material unflattering to the governor, Mrs. Dogood protested, advocating for freedom of expression more than 50 years the US Bill of Rights, which Franklin helped craft:
"Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech."
Ben’s ruse did not last, however, and when James discovered that his younger brother was behind Silence's letters, he was livid. Ben fled Boston for Philadelphia, then moved to London four months later. He was only seventeen.
In London, Ben worked as a typesetter, before returning to the colonies and settling in Philadelphia in 1726. There, he created a discussion group modeled after those he’d encountered in London coffeehouses. Called Junto, it was open to "like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community."
Like Ben, Junto members were voracious readers. But books were rare and too expensive for many. Out of this necessity sprang Ben's idea to develop the new country’s first subscription library system, which pooled the contributions of its members to buy books for everyone's benefit.
Ben also founded the now-famous Pennsylvania Gazette at that time. He believed that publishing was a powerful tool for promoting moral and ethical standards in Colonial America. The Gazette also gave him a forum for agitating for social reforms such as the abolition of slavery and free access to education for all. Now able to express himself under his own name, his adroit political commentary earned him respect from all quarters.
These early experiences as printer, publisher, and writer set the stage for the vital role Ben Franklin would play in the development of American democracy. Indeed, he considered these fields so fundamental to his identity that he continued to sign his name "B. Franklin, Printer" long after he left the industry.
In 1753, this son of a soap- and candlestick-maker who never made it past grammar school received honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale Universities; this after having invented history’s first liberal arts curriculum in 1749 at what would become the University of Pennsylvania.
Benjamin Franklin crafted new methods to promote literacy, democracy, and ethics. He was a leader in the Enlightenment era. That's why he's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero.
Many thanks to Team TTT&T member Joe Bianco of Chicago, Illinois, for nominating him for #HistoryHero. And for suggesting that he be published on US Independence Day!