10 Facts: Benjamin Franklin

Learn more about one the most accomplished American minds, not only of the 18th century, but possibly of all time.
Print shows Benjamin Franklin, three-quarter length portrait, seated at desk, looking to his right at an electrical device, in his left hand are papers upon which he is taking notes, and visible through a window to his left is lightning striking a building.

B. Franklin of Philadelphia L.L.D. F.R.S. / M. Chamberlin pinxt. ; E. Fisher fecit.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was one of the of the leading figures of early American history. Learn about this famous American statesman, author, publisher, scientist, inventor and diplomat.

Fact #1. Ben Franklin was a printer and newspaper editor.

  • Born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1706, at age 17 he left Boston for Philadelphia where he became a well-known printer of newspapers.  He began a popular almanac full of wit and wisdom called Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Fact #2: Franklin proposed the Albany Plan of Union in 1754, an early proposal to unite the American colonies.

  • Ahead of his time, Franklin was looking to find a way to unite the disparate American colonies as early as the French and Indian War.  He created a famous cartoon of a snake divided with the phrase “Join or Die.”
A portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis
A portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis Public Domain

Fact #3: Franklin was an important founding father.

  • Franklin argued for American liberty abroad and at home.  He was appointed as the first Postmaster General by the Continental Congress.  He was both a signer of the Declaration of Independence and a signer of the United States Constitution.  He famously quipped after signing the Constitution to the people that they had created a republic but warned it would only be one “if you can keep it.”

Fact #4: Franklin represented America abroad and became the most well-known American internationally.

  • Franklin spent a considerable amount of time abroad.  He spent years representing the colony of Pennsylvania in England and then later representing the United States in France.  He became universally admired and renowned and played an important role in securing a French alliance during the Revolutionary War.  He also helped to negotiate the Treaty of Paris that officially ended the Revolutionary War.
Anton Hohenstein's painting of Benjamin Franklin's reception at the Court of France in 1776.
Anton Hohenstein's painting of Benjamin Franklin's reception at the Court of France in 1776. Library of Congress

Fact #5: Franklin was a renaissance man.

  • His accomplishments extended well beyond helping to secure American independence and forming the American government.  In addition to being a founding father, Franklin was an editor, author, inventor, scientist, scholar, philosopher, politician, diplomat, and benefactor.

Fact #6: Franklin was an inventor.

  • Franklin was always looking to improve the world through new inventions.  Perhaps his most famous creations were the bifocal glasses and the Franklin stove.

Fact #7: Franklin’s famous kite experiment was one of his many scientific achievements.

  • Perhaps the most famous of all his scientific discoveries was the discovery that lightning was electrical.  He proved this by flying a kite with a key attached to the line during a thunderstorm.  This discovery led to his invention of lightning rods for buildings.
Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, by Benjamin West, c. 1816
Benjamin Franklin Drawing Electricity from the Sky, by Benjamin West, c. 1816 Philadelphia Museum of Art

Fact #8: Franklin’s son, William Franklin, was a loyalist, and their relationship was severed over the Revolutionary War.

  • William Franklin became the last Royal Governor of New Jersey and was imprisoned by American patriots during the Revolutionary War.  He was exchanged and ultimately emigrated to England, and the two never reconciled their differences.

Fact #9: Franklin owned slaves and later was president of an abolitionist society.

  • Franklin owned slaves but as he grew older became opposed to the institution, going so far as to write pamphlets arguing for abolition of the institution and becoming president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society.

Fact #10: Franklin was the oldest of the founding fathers and the first to die.

  • The eldest of the principal founding fathers, Franklin died in 1790.  He was universally mourned by the young country as one of America’s greatest heroes.  In Congress they eulogized him noting that he had “rendered distinguished services to the cause of science and of mankind in general,” and that his “patriotic exertions have contributed in a high degree to the independence and prosperity of this country in particular.

Test Your Knowledge