Journalist, publications owner and even the author of the first American political cartoon. His name was immortalized as President, but Benjamin Franklin had a prolific career in the world of journalism
Mrs. Silence Dogood
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston on the 17th of January, 1706. His father, Josiah Franklin, was a candle manufacturer and dealer. Benjamin was his 17th child. He abandoned his studies at the age of ten to work with his father.
At the age of twelve he starts working as a typographer apprentice in his brother’s shop. Intelligent, studious, a lover of Literature, Benjamin cultivates himself and begins writing.
When his brother James refuses to publish his works, Benjamin Franklin adopts the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood and his 14 letters are published in his brother’s newspaper, The New England Courant, amusing the readers.
When he finds out, his brother doesn’t appreciate the stunt. Franklin flees to New York, arriving in Philadelphia, where he always returned, even when, throughout his life, he stayed abroad.
London and his typography
He goes to London, where he works as a typographic composer, but returns to the USA in 1726.
He associates with a former colleague, Hugh Meredith, and assembles his own typography. There he founds Poor Richard’s Almanack. It was published between 1732 and 1758 and it was a best seller at the time, reaching a circulation of 10,000 copies per year.
In 1758, the year when he stopped writing for the almanack, he printed Father Abraham’s sermon, considered the most famous book produced during colonial America.
In 1729, Benjamin Franklin and Hugh Meredith buy the newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette.
Benjamin Franklin didn’t just print the newspaper, having written several articles under pseudonym. Quickly, the newspaper became the most read in the colonies, in a crucial time: The American War of Independence (1775-1783).
The Pennsylvania Gazettewould also publish America’s first political cartoon, Join, or Die, signed by Benjamin Franklin himself. It became a symbol of colonial freedom during the Independence War. The newspaper ceased publication in 1800, ten years after Benjamin Franklin’s death.
In 1752, Franklin publishes an article in the newspaper, written in the third person, about the pioneer scientific experience he had conducted, without revealing he had been the one to launch a kite in the middle of a thunderstorm.
The lightening conductor and the community’s involvement
When he has more free time for his studies and inventions, he dedicates himself to the understanding of electricity, which gave him international reputation. He identified the positive and negative charges and demonstrated that lightning bolts are a phenomenon of electrical nature. He was, among others, the inventor of the lightening conductor.
Throughout his life, his involvement with the community was notable. He created the Philadelphia fire department, founded the first ambulant library of the United States and an academy that later became Pennsylvania University.
He organised reading and debate clubs, gave origin to the American Philosophy Society, and helped found the state’s hospital. He was also one of the main dignitaries of the American freemasonry.
Benjamin Franklin was also a politician and an ambassador of the United Kingdom’s colonies, a determinant role at the time, earning fame for his conciliatory spirit. He was one of the negotiators of the Treaty of Paris, which formally ended the Revolutionary War.
He took part in the elaboration of the “Declaration of Independence” and of the United States’ Constitution, discussed and approved by the Constitutional Convention of Philadelphia, between May and September of 1787.
By the end of his life, Franklin dedicated himself to the abolition of slavery, having become president of the society that fought for the liberation of black people illegally kept in captivity.
Benjamin Franklin died on the 17th of April, 1790, at the age of 84. In 1728 he had written an epitaph, immortalized today at the Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
«The body of Benjamin Franklin, printer, like the cover of an old book, its contents torn out, and stripped of its lettering and gilding, lies here, food for worms: but the work shall not be lost; for it shall, as he believed, appear once more, in a new and more elegant edition, corrected and improved by the author».