Financial History 140 Winter 2022 - Page 32

The Founders ’ Fortunes

Benjamin Franklin ’ s Early Rise

Library of Congress
By Willard Sterne Randall
Dirty , cold and hungry , 17-year-old runaway apprentice Benjamin Franklin arrived in Philadelphia on a sunny Sunday morning in 1723 after sleeping all night in an open boat he had helped row across the Delaware River . From the foot of Market Street , he could see , beyond a waterfront crowded with ships and piles of cargo , solid rows of brick houses , a three-blocklong covered market , and families dressed in clean clothes heading to the Friends Meeting House . Following them inside , he fell asleep ; awakened by a smiling Quaker , he got directions to a nearby bakery , where he spent his last Dutch dollar .
Already a master printer , the tall , barrelchested Franklin came to the largest town in America , as George Washington would half a century later , with the promise of a job , something he felt he could never find in Boston , where he had antagonized
Illustration of Franklin the printer , circa 1914 .
Puritans and politicians with his satirical writings . Selling half his library , Franklin had found a berth on a Dutch ship that took him to even smaller New York City . There , he also failed to find work , but he had learned of an opening in a Philadelphia print shop , a 90-mile trudge across New Jersey .
Born in Boston , the eighth of 17 children of an immigrant candle and soap maker , Franklin was editing and publishing his own newspaper , the Pennsylvania Gazette , within five years of his arrival in Philadelphia , by age 22 .
In its premiere issue , in October 1729 , Franklin advertised his first book publication , Isaac Watts ’ s metrical Psalms of David , a perennial bestseller . Yet Franklin ’ s greatest success as a publisher was to come from his own pen . In 1732 , he launched Poor Richard ’ s Almanack . Written in a witty , rural vernacular , it combined Puritan moralizing , weather forecasts , household hints and memorable proverbs that counseled industry and thrift . It would go on to sell , on average , 10,000 copies a year — one copy a year for every 100 colonists — making it , after the Bible , colonial America ’ s most popular reading matter .
To sell such a large number of books , Franklin found that he had to operate on an ambitious , intercolonial scale . Setting type and printing pages in his own Philadelphia print shop , he then shipped the pages off to be bound and sold by printer partners , often his relatives and former apprentices , in Boston , Newport , New York , Williamsburg and Charleston .
Franklin practiced what Poor Richard preached . “ Keep thy shop and thy shop will keep thee ,” Poor Richard counseled in June 1735 . In “ Advice of a young Tradesman , written by an old one ,” Franklin admonished :
Remember that TIME is money …. Remember that CREDIT is money …. The Way to Wealth is as plain as the Way to market . It depends chiefly on two words , INDUSTRY and FRUGALITY .
Posing as a “ wise old man ” delivering a “ harangue ” to “ the People attending an Auction ,” Franklin filled “ the little spaces ” at the margins of his calendar with proverbs . “ Clergy and the Gentry ” purchased Poor Richard , he later explained in his autobiography , “ to distribute gratis among
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