The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Being mostly a fiction reader, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, but I was happily surprised to find Franklin’s memoir a remarkable and amusing record of time in America during the mid- to late 1700s. I also enjoyed refreshing my memory about the colonies before the American Revolution and the steps that led to independence.
But one of the most important things I learned was that Franklin was simply exploding with ideas to make life better in America. Both industrious and frugal, he knew how to succeed in many enterprises, including owning a printing shop, a newspaper, being a postmaster and establishing a library, a university, a hospital and a fire company. In addition, he had an excellent instinct for human behavior and was able to reconcile many tense discussions among both his fellow men and important leaders. He used this diplomatic skill throughout his life.
Franklin was always thinking and had many inventions, including the Franklin Stove (still around), better street light fixtures, a system for keeping the streets clean and of course, proving the relationship between electricity and lightning with his famous kite and key experiment.
Franklin was daring and witty and was an incorrigible flirt in his later years. He wrote Poor Richard’s Almanac, a publication full of clever advice.
In addition to inventing things, Franklin loved to find ways to bring people together to support interests and causes. He formed Junto, a secret men’s discussion and debate club, he organized a volunteer defense and he helped raise money for buildings and churches.
I also learned these Franklin tidbits:
- Franklin was the youngest son of seventeen children.
- He attended school for one year. He was a learner through and through and taught himself math and several languages. He loved to read.
- As a young man, he had a hankering for the sea, but his father wanted to keep him on land.
- He apprenticed with his older brother James, a printer, in Boston.
- He ran away to Philadelphia at age 17 and met his future wife, Miss Read, on his first day in town.
- He had a son out of wedlock.
- Another son died of smallpox at age 4 and Franklin forever regretted not having him inoculated.
- Although he did not consider himself a military man, he was commissioned to build a fort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to protect the American frontier.
- He refused to obtain a patent for the Franklin Stove because said he only invented it to help people.
I enjoyed Franklin’s comments about the cost of a college education, a big worry for his father, “But my father, in the meantime, from a view of the expense of a college education, which having so large a family he could not well afford,” chose to establish his children in successful jobs.
Franklin also mentions a few regrets, which he calls “the great errata” of his life. One of them is, during a year-long trip to England, only writing once to Miss Read to inform her only that he’d be gone a long time. She didn’t wait and married another man. Read and Franklin finally got together later, after her husband deserted her. Another mistake was agreeing to collect money for a friend, then spending it.
Ben Franklin contributed generously to early American life. He had tremendous foresight and knew how to deal with people. I recommend this memoir to readers who are interested in history and the character behind important figures.
Want to know more? Check out these additional sources:
I read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin as part of my Build a Better World Summer Reading Challenge to read a memoir, biography, or autobiography.
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!