Benjamin Franklin: Biography, Trivia, And Facts About The Founding Father

By | January 15, 2021

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1767, oil on canvas on panel, located in the White House, Washington, DC, USA. (VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images)

The guy from the Dos Equis commercials might be the most interesting man in the world, but in the 1700s, that title could have easily gone to Benjamin Franklin. He was a true Renaissance man, not only a charming intellectual but also a politician, writer, postmaster, printer, inventor, and much, much more.

Franklin's Early Life

Ben Franklin was the 10th child of 17 kids and often lost in the shuffle, once quipping that he was "the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations back." As a result, he couldn't expect much of an inheritance, so he was determined instead to get by on his mind. He learned to read quite early, and he was mostly self-taught, possessing only two years of formal education. When he was 12 years old, Franklin was apprenticed to his brother, who started The New-England Courant in 1721, to learn the craft of printing.

Franklin fancied himself a writer and first took up poetry but soon discovered that, as much as he loved reading it, he wasn't very good at writing it. He switched to prose with much more success, noting that learning to write well was "of great use to me in the course of my life and was a principal means of my advancement." He first showed off his writing chops when he was 16 years old in a series of 14 essays that he sent to the Courant under the pen name of Silence Dogood. Even Franklin's brother didn't know he was the writer, remarking that Ms. Dogood appeared to be a highly educated and sophisticated world traveler. 

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Benjamin Franklin (center) at work on a printing press. (Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

Partying In London

In his late teens, Ben Franklin and a buddy traveled to London, where he quickly found work as a printer, swam the Thames from Chelsea to Blackfriars (he was a lifelong swimming enthusiast and even inducted into the Swimming Hall of Fame in 1968), and partied it up with the young London ladies. The fact that he had a girlfriend back home who he'd promised to marry upon his return didn't deter him. In fact, around the same time, he published an essay in which he argued that no one can be held morally responsible for their actions if they have no true freedom of choice. Sure thing, Ben.

Whatever his motivations for writing the essay, Franklin made good on his promise to the future Mrs. Franklin, but it was a rocky marriage, plagued by infidelity that Franklin blamed on a strong sex drive that supposedly led him to seek the company of "women of low repute" and even abandon his wife for a time. When he reconciled with her, he brought his illegitimate son, William, to their home for her to raise alongside their own children.