As one of the leading figures of American history, Benjamin Franklin is certainly one of the most interesting as well. He enjoyed a long life filled with countless achievements and colorful adventures. Franklin truly was a polymath, wearing many different hats throughout his life: politician, businessman, civic leader, inventor, author, printer, scientist etc. It’s no surprise that someone with such a distinguished career has so many fascinating stories to tell.
1. He had a knack for pranks. Franklin was never above causing a bit of mischief for his friends and family. When he was a teenager, Ben worked for his older brother’s newspaper, The New-England Courant. When his brother refused to publish one of Ben’s letters, Ben adopted a false identity – that of a widow named Silence Dogood – and started writing letters in her name. These, of course, got published and became pretty popular. Eventually, he put an end to the prank when Mrs. Dogood started receiving marriage proposals from readers.
2. He was never President of the United States. Franklin is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “only U.S. President to have never been U.S. President”. This references the fact that many people even today mistakenly assume that Franklin served as President of the United States like other well-known Founding Fathers including Washington, Jefferson and John Adams. While he was never president, Franklin did serve as governor of Pennsylvania. He was also the first United States ambassador to France and Sweden and the first ever U.S. Postmaster General.
3. He was an avid chess player. In fact, Franklin was inducted in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in 1999. Not only was Franklin a prolific player, he was also responsible for popularizing the sport in America. Franklin also wrote a highly-influential essay titled “The Morals of Chess” detailing the rules of conduct for playing the game.
4. He liked to mix business with pleasure. Early on, Benjamin Franklin founded a group known as the Junto. Initially consisting of 12 members with different backgrounds, the group would meet in taverns, have a drink and discuss philosophical matters. Eventually, they would also start to discuss societal issues. The Junto is where Franklin would come up with some of his best civic ideas like founding a public hospital, a lending library, the first American volunteer fire department and even the University of Pennsylvania.
5. One of his pranks turned out to be his most successful endeavor. Throughout his life, Ben Franklin managed to accrue quite a large wealth and one of its main drivers was Poor Richard’s Almanack, a best-selling pamphlet that was sold all over the colonies. Oddly enough, this publication first appeared as a prank inspired by writer Jonathan Swift. Swift created an alter ego named Isaac Bickerstaff who published an almanac which forecasted, among other things, the death of real almanac maker John Partridge who had annoyed Swift.
30 years later, Franklin did the same thing – he published an almanac predicting the death of publisher Titan Leeds under the guise of Richard Saunders. However, while Swift timed his prank to end on April 1st, Franklin’s almanac became very successful and continued to be published for over 25 years.