Little Bits of History

Poor Ben

Posted in History by patriciahysell on December 28, 2011

Benjamin Franklin

December 28, 1732: The Pennsylvania Gazette, owned and operated by printer Benjamin Franklin, runs an ad for a pamphlet put out by Richard Saunders. Poor Richard’s Almanack was a pet project for Franklin from 1732 to 1758. The pamphlet “printed and folded by B. Franklin,” as it stated on the cover, was a best seller in the colonies. Franklin printed and folded up to 10,000 copies per year.

The Almanack was based on similar versions from the previous 200 years as published in England. Franklin’s calendar, for instance, contained saints’ days from the Church of England and important dates such as birthdays and ascension to the throne for English monarchs. He included weather information, poems, astronomical information, and the occasional mathematical exercise. In 1750 he included what we would call demographic statistics.

The books are best known for the aphorisms and proverbs included as a humorous way to instruct the general population. While Franklin used “quotes” from many sources, he updated them. Rather than strictly citing Thomas Fuller, Lord Halifax, James Howell, Samuel Richardson, etc., he rewrote the tidbits with tighter wording improving the syntax and making them more pleasant when rolling off the tongue.

Poor Richard was a fictional person that Franklin created and was based on the Jonathan Swift character, Isaac Bickerstaff. Like Bickerstaff, Saunders called himself a “philomath” or lover of learning and an astrologer. Franklin used the forum to poke fun at other astrologers, going so far as to predicting their deaths. “Poor” Richard claimed in his introductions to need money to satisfy his wife’s pride. He claimed to need the work in order to keep Bridget from burning his books and “Rattling-traps” or scientific equipment. He even let the readership know what his wife was able to purchase from proceeds from earlier years.

“A learned blockhead is a greater blockhead than an ignorant one.”

“Here comes the Orator! with his Flood of Words, and his Drop of Reason.”

“He that scatters Thorns, let him not go barefoot.”

“He’s a Fool that cannot conceal his Wisdom.” – all from Poor Richard’s Almanack

Also on this day:

Child’s Play – In 1973, Akron, Ohio stops their association with Box Car Derby after cheating becomes rampant.
Neptune – In 1612, Galileo observed the planet Neptune.

America’s Renaissance Man

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 17, 2010

Benjamin Franklin

April 17, 1790: Benjamin Franklin, printer, statesman, inventor, and scientist, dies. He was born on January 17, (January 6 in the old style calendar) 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the fifteenth of seventeen children. He was the tenth and last Franklin son. His father was a tallow-maker and his mother was the senior Franklin’s second wife.

Franklin was forced to quit school at age ten and was apprenticed to his older brother by age twelve where he began to learn the printing trade. He fled his apprenticeship at age seventeen, becoming a fugitive, and ran to Philadelphia. In 1727, at the age of 21, Franklin created the Junto, a group of “like minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” Several other organizations sprang up around Philadelphia just like young Ben’s.

One of the great pastimes for Junto members was reading. However, books were scarce and expensive. Franklin set up a way to store books and lend them out, a library. The members pooled their books and monies (in order to buy new books), and joined in a subscription service in order to share them. By 1730, Franklin set up a printing house of his own and became the publisher of a newspaper. In 1731 the Library Company of Philadelphia was given it’s charter and Franklin hired the first American librarian in 1732, Louis Timothee.  In 1733 he began publishing Poor Richard’s Almanac.

He invented the lightening rod, the Franklin stove, bifocals, and a flexible urinary catheter. He studied electricity and refrigeration. He was a philosopher and political dissident. He played four stringed instruments. He was a central figure in the shaping of the American Revolution and secured much of the help from the French. He died at the advanced age of 84 weighing over 300 pounds at the time of his death, having said, “I guess I don’t so much mind being old, as I mind being fat and old.”

“To succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.”

“Serving God is doing good to man, but praying is thought an easier service and therefore more generally chosen.”

“We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid.”

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” – all from Benjamin Franklin

Also on this day, in 1973 FedEx began operations.

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