Paradigm of a Myth:


How Benjamin Franklin’s life of success and Mobility captivates America


American Studies 400


Benjamin Franklin is different from the rest of the United States’ founding fathers. His differences is what made him so popular in his own time but more extraordinarily, has made him a popular cultural figure up to the present time. This is for several reasons. The first is that Franklin is seen as more approachable because he is identified with the common man. Indeed he is one of the few historical figures who is referred to by nickname, Ben. Instead of being from the political and cultural elite, Franklin is from a middleclass background and thus can be identified with by the multitudes of Americans who are of the middle class. Finally and most importantly, Franklin is the ultimate example of the American Dream or American Myth; which is that anyone can become successful in any trade or craft as long as they work hard. Franklin was a free spirit who never allowed himself to be tied down to one place, one person, or one occupation, or even one philosophy or religion. It is this personal freedom, along with his success, fortune, and fame that were all self made that creates one of the most captivating personas in American History.


Franklin’s largest appeal to Americans is successful entrepreneurship. Franklin was a successful inventor, scientist, printer, diplomat, and writer. As soon as he was able Franklin went into business on his own and never owed any of his success to any benefactors. All of Franklin’s financial success was self-created. Franklin’s occupation that earned him the money to retire and also the occupation that he preferred to be called by was a printer. Even after he had retired, and was a world known statesman and inventor, he would end his official correspondences with a simple, “Benjamin Franklin: Printer”. Franklin started as a printer’s apprentice to his older brother James when he was 12 in Boston. The printer profession was a natural match for Franklin who even at a young age was an avid reader, and writer. When Franklin parted from his brother over professional and personal differences, he moved to Philadelphia and worked for one of the two main printers there named Samuel Keimer. Franklin did not like having someone who controlled his writing and stayed with Keimer only long enough until he gained the funds to open his own printer shop. This is where he made his most valuable contributions to American popular culture.


Franklin began his own newspaper in 1729, entitled the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin had a habit of commenting on events of the time by writing letters to the newspaper from fictional personalities. Walter Isaacson in his biography of Franklin summarizes Franklin’s appeal as a printer when he writes,


“Like most other newspapers of the time, Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette was filled not only with short news items and reports on public events, but also with amusing letters and essays from readers. What made his paper a delight was its wealth of this type of correspondence, much of it written under pseudonyms by Franklin himself. This gimmick of writing as if from a reader gave Franklin more leeway to poke fun at rivals, revel in gossip, circumvent his personal pledge to speak ill of no one, and test drive his evolving philosophies.”[1]


Franklin’s unassuming character as a writer and his quick but common wit helped make him a celebrity of his time. He lacked the self-important haughtiness in print that many of his contemporaries were full of. He was free to poke fun at others as well as himself which made the populace feel more comfortable with his paper because Franklin was quick to say what many people were thinking but many journalists of the time were afraid to say.


Probably Franklin’s most popular and well remembered work as a writer was Poor Richards Almanac. This almanac was a collection of stories and advice for the middle class and farmers of the day. It was derived from a popular pseudonym of Franklin’s “Poor Richard”, a bumbling farmer who is often looking for and giving advice. Along with the concept of Daylight Savings time and other agricultural insights, Poor Richard’s Almanac also expounded many