Benjamin Franklin's Job Printing (2022)

by Georgia B. Barnhill

Benjamin Franklin was one of the most remarkable figures in colonial America. His accomplishments were considerable even before he represented the American colonies as an ambassador and diplomat in England and France before and during the American Revolution. In 1723 he settled in Philadelphia, where, through 1748, his major activities were printing and publishing. The high regard he attained in that field is suggested by Isaiah Thomas’s description of him as "well known and highly celebrated."1

Franklin was born in Boston in 1706. His father wanted his son to become a member of the clergy, but the expense for the required education was too great, so Benjamin at the age of ten joined his father in his business of tallow chandler and soap boiler. Two years later he started to learn to print from his brother James in Boston. James Franklin was trained in London and he printed with some skill and ambition. For example, in the summer of 1721, he established The New England Courant. Soon, James was forbidden by the Massachusetts Assembly to publish the paper because of attacks against the establishment, so the young Benjamin ran the newspaper for eight months in 1723. That was a large responsibility for the sixteen-year-old, but he successfully met the challenge. However, after many quarrels, he left his brother’s employ and moved to Philadelphia in October 1723, where he remained for the rest of his career.

As a young man, Franklin was a constant reader and worked hard to improve himself. He obtained work from the printer Samuel Keimer and attracted the notice of the colonial governor who sent him to London to purchase printing equipment. This mission did not work out as planned, so Franklin sought and found employment at Palmer’s printing house, and then at John Watts’s, where he learned a great deal about the business and craft of printing, including typography and design. In the summer of 1726, Franklin met Thomas Denham, a Quaker merchant, who offered him a post as clerk back in Philadelphia. That arrangement lasted only a few months as both men fell ill, Denham fatally. Franklin then returned to printing with his former master.

He left Keimer when he started his own printing firm in 1728, in partnership with Hugh Meredith. Because Philadelphia’s other two printers had a substantial proportion of the city’s printing business, Franklin at the outset specialized in job printing, particularly legal forms.2 In 1730 he terminated that partnership and became the printer for the Pennsylvania Assembly, with a lucrative contract that he retained throughout his printing career. With Hugh Meredith, he became publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729, and began his successful Poor Richard’s Almanac in the fall of 1732. In 1748 he entered into a partnership with David Hall that lasted until the end of January 1766. Although Franklin’s name appears in the imprints during this period, he actually was a silent partner, sharing in the profits, but not actively engaged in the printing business except in an advisory capacity. From the middle of 1757 through the middle of 1762, he was in England, and he returned there at the end of 1764.

Franklin’s career as a printer was a successful one. Fortunately, his brief period as a clerk in Denham’s employ taught him the importance of keeping financial records. His account books and ledgers enable us today to learn about the amount and variety of the job printing undertaken by him and his partner, David Hall, in addition to work that they published at their own risk for themselves. C. William Miller’s analysis of these ledgers, in Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Printing: 1728-1766, forms the basis for his incomparable bibliographical study of the Franklin and Hall imprints. Not only did Miller describe the surviving imprints, but he gleaned much useful information from the account books and listed entries from the accounts for which there are no surviving copies. These records indicate the amount of printing that has disappeared without a trace as well as the important role that job printers played in the legal and business life of the community. We should keep in mind, though, that probably only jobs involving the extension of credit, rather than jobs paid for in cash, were recorded, particularly in the years before David Hall became a partner.

One can argue that the services of the job printer were essential to the functioning of commerce and that printing job work was equally essential to the survival of printers in colonial America. One advantage of job printing is that the commissions were frequent and they did not tie up large amounts of type or labor for long. Staple products of the press–Bibles, almanacs, school books–did. Therefore, few large works were issued during the colonial era. In 1742 Franklin did publish the first novel in America–Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. It was not, however, followed by a stream of novels. Publishing such works was an expensive and risky venture, so that large-scale publications were generally published by obtaining subscriptions in advance, a labor-intensive effort. Franklin’s job printing records underscore these points. The items he published provide a window onto the cultural and social activities of Philadelphia during his printing career.4

Lawrence Wroth estimates that for every surviving Franklin imprint from the period 1760 to 1765, 3.7 have disappeared.5 Miller notes that "in the interval between April 12 and May 27, 1754, Franklin and Hall charged members of the visiting London Theatre Company, on twelve different occasions, for a total of 4300 play bills and almost 5000 tickets."6 Only two of the 4,300 theater programs, but none of the tickets, are extant–an incredible rate of loss. In Miller’s bibliography, 163 out of 852 entries, or almost twenty percent, describe examples of job printing that resulted in single-sheet publications. Most of the 545 printing jobs listed in Appendix A, items for which no copy has been located, were likewise ephemeral or single-sheet items. Moreover, there were many jobs executed for cash that were never recorded in the firm’s journals and ledgers. Also, the records for the period 1748 to 1757 are not complete. Therefore, it is not possible to compile an accurate listing of all of Franklin’s job printing. It was, however, an important part of the firm’s business and one can assume by analogy that it was important to other colonial printers.

The sheer variety of job printing listed in Miller’s Appendix A is astounding. In 1730 Franklin printed cures for Dr. Brewster; powers of attorney and bond forms for Joseph Breintnal; administration bonds and other blanks for Dr. Samuel Bushill of Burlington, New Jersey; tobacco papers for Nathaniel Edgecomb, Lawrence Rice, and John Spence; 100 bonds of good behavior and 100 certificates for Andrew Hamilton; Welsh Society tickets for Dr. Jones; certificates for John Moore; advertisements for Thomas Peters and John Wilkinson; forms for Nicholas Scull, deputy sheriff; and ‘hungary bills’ for John Spence. Seventeen jobs for twelve customers were recorded, resulting in about 3,500 printed sheets. No copies of these are recorded. The names of his customers reappear in following years, suggesting that his customers were satisfied with the products of his press and his prices.

The listing for printing jobs in 1742 was also fairly extensive. He printed naval certificates, London Company officer commissions, licenses for public houses and paddlers for Dr. Patrick Baird; advertisements for Captain William Bell for the auction of a privateer; advertisements for William Clymer Jr.; sheriff’s warrants for Mr. Crosdale; advertisements about Captain Spence for William Crosthwaite; soap wrappers for his brother John in Boston; license bonds for James Hamilton; hat bills for Charles Moore; bills and tickets for Evan Morgan; election notices for William Parsons; advertisements about chains across streets for the mayor of Philadelphia; advertisements about runaway sailors for John Reynolds; hat bills for Joseph Stretch; Irish Society tickets for Philip Syng and permits for Joseph Wharton.

The records for the years 1759 through 1765 listed many more jobs for each succeeding year. In 1761, for example, forty-nine jobs were recorded. There were a range of printed notices regarding, to give some examples, a stray mare; the Temple of Arts; a runaway slave; a mechanical display; and the sale of sturgeon, household furniture, groceries, buildings, hardware, and hats. They printed directions for using a watch, vestry notices, tickets for a Freemason Lodge, blank forms for the British colonial government, receipts and promissory notes for the Library Company, bills of lading, custom house forms, writs of trespass and bonds for the sheriff, and various kinds of certificates, bonds, and permits.

(Video) Benjamin Franklin: Wordsmith, Printer

It seems clear that the products of Franklin and Hall’s press played an important role in the commercial and legal aspects of colonial Philadelphia and the surrounding region. About ninety-seven percent of the 545 jobs listed in Miller’s Appendix are for single-sheet items. They total thousands of pages–almost none of which has come to light in the twenty years since Miller’s bibliography was printed. Surviving imprints suggest the care with which these commissions were prepared. Most lack an imprint, but Miller was able to attribute those items to the press by means of surviving documentation in the account books and ledgers.

Franklin obtained the printing contract from the Province of Pennsylvania in1729. This was an important source of income for the young printer. It has been calculated that, from 1730 to 1750, he earned over 2,700 pounds in Pennsylvania currency from fees as a clerk and for printing statutes and currency.7 In order to bring his talents to the attention of the legislative body, he and his partner Hugh Meredith reprinted an address from the General Assembly to Patrick Gorden that had been printed in a "coarse blundering manner" by Andrew Bradford, the official printer for the Assembly. The difference between the original edition and the reprinted one was evident, and the printing contract for the following year was awarded to Franklin and Meredith (8). The contract was an important one. It has been estimated that Franklin and Hall earned about sixty percent of their income from their newspaper.

Another ten percent came from their government contract, which included printing the laws of the colony as well as more ephemeral pieces.9 Among the most common examples of official printing were the proclamations that were issued by the governors and lieutenant governors. The proclamation issued on 29 August 1738 relates to the Pennsylvania-Maryland boundary dispute. At the top of the broadside is the coat of arms of the colony. The mortised initial blocks formalize the appearance of the document, making it more authoritative. There are not as many proclamations of this type in Pennsylvania as there were in New England where Fast Day and Thanksgiving Day proclamations appeared twice a year and were distributed to the ministers in each town. The distribution of Pennsylvania proclamations may have been different. In the text of one printing of a Pennsylvania act to suppress cursing and swearing it was stated that copies were to be sent to each constable in the province to post in "the most Publick Place in their respective Wards and Districts."10 As these documents were exposed to the ravages of the weather and vandalism, it is no wonder that so few of them survive.

In 1749 another similar proclamation was issued forbidding the sale of liquor to native Americans. This document would have needed wide circulation to be effective in the regions where settlers and natives mingled. It was probably posted as well in Philadelphia where the natives came to trade. The penalty for disregarding this regulation was twenty pounds for each offense. It should be noted that Franklin also printed similar official documents for the government of neighboring New Jersey.

Although there seem to have been fewer routine proclamations for Franklin to print compared to the experience of printers in New England, there are some Thanksgiving Day proclamations extant. One was issued in 1746 on the fourteenth of July to celebrate the victory of the Duke of Cumberland at Culloden in Scotland over the forces of the Pretender to the British throne. The text was also printed in the 17 July 1746 issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

In addition to proclamations, there were many other government jobs that Franklin executed. Mortgage bonds and warrants by attorney were printed for the Pennsylvania General Loan Office and used by inhabitants of the Province borrowing mortgage money from the General Loan Office. Miller notes that "Franklin, and later Franklin and Hall, along with other Philadelphia printers, must have done numerous reprintings of the forms."11 Usually blank forms bear no imprint. Miller attributed many items to Franklin on the basis of type as well as according to the entries in the journals and ledgers. A different mortgage bond was printed in 1730 for the loan office in Kent County, now part of Delaware. Yet another blank form, a marriage surety bond, was printed for use in New Jersey. The provinces of New York and New Jersey required surety bonds of all couples seeking to marry. These meant that the spouses were legally liable for the debts, or financial failures of one another. Miller noted that in New Jersey, very few of these bonds were executed on printed forms; most were manuscript documents.12

Notices issued by the proprietors were also issued as broadsides. One printed in 1735 relates to debtors to the Land Office who were in danger of losing their lands if payments were not received promptly.

Another important government commission was the printing of paper currency. Franklin obtained contracts from the governments of Pennsylvania, Delaware, and New Jersey. These contracts ran for years, so that in Pennsylvania Franklin printed all the currency from 1729 through 1764, in Delaware from 1734 to 1760, and in New Jersey from 1728 to 1746. He learned about engraving from his brother James in Boston who engraved relief cuts for several imprints including Hugh Peter’s A Dying Father’s Last Legacy, published in 1717. Franklin undoubtedly learned more about the craft while in London. He developed a new means of ornamenting the pieces of currency with a technique known as leaf printing (fig. 1). The verso of each bill was ornamented by a casting of leaves to prevent counterfeiting. This was an innovative response to a perennial problem. The technique was not well known at the time, although the Philadelphia naturalist Joseph Breintnall made contact nature prints from leaves about 1730.

For use on currency the technique is as follows. A piece of wet, textured fabric is placed on a bed of smooth plaster. Next a leaf is placed upon the cloth. The two are pressed together and the plaster is allowed to harden. To make a plaster negative of the leaf cast, the plaster was oiled and more plaster was applied. The negative became the mold for the melted type metal which made the cut that could be printed typographically. The molds were used over and over again.13 David Hall Jr. and his partner used the same technique for the printing of Continental Currency in the 1770s. The currency business was a steady one. In Pennsylvania there were seventeen emissions of currency that Franklin and Franklin and Hall printed.

In 1735 the Pennsylvania government proposed the sale of 100,000 acres of land through a lottery. Franklin was paid two pounds, six shillings, and eight pence for printing 1,000 copies of this notice and an additional twelve pounds for 7,750 tickets. Like so many of the pieces of job printing issuing from his office, these items lack an imprint, but were recorded in his ledgers. Although no tickets remain for this lottery there is one for a lottery for the Conestogoe Bridge, printed in 1761.

Franklin’s output included the publication of the Pennsylvania Gazette from 2 October 1729 through 30 January 1766. After the imposition of the Stamp Act, he and David Hall suspended publication from 1 November through 26 December 1766. To escape the tax imposed on newspapers, Franklin and Hall issued several broadsides, printing such news as they saw fit. "No Stamped Paper to be had" is one of the sheets issued in lieu of the newspaper.

Franklin printed other topical news sheets apart from the newspaper. Examples include A Letter to B. G. from One of the Members of the New-Jersey Assembly, printed in 1739. The document is a response to Governor Lewis Morris’s address proroguing the first assembly of New Jersey. Like so many political tracts, it was anonymously written and bears no imprint. Another document, issued in 1741, is an account actually written before the anticipated attack on Cartagena, where the combined British and colonial forces were defeated in a little known battle related to the War of Austrian Secession. Another broadside issued in 1741 by Franklin is "The Dying Speech of John Ury" which focuses on an event taking place in New York. This broadside reprints a statement of repentance of a man convicted and executed for having been involved in a conspiracy in which he was alleged to have been a Roman Catholic priest promoting an uprising by slaves in New York. The slaves were to have murdered their masters and set fire to the city. The genre of confessional broadsides is rare in Pennsylvania; it is far more common in Massachusetts.

(Video) Franklin's Printing

John Dickinson commissioned the firm to print a statement advising Pennsylvanians to ignore the Stamp Act in December 1765. He paid three pounds fifty for 2,000 copies. It was clearly circulated widely and was reprinted in at least two newspapers in other colonies.14

One of the earliest items that Franklin printed was a piece of broadside verse. It should not be too surprising that he also printed carriers’ addresses, probably annually, for most of his printing career. The custom began in England, but quickly became popular in colonial Philadelphia, where the first one, written by Aquila Rose, compositor of The American Weekly Mercury, was printed in 1720. Although most carriers’ addresses relate the important news of the previous year, the one issued for New Year’s Day in 1739 (fig. 2) is an amusing piece on the spreading of news, gossip, and slander. The concluding lines praise the newspaper editor: "If Home-Occurrences, that are well known, / And which concern but Few, are let alone, / The Printer sure deserves no Blame for this, / While in the foreign News he’s not remiss; / And what important ever happens here / He carefully collects, and renders dear." The ornament incorporates symbols and names of the four seasons, the signs of the zodiac, and the sun. Oddly, except for the carriers’ addresses, the firm left few other printed verses, at least that are known.

Much of the income of newspaper printers and publishers was derived from advertisements in the newspapers. The same printers also issued advertisements as part of their services to the local community. Advertisements were issued separately because of space constraints in the pages of the newspapers and because the newspapers were issued weekly, not daily, during the colonial era.

One advertisement, printed by Franklin in 1731 for Thomas Gray, noted the upcoming auction of the home and lands belonging to the estate of John Henry in New Castle. By the time that Franklin had printed this item, one of the earliest of his career, he noted that he already printed more than a thousand of this type.15 Separately published advertisements were easily circulated and posted to reach the widest audience. Advertisements can reveal a great deal about contemporary life. The advertisement issued by George Harrison in 1746 notes that he was trained in England as a surveyor and draftsman as well as a maker of marble objects for the home or to be used as tombstones or monuments. He suggested that he would be available to design and supervise the building of houses and other structures. Did he ever receive any commissions? A check of George Tatum’s Penn’s Great Town and the Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930 fails to turn up his name.16 This broadside suggests that this George Harrison should have left some other record of his existence. Such is not the case.

Details about amusements can be gleaned from some advertisements, such as the one for "The Solar or Camera Obscura Microscope" and a musical clock designed by David Lockwood. These mechanical wonders were displayed alongside paintings at the home of a Mr. Vidale in 1744. The "Microcosm of London" was advertised in 1755 by Henry Bridges in an advertisement printed by Franklin that is no longer extant. This object is another large musical clock that is preserved in the British Museum. It traveled around the colonies and was displayed in other cities. A broadside advertising its display in Boston in May 1756 is in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society.

An important aspect of the business during the partnership period was the selling of imported books. David Hall issued several long lists of books. They are not particularly handsome imprints or even readable, but they are important as documents of Hall’s business and as evidence of books available to the public.

The list of Franklin’s imprints is greatly enlarged by the number of blank legal forms. They range from indentures for apprentices, to bonds and other items. The indentures, such as one for an apprenticeship, bear striking titles, probably cast from type metal. Just in the years 1730 to 1735, he printed a total of 16,800 blank forms for his customers at a total price of 112 pounds. This total number does not include the number that the printer created for himself to sell in his stationer’s shop.17 The imprint on forms sold by Franklin, "Philadelphia: Printed and Sold at the New Printing-Office near the Market: Where are Sold all Sorts of Blanks," notes that the printing office was conveniently located near the center of commerce and business.

The Linen Manufactory was established to employ the poor of the city. Investors assumed that it would be profitable because of the enactment of the Sugar Acts which increased the price of imported linen. Franklin was among the promoters, so it is not surprising that he printed forms for the company. An additional 100 forms were printed in 1766.18

Franklin, of course, was instrumental in establishing several organizations in Philadelphia, including the Library Company of Philadelphia. His entrepreneurial spirit was strong, and he printed ephemera for the fledgling institution, including meeting notices, promissory and deposit notes, book labels, and receipts for membership payments. He also printed the early catalogs for the library. One subscription receipt was issued in 1731, the year that the Library Company was founded. He occasionally printed bookplates for individuals, including Alexander Stedman, who ordered two hundred of these labels for his private library (fig. 3). The cost was a mere seven shillings, six pence.19

Franklin was also instrumental in the establishment of the Union Fire-Company of Philadelphia in 1737. He printed the Articles of the Union Fire-Company in 1743. In 1749 and 1752, he printed lists of members. Franklin served as recording secretary so it is no wonder he was the printer. He also printed for the Star Fire Company the same year.

Another organization that he helped to establish was the American Philosophical Society. He printed the proposals for it in 1743, and Miller attributes the writing of the piece to Franklin. Likewise, he printed the agreement founding the Association for Defense. Colonial inhabitants of Philadelphia felt a need to band together in 1747 for defense because "the Assemblies of this Province, by reason of the religious Principles, have not done, nor are likely to do any Thing for our Defence [sic]." This organization founded a militia to provide security because Great Britain was at war with France in Europe and would not be able to provide any security for Pennsylvania against Spanish and French privateers. There were 500 copies ready for distribution at a public meeting held on 24 November 1747. Eventually 10,000 men joined. The organization was disbanded in 1749 after the Treaty of Aix-La-Chapelle.

Franklin and Hall also printed documents for the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1751, including a promissory note and a certificate given to contributors. Also in 1751, there was a lottery held on behalf of The Academy for the Education of Youth, which eventually became the University of Pennsylvania. No surviving tickets are recorded, but again they are attributed to Franklin because he was a founder of the school, chairman of the trustees, and a manager of the lottery. Several lottery tickets, however, survive from the Conestogoe Bridge Lottery. The scheme was advertised in the Pennsylvania Gazette on 10 December 1761. The firm printed 14,000 tickets for twenty-one pounds. The bridge was to be erected over the Conestogoe Creek on the Philadelphia-Lancaster Turnpike.

(Video) Ben Franklin, British America’s Most Successful Printer

Among the rarest printed items to survive from the middle years of the eighteenth century are sheet almanacs. Enough of them are extant to suggest that many were printed, but they are rare indeed. In 1730 and 1731, Franklin printed sheet almanacs compiled by Thomas Godfrey. No copies are extant, but in 1731 Franklin sent one hundred copies each to his former journeyman printer Timothy Whitemarsh in Charleston and to his brother James in Newport, Rhode Island. In the fall of 1732, Godfrey decided to compile his almanacs for one of Franklin’s competitors, Andrew Bradford. The loss of the almanac business led Franklin to begin the extremely successful Poor Richard series.20 Franklin and Hall printed The Barbados Almanack late in 1751, presumably for export to the island in the Caribbean. One extant copy was probably retained in Philadelphia. It is interesting to note that the governor’s name has been crossed out and replaced by Mr. Harrison’s, possibly James Harrison, the former lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania. Other changes in the names of the justices are at the foot of the page. The compiler, Theodore Grew, was a mathematician and teacher at the newly established Philadelphia Academy. He had compiled almanacs from the 1730s on.

Franklin derived about eight hundred pounds a year from the business after his retirement in 1748. His income, however, was not entirely dependent upon his printing. Early in his career, in 1733, he started to manufacture printers’ ink, and he sold it widely, as far north as Boston. In 1734 he started a business collecting rags that he could sell to papermakers or exchange for paper. He consigned some 75,000 pounds of rags to papermakers from 1735 to 1741.21 He was careful to provide printed material that was paid for directly by customers or that would have a ready market. Like his colonial peers, he knew better than to speculate on the printing of substantial works of science or letters. Wroth wrote that "he and they realized, probably, that, except within certain narrow categories, there was little sale for the book published with an American imprint. The imported book was the thing. Inventories of colonial libraries, north and south, are heavy with titles of British production; rarely does an American-printed work appear upon them."22 Franklin published works of utility for the residents of Philadelphia and beyond. Currency, book labels, theater and lottery tickets, receipts, advertisements, and the legal and commercially necessary blank forms helped make society run smoothly and in an orderly fashion. Franklin met the needs of the people through his printing press just as he did through the establishment of libraries, fire companies, and learned societies.


1. Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America, Marcus A. McCorison, ed. (Barre, Mass.: The Imprint Society, 1970), 110.

2. C. William Miller, Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia Printing, 1728-1766. (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1974), xxii.

3. George Simpson Eddy, "A Work-Book of the Printing House of Benjamin Franklin and David Hall 1759-1766" (New York: New York Public Library, 1930), 3.

4. Peter J. Parker, in "The Philadelphia Printer: A Study of an Eighteenth-Century Businessman" (Business History Review 40 [1966]: 24-46), provides an excellent overview of some of these points.

5. Lawrence C. Wroth, The Colonial Printer (Charlottesville: Univ. Press of Virginia, 1964), 216.

6. Miller, Franklin’s Philadelphia Printing, 326.

7. Lawrence C. Wroth, Benjamin Franklin: Printer At Work (New York: [Privately Printed], 1974), 33-34.

8. Miller, Franklin’s Philadelphia Printing, 6.

9. Stephen Botein, "‘Meer Mechanics’ and an Open Press: The Business and Political Strategies of Colonial American Printers," Perspectives in American History 9(1975): 143.

(Video) Benjamin Franklin’s Printing Press

10. An Act for the more effectual Suppressing profane Cursing and Swearing (Philadelphia: B. Franklin, 1746). See Miller, Franklin’s Philadelphia Printing, 208. No copy of this broadside is extant; it is known by a notice about it in the Pennsylvania Gazette, 3 April 1746.

11.Miller, Franklin’s Philadelphia Printing, 6.

12. Ibid., 54.

13. Eric P. Newman, "Newly Discovered Franklin Invention: Nature Printing on Colonial and Continental Currency," The Numismatist (1964), 14.

14. Miller, Franklin’s Philadelphia Printing, 443.

15. Ibid., 18.

16. George B. Tatum, Penn’s Great Town (Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1961); and Sandra L. Tatman and Roger W. Moss, Biographical Dictionary of Philadelphia Architects: 1700-1930 (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985).

17. Wroth, The Colonial Printer, 225.

18. Miller, Franklin’s Philadelphia Printing, 431.

19. Ibid., 417.

20. John T. Winterich, Early American Books & Printing (New York: Dover, 1981; reprint, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935), 84.

21.Wroth, Benjamin Franklin Printer At Work, 40-44.

(Video) Visit to Benjamin Franklin Print Shop - November 2012

22. Ibid., 52-53.

This article first appeared in Ephemera News or The Ephemera Journal, publications of The Ephemera Society of America, Inc. Ephemera Society Reprinted by permission. No portion of this article may be reproduced or redistributed without their express written permission.


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What did Benjamin Franklin have to do with the printing press? ›

Eventually he opened his own printing shop in Philadelphia. Benjamin's shop printed all kinds of things including Pennsylvania's currency (money), his own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and his Poor Richard's Almanac.

Why did Benjamin Franklin write his apology for printers? ›

"Apology for Printers" was the response of the polymath and founding father to the public outcry over his decision to print an advertisement for a ship sailing to Barbados that seemed to denigrate the clergy. Franklin was no stranger to the condemnation of his readers, he said.

How did Franklin learn the printing trade? ›

Benjamin Franklin was introduced to the art of printing and journalism by his brother James. He started working with him as an apprentice when he was 12, Benjamin signed an indenture for his apprenticeship which bounded him until he turned 21 and only then he could earn wages.

Did Benjamin Franklin work in a printing press? ›

Franklin apprenticed in the Boston printing shop of his brother James from the age of twelve, but ran away at seventeen to Philadelphia. In 1724 he was sent to London where he worked as a printer in the firm of John Watts (where this press is said to have been used) before returning to Philadelphia in 1726.

How did Franklin trick his brother into publishing his writing? ›

When Franklin was still working as an apprentice for his brother James in the printing shop, he knew that James would never publish a piece of writing that he wrote in the Courant. He therefore developed a pseudonym for himself under the name Silence Dogood, and tricked his brother into publishing his work.

What was the main significance of the printing press? ›

In the 15th century, an innovation enabled people to share knowledge more quickly and widely. Civilization never looked back. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and the invention of the mechanical movable type printing press helped disseminate knowledge wider and faster than ever before.

Why was the printing press so important? ›

The printing press allows us to share large amounts of information quickly and in huge numbers. In fact, the printing press is so significant that it has come to be known as one of the most important inventions of our time. It drastically changed the way society evolved.

What is Ben Franklin's most famous quote? ›

For example, one of the most-popular sayings attributed to Franklin is, “a penny saved is a penny earned.” This appears to be a combination of two Franklin proverbs. Other famous Franklin quotes are well-documented. In “Advice To A Young Tradesman,” Franklin writes that, “Remember that time is money.”

What were Benjamin Franklin's mistakes? ›

Through the decades, books and articles about Franklin have examined some of his shortcomings, including his neglect of his wife, Deborah, and his estrangement from his illegitimate son, William. His writings, too, have been derided for what critics consider their strait-laced Puritanism and materialism.

What did Franklin intend to do after he retired from the printing business? ›

In 1748, Franklin, then 42 years old, had expanded his printing business throughout the colonies and become successful enough to stop working. Retirement allowed him to concentrate on public service and also pursue more fully his longtime interest in science.

How did the printing press affect trade? ›

The printing press fostered knowledge and skills that were valuable in commerce. Print media played a key role in the development of numeracy, the emergence of business education, and the adoption of innovations like double-entry book-keeping.

When did Ben Franklin stop printing? ›

Retirement. In 1748 Franklin decided he wanted to spend all his time in science and public projects. He left his printing business to his partner David Hall who also edited and published the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard's Almanac.

When did Benjamin Franklin start his printing business? ›

After working for several different employers in the printing business, Franklin set up a printing shop in partnership with Hugh Meredith in 1728.

Who was the first person to use the printing press? ›

Johannes Gutenberg is known for having designed and built the first known mechanized printing press in Europe. In 1455 he used it to print the Gutenberg Bible, which is one of the earliest books in the world to be printed from movable type.

What was the name of the paper that Franklin's printing press was printing? ›

In 1729, Franklin bought the Pennsylvania Gazette, an ailing paper known to be dull and poorly managed. Known for his hard work and determination, Ben used his wit and intelligence to turn the gazette into an informative and entertaining paper.

Who perfected the printing press? ›

Goldsmith and inventor Johannes Gutenberg was a political exile from Mainz, Germany when he began experimenting with printing in Strasbourg, France in 1440. He returned to Mainz several years later and by 1450, had a printing machine perfected and ready to use commercially: The Gutenberg press.

What method of writing does Benjamin Franklin use? ›

The improvement method Franklin chose follows a pattern of deconstructing a story or article by breaking it apart, writing passages in his own thoughts, and then going back to his own writing later to reconstruct the writing into something meaningful and elegant.

How would you describe Franklin's writing style? ›

Moreover, Franklin's style is terse and witty; he usually makes his points using as few words as possible, which in part leads to his tendency to create aphorisms. Franklin's style is predominantly didactic as the Autobiography is intended to be read partly as a self- help manual.

What was Benjamin Franklin's writing style? ›

Franklin believed that good writing was smooth, clear, and short. It is an amusing commentary on the lesser talents of his critics that they have needed so many words — "simple," "clear," "terse," "limpid," "economical," "plain," etc. — to say that Franklin's prose met his personal criteria.

What 5 things did Benjamin Franklin invent? ›

He invented:
  • Swim fins (1717)
  • Franklin/Pennsylvania stove (1741)
  • Lightning rod (1750)
  • Flexible catheter (1752)
  • 24-hour, three-wheel clock that was much simpler than other designs of the day (1757)
  • Glass armonica, a simple musical instrument made of spinning glass (1762)
  • Bifocals (1784)

What makes Benjamin Franklin so special? ›

He is best known as the only Founding Father who signed all three documents that freed America from Britain. Franklin is credited with drafting the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution. He also negotiated the Treaty of Paris which ended the Independence War against Britain.

What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is not famous for? ›

One Thing That Benjamin Franklin Is Not Famous For

He was President of the Council of Pennsylvania but never the leader of the entire country. Franklin was not president, nor did he ever run for president.

What impact did the printing press have in the short term? ›

Short Term and Long Term Effects

Book-making had been a long, tedious process before the printing press, but with the invention of the press, the process of making books was significantly shortened. With this quick process, books also became cheaper, thus allowing more types of people to be able to afford books.

How did the printing press inspire the? ›

The printing press made books and manuscripts easily accessible to everyone. People were able to express their ideas and thoughts easily. The printing press changed the methods of consuming and sharing information.

Who invented the printing press and why was it important? ›

Johannes Gutenberg is usually cited as the inventor of the printing press. Indeed, the German goldsmith's 15th-century contribution to the technology was revolutionary — enabling the mass production of books and the rapid dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe.

What can you learn from the printing press? ›

Course Content
  • History of printing.
  • Types of printing.
  • Prepress fundamentals.
  • Basics of printing and Finishing.
  • Images: Formats, Resolution and Editing.
  • File Formats and Storage Devices.
  • Colors and Ink.
  • Print Work flows.

How long did it take to print a book with the printing press? ›

Anything from three days to weeks. It relies upon the print run. The cover is printed independently since thicker paper is utilized.

What are two advantages of the printing press? ›

  • encouraged scholarly research.
  • public desire to gain knowledge.
  • new ideas could spread rapidly.
  • could print the books in the vernacular.
  • interpret the Bible themselves.
  • 100s of copies printed exactly alike.
  • faster.
  • cheaper.

What was Franklin's last words? ›

Reportedly, Franklin's last words were, “A dying man can do nothing easily.” Newspapers in Boston said that Franklin had been ill for several weeks, and they made sure readers knew that Franklin was born there. His passing was duly noted in Europe.

What is the moral of the story of Benjamin Franklin? ›

One such story is “The Whistle.” The story relates how the seven-year-old Franklin's delight in a new toy turns to dismay when he learns that he has paid far too much for it. Franklin crafted the tale into a moral lesson urging others to question the undue value attributed to material possessions.

What two things led to the failure of the State of Franklin? ›

The State of Franklin was created and failed because of the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation. The national government's inability to tax states encouraged states to use their western land claims to pay their debts. Therefore, North Carolina sold off much of future Tennessee to land speculators and settlers.

What was Ben Franklin's hardest virtue? ›

By Benjamin Franklin

In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the hardest virtue to work on is humility (the opposite of pride), because even if you manage to be humble, that's something to be proud of.

Which virtue was most difficult for Franklin? ›

He finds that Order is the most difficult for him to acquire, partly because Franklin's good memory makes Order not as necessary. However, Franklin ends up being pleased with his inability to perfect all his virtues, deciding, "a speckled axe is best....

What does Franklin argue should be used to back paper money why? ›

Franklin argues that land is a more certain and steady asset with which to back paper money because its supply will not fluctuate with trade as much as the supply of gold and silver does, its supply is not subject to long-run expansion as New World gold and silver had been, and land cannot be exported from the colony ...

How old was Franklin when he retired from the printing business? ›

When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated ...

How long was Benjamin Franklin a printer? ›

As a writer, Franklin was best known for the wit and wisdom he shared with the readers of his popular almanac, Poor Richard, under the pseudonym “Richard Saunders.” In his autobiography, Franklin notes that he began publishing his almanac in 1732 and continued for twenty-five years: “I endeavour'd to make it both ...

What were 3 effects of the printing revolution? ›

The impact of the printing press in Europe included: A huge increase in the volume of books produced compared to handmade works. An increase in the access to books in terms of physical availability and lower cost. More authors were published, including unknown writers.

Why did the printing press made books cheaper to buy? ›

The next significant change in the book production world didn't happen until around 1450, when Johannes Gutenberg introduced the movable type printing press. This removed the need for scribes to hand-write the text in every copy of a book. The printing press made manufacturing easier, which made books cheaper.

Did the printing press reduce cost of books? ›

Following the introduction of printing, book prices fell steadily. The raw price of books fell by 2.4 per cent a year for over a hundred years after Gutenberg.

Why did Ben Franklin retire from printing? ›

Retirement from printing

In 1748 Franklin took a partner, David Hall, who took care of the daily printing business leaving him more time for public projects. With the fortune he had built he was able to live comfortably and engage himself in public projects and electrical experiments.

What did Benjamin Franklin do for printing? ›

Eventually he opened his own printing shop in Philadelphia. Benjamin's shop printed all kinds of things including Pennsylvania's currency (money), his own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, and his Poor Richard's Almanac.

Did Franklin invent the printing press? ›

Benjamin Franklin did not invent the printing press. The printing press was invented by Johann Gutenberg in the 15th century. Franklin entered the printing business as a young man and published articles and books in Pennsylvania.

Who brought first printing press to America? ›

The first printing press came to British North America two years after the founding of Harvard College. The press was brought by Reverend Joseph Glover, who, when deprived of his position in the Church of England, shipped his family, his possessions, and his printing press to the colonies.

Where is Ben Franklin's printing press? ›

This site is located in Franklin Court, on Market Street between 3rd and 4th Streets. It is open daily from 10am to 5pm, with the last printing demonstration at 4:30pm. A printer himself, Benjamin Franklin well understood the power of the press.

Who founded America's first printing business? ›

The first printing press in America was set up in Cambridge under the guaranty of Harvard College, during the presidency of Henry Dunster. From this press, established nearly 300 years ago, started the present printing business of the country, and the consequent thousands of newspapers.

Was the printing press the most important invention? ›

The printing press allows us to share large amounts of information quickly and in huge numbers. In fact, the printing press is so significant that it has come to be known as one of the most important inventions of our time. It drastically changed the way society evolved.

When was the Bible printed? ›

The Gutenberg Bible was printed in Mainz in 1455 by Johann Gutenberg and his associates, Johann Fust and Peter Schoeffer.

How were books printed before the printing press? ›

Before the invention of the printing press, books were individually made. Wooden blocks were carved and inked to print pages, but could only be used once. Many books were written and illustrated by hand, making each copy unique.

Why was the printing press a big deal? ›

In the 15th century, an innovation enabled people to share knowledge more quickly and widely. Civilization never looked back. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes, and the invention of the mechanical movable type printing press helped disseminate knowledge wider and faster than ever before.

Who feared the printing press? ›

Books & the printing press: Conrad Gessner, a Swiss biologist in the 16th century, really didn't like the invention of the printing press because, he felt, it would lead to information overload.

How did the printing press help spread democracy? ›

The printing press did not help spread democracy. Instead, it helped spread literacy. It is true that modern democracy requires literacy in order to be anything like informed, but there are modern countries with high literacy that are not truly democratic.

What do you mean by perfected printing? ›

Perfecting is a term used in sheet-fed printing when a sheet is being printed on both sides in one pass through the press. At Ries Graphics we print one to eight colors per pass or up to five colors, two sides (perfecting).

What are 4 things Benjamin Franklin is famous for? ›

Benjamin Franklin is the only Founding Father to have signed all four of the key documents establishing the U.S.: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris establishing peace with Great Britain (1783) and the U.S. Constitution (1787).

What method did Benjamin Franklin use? ›

Franklin was fascinated by electricity and devoted much of his time to studying its properties. Growing up during the age of Enlightenment, Franklin applied the reason-based scientific method set out by Isaac Newton and others.

What was Franklin's approach to perfection? ›

Franklin would take a single virtue at a time, work on it for a week and then move on to the next. Trying to fix everything that's wrong with you all at once is overwhelming, he decided. The virtuous path needs to be broken down to give each area some concentrated time of intention and effort.

What essay did Benjamin Franklin write? ›

Eventually Benjamin admitted that he was the author of the Silence Dogood essays and got some favorable attention from the "Couranteers" but perhaps alienated his older brother, James.

What tone does Franklin use in his speech? ›

He uses a mild, reasonable tone to persuade his audience members in a gentle way, without forcefulness or hostility. What is Franklin's purpose in posing the rhetorical question above? Franklin here uses the technique of concession—acknowledging his opponents' argument.

What are 2 things Benjamin Franklin is famous for? ›

As a scientist, he was a major figure in the American Enlightenment and the history of physics for his studies of electricity, and for charting and naming the current still known as the Gulf Stream. As an inventor, he is known for the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, among others.

What is one thing Benjamin Franklin is famous for a? ›

Benjamin Franklin is famous in American history. He had many ideas for the country. He started the first free public library. He was the first Postmaster General.

How does Benjamin Franklin impact us today? ›

Franklin was the founder of a number of institutions integral, today, to an American way of life—the first lending library (the Philadelphia Library in 1731), the first scholarly voluntary association (the Junto or "Leather Apron" Club), the first fire department (the Union Fire Company of Philadelphia in 1736), and ...

What did Benjamin Franklin do to change the world? ›

He Changed the World with The Power of His Pen

He was directly involved with editing the Declaration of Independence, was a trusted voice at the Constitutional Convention, which led to the United States Constitution, and was integral to writing the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War.

What was Franklin's favorite invention? ›

The glass armonica. Benjamin Franklin said that of all of his inventions, the musical instrument was his very favorite. While we know Benjamin as an inventor, on the side he was also an amateur musician.

What is the hardest question in the US citizenship test? ›

Arguably the hardest question on the U.S. citizenship test is number 67: The Federalist Papers supported the passage of the U.S. Constitution. Name one of the writers. This answer is unknown to even most American citizens because the Federalist Party ceased to exist back in 1824.

What did Benjamin Franklin actually do? ›

One of the foremost of the Founding Fathers, Franklin helped draft the Declaration of Independence and was one of its signers, represented the United States in France during the American Revolution, and was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention.

What did Benjamin Franklin do? ›

Benjamin Franklin was America's scientist, inventor, politician, philanthropist and business man. He is best known as the only Founding Father who signed all three documents that freed America from Britain. Franklin is credited with drafting the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution.

Who invented the printing press what was the benefit to society? ›

BRIA 24 3 b Gutenberg and the Printing Revolution in Europe. Johann Gutenberg's invention of movable-type printing quickened the spread of knowledge, discoveries, and literacy in Renaissance Europe. The printing revolution also contributed mightily to the Protestant Reformation that split apart the Catholic Church.

What impact did Benjamin Franklin make? ›

He was directly involved with editing the Declaration of Independence, was a trusted voice at the Constitutional Convention, which led to the United States Constitution, and was integral to writing the Treaty of Paris, which officially ended the Revolutionary War.

Why is Benjamin Franklin on the $100? ›

Franklin played a key role in building the nation. He was the most important founding father, he was the oldest and the one who had contributed the most to the cause of independence.

What famous quote did Benjamin Franklin say? ›

Love your Enemies, for they tell you your Faults.” “He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.” “There never was a good war or a bad peace.”

Why is Benjamin Franklin so important? ›

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), printer, inventor, scientist, and statesman, occupies a distinguished place in U.S. history. He not only played an influential role in the Revolutionary War era and the fight for American independence, but also helped to shape the U.S. Constitution and vision for the new nation.

What was Benjamin Franklin worth? ›

Today, what remains of Franklin's bequest is worth $6.5 million, and the legacy has become a matter of no small dispute.

What were 3 effects of the printing press? ›

Printing made it possible to put information on paper quickly and cheaply, leading to an explosion in the distribution of books, pamphlets, pictures, and newspapers. It also enabled the creation of new forms of written communication. Printing accelerated the spread of knowledge and the dissemination of ideas.

What impact did the printing press have long term? ›

It was the printing press that sparked the interest in writing and reading that people had and still have today. As more people began to read, there was more of a need for new material. Reading and writing have become tools for education, work, and entertainment that people have been using for centuries.

What impact did the printing press ink have on society? ›

The printing press had a huge impact on societies around the world. Information could now be spread much more quickly. More copies of books, pamphlets, or posters would be printed, spreading ideas. As print media spread, reading became more accessible and affordable.

What was Benjamin Franklin most important thing? ›

Benjamin Franklin is the only Founding Father to have signed all four of the key documents establishing the U.S.: the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), the Treaty of Paris establishing peace with Great Britain (1783) and the U.S. Constitution (1787).


1. Benjamin Franklin Printing Press MTSU - Part 1
(Middle Tennessee State University)
2. Benjamin Franklin - scientist, inventor, statesman, diplomat, printer, publisher, philosopher
3. Printing Press Museum - Ben Franklin Era Printing Press Presentation
4. Benjamin Franklin - Educator, Printer, #HistoryHero
(Time Traveler Tours)
5. Ben Franklin and Letterpress Printing
(Sacramento History Museum)
6. Benjamin Franklin Printing Press Demo 029
(Rhonda Close)

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