Book Summary


Benjamin Franklin was the youngest son and 15th of 17 children of Josiah Franklin, a soap and candle maker who had immigrated to Boston from Northamptonshire, England. Because he disliked his father's trade but loved reading, he was apprenticed at the age of 12 to his brother James, a printer. He and James often disagreed, and finally Benjamin quit before his contract had expired. Looking for work, he went first to New York and then to Philadelphia, where he was hired by Samuel Keimer.

Governor Keith of Pennsylvania was impressed with Franklin and offered to set him up in business. Assuming that Keith had placed letters of credit for him on board his ship, Franklin sailed for England to purchase his printing equipment, only to find that no such letters had been written. He therefore was forced to spend several months working in a London printing house. But he returned home when a merchant named Denham offered him a good job as clerk and manager of Denham's Philadelphia store. A few months after they landed, however, Denham died, and Keimer rehired Franklin as his manager.

Eventually Franklin set up a printing shop with one of the men he had trained at Keimer's, Hugh Meredith. Later he bought Meredith's share and found himself in business alone. He "married" the girl whom he had courted before leaving for England, Deborah Read, and the two prospered. Franklin secured many valuable orders through his job as clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly.

From his early years, Franklin constantly struggled to improve himself. This passion culminated in a plan to attain perfection in 13 weeks, by unlearning bad habits and acquiring the 13 virtues Franklin felt most important, one each week. He also outlined a perfect day, allotting each necessary activity its proper amount of time.

But Franklin's passion for improvement was not spent exclusively upon himself. Public projects to which he turned his attention included Philadelphia's first public library, fire company, public academy, philosophical society, militia, defense system, and hospital. Besides these projects, he helped improve the city's police system and its streets (which he advocated paving), and devised a more equitable tax system.

The Autobiography ends as Franklin wins his first skirmish while serving as Pennsylvania's agent in England. Thus his account brings the reader to the point at which Franklin's activity becomes international in scope and the proper concern of professional historians.