Benjamin Franklin FAQ

Benjamin Franklin Memorial statue

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about our namesake, Benjamin Franklin.

When was Benjamin Franklin born?
Benjamin Franklin was born on Sunday, January 17, 1706, in Boston, Massachusetts, which was then a British colony.

When did Benjamin Franklin die?
Benjamin Franklin died on April 17, 1790, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States of America. Born an Englishman, died an American.

Where is Benjamin Franklin buried?
Benjamin Franklin is buried in the cemetery of Christ Church, Philadelphia.

Where did Benjamin Franklin go to school?
Benjamin Franklin's father wanted Ben to be the son who became a preacher and so he sent him to grammar school when he was eight years old. After less than a year, for financial reasons, Ben transferred to Mr. George Brownell's school for writing and arithmetic. He stayed at the new school until he was ten, doing well in writing and badly in arithmetic. He then left school to work with his father in their candle shop. Ben's further education came from his own reading and lifelong conversation and debate with his friends.

What did Benjamin Franklin want to be when he grew up?
From his school days on, Benjamin Franklin wanted to be a sailor. His father did not want this because an older son, Josiah, had gone to sea and never returned. Reading was Ben's favorite pastime so his father made the connection to the trade of printing and sent Ben to learn in his brother's printing shop. Ben continued this learning in Philadelphia and England eventually set up his own printing business in Philadelphia.

Was Benjamin Franklin a Quaker?
Benjamin Franklin was not a Quaker. He was baptized in 1706, at the Old South Church congregation's Cedar Meeting House on downtown Washington Street, Boston. In Philadelphia, he occasionally worshiped at Christ Church, the Church of England parish established in colonial Philadelphia in 1695 and later reorganized into the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.

Who did Benjamin Franklin marry?
Benjamin Franklin married Deborah Read Rogers in 1730. She died in 1774. While Ben operated his printing shop, Deborah ran a general store in the same building.

Did Benjamin Franklin have children?
Benjamin Franklin had two sons: William who remained loyal to the British crown and became Royal Governor of New Jersey, and Francis Folger who died from smallpox at the age of four. His daughter, Sarah, was known as Sally.

Did Benjamin Franklin have grandchildren?
Benjamin Franklin had eight grandchildren: William Temple, who was the son of William Franklin, and the seven children of Sally (Franklin) Bache, named: Benjamin, William, Betsy, Louis, Deborah, Richard, and Sarah.

Where did Benjamin Franklin live?
In Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin lived and worked on the 300 block of Market Street.

Did Benjamin Franklin have a dog?
Ben's son William apparently owned a Newfoundland dog, name unknown. There are two references in the Papers of Benjamin Franklin to William's dog. The first appears in a footnote on page 435 of Volume 26. Someone writing to Franklin adds the comment that "nothing shall tempt me to forget your Newfoundland Dog." The second reference, three years later and to the same dog, is on page 179 of Volume 36. The letter is in French, and indicates that a Madame De Boulainvillers returned the dog to Franklin; it seems as if the dog had strayed. These letters, dated 1778 and 1781, are both from Franklin's time in Paris.

What did Benjamin Franklin look like?
Pages 90 - 91 of Carl Van Doren's book, Benjamin Franklin, offers the following comments on Franklin's physical appearance:

No certain early likeness of him survives, but what he outwardly was when he returned to Philadelphia may be imagined backwards from later portraits and various chance notes on his personal appearance. Strongly built, rounded like a swimmer or a wrestler, not angular like a runner, he was five feet nine or ten inches tall, with a large head and square, deft hands. His hair was blond or light brown, his eyes grey, full, and steady, his mouth wide and humorous with a pointed upper lip. His clothing was as clean as it was plain. Though he and others say he was hesitant in speech, he was prompt in action.

What did Benjamin Franklin eat?
Ben decided to become a vegetarian when he was 16 years old. He prepared his own meals, and mentions eating boiled potatoes, rice, hasty pudding, bread, raisins, and water. Quickly finishing his simple meals gave Ben more time for reading. Ben later gave up vegetarianism; during the voyage from Boston to Philadelphia he ate fish.

What kind of music did Benjamin Franklin like?
Ben composed a quartet. He found simple beauty in simple tunes. He played several musical instruments, including the violin, harp, and guitar. His great interest in music lead him to build his own glass harmonica. This simple musical instrument was played by touching the edge of the spinning glass with dampened fingers. The harmonica's beautiful tones appealed to many composers, including Mozart and Beethoven.

What countries did Benjamin Franklin travel to, and why?
1724-26 - England, to continue training as a printer
1757-1762 - England, acting as London representative of the Pennsylvania Assembly
1764-66 - England, to Craven Street, London
1767 - To France
1774 - To England
1776-84 - France, acting as a American Commissioner to France, negotiates Treaty of Alliance with France.
Ben was a negotiator of treaties with Prussia and other countries. For England, negotiator of the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain.

Did Benjamin Franklin really want the turkey to be the symbol of the United States of America?
In a letter to his daughter, Benjamin Franklin wrote:

"For my own part I wish the Eagle had not been chosen the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead tree near the river, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the labor of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young ones, the Eagle pursues him and takes it from him. With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country...I am on this account not displeased that the figure is not known as a Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the truth the Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America . . . He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his farm yard with a red coat on."

What businesses did Benjamin Franklin have?
Ben was a printer and a postmaster.

What did Benjamin Franklin invent?
Ben's inventions include: bifocals, lightning rod, Glass Armonica, library chair, swim fins, the long reach device, Franklin Stove, catheter, and Daylight Savings Time.

Swim Fins: An avid swimmer, Franklin developed early swim fins. As a boy, he had fashioned two wooden palettes, oval in shape and with a hole through which to put one's thumb. With one on each hand, he paddled through water, observing that they helped him to swim faster. He later developed swim fins to reduce what he called a "laborious and fatiguing operation."

Franklin Stove: Ben invented the Franklin Stove, an iron furnace that allowed people to heat their homes safely while using less wood. He discovered the conductivity of heat by color and established the first volunteer fire-fighting union and fire insurance company in Philadelphia.

Bioscience and Medicine: As happens to most of us, Franklin's vision deteriorated as he grew older. He loved to read and grew tired of switching between two pairs of glasses—one that helped him to see things close, another to see things farther away. So, he cut the lenses from both pairs in half, then put half of each lens in a single frame, inventing bifocals. He also invented the first flexible urinary catheter (for his brother) and co-founded the Pennsylvania Hospital.

Which institutions did Benjamin Franklin start?
The University of Pennsylvania, American Philosophical Society, Pennsylvania Hospital, and Franklin and Marshall College.

What awards did Benjamin Franklin receive?
Franklin was a member of the learned societies of many nations. Among these were the Royal Society, which awarded him its prestigious Copley medal for his work in electricity (1753); and the American Philosophical Society, of which he was a founder. He received several honorary degrees, including a doctorate from St. Andrews.

What were Benjamin Franklin's pseudonyms?
Silence Dogood, Polly Baker, and Richard Saunders.

Which political documents did Benjamin Franklin sign?
Ben stands alone as the only person to have signed all four of the documents which helped to create the United States: the Declaration of Independence (1776); the Treaty of Alliance, Amity, and Commerce with France (1778); the Treaty of Peace between England, France, and the United States (1782); and the Constitution (1787). He helped to write parts of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. 

Who were Benjamin Franklin's friends?
Franklin enjoyed close personal and professional relationships with quite a few of the important European thinkers of his day, such as Hume, Priestley, Lavoisier and Condorset. Dr. Bancroft, a physician and naturalist (also Franklin's secretary in Paris), Jonathan Williams, William Alexander, and English banker Thomas Walpole were among others.