Josiah Franklin, a soap and candle maker in Boston, was married twice. Between his two wives he sired seventeen children – seven by his first wife, Anne and ten with his second wife, Abiah. Ben, his tenth (and youngest) son and fifteenth child was born on January 17, 1706. Things were certainly different 300 years ago, but one thing holds true today. With seventeen children, Josiah and family were cash-strapped. As a result, Ben left school at age 10 to work in his dad’s shop.
Two years later, at age 12, Ben was apprenticed to his brother James’ print shop. As mentioned, it was a different time – the apprenticeship, arranged by his father, was a binding legal contract. Ben learned a great deal about printing while working to help publish his brother’s paper, The New England Courant. More importantly, he discovered his interest in writing. When James wouldn’t allow him to publish his work, Ben took a different tack. He began to submit letters under the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood. A total of fourteen such letters were published.
The paper’s readers loved the letters. James did not. His outburst included physical abuse. Ben fled first to New York and then to Philadelphia, despite the three years remaining on his apprenticeship contract. There he found work at a print shop and also began to date his landlord’s daughter, Deborah. When the Governor of Pennsylvania urged him to open his own print shop, Ben travelled to London to acquire needed supplies. Things didn’t work as hoped which left Ben living and working in London.
He immersed himself in the London scene including becoming a regular attendee at the theater and participating in political discussion groups at coffee shops. He pursued his voracious appetite for reading and learning. He also began swimming and actually created a set of wooden flippers to aid his efforts. Eventually, he returned to Philadelphia. He had begun publishing pamphlets which espoused his views on politics and life. He started a weekly discussion group which he called the “Junto”. That led to him starting America’s first subscription library.
Sales of his writings allowed him to purchase the Pennsylvania Gazette. The paper, in dire straits when he purchased it, became wildly successful. He reunited with Deborah, taking her as his common law wife. Together they had a son, William, and a daughter, Sarah.
During that time he published Poor Richard’s Almanac which included weather forecasts, poetry and a variety of sayings. That publication continued for twenty-five years. He also began a volunteer fire fighting company, became the grandmaster of the Masons of Pennsylvania and invented a stove which would bear his name. Ben amassed a great deal of real estate and wealth, which allowed him to turn his attention to further learning, science experiments, a variety of inventions and public service.
He became politically active, spending a great deal of time in England as the colony’s agent. His efforts led to the repeal the Stamp Act which had played a critical role in the move to independence of the colonies. Traveling by ship allowed plenty of time to fuel his curiosity. One such voyage led to his discovering the existence of the Gulf Stream.
Back in America, he became the first postmaster general and in 1775 was elected to the Second Continental Congress. The following year, he was one of five men who authored the Declaration of Independence. The man’s significant role in the creation of the United States led to his being dubbed “The First American”. His incredible accomplishments are the result of Benjamin Franklin being a truly fearless brand.
Fearless Brands achieve powerful results
Ben Franklin’s interests and accomplishments dwarf those of most men. After signing the Declaration of Independence, he was named commissioner to France and traveled there to solicit that country’s support. He ended up staying for nine years. His exploits while there are almost legend – interesting in that he was in his seventies by then.
He was embraced by the French, including King Louis XVI, because of his intellect, wit and love of life. His diplomatic skill was critical in negotiating the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War. After nearly a decade, he returned to what had become the United States. There, he helped draft the country’s new constitution at the age of 81. It was Franklin who created what became known as the Great Compromise which led to the creation of the House of Representatives – proportional representation and the Senate – equal representation.
He went on to free his slaves, becoming an avid, active and outspoken opponent of slavery. Franklin died at the age of 84, having lived a life rich in accomplishment, contribution and yes, some controversy. Benjamin Franklin is a man who was seemingly larger than life. There is much to learn from this legend of a man – not just about branding but about life.
Always remain curious – One of Franklin’s most powerful traits was his curiosity. His thirst for knowledge fueled him in life. Questioning the norm, seeking new solutions, putting forth new concepts, asking why? and why not? led him to his tremendous accomplishments. Whether you’re focused specifically on building your brand or just wanting the most from life – remain curious.
Learn the art of negotiating and compromise – Life requires compromise. No one person is always right and no one can have their way 100% of the time. To be successful in life, to build a powerful and fearless brand, one has to understand how to deal with different people, different goals and different beliefs. Compromise is critical. The ability to negotiate, compromise and look for common ground was one of Franklin’s greatest assets. It should be one of yours as well.
Develop your character, continuously – At the age of 20, Ben Franklin created a system for him to develop his character which he called The Thirteen Virtues. For Franklin, pursuing these thirteen virtues would lead to a life built on integrity. I would call this process Franklin’s path to building a fearless brand. My friend and mentor, Bob Burg, has developed a program which is an adaptation of Franklins list of virtues, which he calls Master Your Traits (check it out!). No matter what you call it – no matter the specific elements – follow a process to develop and improve your character. Remember, there’s always – always – room for improvement.
Ben Franklin made such a tremendous contribution to the U.S.A. that he is one of only two people featured on U.S. currency who was not a president. (Franklin is on the hundred dollar bill – Alexander Hamilton is on the ten dollar bill). It’s highly unlikely that you will be featured on a country’s currency – and less of a chance that you can have the impact on a country – on the world – that Ben Franklin has.
However, you can build a fearless brand as he did. You can Master Your Traits as did Franklin. You see, it’s not about the fame and fortune. It’s about living a life built on character where you embrace your passion, engage your talents and deliver exceptional value. If you do that, you will achieve extraordinary results and who knows, you’ll likely earn quite a few ‘Benjamins’ along the way.