Franklin MIlestones


Born on Milk Street, Boston, on January 17, a Sunday, to Josiah, a candle and soap maker, and his second wife Abiah Folger; fourteenth of  seventeen children by Josiah.


Attends Boston Grammar School and Bownwell’s English School.


Josiah removes BF from school and indentures him in his shop to become a chandler.


Josiah gives up on making BF a chandler and indentures him to BF’s older half-brother James to learn the printing trade.


James launches The New England Courant and publishes fourteen “tongue-in-cheek” essays by Silence Dogood, unaware BF is the author. BF becomes “a thorough Deist.”


Flees Boston and James’ harsh treatment for New York. Unable to find work, BF is directed by William Bradford to Philadelphia, where he finds work at Samuel Keimer’s print shop. Boards with John Read, father of Deborah Read.


Returns to Boston to borrow money from his father to open a print shop; is denied. Returns to Philadelphia and courts Deborah Read. Sails for London under assurances from William Keith, governor of PA, he will be able to buy equipment on credit for opening a print shop. Betrayed by Keith, BF spends eighteen months working at London  printing houses to earn passage home. Hangs out in coffee shops.


Deborah Read, feeling abandoned by BF, marries John Rogers, who four months later steals a slave and disappears. Deborah returns home to live with her parents. BF publishes first pamphlet, A Dissertation upon Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.


Returns to Philadelphia and goes to work in Thomas Denham’s clothing/hardware store.


Returns to work for Samuel Keimer; founds the Junto, a Friday-night club for “self-improvement, study, mutual aid, and conviviality.”


Opens a printing business in partnership with Hugh Meredith, a ne’er do well. Composes Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion.


Buys a failing newspaper from Keimer; re-launches it as The Pennsylvania Gazette.


BF’s son William is born out of wedlock. BF enters into a common-law marriage with Deborah Read Rogers; buys out his alcoholic business partner.


Initiates the Library Company of Philadelphia; joins St. John’s Free Mason lodge.


Publishes first edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack twenty-four editions were to follow). BF’s second son, Francis Folger, is born.


Divines a regimen for arriving at “moral perfection.”


Elected Grand Master of the Masons of Pennsylvania; bribes post riders to carry his newspaper.


Helps establish volunteer fire-fighting societies; proposes a night watch.


Francis Folger Franklin dies of smallpox at age four. BF is appointed clerk of the Pennsylvania Assembly. Organizes the Union Fire Company.


Appointed postmaster of Philadelphia (serves sixteen years in this capacity).


Hears evangelist George Whitefield preach; begins to publish his sermons.


Invents the Pennsylvania fireplace (Franklin stove); does not patent it.


Organizes a project to fund plant-collecting expeditions by naturalist John Bartram, who later names a new flora after Ben: The Franklinia Alatamaha (now extinct in the wild).


BF’s only daughter, Sarah (Sally), is born. BF publishes A Proposal for Promoting Useful Knowledge, which leads to the founding of the American Philosophical Society. Begins long relationship with London printer/publisher William Strahan.


Reprints Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, first novel to be published in America.


Begins electrical experiments; initiates a correspondence on the topic with Peter Collinson in England. Josiah Franklin dies in Boston at age eighty-seven.


Reports his theories on electricity to Collinson, who presents them to the British Royal Society. Collinson sends BF an electric tube.


Retires from active business a wealthy man, at age forty-two. Buys first of several Negro slaves. Elected to Philadelphia City Council.


Invents lightning rod; does not patent it. Writes and publishes Proposals Relating to the Youth of Pennsylvania, which leads to the founding of an academy (to become UPenn).


Conducts electrical experiments on turkey fowl. Lightning rods proliferate.


Elected to Pennsylvania Assembly. His electrical experiments are published by Peter Collinson in London as Experiments and Observations of Electricity.


Abiah Franklin dies in Boston at age eighty-four. BF conducts his famous kite experiment, and invents first flexible catheter for
his brother John (a soap maker). Receives Royal Society’s Copley Medal for his experiments in electricity.


Appointed Joint Deputy Postmaster General of North America.


Composes a plan (Albany Plan) for unifying the seven colonies. Publishes first political cartoon, “Join or Die,” a snake divided into sections.


Sails for England with son William to serve as agent for Pennsylvania (later also for Massachusetts, Georgia, and New Jersey); composes The Way to Wealth en route. Takes rooms at 7 Craven Street with Margaret Stevenson, a widow whose daughter, Mary (Polly), BF comes to view as his own. (Ben is attendant at Polly’s wedding; Polly is  attendant at Ben’s deathbed.)


Hobnobs with Boswell, Priestly, Hume, others; travels to
Northamptonshire (with William) to locate his father’s relatives near Ecton;
invents chimney damper.


Receives honorary doctorate from St. Andrews University; is thereafter known as Dr. Franklin. Tours Scotland and meets Adam Smith, Lord  Kames, others.


Attends the coronation of George III.


Returns home after five years in London. William remains behind and marries Elizabeth Downes; five days later, William is named Royal Governor of New Jersey. BF invents the glass armonica, for which  Mozart subsequently composes an adagio.


Elected Speaker of Pennsylvania Assembly; denounces the “Paxton Boys” for massacring friendly Indians in Lancaster County; returns to London as agent for the Pennsylvania Assembly; resides again with the Stevensons.


The Stamp Act becomes law.


Argues for repeal of the Stamp Act before the House of Commons; Act is repealed.


Travels to Paris with Dr. John Pringle, the Queen’s physician; is presented to King Louis XV at Versailles. Sally Franklin marries Richard Bach in Philadelphia.


Deborah suffers a stroke that leaves her partially incapacitated. BF and others found the Ohio Land Company in an effort to obtain land grants in American wilderness for speculation. Grandson Benjamin Franklin Bache (Benny) is born.


Visits Bishop Jonathan Shipley and daughters at Twyford; subsequently begins writing his Autobiography there. Tours Ireland and witnesses opening of Irish parliament. Visits Lord Kames in Scotland and promises to write The Art of Virtue.


Obtains letters written by Thomas Hutchinson, royal governor of Massachusetts, that call for colonial repression; sends these to Thomas Cushing in Massachusetts.


Is suspected of stealing the Hutchison letters; files a petition calling for Hutchinson’s removal. Conducts experiments on the use of oil to calm rough waters.


Boston Tea Party. BF is denounced before the King’s Privy Council by Solicitor General Alexander Wedderburn; loses his position as Deputy Postmaster General for North America. Deborah Franklin dies of a stroke in Philadelphia at age 66.


Returns to Philadelphia; drafts the Articles of Confederation; is elected Postmaster General for the Colonies. Confers with General Washington in Boston.


Serves on committee to draft Declaration of Independence. Attempts to negotiate an alliance with French Canada (returns with his famous marten cap). William Franklin, choosing to remain a Tory, is imprisoned in Connecticut. BF sails for Paris (with grandsons Benny and Temple) to serve, with two others, as Commissioners of Congress to the French Court. Meets French Foreign Minister Comte de Vergennes.


Appoints Temple his personal secretary; sends Benny to school in Geneva. Establishes complex relationship (both paternal and flirtatious) with Madame Brillon, wife of a French bureaucrat. Obtains secret loan from the French.


Negotiates the Treaty of Alliance with France; is made Minister Plenipotentiary by Congress; joins the Masonic Lodge in Paris; helps initiate Voltaire. John Adams replaces Silas Dean as Commissioner. BF negotiates additional loans. France declares war on England.


Obtains another loan from the French; installs a printing press at Passy; befriends Madame Helvetius, widow of a French intellectual. Spain declares war on England.


Obtains another loan from the French. Proposes marriage to Madame Helvetius; is refused. Vergennes is offended by Adams and refuses to deal with him.


Appointed by Congress to peace commission. Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown. BF tries to resign from the commission, due to age and health; is refused.


Helps frame the terms of a peace treaty with England; obtains another loan from the French; is much afflicted with the gout.


Signs Preliminary Articles of Peace with England, France, and Spain.


At request of Louis XVI, helps discredit Mesmer’s theory of “Animal Magnetism.”


Invents bifocal lens. En route to America, briefly visits his estranged son William. Elected president of the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania.


Designs the “long arm” for lifting books from high shelves. Adds a library to his Market Street house to accommodate his 4,000 volumes, the most in any library in America.


As eldest delegate, helps frame the articles of the U.S. Constitution; signs the final document; becomes president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery.


Revises his will to give his daughter Sally most of his property and grandson Temple most of his books and papers; gives virtually nothing to his son William.


Sends a petition against slavery to the U.S. Congress. Sends copies of his Autobiography to friends in America and Europe.


Dies on April 17 of pleurisy. His funeral, attended by 20,000, is the largest recorded event in 18th-century America. Buried at corner of 5th and Arch, Philadelphia.