Free Library of Philadelphia
1.  What were Benjamin Franklin's last words?
His last words were "A dying man can do nothing easily."

Source: Famous Last Words, 1979, p. 106, Jonathan Green, 080 F271L
2.  What was the first cartoon to be published in an American newspaper?

The first newspaper cartoon was “Join or Die”. It was designed by Benjamin Franklin and published in the Pennsylvania Gazette on May 9, 1754. “It depicted a snake cut up into segments representing South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and New England”.

Source: Famous First Facts: A Record of First Happenings, Discoveries, and Inventions in American History, 1997, p.404, Joseph Nathan Kane, 031.02 K132F 5th ED

3.  What significant role did Philadelphia play in the history of fire prevention?

The Union Fire Company, thought to be the first volunteer fire company in the world, was founded in Philadelphia in 1736 at the suggestion of Benjamin Franklin.

Source: Morgan, George. The City of Firsts. Philadelphia: Historical Publication Society, 1926.

4.  Where and when was the first subscription, or social, library in the United States founded?
The Library Company of Philadelphia is the first subscription, or social, library. It was founded in 1731 in Philadelphia by Benjamin Franklin and his friends.

Source: American Libraries Before 1876, 2000, p. 22, Haynes McMullen, 027.073 M229a
5.  How was the first electric cooking done?
In 1749 Benjamin Franklin prepared a picnic along the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, by killing a turkey with an electric shock and roasting it with the help of electricity.

Source: Famous First Facts, 1997, p. 218, Joseph Nathan Kane, 031.02 K132f
6.  Franklin published what ethnic newspaper, the first of its kind in British America?
The "Philadelphische Zeitung", a German newspaper, was published by Benjamin Franklin on May 6, 1732.

Source: Famous First Facts, 1997, p. 402, Joseph Nathan Kane, 031.02 K132f
7.  What Pennsylvanian members of the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence?

The members were: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson,and George Ross.

Source: Philadelphia Bulletin Almanac, 1976, p.269
8.  Franklin helped raise funds for what famous Philadelphia church?
Christ Church, which stands on 2nd just north of Market Street, was built between 1727 and 1754. Benjamin Franklin organized three lotteries to provide funds for its completion. It is now a National Shrine.

Source: Bulletin Almanac and Yearbook, 1976, p.293, 917.481 B87 1976
9.  Besides being an inventor, printer, businessman, scientist and patriot, what else is Benjamin Franklin famous for?

He was also a cartographer. Noticing the different speeds for crossing to Europe from Phila. versus crossing back, he studied ship's reports to find out why. By 1770 Franklin had discovered and mapped the reason, which was the Gulf Stream.

Source: Asimov. Asimov's Chronology of science and Discovery. 1989., p.215-16.
10.  Who were some of the Revolutionary leaders who attended Christ Church?

If you visit Christ Church, you will find markers showing the pews where George Washington, Robert Morris, Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross once sat. The church is now a National Shrine.

Source: Philadelphia Bulletin Almanac, 1976, p.293
11.  Where is Benjamin Franklin buried?
Benjamin Franklin's grave is in the Christ Church burial ground at 5th and Arch Streets. He was buried in April of 1790; the cemetery was bought by Christ Church in 1719. It is said to be lucky to toss a penny on his grave.

Source: Bulletin Almanac and Yearbook, 1976, p.291, 917.481 B87 1976
12.  Did Franklin found the Free Library of Philadelphia?
No, but he belongs in spirit to all public libraries. Afforded only two years of formal schooling, the young Franklin took charge of his own extraordinary education, borrowing and buying books as he could. In 1731, he and a group of friends pooled their own books to found the Library Company of Philadelphia, which was supported by subscription fees paid by its members. That was the first public library in the American colonies, and it grew to serve the city and the emerging nation well for many decades. However, borrowing books from it was not free, and it was not related to the Free Library of Philadelphia, which was chartered much later, in 1891. Today Franklin's Library Company of Philadelphia survives on Locust Street as a scholarly research library rich in rare books and documents.

Source: Durham, Jennifer L. Benjamin Franklin:A Biographical Companion (1997) pp.142-144
13.  When was Franklin born, January 6, 1705 or January 17, 1706?
The City Registry of Boston records:
Benjamin Son of Josiah Frankling [sic] & Abiah his Wife born 6 Janry 1706
According to the Julian calendar then in use, Ben was born on January 6, 1705, but in 1752 Britain and its territories adopted the Gregorian calendar, ‘losing’ eleven days in the process, and moving New Year's Day from March 25 to January 1, so we celebrate his birthday on January the 17th of 1706, although it is said that he always marked the 6th as his true birthdate. Incidentally, the Boston registry was later amended to reflect the new year designation, but not the new date.

Source: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin Yale University Press v.1 (1959) p.3
14.  Was Franklin a capitalist or a socialist?
The Author of The Way to Wealth and countless aphorisms such as: A penny saved is a penny earned, would seem to be our greatest promoter of early American capitalism. Then why, in 1776, as president of the constitutional convention to create a new framework of government for Pennsylvania, did he try to enact a provision limiting the amount of wealth a citizen could accumulate? In fact, terms such as capitalism and socialism are more recent political ideas and don’t fit easily into Franklin’s 18th Century world. What Ben seemed to believe was that honest wealth acquired through honest labor was valid, but that great wealth, especially inherited wealth of the type accumulated by the Penn family, was corrupting of democratic principles. In any case, Ben’s provision was not considered.

Source: Srodes, James Franklin:The Essential Founding Father (2002) p.283
15.  Was the kite experiment a hoax?

This has been a controversial issue for over a century, and several recent books purport to prove the claim that the kite experiment never took place. Here is what we know:

  • That lightning could be safely drawn to earth by a metal rod had already been proven by Franklin and others in Europe by 1752. The identification of lightning with electricity, which Franklin had suggested in 1749, was in doubt. Several experiments attempting to link lightning with electricity had been performed in England and France prior to Ben’s experiment, but he had not received word of them.
  • Franklin supposedly performed his famous experiment with kite and key in June 1752. He did not immediately record it, and when he later described the experiment he did not explicitly say that he performed it. [Incidentally, Franklin's son William, who supposedly helped him, was a young man of 22 at this time, not the small boy depicted in most prints.]
  • The famous account of Franklin’s kite experiment in 1752 is from fellow scientist Joseph Priestley’s History of Electricity, published in 1767.
  • Franklin never, during his lifetime, said that he performed the kite experiment, but neither did he deny it, yet he must have known the reputation surrounding him.
  • Franklin’s European contemporaries, including his rivals, accorded Franklin the honor of first place in his discovery. The kite experiment became known as the Franklin or Philadelphia experiment, and for his efforts Franklin was awarded the prestigious Copley Medal by the Royal Society in 1753.
  • There were later challenges to Franklin’s scientific achievement. Ben never bothered to respond.

The consensus among most historians seems to be that Franklin did perform a kite experiment, that he was remiss in recording and publishing his findings in a timely manner, and that if he had wanted to perpetrate a hoax he could have done a better job of it, but there is still room for skepticism.

Source: Srodes, James Franklin:The Essential Founding Father (2002) pp.92-95

16.  What were some of Franklin's inventions and discoveries?
  • Ant communication (by watching ants lay siege to a jar of molasses)
  • Bifocal glasses (to let him use one pair of eyeglasses to see both close and far)
  • Catheters (for his brother who suffered from kidney stones)
  • Cold-air baths (for cleansing)
  • Causes of the common cold (lack of fresh night air while sleeping; not washing hands)
  • Electrical principles and devices
  • Electroshock therapy
  • The Pennsylvania fireplace, known today as the Franklin stove
  • The Glass armonica (Mozart and Beethoven composed music for it)
  • The location and calculation of the Gulf Stream (his measurements remain accurate)
  • The recognition that lead can poison
  • The concept that light clothing reflects (resists) heat
  • Improved streetlights (with four panes and open at top to let smoke out)
  • Swimming paddles and flippers (which allowed him to swim faster)

Source: Durham, Jennifer L. Benjamin Franklin:A Biographical Companion (1997)
17.  What are some of the organizations and institutions that Franklin helped to found?
  • The Junto, a social and intellectual club (1727)
  • The Library Company of Philadelphia (1731)
  • Improved postal service when Franklin became postmaster of Philadelphia (1731) and deputy postmaster for the colonies (1753)
  • The Union Fire Company (1736)
  • The American Philosophical Society (1743)
  • A Militia Regiment for defense of the western frontier (1748)
  • The Pennsylvania Hospital (1751)
  • The Philadelphia Academy and Charitable School (1751) later becoming the University of Pennsylvania
  • The Philadelphia Contributorship, the first insurance company in the Colonies (1752)

But not the Free Library of Philadelphia (founded 1891)

Source: Durham, Jennifer L. Benjamin Franklin:A Biographical Companion (1997)

18.  Franklin was the only one of our Founding Fathers to sign what four major documents that made possible America's independence?
  • Declaration of Independence (1776)
  • Treaty of Alliance with France (1778)
  • Treaty of Paris ending the Revolutionary War (1783)
  • Constitution of the United States (1787)

Source: Fleming, Candace Ben Franklin's Almanac (2003) p.103
19.  Was Franklin a slave-owner?

Yes, Franklin both owned and sold slaves, a fact that is hardly touched on in most biographies. David Waldstreicher, in his recent book Runaway America, writes:

[Franklin] profited from the domestic and international slave trade, complained about the ease with which slaves and servants ran off to the British army during the colonial wars of the 1740’s and 1750’s, and staunchly defended slaveholding rebels during the Revolution. He owned a series of slaves between 1735 and 1781 and never systematically divested himself of them. After 1731 he wrote publicly and regularly on the topics of slavery and racial identity but almost never in a straightforwardly antislavery or antiracist fashion. He declined to bring the matter of slavery to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when asked to do so by the abolition society that he served as president.

Yet as early as 1751 Franklin had pointed out the economic weakness of slavery, and in 1758 had suggested the establishment of the first school for African American children. Franklin’s views gradually changed as he grew older. After about 1770 his writings became progressively more anti-slavery, and in a letter to the London Chronicle he called slavery "a constant butchery of the human species by the pestilential detestable traffic in the bodies and souls of men." After the Revolution, Franklin was involved with the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and served as its president for a time. In 1789 he drafted a petition condemning slavery and sent it to Vice President John Adams. The petition was rejected, as Franklin had anticipated. Franklin, who as a former indentured servant was the only Founding Father to have been "owned" by someone else, came to see both the economic and the moral paradox of American freedom and American slavery.

Source: Waldstreicher, David Runaway America (2004) pp.xii-xiii

20.  What kinds of books and other resources on Franklin do you have at the Free Library?
  • More than 350 titles by or about Ben Franklin
  • Franklin's complete writings in several editions, including the 37 volumes of the monumental The Papers of Benjamin Franklin (Yale University Press)
  • Access - electronic, or in print - to scores of scholarly journals concerning American history and culture during Franklin's era, and the recently acquired Archive of Americana, digitized reproductions of contemporary printed materials from every aspect of American life in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries
  • In the Central Library's Rare Book Department, many books from Franklin's own press - as well as a collection of Robert Lawson's drawings for Ben and Me
  • In Central's Print and Picture Collection, hundreds of portraits of Franklin and illustrations of his era
  • In Central's Children's Department, more than 25 titles about Franklin, as well as many books of non-fiction or historical fiction set during Franklin's time; and, in the Children's Literature Research Collection, non-circulating books on similar subjects dating from the mid-19th to the 21st century
  • Other items of interest from the 18th century, including maps, city directories, and local government documents