Friday, May 17, 2024

Benjamin Franklin Was The Nation’s First Newsman

Smithsonian magazine offers an excerpt from Adam Smyth’s book, The Book-Makers: A History of the Book in Eighteen Lives.

The excerpt covers America’s first newsman, Ben Franklin.    

Before he helped launch a revolution, Benjamin Franklin was colonial America’s leading editor and printer of novels, almanacs, soap wrappers, and everything in between.

Ben Franklin was, in his own words, “the youngest son of the youngest son for five Generations back.” Born to a Boston candlemaker who had emigrated from Ecton, England, Franklin became an American printer of national significance: the editor and publisher, at 23, of what became his nation’s most important newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette. An internationally lauded scientist of electricity, he broke through the frosty anteroom of London’s Royal Society—a colonial autodidact!—to become a celebrated fellow. A prolific humorist, he invented a tradition of wry, plain-speaking wit (among his pseudonyms: Margaret Aftercast and Ephraim Censorious).

He was the author of one of the only pre-19th-century American best sellers still read today (his Autobiography). A Pennsylvanian politician and civic reformer of tireless energy. Founder of the Junto, a self-improvement society; of the Library Company of Philadelphia, the first subscription library in North America; of the American Philosophical Society; of the Union Fire Company; of the University of Pennsylvania. The author of essays on phonetic alphabets, demography, paper currency. A leader of resistance to the 1765 Stamp Act, which imposed taxes on colonial legal documents and printed materials, and, ultimately, to British colonial rule of America. Grand master of the Masons, Pennsylvania. The deputy postmaster general of North America and, eventually, postmaster general of the United States.

…The medium Franklin moved in was ink: He waded in it, up to his neck. The printing trade was his start, the profession that made him. While Franklin grew up at a time when printing in colonial America was not yet established, the trade was coiled like a spring, and his timing was right; to a considerable extent, Franklin released it. The first printing press in the British colonies was not established until 1638, when locksmith Stephen Daye sailed from Cambridge, England, to Massachusetts, carrying a press in pieces. In 1722, when Franklin was 16, there were just four cities in Britain’s North American colonies with presses, and only eight printing shops in all: five in Boston and one each in Philadelphia, New York, and New London, Connecticut. The Boston News-Letter started its publication in 1704; it was the only newspaper in the colonies for the next 15 years.

You can read the rest of the piece via the below link:

Benjamin Franklin Was the Nation’s First Newsman | Smithsonian (

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