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Was Benjamin Franklin a Significant Philanthropist?

Benjamin Franklin's legacy extends beyond his inventions and political influence; he was a significant philanthropist. His contributions to education, public services, and social welfare laid the groundwork for modern civic engagement. His forward-thinking endowments still benefit society today. How did Franklin's philanthropic efforts shape the America we know? Join us as we explore his enduring impact.

Benjamin Franklin once said, "He that can have patience can have what he will." Although he wasn't necessarily referring to anyone in particular with that quote, he might well have had Boston and Philadelphia in mind.

In his will, Franklin bequeathed 2,000 pounds sterling to the two cities where he had spent much of his life, but with one significant condition: They had to wait 100 years for part of the money, and then another 100 years for the rest.

Benjamin Franklin bequeathed money to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, with the stipulation that they would wait 200 year to receive some of it.
Benjamin Franklin bequeathed money to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, with the stipulation that they would wait 200 year to receive some of it.

Thanks to the power of compounding interest, the wait has been worthwhile. In 1990, the remainder of Franklin's bequest was worth $6.5 million. There was $4.5 million in the Boston trust and $2 million in the Philadelphia trust, largely due to differences in how the cities had managed their bequests.

In the decades following Franklin's death in 1790, some of the initial donation was used to provide young tradesmen with loans to start their own businesses, fulfilling Franklin's desire for the money to be used to help apprentices. Franklin had started his own career as an apprentice in the printing trade. Some of the bequest also went towards various public works and infrastructure projects. For the record, Franklin's donation came from his earnings as Pennsylvania's governor from 1785 to 1788.

In 1990, Massachusetts Attorney General James M. Shannon told the Orlando Sentinel that "it's a wonderful irony that 18th century money should become available just when we need it for our problems today."

Ultimately, the remainder of Franklin's donation was given to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston, which continue to perpetuate Franklin's interest in technical education and his desire to make it accessible to all.

Ben Franklin facts and figures:

  • Franklin's inventions include bifocal glasses, the lightning rod, the glass harmonica, and the so-called Franklin stove, which was more efficient than other stoves.

  • Franklin was such an avid swimmer and swimming instruction proponent that he earned a place in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. He even invented a pair of hand-worn swim fins when he was just 11 years old.

  • Despite quitting school by age 10, Franklin ended up getting rich in part through his print shop and publishing his Poor Richard's Almanack.

Frequently Asked Questions

What philanthropic activities was Benjamin Franklin known for?

Benjamin Franklin was a significant philanthropist who engaged in various charitable endeavors. He established the first public lending library, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and was instrumental in founding Pennsylvania Hospital, the first public hospital in the American colonies. Franklin also contributed to the creation of the Academy of Philadelphia, which later became the University of Pennsylvania, and supported the Union Fire Company, a volunteer firefighting organization in Philadelphia.

How did Benjamin Franklin's philanthropy impact education?

Benjamin Franklin's philanthropy had a profound impact on education. He was a key figure in establishing institutions that would become cornerstones of American education. His role in founding the Academy of Philadelphia laid the groundwork for the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League institution. Franklin's belief in accessible education also led to the creation of the American Philosophical Society, which promoted knowledge dissemination and scientific research.

Did Benjamin Franklin's philanthropy extend beyond education and healthcare?

Yes, Benjamin Franklin's philanthropy extended beyond education and healthcare. He was involved in numerous public projects, including street improvements and lighting in Philadelphia. Franklin also had a hand in developing the American Philosophical Society, which encouraged the exchange of scientific ideas. His commitment to public welfare is evident in his support for the Pennsylvania Abolition Society, which worked towards the abolition of slavery and the integration of freed slaves into American society.

What was unique about Benjamin Franklin's approach to philanthropy?

Benjamin Franklin's approach to philanthropy was unique in that it combined practicality with a vision for social improvement. He focused on creating institutions and services that offered immediate benefits to the public while also fostering long-term societal progress. Franklin's philanthropic efforts were characterized by his belief in self-improvement, community service, and the power of education to transform society. His legacy as a philanthropist is marked by his innovative and forward-thinking contributions.

How does Benjamin Franklin's philanthropic legacy influence modern philanthropy?

Benjamin Franklin's philanthropic legacy continues to influence modern philanthropy through his example of civic engagement and investment in community-based initiatives. His emphasis on education, healthcare, and social welfare laid the groundwork for contemporary philanthropic strategies that address systemic issues. Franklin's approach to leveraging personal wealth for the public good is a model that many modern philanthropists aspire to emulate, demonstrating the enduring relevance of his contributions to philanthropy.

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Discussion Comments


Franklin would roll over in his grave if he could view the cesspool cities today.

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    • Benjamin Franklin bequeathed money to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, with the stipulation that they would wait 200 year to receive some of it.
      Benjamin Franklin bequeathed money to the cities of Boston and Philadelphia, with the stipulation that they would wait 200 year to receive some of it.