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Was Benjamin Franklin a Significant Philanthropist?

Updated Mar 06, 2024
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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.

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.
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Discussion Comments
By anon1003309 — On Jun 15, 2020

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

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