Benjamin Franklin - Business in United States of America
Identification: Printer, statesman, scientist, and entrepreneur
Born: January 17, 1706; Boston, Massachusetts
Died: April 17, 1790; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Significance: Before becoming one of America’s Founders, a scientist, and a statesman, Franklin was one of America’s first entrepreneurs. Business practices he developed have continued to be successful tools almost three hundred years later.
Benjamin Franklin was a self-educated, self-made man. As a young boy, he worked as an apprentice in his brother’s printing shop in Boston. It was during these early years that he developed one of his most important, yet simplest, principles: The path to wealth is through hard work and frugal living. After a falling-out with his brother, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, where he was hired in another print shop. He continued to work hard and live simply, eventually opening his own store in 1729.
Always interested in improving himself and helping others, Franklin organized a club of young tradesmen like himself. Known as the Junto, members met to discuss current events and share business ideas and opportunities. The Junto provided mutual self-improvement and is considered to be the first example of networking.
During his years in business, Franklin developed many successful strategies involving values such as integrity, honesty, and a having good reputation. He demonstrated these values in his everyday actions, often working late into the night when necessary to make sure that orders were filled on time. One important strategy was the concept of using rewards to motivate an employee’s performance. He showed in his own rise to success that hard work was rewarded with wealth.
Franklin understood that being a good business manager meant being able to manage himself first. “The Art of Virtue” was a list he created, consisting of thirteen personal traits, he felt he needed to work on to make him a better person. He shared this list with his friends, and it became one of his most popular publications. It is often considered the first self-improvement program. Although he never quite achieved perfection in all of the traits he sought to improve, Franklin found that the effort of trying greatly enhanced his life.
As his business grew, Franklin recognized that to continue to be successful, he needed to diversify. He created his own media empire by purchasing a newspaper and a stationer’s shop and publishing Poor Richard’s Almanck (1732-1758). He also drafted a profit-sharing contract in which he furnished start-up funds for his employees to open their own businesses. In return, he received a percentage of the profits, thereby creating the franchising concept.
Franklin believed it was the duty of any successful businessman to give back to the community. After retiring at the age of forty-two, he used his talents and connections to help build the first American hospital, establish the University of Pennsylvania, and help young entrepreneurs start their own businesses. Franklin’s business practices were so sound and valuable that they have been adopted by such notable figures as Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Mellon.
Issacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.
McCormick, Blaine. Ben Franklin: America’s Original Entrepreneur—Franklin’s Autobiography Adapted for Modern Business. Irvine, Calif.: Entrepreneur Press, 2005.
_______. Ben Franklin’s Twelve Rules of Management. Irvine, Calif.: Entrepreneur Press, 2000.
See also: catalog shopping; Daylight saving time; How-to-succeed books; Literary works with business themes; Management theory; newspaper industry; United States Postal Service; printing industry; Revolutionary War.