On Ben Franklin’s Birthday, Some Fun Facts About His Philanthropy


This week we celebrate the 316th birthday of Founding Father Benjamin Franklin. Franklin, perhaps America’s most beloved Renaissance man, was born on January 17, 1706, in British-controlled Boston, Massachusetts. He then moved to Philadelphia where he cemented his legacy as an American civics legend.

Ben Franklin is widely known as a talented politician, scientist, inventor, entrepreneur, diplomat and satirist. He helped craft the Declaration of Independence, discovered lightning as a form of electricity, invented bifocals, opened his own printing press, served as Governor of Pennsylvania and obtained French support for the American Revolution.

Among all these achievements and many more, Franklin’s remarkable work in the field of philanthropy also deserves recognition. Here are six fun facts about Franklin’s philanthropic contributions that continue to help us build strong communities, open pathways to opportunity, and teach the founding values ​​of America today, centuries after his passing.

  • Franklin created the first lending library: Franklin conceived the idea of ​​a public lending library at a meeting of Club Junto, a social group consisting ofavid and intellectual readerswho met on Friday evening to discuss the issues of the day. Franklin noticed that group members often referred to books during discussions, and he decided it would be beneficial for the club to collect these books in a common library for lending and borrowing. Franklin then decided to develop the concept and create a public library for the benefit of ordinary citizens. The library society started by Franklin in 1731 was the first public lending library in the United States and is still in operation today as an American history research library.
  • Franklin founded the first volunteer fire brigade: In 1736, Franklin co-founded the first all-volunteer community firefighters in the colonies, known as the Union Fire Company or Bucket Brigade. Like other fire companies of the time, Union Fire was formed primarily to protect the property of its members. However, the company has added community protection to its Agreement statutes:

“…as this association is for general benefit, we further agree that whenever a FIRE breaks out in any part of the city, although none of our homes, property or effects be in apparent danger, we will repair it nevertheless with our buckets and our bags… and lend our greatest assistance to those of our fellow citizens who would need it, in the same way as if they belonged to this company.

  • Franklin co-founded one of the nation’s first hospitals: In 1751, Dr. Thomas Bond approached his good friend Ben Franklin with a proposal to build a hospital in Pennsylvania “for the reception and healing of poor sick people.” Franklin enthusiastically embraced the idea and became one of the hospital’s strongest supporters. He petitioned the Pennsylvania Assembly, raised the necessary funds, and a year later the Pennsylvania Hospital opened. Pennsylvania Hospital housed the nation’s first surgical amphitheater and medical library. It is still in operation today in the heart of Philadelphia.
  • Franklin pioneered matching grants: When Franklin petitioned the Pennsylvania Assembly to establish the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1751, the idea was met with resistance from rural members who argued that the hospital would serve only the city of Philadelphia. , not rural communities. To demonstrate demand for the project, Franklin came up with an original idea. He would increase the initial £2,000 investment from the citizens of the state and the Assembly would match them. The Assembly gladly accepted the plan, thinking it had little chance of success. However, Franklin kept his promise, and a bill creating the Pennsylvania Hospital was signed into law on May 11, 1751. written in his autobiography.
  • Franklin founded the nation’s first university: In 1749, Franklin is the author of his famous essay “Proposals relating to the education of young peoplewhere he outlined his vision for an institution of higher learning. At the time, colleges focused primarily on training Christian men for ministry service. Franklin’s proposed academy, however, would be non-sectarian and practical. Students would learn important skills needed to succeed in business and government as well as other important subjects such as natural history, geology, geography, and modern languages. Franklin secured the support of 24 trustees to build an institution based on his ideas. In 1751 the Academy and Charitable School of the Province of Pennsylvania”opened its doors to the children of the nobility and the working class. This academy would eventually become the University of Pennsylvania, which claims to be the first university in the United States.
  • Franklin donated millions to support education – in 1990: Franklin’s final bequest was his largest, at least in terms of the size of the gift. Upon his death in 1790, Franklin left £1,000 to his native Boston and another £1,000 to his adopted Philadelphia. However, none of the donations could be spent immediately. Franklin mandated that the funds remain in a trust to collect interest for 200 years. At the end of the first century, part of the funds could be spent mainly on financing loans to young entrepreneurs. At the end of the second century, the funds must be spent downwards. In 1990, Philadelphia spent its approximately $2 million on scholarships for local high school students and a grant to the Franklin Institute, a science museum. Boston, meanwhile, opted to spend its remaining $5 million to support the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, a graduate school of engineering and industrial technologies.

Ben Franklin wrote once, “It is prodigious the amount of good that can be done by a single man, if he wants to make a business of it.” Franklin placed service at the center of his life: service to the cause of freedom, service to his country, service to his neighbors, service to citizens, even service to future peoples he would never meet. This is why he is both remembered and venerated more than two hundred years after his departure from Earth.

To learn more about Ben Franklin’s philanthropy, please visit Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Hall of fame.”

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