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Franklin as Colonial Printer

Arriving in Philadelphia empty-handed, Benjamin Franklin found work with printer Samuel Keimer. After several false starts with businesses and a near-fatal bout with pleurisy, he traveled to London in 1724 to carry out business that never transpired. Unable to afford a return trip on his own, Franklin spent the next year and a half working as a printer. As it had for William Bradford, training in the English craft of printing bolstered his skills and design aesthetic. By the time Franklin retired in 1748, he had established the largest printing business in colonial America and was considered its most accomplished printer.

For many, Franklin’s fame as a writer and printer rests on Poor Richard’s Almanack, which is recognized for Franklin’s homespun wit and wisdom, under the pseudonym Richard Saunders. But Franklin’s accomplishments as a printer were far greater. He built his business on the profitable formats of printing at the time—job printing, government forms and currency, almanacs, pamphlets, and newspapers. He rescued a Philadelphia newspaper from bankruptcy and in 1729 rebuilt it as the Pennsylvania Gazette (later published as the Saturday Evening Post), the most successful colonial American newspaper. He was the first printer to propose a monthly magazine.

Although Franklin would go on to distinguish himself as a scientist, diplomat, politician, and writer, his success was built on the foundation of his work as a printer. It brought him wealth as well as a public platform.
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