Comic History of the United States - Bill Nye

Benjamin Franklin, Ll.D., Ph.G., F.R.S., Etc.

It is considered advisable by the historian at this time to say a word regarding Dr. Franklin, our fellow-townsman, and a journalist who was the Charles A. Dana of his time.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Franklin's memory will remain green when the names of the millionaires of to-day are forgotten. Coextensive with the name of E. Rosewater of the Omaha Bee we will find that of Benjamin Franklin, whose bust sits above the fireplace of the writer at this moment, while a large Etruscan hornet is making a phrenological examination of same.

But let us proceed to more fully mark out the life and labors of this remarkable man.

Benjamin Franklin, formerly of Boston, came very near being an only child. If seventeen children had not come to bless the home of Benjamin's parents they would have been childless. Think of getting up in the morning and picking out your shoes and stockings from among seventeen pairs of them!

Imagine yourself a child, gentle reader, in a family where you would be called upon every morning to select your own cud of spruce gum from a collection of seventeen similar cuds stuck on a window-sill! And yet Benjamin Franklin never murmured or repined. He desired to go to sea, and to avoid this he was apprenticed to his brother James, who was a printer.

It is said that Franklin at once took hold of the great Archimedean lever, and jerked it early and late in the interests of freedom.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


It is claimed that Franklin, at this time, invented the deadly weapon known as the printer's towel. He found that a common crash towel could be saturated with glue, molasses, antimony, concentrated lye, and roller-composition, and that after a few years of time and perspiration it would harden so that "A Constant Reader" or "Veritas" could be stabbed with it and die soon.

Many believe that Franklin's other scientific experiments were productive of more lasting benefit to mankind than this, but I do not agree with them.

His paper was called the New England Courant. It was edited jointly by James and Benjamin Franklin, and was started to supply a long-felt want.

Benjamin edited it a part of the time, and James a part of the time. The idea of having two editors was not for the purpose of giving volume to the editorial page, but it was necessary for one to run the paper while the other was in jail.

In those days you could not sass the king, and then, when the king came in the office the next day and stopped his paper and took out his ad., put it off on "our informant" and go right along with the paper. You had to go to jail, while your subscribers wondered why their paper did not come, and the paste soured in the tin dippers in the sanctum, and the circus passed by on the other side.

How many of us to-day, fellow-journalists, would be willing to stay in jail while the lawn festival and the kangaroo came and went? Who of all our company would go to a prison-cell for the cause of freedom while a double-column ad. Of sixteen aggregated circuses, and eleven congresses of ferocious beasts, fierce and fragrant from their native lair, went by us?

At the age of seventeen Ben got disgusted with his brother, and went to Philadelphia and New York, where he got a chance to "sub" for a few weeks and then got a regular "sit."

Franklin was a good printer, and finally got to be a foreman. He made an excellent foreman, sitting by the hour in the composing-room and spitting on the stove, while he cussed the make-up and press-work of the other papers. Then he would go into the editorial rooms and scare the editors to death with a wild shriek for more copy.

He knew just how to conduct himself as a foreman so that strangers would think he owned the paper.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


In 1730, at the age of twenty-four, Franklin married, and established the Pennsylvania Gazette. He was then regarded as a great man, and almost every one took his paper.

Franklin grew to be a great journalist, and spelled hard words with great fluency. He never tried to be a humorist in any of his newspaper work, and everybody respected him.

Along about 1746 he began to study the habits and construction of lightning, and inserted a local in his paper in which he said that he would be obliged to any of his readers who might notice any new or odd specimens of lightning, if they would send them in to the Gazette office for examination.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Every time there was a thunderstorm Franklin would tell the foreman to edit the paper, and, armed with a string and an old door-key, he would go out on the hills and get enough lightning for a mess.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


In 1753 Franklin was made postmaster of the Colonies. He made a good Postmaster-General, and people say there were fewer mistakes in distributing their mail then than there have ever been since. If a man mailed a letter in those days, old Ben Franklin saw that it went to where it was addressed.

Franklin frequently went over to England in those days, partly on business and partly to shock the king. He liked to go to the castle with his breeches tucked in his boots, figuratively speaking, and attract a great deal of attention.

It looked odd to the English, of course, to see him come into the royal presence, and, leaning his wet umbrella up against the throne, ask the king, "How's trade?"

Franklin never put on any frills, but he was not afraid of a crowned head. He used to say, frequently, that a king to him was no more than a seven-spot.

He did his best to prevent the Revolutionary War, but he couldn't do it. Patrick Henry had said that the war was inevitable, and had given it permission to come, and it came.

He also went to Paris, and got acquainted with a few crowned heads there. They thought a good deal of him in Paris, and offered him a corner lot if he would build there and start a paper. They also promised him the county printing; but he said, No, he would have to go back to America or his wife might get uneasy about him. Franklin wrote "Poor Richard's Almanac" in 1732 to 1757, and it was republished in England.

Franklin little thought, when he went to the throne-room in his leather riding-clothes and hung his hat on the throne, that he was inaugurating a custom of wearing groom clothes which would in these days be so popular among the English.

[Illustration] from Comic History of the U.S.A. by Bill Nye


Dr. Franklin entered Philadelphia eating a loaf of bread and carrying a loaf under each arm, passing beneath the window of the girl to whom he afterwards gave his hand in marriage.

Nearly everybody in America, except Dr. Mary Walker, was once a poor boy.