Title: A Penny Saved, A Penny Earned and the Last Bet of Benjamin Franklin
Description: Today we are joined by Michael Meyer, author of Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet. Benjamin Franklin died in 1790, but his legacy lives on to this day. One particularly important part of his legacy is a trust he left to the people of Boston and Philadelphia. This trust grew financially, but like much of Benjamin Franklin’s history, it is not well known.
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Michael Meyer, Author of Benjamin Franklin’s Last Bet
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[00:00:00] I am very excited to have Michael Meyer on the show today to talk about, uh, one of the largest and most charismatic characters in American history. Benjamin Franklin, Michael Meyer is author of Benjamin Franklins. Last bet. The favorite founding fathers, divisive death, and during afterlife and blueprint for American prosperity.
Michael is the author of numerous books and articles. He was a Fulbright scholar and a professor. And is a professor of nonfiction writing at the university of Pittsburgh. Thank you, Michael so much for joining me to talk about the amazing life and afterlife of Benjamin Franklin. It’s an honor to be here.
Thanks for having me. I have a, kind of a personal story about some of the things you’ve talked about. I lived in Philadelphia for a while and I would walk by Benjamin Franklin’s grave almost [00:01:00] every day to meet my. For a work and it just almost became like a normal thing. I think a good place to start is what’s maybe the standard telling if you had to tell somebody who’s maybe not from the U S and give them a broad overview of who is Benjamin Franklin.
That’s a great question. He was large and contain multitudes. Um, you know, you can divide his, like he lived quite a long time, you know, he’s, he, he straddled the 18th century, so he was 84 years old and the first 42 years of his life are devoted to business and he’s, you know, he would never call himself self-made he was an autodidact for sure.
Uh, you know, apprentice in a print shop and in his father’s candle making shop in Boston fled his brother. Got down to Philadelphia on a boat. Um, and then, you know, became the legendary Benjamin Franklin worked as a printer, um, benefited greatly from his wife’s, uh, assistance and her [00:02:00] family. Um, and as he was being an entrepreneur in Philadelphia with his print shop and starting the Pennsylvania Gazette newspaper, which became the.
The newspaper and the colonies and poor Richard’s Almanac. Um, he’s also tinkering, he’s an inveterate tinkerer. He’s always looking to improve things around his house. Um, he invents things as you know, various as, uh, the lightning rod, the catheter. Swim fins. Um, he invents a musical instrument called the harmonium.
He perfects the odometer. And I think one thing really interesting about him is that he refused, there was no patent office at that time, but he could have applied for a exclusive commercial license for his inventions, but he felt very strongly that as we benefit from the technology, others. Others should benefit from our own technology.
And so I think we could credit him as a forerunner of the open source movement as well. So at age 42, he retires from business [00:03:00] and he decides to devote himself almost wholly to philanthropy and starts a great number of charitable causes that you walking around Philadelphia could still see. Uh, the Pennsylvania hospital is still there.
The Philadelphia academy, which became the university of Pennsylvania is still there. The American philosophical society is still there. The great library next to independence hall, and then find the last act of Franklin’s life is he becomes a diplomat. Um, he spent nearly 30 years of his life as she is his older years overseas living in either London or in Paris.
Uh, the latter time, you know, lobbying on behalf to try to attract French support for. Uh, the war, um, and then, you know, his last dying act, he had two great. Penn strokes to end his life. The first was he presented the first petition for the abolishment of slavery to the Senate. Franklin was a slave owner.
His family held up to seven slaves, uh, that worked in his print shop and around the house, um, uniquely among founders. Old people in [00:04:00] general, he became more progressive as he aged, um, and realized that that, that his slave owning was, uh, a mark on his, on his legacy. And he wanted to repudiate that. And of course, after fighting for Liberty, it was hypocritical to say, well, we should still have the slave trade in the liberated United States.
That was one thing he did. The second thing he did, which we’re going to talk about today is he added a final codicil to his will. Um, uh, a dying bet as. On the survival of working class trades people for the next 200 years, it’s really interesting that he was born in Boston in the early 17 hundreds. And then he moved to Philadelphia and those are two areas that had really stark different, uh, cultures and just everything.
It’s almost like a moving to a foreign country in a lot of ways for him. One made Franklin move from. From Boston [00:05:00] to Philadelphia, he was in denture to his older brother and he hated the work he wanted to get out of it so badly. And so a couple of years into his indenture dump in dentures, um, he fled, he ran away.
It was illegal at time, but he still broke, uh, the bond. Uh, he hoped to go to New York city. That was the thought in New York was smaller than Philadelphia at the time. Um, Broadway was still a cattle trail if, if, if it even existed at that time, but he ended up continuing onward to Philadelphia, which you’re right.
These are polar opposites. These towns, you know, Boston known for its academies, um, for its genteel society, very old England sort of sore, you know, Puritan driven. Whereas Philadelphia was a bustling. And became the largest city in the United States and the colonial America as well while Franklin was living there.
And then in the United States, much more diverse, uh, much more entrepreneurial in spirit, you know, in the book, I talk about how you can [00:06:00] trace a lot of the men who knew Franklin’s father, you know, a hundred years ago, those descendants were the new mayors of Boston. You know, the Quincy’s Quincy, the fourth and Quincy.
Whereas in Philadelphia, you know, the person they elected to serve as mayor 16 times was a person who, uh, professed hated learning and had apprentice as a Hatter. It was just a very, very different, um, a very, very different backdrop. You’re right. And I think had, had Franklin stayed in Boston. He couldn’t have become the entrepreneur inventor.
Um, and diplomat, you know, sort of statesman that he became, he also spent some time in London. What did, uh, what was he doing in London? How did he get to London? And what did that maybe add to his character? I think, you know, how did they get to London the first time around? It was really carelessness when he was a young man that had, had landed in Philadelphia.
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