Benjamin Franklin as a young printer
Benjamin Franklin as a young printer
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania - Source
License: Copyright

Benjamin Franklin Begins Apprenticeship

After a failed cutlery apprenticeship, 12-year-old Ben was apprenticed to his brother James to learn the printer’s trade. Ben’s quick mind and strong body were well suited to the trade, and he eventually became one of the most influential printers and publishers in the colonies.

At the age of 17, Benjamin Franklin, apprentice printer, ran away from his master. Technically indentured to his brother James until the age of 21, Ben took advantage of James’s political imbroglios and abandoned servitude in Boston for a new life as a free man in Philadelphia. Most 18th-century apprentices were not so lucky. Susan Klepp recounts Ben Franklin’s colorful but often demoralizing career as James’s apprentice to investigate the advantages and hazards of colonial apprenticeship in America. Klepp paints a portrait of a society and an economy that compelled parents of the middling classes to constantly plan for the “disposal” of their children; that is, setting the boys up in a stable career as a tradesman and marrying the girls off (most likely to a tradesman).

Although "his parents talked of the church as a career" for Franklin, his schooling ended when he was ten. He then worked for his father for a time and at 12 he became an apprentice to his brother James, a printer, who taught Ben the printing trade. When Ben was 15, James created The New-England Courant, the first truly independent newspaper in the colonies. When denied the chance to write a letter to the paper for publication, Franklin invented the pseudonym of "Mrs. Silence Dogood," who was ostensibly a middle-aged widow. Her letters were published, and became a subject of conversation around town. Neither James nor the Courant's readers were aware of the ruse, and James was unhappy with Ben when he discovered the popular correspondent was his younger brother. Franklin left his apprenticeship without permission, and in so doing became a fugitive.