No. 346

In recent years we have heard a lot about self-made people, mostly men, but many women have rightly earned this distinction, as well. As I’ve said before in this column, I don’t really believe that any successful person is truly self-made, because along the way they all had help from other people. Taking this fact into account, there have been countless individuals who, from a very humble beginning without the benefit of formal education and coming from a wealthy family, have risen to the top in every field of endeavor. I dare say that America would not be the dominant power in the world today were it not for the example set by these people, both past and present.
In short, in our climate of freedom millions of us have been inspired to do more and have more because other people have extended the limits of the possible. In the early days of our nation’s history one man set the tone for what I’ve been saying and could justly be called, America’s “first” self-made man. Not to keep you in suspense, do you know who I am talking about? Well, it is none other than Benjamin Franklin, well known American statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Unless you are a student of history or have read his autobiography, you may be surprised at this man’s background and many of the things he accomplished during his life time. Before I give you a brief overview of his accomplishments, let me say that my goal here is not to present this information as a history lesson, but rather to dispel the myth held by many people that those who are successful are or were lucky, had money to begin with or were born with a silver spoon in their mouth. This was certainly not the case with Benjamin Franklin.
He was born in Boston in 1706, the 15th of 17 children of a poor candle maker and had little more than one year of actual schooling. He had to go to work to earn a living when he was 12 years of age. He left Boston when he was 17 and went to New York, but couldn’t find a job so he went on to Philadelphia, walking most of the way. He arrived with only a few pennies in his pocket and got a job as a printer. Soon he went into business for himself as a publisher, first a newspaper, then a magazine. His first great publishing success was “Poor Richard’s Almanac”, that he started when he was 26, which later was credited with being the only printed material in every American home.
Ben Franklin was also a noted scientist and inventor. Every schoolboy knows that he drew electricity from a cloud on a kite string, but few people realize that he wrote one of the first textbooks on electricity. It was so important that it was translated into foreign languages. He was the first to discover positive and negative electricity, without the knowledge of which there could be no electrical power today. He gave the world the concept of the electric battery, electrical charges, condensation and the conductor. He also invented a simple, safe lightening rod which became almost a standard household item.
This self-made man truly made a difference. He organized the first service club in America. He also founded the first national library and museum, the first patent office, the first regular police force, the first fire department, the first fire insurance company, the great Pennsylvania Hospital and the college that would later become the University of Pennsylvania. What a career for a man who started with nothing. After making a fortune and retiring from business at the age of 42, he went on to serve his government in a number of different capacities, including 25 years negotiating important matters in England and France. Never say that truly successful people are “lucky.” (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)