2006 marked the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth. While the resulting flurry of activity was nowhere more evident than in his adopted city of Philadelphia, Americans across the country—and admirers around the world—paused to consider the career of the multifaceted Dr. Franklin, oldest signer of the Declaration of Independence. From lightning rods to proverbs to the characteristic fur cap he wore in later years, Franklin combined an ethic of self-accomplishment through hard and honest work with a sophisticated wit and a practical benevolence that kept him much in the public eye. At the Library of Congress, Franklin's achievements were explored in an exhibit of original Franklin materials titled Benjamin Franklin: In His Own Words.
Born in Boston on January 17, 1706, as the youngest son of an immigrant father, Benjamin Franklin lived until April 17, 1790, three months past his 84th birthday. During his lifetime he witnessed dramatic changes in North American life—and contributed greatly to those changes, especially in the areas of communication, technological innovation, and politics. As a printer and postmaster, Franklin's early work to disseminate news and create communication networks among the British colonies contributed directly to their subsequent unification. With little formal education, Franklin founded scholarly societies, colleges, and libraries, but also formulated practical inventions such as bifocals and the freestanding Pennsylvania stove. Present at the signing of the Declaration, Benjamin Franklin also lived long enough to see the adoption of the United States Constitution, having served his new country as a representative to France in the interim. Despite his successes, Franklin continued to identify himself as an artisan throughout his life, reinforcing his lifelong commitment to doing good works in the world.
Given his background and interests, Franklin would no doubt have valued the expansive resources of the Internet. This Finding Franklin resource guide provides a starting point for researching Benjamin Franklin in a rapidly digitizing age, starting with the Library of Congress and moving outward to encompass additional materials. Many Library of Congress materials can be partially if not fully accessed on the World Wide Web, while many of the printed items in the Library's collections will also be available at local research libraries, or can be accessed through Interlibrary Loan. Sections of the guide therefore point to Library of Congress digital collections and other online resources, Library of Congress printed materials, and useful resources elsewhere on the web.
Benjamin Franklin's long and accomplished life can be approached through a wide variety of topics and understood from many perspectives. He served multiple roles in early American society, and continues to serve as a role model and an icon today. This guide also offers an extended examination of Franklin's Autobiography and resources available for its further study.