Ben's Big Bash
By Bob Neubauer
AS ANYONE who lives near Philadelphia knows by now, 2006 is the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth—the tercentenary, as the city tourism folks like to say.
Philadelphia—IPG's home town—has done a great job of promoting this fact. Banners sporting Ben's bespectacled visage flap from light poles all over the city, and scores of symposiums, articles, exhibits and other events have been focusing on the life of this patriot, inventor and "old-school" printer.
On his birthday last month, the city went Ben crazy, holding at least three birthday parties (one with an eight-foot-tall cake sporting 300 candles) and a parade to his grave site.
Every museum in town, it seems, is capitalizing on the Franklin frenzy (though I thought the "Swedes at the Time of Franklin" exhibit at the American Swedish Historical Museum was rather a stretch, myself). Even the bars are getting in on the fun, touting Franklin ales brewed the way old Ben would have liked. (He did say, "Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.")
One of the most publicized displays in the city has been the National Constitution Center's exhibition, "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World," billed as "the largest collection of Franklin materials ever assembled." A colleague and I traveled there recently on an uncharacteristically warm winter afternoon for a glimpse inside the world of Ben Franklin, the poster child for U.S. printers.
A Slave to Print
Franklin was born in Boston on January 17, 1706, the ninth of 11 children. He was pulled from school at an early age by his father and made an apprentice to his brother James, a printer (and, according to Franklin, a tyrant). This was really more of an indentured servant position, so when he ran away at 17, he became a fugitive.