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Interpreting the Evidence

Benjamin Franklin's 1722 Printing Press, Photograph 1912

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Era:

    Revolution and New Nation (1754 - 1820s)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:

    American Revolution
    Colonial America

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    United States

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Benjamin Franklin's 1722 Printing Press, Photograph 1912 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Printing press that Benjamin Franklin worked when apprenticed to his brother James in 1722. Photograph taken in 1912.
Historical Context
Benjamin Franklin was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1706.  When he was twelve years old, he became an apprentice to his older brother James, who ran a printing office in Boston.  In 1723, Ben Franklin left Boston and made his way to Philadelphia, where he worked as a printer's assistant.  

Franklin soon became a very successful printer.  At the young age of twenty-two, he opened his own printing shop in Philadelphia.  One of his most successful publications was "The Pennsylvania Gazette," which he purchased in 1729 and made into the most widely-read newspaper in the American colonies.  Three years after purchasing the newspaper, Franklin began to publish "Poor Richard's Almanack."  This immensely popular almanac was published annually for twenty five years and sold over 10,000 copies a year, more than any other book in the American colonies.

Franklin also worked as a printer for some of the colonial governments.  In 1730, he was named the official printer of Pennsylvania, a job that involved printing money, laws, and other official documents.  He later became the public printer for Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland, as well.    

In 1748, at the age of forty-two, Benjamin Franklin retired from printing.  He still had half of his life before him, and some of his greatest accomplishments were yet to come.

Essential Question
How do individuals influence the development of a society?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and evaluate the impact of Benjamin Franklin's life on the development of American society.
Historical Challenges
Use the Internet to find some primary documents that came from Benjamin Franklin’s printing press.
Interdisciplinary Connections
Math: Benjamin Franklin was born in 1706. If Franklin had lived only half of his life when he retired at age 42, how old was he when he died? What year did he die?
Math: Poor Richard's Almanac was published for 25 years and sold 10,000 copies a year. How many total copies did it sell in the 25 years?
Science: How does a printing press work? What materials is it made of?
English Language Arts & Art: Create a poster that could have been posted on the front of Franklin’s printing shop when it first opened. Make it so that it would entice people to come in!