Born in Boston on January 17, 1706, young Franklin struck out on his own in 1723, eventually finding employment as a journeyman printer in Philadelphia. Franklin's newspaper The Pennsylvania Gazette, his Poor Richard's Almanack, and work as an inventor and scientist propelled him to the front ranks of Philadelphia society and made him a well-known figure throughout the American provinces and England.

In 1757, at age fifty-one Franklin, began his career as a diplomat and statesman in London where he essentially remained until the outbreak of the American Revolution. When Franklin returned to Philadelphia in 1775, he served as a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he was instrumental in drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. Because of his international experience, Franklin was chosen as one the first ministers to France. In Paris Franklin reached his peak of fame, becoming the focal point for a cultural Franklin-mania among the French intellectual elite. Franklin ultimately helped negotiate a cessation of hostilities and a peace treaty that officially ended the Revolutionary War.

Even after his death in 1790, Franklin remained an American celebrity. Shortly after his death, his now famous autobiography was published in France and was followed two years later by British and American editions. Perhaps, the last, best summary should be the simple words of James Madison taken from his notes on Franklin: "I never passed half an hour in his company without hearing some observations or anecdote worth remembering.”