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 "I think opinions should be judged by their influences and effects; and if a man holds none that tend to make him less virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded that he holds none that are dangerous, which I hope is the case with me."

 "Remember that time is money."

Benjamin Franklin was a printer, author, scientist, musician, inventor, diplomat, ladies' man, revolutionary, and one of the coolest and most fascinating people in American History. Managed to make it onto the US hundred dollar bill without being President. Invented bifocal lenses, the Franklin stove, and the lightning rod, after proving that lightning was just electricity, not the wrath of an angry god. If you ever take a tour anywhere in Philadelphia's historical district, you will learn that he invented pretty much everything. Even The Internet.

But he was not a President. And he did not write the Declaration of Independence (although he did edit it). And he didn't found the Ben Franklin dime store chain.

Tropes exemplified by Benjamin Franklin:

  • American Dream: Often held up as one of its greatest success stories. Though he had family ties, he basically started out with less worth than the currency which bears his image.
  • Authors of Quote: Arguably one of the most quotable writers in the history of America, if not the world.
  • Badass Family: One of Franklin's modern-day descendants is actor Jack Coleman, a.k.a. HRG from Heroes. In this case, the badass was apparently In the Blood.
    • His son William led a guerilla force of Loyalists against the Patriots, making him an Antagonistic Offspring. Benjamin apparently pleaded with William to join him on the American side, but William chose to stay on the side of the British Empire. Sadly, they apparently never reconciled, and after the American Revolution, William left the country to live in Britain. The fact that he and Benjamin never reconciled makes it a Downer Ending. Eventually, William's son--William Temple Franklin--ended up supporting Grandpa Benjamin and the American Revolution, and served as the official secretary for the American delegation at the Treaty of Paris. William Temple Franklin apparently remained on good terms with his father though, although he always continued to support his grandfather Benjamin's cause, and eventually helped publish Benjamin Franklin's "Autobiography."
    • Franklin's maternal grandfather, a court clerk, was once jailed for disobeying a local magistrate while defending middle class people against wealthy landowners. He would be a big inspiration to his grandson Benjamin.
  • Bald of Awesome
  • Beam Me Up, Scotty: Franklin was the one who said "The Lord helps those who help themselves." It is not found in the Bible anywhere.
  • Big Fun: Ben's weight is part of what made him so endearing then and keeps him endearing now. One story goes that during a trip to Paris, a woman who knew him greeted him by pinching his belly and jokingly asking him what he would think if he saw all that weight on a woman. Ben replied, "madam, twenty minutes ago this weight was on a woman!"
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer: Franklin was a Dirty Old Man and liked taking naps during meetings. During his time in France he attended numerous parties and often came in late to work, which earned him the resentment of his colleague John Adams. However, this allowed him to create the informal connections that helped secure French support for the American Revolution.
  • Common Knowledge: Franklin never actually tied a key to a kite string in a thunderstorm. He wasn't stupid!
    • He wasn't that stupid. The first scientists who tried to replicate what he did do were electrocuted.
    • Also, while Franklin did suggest the kite experiment, two French experimenters did it a few months before him. Franklin is better remembered because of the then-long travel distance across the Atlantic and because the history of electricity was largely written by English-speakers.
  • Cool Old Guy: Not just smart, he had a wicked sense of humor.
    • He would often take naps during meetings.
  • Crazy Awesome: Just look at the other tropes on this page.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Not Ben himself, but the practice that he brutally parodies in "The Art of Saying Little In Much," without saying much of anything himself. He does this by quoting "the Petition of Dermond O Folivey, an Attorney of the Kingdom of Ireland," the most unbelievably, ridiculously redundant thing ever written.
  • Dirty Old Man
  • Eccentric Mentor: He was the oldest of the Founding Fathers, and respected for both his brilliance and his witty humor.
  • Eagle Land: Ben is the embodiment of the type 1 flavor, though funnily enough, if he'd had his way, we might have ended up calling the trope "Turkey Land." To elaborate, when it came time to choose a national emblem, Franklin argued that we should pick the turkey because of the fact that it's native to North America rather than the Old World. However, the other Founding Fathers prevailed and we ended up picking the more majestic eagle, but a type native to North America, the bald eagle (though it would be a while before artists would depict the bald eagle correctly).
  • Gallows Humor: One of his most famous quotes, referring to the Revolution, was "Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." A rather literal use of gallows humor indeed.
  • God Mode Sue: Anything - and we mean ANYTHING - that Franklin tried out, he ended up being a master of. Just look at the opening description of him! In his prime, he was a charismatic Genius Bruiser who spent his free time reading philosophy while weight-lifting, composing music, and inventing items still used 300 years later (see: the odometer and bifocals) - all with a lady on each arm, of course. In his twilight years, he was still doing all of the above, sans the weight-lifting, but with FOUR ladies on each arm instead. He probably would have been fighting crime as a masked vigilante, too, but it would've been too easy for him, and he would've gotten bored very quickly.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: While we're mostly familiar with Franklin the overweight Dirty Old Man, he wasn't always that way. Printers regularly had to carry large, heavy trays of lead type, and Franklin in particular was very health-conscious in his youth (he was particularly partial to swimming), and as a result the young Franklin was quite fit and rather buff.
  • Kavorka Man: Despite being elderly, balding, wearing glasses, and having neither money nor aristocratic title, he apparently cut quite a wide swath through the ladies of Paris when sent there as American Ambassador (and did pretty well on his home turf too).
    • It was said of Franklin that, when he returned from his post in France, he had every venereal disease known to medicine. All at the same time.
    • To be fair, this was almost certainly averted in his youth, where he was just as much of a Casanova. He was apparently handsome and lifted weights to improve both his strength (which he needed as a printer's apprentice and then a printer--cases of lead type are heavy) and appearance (makes sense, given his whole self-improvement schtick). Presumably, he gained enough experience with the ladies that he no longer needed to rely on his looks.
  • Likes Older Women: Preferred older women for their intelligence, often independent means, and *ahem* "experience".
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: He was the 15th of his father's 17 children.[1]
  • Memetic Sex God: Any discussion of Franklin which is any way humorous will mention how much he liked the ladies. And how much they liked him.
  • Older Than They Think: He was advocating an American confederation decades before the American Revolution, and also coined the snake as the symbol of the colonies (as later used in 'Don't Tread on Me') with his "Unite or Die!" political cartoon in the Seven Years' War.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: One of the last true Renaissance Men, he studied practically everything, and made significant contributions to several widely disparate fields of study.
    • In one man, he was the reason why British society started to realise that the American colonies could produce great men of their own.
  • Refuge in Vulgarity: Franklin's notorious essay "Fart Proudly".
  • The Scrounger: He was also this in Paris.
  • Self-Deprecation: In contrast with most of the other Founding Fathers, Ben was known to paint a less than ideal picture of his character in his writings about himself.
  • Serious Business: The fight over whether lightning conductors should be pointed or have a spherical end. It took on a political dimension after Franklin sided with the American Revolution, and so patriotic Britons adopted the other type.
  • The Smart Guy: Respected even among the American Founders, dyed-in-the-wool intellectual elites almost to a man, for the breadth of his knowledge.
  • The Spymaster: While in Paris, he was this. Like every diplomat at the time.
  • What Might Have Been: George Washington tried to nominate him for first president, but basically every single other Founding Father unanimously agreed Washington should take the job.
  • White Anglo Saxon Protestant
  • Womb De Plume: His "Silence Dogood" widow persona, adopted for some of his earliest works because nobody would have paid attention to newspaper comments from a sixteen-year-old.

Benjamin Franklin in fiction and pop culture:

Anime

  • According to the official backstory of Code Geass, one major divergence point between its history and ours is that Franklin betrayed Washington in return for a title of Britannian nobility and land, meaning that the United States of America never came into being. The show's immortal female lead C.C. speaks of Ben and his peaceful nature wistfully, implying that she knew him personally.
    • ...Just how "personally" are we talking?


Comic Books


Film

  • Pretty much anything set during The American Revolution has to have him pop up.
  • 1776 has a singing Ben Franklin, who exemplifies the wisdom and the biting wit he's known for.
  • Appears in Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey, playing a game of charades with Albert Einstein, Confucius, and The Stations.
  • In the film How High, Method Man and Redman end up discovering that Franklin invented the bong. Although not historically accurate, it would explain his easygoing nature. Franklin actually owned a hemp mill, and several of the Founding Fathers grew hemp, though it was the sort used for fiber which doesn't contain much THC.


Literature

  • Ben And Me, a story told from the point of view of a cute talking mouse that lives in the walls of Ben Franklin's house. Contributed to the "key kite" myth. Later became a Disney animated short.
  • John Hodgman apparently detests Ben Franklin, if the repeated potshots taken at him throughout Complete World Knowledge is any sign.
  • A Cahill From the Lucian Branch in The 39 Clues.
  • He is a major character in the James Morrow novel "The Last Witchfinder"
  • In the first chapter of The Baroque Cycle, Enoch Root visits early 1700s Boston and encounters a child prodigy named Ben (surname not given, but clearly intended to be Franklin.)
  • America (The Book): The foreword, supposedly written by the ghost of Thomas Jefferson, claims that if crack cocaine had existed when Franklin was alive then "that boozed-up snuff machine would weigh 80 pounds and live outside the Port Authority."


Live Action TV

  • Franklin appeared as a character in the Adult Swim satire Young Persons Guide To History.
  • The key kite myth became one of the Tropes Examined by the Mythbusters. Tory also mistakenly thought Franklin was a President.
  • The supplemental materials for Heroes have Franklin as an empowered human (he could absorb electricity).
  • The Office: When Michael orders Jim to hire a male stripper for a bachelorette party, Jim calls the Scholastic Speakers of Pennsylvania and hires a Franklin impersonator. Dwight is 99% sure he's not the real one.
  • Appears in the HBO miniseries John Adams, where he is generally played as Adams' foil: witty, popular and sly, in comparison to Adams' earnest and blunt firebrand.
  • How I Met Your Mother. George Washington and Ben were friends with Barnabus Stinson (Barney's ancestor) who wrote "The Bro Code". George and Ben also once did a "Devil's Threesome".
  • An entire two-part episode of Bewitched was dedicated to praising Ben Franklin, after Aunt Clara accidentally brought him to the present.

Music

  • When Puff Daddy sings "It's All About the Benjamins, Baby", yes, it's this Benjamin. Franklin is the face on the American hundred dollar bill.


Other

  • In Mad Magazine #169, the article "A MAD History of Sex", writes: "Perhaps the greatest Sexual Figure in Revolutionary times was also known as "The Father of Our Country". His name was Benjamin Franklin. We realize some people think George Washington was the father of our country, and you may say "You don't know your history." All we can say is "You don't know your Benjamin Franklin!"


Real Life


Web Comics


Western Animation

  • Shows up in The Fairly Odd Parents when Timmy decided to do research for a report on American History the fun way, by interviewing a few Founding Fathers.
    • Also, as shown in a later episode, he somehow has the ability to control storms.
  • Liberty's Kids, which features Walter Cronkite as Benjamin Franklin, is about Franklin's newspaper and its staff of teenage reporters and apprentice printers.
  • The futuristic adventure series Spiral Zone features a Nerd Action Hero named Benjamin Franklin Davis.
  • In the Beavis and Butthead episode "Lightning Strikes", the boys are inspired by a PBS special on Franklin to imitate the "key kite" myth. Hilarity Ensues--and so does hospitalization.
  • An episode of Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? ends with a Cliff Hanger when Carmen travels back in time to 1752 and steals Ben Frankin's key, foiling his kite experiment and preventing the development of electronics and trapping Zack and Ivy in time.
  • He appeared in Nickelodeon's classic toon Ka Blam!. He replaced Wesley Snipes in the Money Train sequel.
  • Even South Park treated Benjamin Franklin with respect. He appeared to save the day in "I'm A Little Bit Country".
  • An episode of The Simpsons. Homer thought Franklin was president.
    • Benjamin Franklin is featured in several other fantasy sequences. In one he invents the sled and in another he plays Air Hockey with Jimi Hendrix.
  • In a Family Guy cutaway about the Declaration of Independence:

 Speaker: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal...

Benjamin Franklin: Except the Jews!

Speaker: Franklin! For the fifth time, I'm sorry you overpaid for your house, but it's not going in!

Benjamin Franklin: You'll be soor-ry!


Video Games

  • Tony Hawk's Underground 2 allows you to skate as a Ben Franklin impersonator (known only as "Ben Franklin"). His unique trick is the Franklin Grind, which has the skater be pulled along the rail by a kite (with a key tied to it, of course) as a thunderstorm sound effect plays.
  • Day of the Tentacle features Ben Franklin in the past, trying out his famous kite experiment. When a storm rolls around, he goes back inside, and Hoagie has to convince him to go back out, using the lightning to charge the battery for his Chrono-John.
  • In one edition of Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, you and your Good Guide, Polly Tix, meet him while trying to get Declaration of Independence back from one of Carmen's crooks. Later, he helps clue you to where Carmen is going.
  • In The Simpsons Game, Benjamin Franklin attacks the heroes in heaven with a key that shoots lightning.
  • Appears as a Founding Father in Colonization.
  • Franklin is an ally to the protagonist in the upcoming Assassin's Creed III.

Web Original

Notes

  1. Franklin's father Josiah had two wives, Anne Child and Abiah Folger. He had seven children with Anne and ten with Abiah, of whom Benjamin was the eighth; he was also Josiah's tenth and final son.
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